Vegan White Chocolate

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It’s with no qualms that I admit I’m far more likely to name a problem and then complain about it ceaselessly rather than do anything about it. But every now and then my rare sense of initiative materialises and I become briefly solutions focussed. In the case of this recipe, I’d already spent a long time complaining about the price and flavour of vegan white chocolate in New Zealand, but then – I tried making my own – and it tasted AMAZING. Capital letters and italics level amazing and, I believe, extremely white chocolate-y.

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Before we go any further, here are the drawbacks: first you have to get your hands on some cacao butter and cashews. As I’ve said before, it pains me to my soul to recommend key ingredients which are potentially expensive or difficult to find, and who knows, perhaps one day I’ll devise a white chocolate recipe comprised solely of flour, water, and air. Till that blessed day comes, there’s no getting around the fact that cashews give this body and heft without any obtrusive nuttiness and the cacao butter gives it authentic texture and richness. The second drawback is this is really just an eating white chocolate – you could chop it up and use it in, say, brownies, but it’s not a melting-and-dipping type creation, or at least, I haven’t tested that aspect of it enough to encourage it with any confidence. Once you’ve got that out of the way it’s fairly straightforward. There’s a lot of blending involved – the near-unavoidable hallmark of vegan cooking – but not much else.

So this is just an eating chocolate, but what an eating experience! It really captures that flickering vanilla creaminess of regular white chocolate, the way it slides across your tongue and dissolves in your throat and the way it tastes better than any other chocolate. I do regret that I can’t approach naturally vegan artisanal dark chocolate with any of the enthusiasm I still hold for cheap non-vegan white chocolate but alas, this is how I am. At least now I can go into the world with my head held a little higher, rallied by the deliciousness of this fake white chocolate.

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It’s been a real week for showing initiative (which presumably means my faculties are spent and the coming weeks will be completely devoid of any resourcefulness.) Specifically, for the first time since I tried fifteen years ago, failed, tried again, got it, freaked out at the responsibility and let it lapse and expire – I have my learners license! It’ll sound like exaggerating to describe how hard I resisted anything to do with driving, instead choosing to be fruitlessly angry at this country’s abysmal public transport and over-reliance on cars, and also at the way learning to drive and ADHD are not immediately compatible. But after fifteen years of that, a different approach was required. I forced myself to focus, and memorise every practice question in the road code, until it was all I could think about, and certainly all I could talk about, and just when my brain was about to explode, I sat the test. And got it. 100%. What a singular rush. Getting my learners means I’m legally allowed to get driving lessons, which will involve a whole lot more wrenching of focus and determination, but I think I’m finally ready, second time around, to take less than fifteen years to achieve this.

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Vegan White Chocolate

Creamy, delicious, and amazingly similar to the memory of white chocolate. The recipe may look wordy but it’s just a case of blending everything thoroughly. Recipe by myself.

  • 70g/half a cup cashews (raw/not toasted)
  • 1 cup roughly chopped cacao butter
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 and 1/2 cups icing sugar + half a cup extra just in case
  • 1/8 teaspoon (as in, a tiny, tiny pinch) coco
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • freeze-dried raspberry powder for garnish (optional)

1: Soak the cashews in recently-boiled water for at least two hours, around four hours is optimal.
2: Place the cacao butter and coconut oil in a heatproof bowl and rest this bowl on top of a small pot or pan of simmering water (as in, the bowl rests in the mouth of the pan but the base doesn’t actually touch the water.) Let the heat from the water melt the cacao butter, stirring it occasionally (the bowl itself will heat up, so be careful.) Once the cacao butter is melted, turn off the heat and leave it till required.
3: Drain the cashews and place them in a medium sized mixing bowl. Using a stick/immersion blender, begin to blend the cashews until they are very smooth. It may help to add a little of the icing sugar at this point to give the blender more to grip on to. Add the cocoa and blend again to combine. You can leave out the cocoa if you want, but I feel, psychologically at least, that it adds something.
4: Add the icing sugar and melted cacao butter mixture to the cashews alternately a quarter cup or so at a time with the blender still running.
5: If the mixture looks like it’s not quite coming together, add the extra half cup of icing sugar a little at a time.
6: Once you’ve added in everything, switch to a spatula and fold in the vanilla and salt. I found that this folding motion also helped to incorporate any final visible cacao butter. Spatula this mixture into a 20cm square tin lined with baking paper (or whatever tin you have, it doesn’t matter if it won’t fill it completely) and leave to set in the fridge for about an hour or until firm. Sprinkle with the raspberry powder, if using. In all honestly I only added it because I thought it would make the photos look better, but it did taste lovely.

Slice into squares and store in the fridge.

Note: thank you to this recipe at glutenfreeonashoestring.com – our recipes are not the same but mine is inspired directly by reading theirs. I have not tried making this using a regular food processor – I’m sure it’s possible, the important thing is to make sure the cashews are thoroughly blended smooth before adding the melted cacao butter.

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music lately:

Mary Anne by Boytoy. This song is featured in the monumentally charming new Baby-Sitters Club series on Netflix, which I implore you to watch, and then to read the expression of adoration about it which I wrote for Tenderly. This song is wonderfully sixties in that sunny, Turtles/Monkees fashion, and disarmingly catchy.

I Know The End by Phoebe Bridgers. It starts like (this) and ends like THIS which is the ideal way for songs to progress! I also love Salt in the Wound by Boygenius, a group which Phoebe Bridgers is in, another excellent example of going from small to huge, this time with amazing harmonies, it’s real hardcore swoony stuff. I have my dear friend Charlotte to thank for introducing me to Phoebe Bridgers (or at least, for making it clear that she wasn’t Kasey Chambers, when I inexplicably thought they were the same person) and also for making me watch the Baby-Sitters Club series, which you should also watch!

Next time: I used cacao butter to try making ice cream and honestly? It didn’t really work. But I feel like I’m getting closer.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Vegan Kale, Pecan, and Fried Carrot Salad

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Since my friend Charlotte and I devised the Friend Carrot Noodles last year, not a day has gone by where I don’t think about the fried carrot. Not a single day. This is not me exaggerating to be cute! I know we’re at a crossroads of the word “literally” meaning whatever you want it to mean, and food bloggers insisting every recipe to be the most sandblasting-intensity deliciousness they’ve ever encountered, but even so please believe me when I say that I literally do think about fried carrots all the time. It’s not that we invented the concept, since people have been putting carrots over a heat source for centuries, but I’d never previously considered the carrot to be a main event food. It had been a member of the chorus, a background extra, essential in a sofrito and a useful dip pipeline but not something I relished crunching on raw and unadorned with any great enthusiasm (so much exertion! So punitive!) Fried carrots though – as in, carrots that are left to go caramelised and crisp and collapsing – are incredible, a star, something I’d gladly eat a bowl of on their own.

Having been on a very brief visit to Wellington recently (spurred on by what I thought were cheap flights, which ended up being extremely not-cheap due to numerous hidden fares, causing me once again to curse this ground I was born upon and this country’s terrible public transport) I was able to revisit the Friend Carrot Noodles in their proper setting – with my friend Charlotte. Much as Champagne may only be called such if it’s from the Champagne region of France, these noodles are really at their most exemplary when consumed in their place of origin, otherwise they’re just Fried Carrot Noodles.

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A few things fell into place upon my return home to allow this Kale, Pecan and Fried Carrot Salad come together: first of all, pecans were unexpectedly cheap at the supermarket so I treated myself to a couple packets, secondly, there was not much in the way of ingredients at home other than greens from the garden and a large bag of carrots. Envisioning a wintery salad – more rich and robust than cold and wet – I thought the pecans and the oily sweetness of the carrots would fare well against the substantial, almost leathery kale leaves.

It worked – this salad is so good. The pecans have a real complexity to them, buttery and earthy and dense and just slightly smoky, but if they’re not on special where you are, walnuts or even pine nuts would be a solid back up. The combination of mouthfilling richness and soft crunch is honestly stunning.

You could consider hiffing this salad through some short pasta to make a real meal of it, or add other bits and pieces – peas could work, fresh mint leaves would be wonderful, roasted beetroot is an obvious addition, super bitter leaves like chicory would hold their own. If life is really in your favour, why not add some avocado, or indeed, double the pecans. The worst thing about this salad is also its greatest feature – there’s nothing fun about chopping up that many carrots. But they reward your efforts significantly. In fact, the best thing you could do for this salad would be to add more carrots.

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Kale, Pecan and Fried Carrot Salad

A recipe by myself. Serves 4 as a side.

  • 70g/half a cup pecans
  • 1 spring onion
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Maggi seasoning (or, 1 teaspoon soy sauce or a pinch of salt)
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 4 medium-large carrots
  • Rice bran oil, or similar, for frying
  • 2 cups loosely packed kale leaves, or a mixture of robust leafy greens eg cavolo nero, spinach – roughly a handful of greens per person is a good starting point, use more or less as you please.
  1. Roughly break up the pecans into smaller pieces – you can chop them up but I find it easer to break them along their central lines. Toast them gently in a frying pan for a couple of minutes until they are warmed through and fragrant – being careful not to let them burn. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  2. Finely slice the spring onion. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the olive oil, Maggi seasoning, lemon zest and lemon juice, and add the spring onions and pecans.
  3. Slice the carrots lengthwise into sticks, not worrying if they’re particularly uniform thickness. It will look like there’s an alarmingly large quantity of carrots but they do reduce down in the pan. Heat a little rice brain oil in a large frying pan and in smallish batches, fry the carrots till they’re browned and caramelised on both sides. The best way to do this is to let them sit in one layer, without stirring, for a few minutes, then use tongs to turn them over. A bit of a faff, but much quicker than constantly stirring them. Remove the carrots as they’re browned and drop them into the mixing bowl with the pecans, and continue frying the remaining carrots, adding a little more oil to the pan each time. Don’t be tempted to skip the oil – it really helps the process and the flavour.
  4. Wash the kale leaves and gently pat or shake them dry, then tear the leaves into small pieces and add to the mixing bowl. Use tongs to mix the ingredients all together, and taste to see if the seasoning needs anything. Transfer to a serving bowl.

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music lately:

Cyclical by Cassowary feat Tyler Cole. This is one song of twenty-nine featured on my latest playlist for Tenderly which I recommend you both read and listen to, especially this song – that opening is funkier than a bottle of Smith and Cross Pot Still Navy Strength rum.

Washington On Your Side from the musical Hamilton, performed by Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan and Leslie Odom Jr. I know there’s all sorts of Hamilton discourse going on and it’s a corny show but it’s my cross to bear that I’m obsessed with musical theatre and if someone’s going to release an incredibly well-produced filmed production of a Broadway show, well it’s probably the only opportunity I’ll ever have to see it, so of course I’m going to watch it with joy in my heart! And this is a really great song! Those decisive strings! The famed breath control from Diggs! That insolent little casiotone melody at the start!

Bo Diddley, by Bo Diddley. Probably one of the most exciting and important pieces of music ever written? You can hear this in so many songs, and if you can’t hear it in a song, then honestly what’s the point?

Next time: I used the cacao butter to make vegan white chocolate and it was amazing and you will be hearing about it.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Vegan Lemon White Chocolate Slice


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There are numerous ways in which New Zealand aggrieves me, both on a macro and a micro level, but on a very micro level, something that makes me wildly irate is how expensive vegan white chocolate is here. And should you forgo paying the rent, or feeding your family, to instead spend that money on a bar of vegan white chocolate: it doesn’t even taste that great.

Today’s recipe doesn’t solve this problem. But it is white chocolate inspired and, I would say, evokes it with success. Whether or not you agree on the degree of white chocolate evocation in this recipe, we can all agree that it’s nonetheless amazingly delicious.

The key ingredient is cacao butter – a relatively specialised item, I grant you, and I’m sincerely sorry! Whenever a recipe implies a secret ingredient I’m always like, “please let it be flour, or water, or air,” and it’s always instead something like $400 worth of macadamias. (For what it’s worth, I found raw cacao butter quite reasonably priced at the Pukekohe Bin Inn and I believe it’s becoming available in supermarkets.) Cacao butter is simply the extracted fat from the cocoa beans, and it’s the most beguiling stuff – it has the texture of chocolate but it tastes like nothing. There is perhaps the faintest echo of chocolate flavour but otherwise it’s just an inoffensive waxy vibe, and yet – I freely admit – I found myself continuously compelled to eat it, on its own, to marvel at that dichotomy of mind-blowing texture and utterly absent flavour.

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Anyway, adding cacao butter to a sweetened mixture of cornflour-thickened lemon juice and almond milk, along with the tiniest, barest pinch of cocoa to help things along – it creates a filling for the slice which is velvety-textured and creamy, and flutteringly white chocolatey, while also being pertly zingy from the lemon. As is so often the case with the real thing, this white chocolate mixture graciously takes a back seat to the lemon’s snappy tartness.

The base – dense and slightly fudgy – somehow adds to the white chocolate vibes with the oaty nuttiness and caramelly brown sugar. You can always replace the oats with more flour if you don’t have the means or the will to get out the food processor, but for what it’s worth I think they add to the slice’s excellence, and if you give the food processor a quick shake after blending the oats – it’s basically clean again. I should also point out that the recipe does look extremely wordy, but that’s only because I am a real over-explainer and want to make sure you have all the information; the whole process is really quite straightforward.

I have not yet tried making this without any distracting citrus factor, but would be interested in pursuing it, along with seeing how cacao butter fares in other baking, sauces, ice creams, and indeed, if something that properly tastes like a bar of white chocolate can be made from it – but till then, this slice is an incredibly delicious starting point.

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Vegan Lemon White Chocolate Slice

A recipe by myself.

Base:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling:

  • 3/4 cup almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons cornflour (or cornstarch as it’s called in America)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (two medium-large lemons should do the trick)
  • 3/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon (as in, a tiny tiny pinch) of cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup raw cacao butter, roughly chopped
  • lemon zest, to serve

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a regular brownie tin (either 20x20cm or 27x17cm or thereabouts, one of those ones) with baking paper. Blitz the oats in a food processor until they are ground fairly finely (it’s okay to still have some bits here and there.)

2: Mix the powdered rolled oats and flour in a mixing bowl then sieve in the baking powder and baking soda and mix again. Add the sugar, coconut oil, salt, milk and vanilla and mix until it forms damp crumbs. Press the mixture in an even layer into the base of the brownie tin, stab a few times with a fork (this prevents it rising unevenly) and bake for about fifteen minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly while you make the filling.

3: Whisk the almond milk, cornflour, and lemon juice together in a small pan, making sure there are no lumps. It sometimes helps to mix a little liquid into the cornflour first and then stir that into the rest of the liquid. Continue stirring the mixture over a low heat until bubbles just appear at the edges – at this point, remove it immediately from the heat and keep stirring for a bit to cool it just slightly.

4: Either microwave the cacao butter in 20 second bursts or melt it in a bowl resting on top of a small pan of simmering water. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into the almond milk mixture and stir it in along with the vanilla, then gradually, very slowly, add the melted cacao butter, stirring till it’s incorporated before adding in more. It will take some definite stirring to bring it all together, but if it looks like it’s really not mixing in, sift in some extra icing sugar, a teaspoon at a time – this gives the oil something to “cling” to.

5: Spread the filling evenly over the base, sprinkle with the lemon zest, and refrigerate until completely cooled. The filling will be thick, but not solid. Slice into squares.

Notes: You can use refined or unrefined coconut oil successfully here. If you don’t or can’t have almond milk, rice milk would be my second choice – both have a neutral, slightly sweet flavour that’s ideal here.

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music lately:

Chest, by FRIGS. This song has everything: tempo changes, a pervading air of hostility, Hole-style yelling, more tempo changes. I love it.

Riot by Basement Five. Excellent, and best served as loud as it is fast.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

 

Spaghetti with Horseradish Butter [Vegan]

I took some time out from blogging over the past fortnight because it didn’t sit right with me to do normal updates as though an enormous uprising wasn’t happening in America in response to police brutality, murder, and systemic oppression of Black people. That uprising is so enormous – so powerful – that there was nothing else worth knowing about. Frankly, I didn’t want to hear my own voice. I’ve been donating to bail funds, signing petitions and doing a lot of reading, and – in order of their usefulness – I encourage anyone and everyone to do the same and to reflect hard if reflection is needed, and if you want any recommendations or thoughts just ask me! There are parallels between the failures of America and the failures of our own police force in New Zealand and the specificity of the Black Lives Matter cause to America doesn’t mean we’re removed from its impact. This is not a definitive statement on what’s going on or what the best response is – but just as much as I needed to shut up for a while, now I need to not, you know?


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This recipe for spaghetti with horseradish butter was domiciled in my brain for a long time – actual months – before I had the opportunity to make it. Despite being mostly at home during the various levels of lockdown I was never quite alone, and this was a recipe I knew I had to make alone – in case it was terrible, so no one else would be marred by the experience – or in case it was incredible, so I could selfishly yet serenely enjoy its abundance all to myself. Happily, it was the latter. Quite incredible.

Horseradish belongs to a particularly brusque family which includes wasabi, mustard, cabbage, broccoli and radishes, so even if you’ve never tried it this should give you some clue as to its flavour – clean, grassy, and more sinus-exfoliating than Buckley’s Canadiol expectorant, if consumed in large quantities. There’s a delicacy to horseradish though, a sort of gauzy pepperiness which cuts through richness in an elegant way, thus making it perfect for this simple buttery pasta. That being said, this sauce would be equally delicious made with wasabi or mustard instead.

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The butter is quickly made in a blender – based on this recipe I blogged about last year – and it’s fulsome and creamy and, well, buttery, or at least as close as my tastebuds can recall butter to be from the times before I was vegan. Any sharpness from the horseradish is mellowed out by the flood of richness from the coconut oil, but then any overwhelming richness from said oil is tempered with just enough harshness from the horseradish.

The quantity of butter this recipe makes could absolutely be sufficient for two people’s worth of spaghetti – perhaps even three – although I wouldn’t want to make that call personally. Much as I love it, I understand horseradish can be a somewhat divisive flavour – so perhaps it’s for the greater good if you make this just for yourself, too.

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Spaghetti with Horseradish Butter

A recipe by myself.

  • 2 tablespoons almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 1/4 teaspoon vinegar (I used malt, cider or red wine would be good too)
  • 1 heaped tablespoon grated horseradish, from a jar
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • 100g spaghetti or dried pasta of your choice
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh parsley, for garnish

1: Either in a high-speed blender or using a stick blender in a small bowl, blitz the almond milk, ground almonds, vinegar and horseradish. You can also add a pinch of turmeric for colour if you like. It might feel a bit ineffectual blending such a small quantity of liquid but it will come together when you add the oil.

2: Add the oil and salt and blend thoroughly for about thirty seconds or until the mixture is thick and smoothly pureed. If you are using a stick blender, drizzle it in slowly as you’re blending, but if you’re using an actual blender just chuck it all in. Taste to see if it needs more salt, and refrigerate while you make the pasta.

3: Bring a large pan of water to the boil (or: boil the kettle and then tip that into your pan, which is much faster) and salt generously. Once the water is boiling, tip in the pasta and cook for ten to twelve minutes or until tender.

4: Drain the pasta, retaining about 2 tablespoons of the cooking water. Stir in as much of the horseradish butter as you like – I used the whole lot – along with a little of the cooking water, the starchiness of which will cohere with the butter to form a delicate sauce.

5: Serve, sprinkled with the parsley. Serves 1.

Notes: You can use refined or unrefined coconut oil successfully here – unrefined will give a slight coconut flavour, but I guess we’re used to that by now. You could try making this with a different plant milk but almond’s neutral (dare I say nonexistent) flavour works best here – if that’s not available I would go for rice milk instead.

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music lately:

Efuge Efuge, by Stelios Kazantzidis. As they say in the youtube comments, The Wire season two brought me here, and this song is so enigmatic – especially that mournful yet body-motivating chorus.

Germ Free Adolescents by X Ray Spex. Ugh I love this song, the way Poly Styrene’s voice cracks and then soars, it’s so grim yet so uplifting, like a – I don’t know, all I can think of is watching an albatross fly over the setting sun but then it swoops down and kicks you in the face and then flies off again and you’re like, “you know what, that belligerent albatross probably had their reasons,” because it’s so beautiful.

King of the World, by Billy Porter from the off-Broadway musical Songs for a New World. Porter was part of the original cast but due to a contractual conflict he didn’t appear on the cast recording – fortunately he recorded a version of this glorious song for his 2005 live album At the Corner of Broadway and Soul. Even in audio form you can feel his acting – but the singing! In that final chorus! When he inverts the melody and throws it towards the sky! Like a non-belligerent albatross!

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Mustard Tomato Broth (or, Anti-Anxiety Broth)

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As someone with vast, abundant, storied, unceasingly and almost impressively regenerative experience with anxiety, I find myself – perhaps surprisingly – more mentally soothed by high-intensity noise. Loud, beat-driven music, aggressive ambient frequencies, moderately humorous mid-century patter songs.

This mustard tomato broth is like that. But in broth form. This is noisy food. When you eat this mustard tomato broth, all you can sense is its ingredients, and not your spiralling thoughts. I’m not saying I’m anxious right now, but even at my most serene my brain still sounds like someone is tap-dancing to Scotland the Brave while brandishing a chainsaw (as I often say, I only wish I were exaggerating for comic effect) and yet – I was notably silenced by my own lunch.

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The main source of shock-value here is a brisk spoonful of sinus-punting mustard powder. There’s balance though, it’s not mere distraction, otherwise I might as well simply direct you to snort the powder instead of cooking with it. You get sweetness and rich salinity from the tomato, briefly steeped in salt to draw out its liquid, effectively making you a small quantity of highly-flavoured stock. There’s lemongrass – if you have it – or a strip of citrus peel, to lend the broth an air of zesty optimism, and spring onion for its obvious savoury backdrop.

You can add extra bits to your broth, of course. I would’ve used chilli flakes but a mouse broke into our cupboard and ate them, so I used chilli sauce instead – only a drop, because there’s enough going on already without being wilfully obtuse. A dash of sesame oil would probably be lovely, you could also try this with horseradish instead of mustard if you can get hold of it. Though the tomato and salt has to sit around for a while, the remainder of the recipe requires the briefest of heating and stirring – and just like that, you have an outwardly tranquil and inwardly rambunctious snack.

I was tempted to call it Anti-Anxiety Broth on its own, but would like to hope the bulk of you can enjoy my recipe removed from that particular context, on top of which I don’t want to saddle it with expectations. Besides, the most relevant attribute is: it’s delicious.

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Mustard Tomato Broth, or, Anti-Anxiety Broth

A recipe by myself.

  • 1 medium-sized tomato (or a handful of cherry tomatoes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 spring onion, finely sliced (white part only)
  • 1 stalk lemongrass cut into short lengths, or a wide strip of lemon or lime zest
  • 250ml/1 cup water
  • chilli flakes or chilli sauce, to taste

1: Dice the tomato quite finely, removing the green stalk, and place in a small bowl or cup and sprinkle over the salt. Leave to sit on the bench for half an hour to an hour.

2: Transfer the entire contents of the dish – tomato, salt, drawn-out liquid – into a small pan. Stir in the mustard powder, then add the sliced onion, lemongrass stalks, and the water. Bring the liquid to the boil, stirring as you do, and remove from the heat as soon as it reaches this point.

3: Stir in chilli, to taste, and then tip everything into a small bowl.

Serves 1.

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music lately:

Cokane in my Brain by Dillinger. This is so charming and breezy and garrulous. “A knife a fork, a bottle and a cork, that’s the way we spell New York.”

Nag Nag Nag by Cabaret Voltaire, wonderfully sparkly and energetic yet droning and miserable, a true winning formula for capturing the attention of my ears.

King of the Wild Frontier, Adam and the Ants. When those drums come in! I have a real thing for any song that sounds this urgent, even if the urgency itself is lost on me. Back to the drums, if big noise is also your thing I highly recommend this incredible recording of The Drummers of Burundi from 1987, it was their sound which directly influenced – or was nicked by – bands like Adam and the Ants.

Next time: still working on that ice cream.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

incredibly delicious mocha cake

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I went back and forth several times but there’s no real way to make this opening sentence any more thrilling, and even if it’s not thrilling, it’s true: I’ve really been getting into square cakes. They go so much further than a round cake, the relative shallowness of the tin takes the edge off worrying about how tall the cake will rise, and there’s no dicking about with layers. It’s the practicality that particularly appeals to me – a round cake, sliced into wedges, is gone so soon! But a square cake – well, that’s absolute days of coffee-or-tea accompaniment quite sorted. Partway through my writing this, it was announced by the government that New Zealand will be moving into Level 2, significantly lifting the lockdown we’ve all been in for what feels like forever now. Certainly puts the buzz of a square-shaped cake into perspective.

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But as much as a cake can be exciting either on its own terms or in relation to COVID-19 this one has it covered – moist and springy, delicately rich with cocoa-tinted coffee flavour. It’s plain, yet hints of effort, mellow yet intense, sweet, but with the bitter full-stop of caffeine. I’ve made it twice now and imagine there will be several more iterations to come. I used a different icing both times: first, an ermine frosting – which is where you make a roux of milk and flour and beat it into butter, which sounds terribly unlikely but it’s a traditional American recipe where you end up with a silky coating as glossy as a buckskin Akhal-Teke horse. Lovely though this was, I prefer my second go, where I made a quick emulsion to imitate butter and then added icing sugar, it was densely granular and fudgy and wonderful.

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After the swaddling-tight restrictions of lockdown I’m illogically a tad wary about moving into comparatively carefree times, though there’s no kidding ourselves that whatever we considered normal is going to return – especially considering every other country in the world is having its own personal battle with COVID-19. I’ve been extremely lucky and I’m so grateful for it, which is not to discredit any anxiety, but it does put me in an okay position to deal with it. I keep trying to remember what I told myself near the start of all this: one hour at a time, one day at a time. At least with this cake I know where I stand, which is a start – it’s wonderful, and delicious, and the knowledge of its existence, patiently waiting for my next cup of tea, comforts.

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Incredibly Delicious Mocha Cake

A recipe by myself.

Cake

  • 2 and 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 heaped tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup plain oil, such as rice bran
  • 1/2 cup oat milk or similar
  • 1 tablespoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup (or similar, eg maple syrup)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup cold water

Icing Option 1: Glossy Mocha Ermine Frosting

  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup oat milk or similar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup or similar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
  • a pinch of salt
  • 7 tablespoons (roughly half a cup) vegan butter/margarine

Icing Option 2: Fudgy Mocha Icing

  • 2 heaped tablespoons soft coconut oil (refined or regular, either is cool)
  • 2 tablespoons oat milk or similar
  • 1/4 teaspoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup or similar
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 cups icing sugar

Note: if you don’t have instant coffee but you do have plunger coffee or similar, you can use that instead of the cold water (just leave it to go cold, too) or as well as for extra coffee boost.

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a 22x22cm cake tin with baking paper.

2: Place the flour in a large mixing bowl, then sieve in the baking soda (to ensure there are no lumps and to make the mixture rise evenly) then stir in the cocoa, coffee powder, and sugars.

3: Make a well in the centre by pushing a hole in the flour with your spoon, then tip in the remaining cake ingredients and stir to combine into a thick cake batter. Spatula this into the cake tin and bake for about 35-40 minutes or until the top is springy. This is your cake and you may have it and eat it too as it is, or proceed to the following icing recipes once it’s cooled.

Icing 1: Glossy Mocha Ermine Frosting

1: Whisk together everything except the butter in a small saucepan. Cook this mixture over a low heat until it becomes thick and almost gluey, removing it from the heat as soon as it starts to come away from the sides. Keep stirring it for a minute or two once it’s off the stove, just to prevent it burning in the residual heat of the pan. Allow this mixture to cool to room temperature.

2: Using electric beaters, a stick blender, or a small food processor, whip the vegan butter for a minute, then continue beating while adding small spoonfuls of the room temperature coffee-flour mixture. Keep going in this manner until it’s entirely beaten together, by which point it should be thick, glossy, and smooth. Spread evenly over the cooled cake. You will need to store the cake in the refrigerator if you use this icing.

Icing 2: Fudgy Mocha Icing

1: Using a stick blender or small food processor, blitz the soft coconut oil, milk, vinegar and golden syrup together. You’re essentially making a quick emulsion in the manner of homemade butter here. Transfer this mixture to a larger bowl and gradually stir in the coffee powder, cocoa, icing sugar and salt until it forms a thick, dense icing. You may wish to add another splash of milk but do so carefully, as a little liquid goes a long way. Spread over the cooled cake.

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music lately:

Houston in Two Seconds, by Ry Cooder. A long, slow sunset in music form.

Teardrops, by Womack & Womack, a shining star of the “incredibly sad lyrics to an upbeat melody” genre and possibly one of the best songs of all time. I know I say that a lot on here, but the reason is just that I have incredible taste in music! That’s all!

Being Alive, Bernadette Peters. I can never, ever get sick of Sondheim’s musical Company but her version of its closing number is – transcendent. Her voice is so delicate but so hefty, like a rhinoceros in ice skates and whatever emotion there is left to be wrung from this admittedly over-performed song, she finds it and drop kicks it into your very soul.

Next time: I still haven’t made ice cream!

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Pesto Seitan

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Even a minute looking at this recipe for seitan would completely put me off as it appears a mile long and every inch of it arduous, and there’s no real way to convince you it’s quite straightforward other than attempting to distract by waving lots of lengthy adjectives about. Frankly, I’ve not seen a single seitan recipe which doesn’t make the entire process seem like a gigantic pain in the skull and I doubt mine is doing anything to mitigate this – but it really, honestly, is a lot easier to put together than it is to read about.

As far as I can tell there’s no streamlining the three main steps – mixing the dough, simmering the dough, then actually cooking it as you intended – but once you have your head around these steps you can face the process with exuberance in your heart. When I first made this I just used gluten flour and water, with no added protein in the form of cannellini beans, and it was fine, but very springy – the pureed beans give the seitan a more relaxed texture, and they also make your gluten flour go further since it’s weirdly expensive here at $9 a package. You may rightfully be suspicious at how there’s very little seasoning in the seitan itself, but I’ve found it’s easier to get the flavour in during the marinading process than it is at the start, where the gluten flour muffles every effort at making it taste like anything other than hard bouncy flour.

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You can of course dial back my recipe by leaving out the pesto element – this was part of my birthday dinner last month (and you can also see the Triple Pickle Macaroni in the photos) and pesto remains as thrilling to me now as it did back in 2003 when I first learned of its existence. If you’re not making it a la pesto, then I would enthusiastically suggest adding lots of chopped fresh rosemary and thyme to the marinade, their resiny robust fragrance is an ideal pairing with the seitan.

It’s not that seitan tastes like meat, it doesn’t. As soon as I start trying to describe it – firm, chewy, slightly fibrous – we get back into off-putting territory, but there really is something amazing about its texture. The gluten gives a mild flavour, slightly nutty and rich, a foolproof backdrop for whatever flavour you wish to have cling to. Basically: it tastes of culinary potential. Once marinated in a salt-fat-acid-heat mixture, then fried vigorously till crisp-edged and caramelised, with the rubble of hand-chopped pesto stirred through – it becomes particularly luxurious and opulent. It reminded me of the canned mock duck which I used to consume at great length and which, in lockdown, I lamentably haven’t been able to get hold of – this is, perhaps, the highest praise I can offer. Therefore, truly worth the hassle. That being said, if you are, unlike me, able to get hold of the Wu Chung canned mock duck? Put your feet up and ignore everything I’ve just said, because dinner is served.

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Pesto Seitan

A recipe by myself.

Seitan

  • 1 x 400g tin cannellini beans
  • 1 and 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten, also sold as gluten flour (the brand I used was Lotus Gluten Flour which I found at my small local New World)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 vegan chicken stock cube (or whatever flavour you want)

Marinade

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 heaped teaspoon Marmite or 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper or a dash of chilli sauce

Pesto Sauce

  • 2 large handfuls fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 2 heaped tablespoons tahini
  • zest and juice of a lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (though you may wish to add more)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • salt, to taste

Step One: Mix and Simmer the Seitan

1: Blend the drained cannellini beans in a food processor until smooth. You can mash them with a fork if need be, but it’s a lot harder to mix into the flour if not completely pureed. Transfer to a bowl and add the gluten flour, 1/2 a cup of water and half the stock cube, stirring briefly till it forms a solid ball – this won’t take very long, and only add more water if there’s too much flour remaining. Knead it for a minute – pushing away and pulling back with your palms and knuckles – it should feel quite dense and solid.

2: Cut the ball into four even pieces (the size and quantity isn’t that important, it’s just to make it easier to simmer.) Place the seitan and remaining half a stock cube in a large pan and cover with water by a couple inches. Bring the water to the boil, and then simmer for about fifteen to twenty minutes, stirring often. The seitan will swell up alarmingly, which is why you need to keep an eye on it, but it will deflate once the water is drained.

3: Thoroughly drain the seitan – I put it in a colander and then press down with the pan I’ve just cooked it in – and set aside till you’re ready to cook dinner. I quite like to leave it overnight in the fridge, it seems to improve the flavour and texture, but I also very, very, very rarely think that far ahead, so don’t worry too much. It helps, once the seitan has cooled, to squeeze it out a bit over a sink – but don’t stress too much, any remaining water will evaporate in the hot saucepan.

Step Two: Make the Marinade and Sauce

1: About half an hour before you want to cook dinner, mix together the marinade ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Slice the thoroughly drained seitan into small pieces and stir into the marinade, and leave at room temperature for about half an hour.

2: To make the pesto sauce, chop the basil, pine nuts and walnuts finely – doing it in small batches with a large knife is most effective – and mix together in a small bowl with the remaining pesto ingredients. It’s fine if some pine nuts are left whole or larger pieces of walnuts remain. This won’t look like pesto from a jar – it’s supposed to be more rough and textural. Taste to see if it needs more of anything.

Step Three: Fry, Stir and Serve

1: Heat a large frying pan and fry the marinated seitan pieces over a high heat, turning occasionally with tongs, until browned and a little crisp in places. Tip in the remaining marinade and stir for a minute or two.

2: Remove from the heat and stir in the pesto until everything is thoroughly coated.

3: Serve immediately.

Substitution notes: instead of cannellini beans you can use chickpeas or firm tofu – about 150g to 200g, pressed with a paper towel to remove excess liquid, whatever you use just blend it in the same way. Stock cubes can be replaced with soy sauce, or just use more Marmite; use tomato puree or even tomato ketchup/sauce instead of paste. You can add different herbs and spices to the marinade – chopped fresh rosemary goes really well here – and you can use different oil, maple syrup or golden syrup instead of sugar, and any time I mention garlic cloves you can totally use the stuff from a jar. I would, however, make a concerted effort to get hold of some celery salt – it adds something specific and irreplaceable in my opinion! You can increase the quantity of pine nuts in the pesto if you’re feeling rich; and you can add spinach or parsley to the basil.

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music lately:

Savage Remix, by Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé. Imagine having Beyoncé featuring on your track before you even release your debut album? It makes sense though and I love this for Megan, she’s so enormously talented and fun and if the song wasn’t already the quarantine soundtrack with the ubiquitous accompanying Tik-Tok dance challenge (which I admit, I learned, but did not broadcast) this fresh take has thoroughly invigorated my love of it. I realise what I’ve just written feels extremely 2020, but – here we undeniably are.

Big Iron, by Marty Robbins from his Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs album which is so instantly calming yet stirring it’s like being full-body dunked in a bowl of noodle soup.

Tainted Love, Gloria Jones, this is kind of like Rumble by Link Wray in that you listen to it and it’s like does anything else go as hard as this? Why do we bother to continue making music when this exists? Why doesn’t every song have that dun-dun beat in it (as in, “sometimes I feel I’ve got to – dun-dun – run away”) imagine how much better Mozart would be if his Eine Kleine Nachtmusik had the Tainted Love dun-dun after his opening bars?

Next time: I’m in the mood to make ice cream.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Marmite Babka

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Yes, as you can see from the photos, I burnt this a little. But you won’t! At no point in the instructions do I tell anyone to burn anything. Admittedly, I didn’t tell myself to burn anything and yet here we find ourselves. But I hate food waste, and the recipe did work perfectly well, the variable factor was me, putting something in the oven and then promptly forgetting about it. In fact, I hate wasting food so much I wrote an essay about it for Tenderly, which was spurred on from an extremely disastrous cake I tried making last week. The premise was: wasting food sucks anyway, but during COVID-19 lockdown it feels appallingly guilt-ridden. If I’ve learned anything from attempting to monetise my every complete thought, there’s no better way to process an emotion than in essay form! I’m not even being flippant – because I wrote that whole essay, I was so much more quickly able to be pragmatic about this burnt babka.

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Babka is a traditional Jewish dessert – often more of a leavened cake than mere sweetened bread – and this recipe, with Marmite swirling through the dough, is obviously deeply untraditional, though made with great reverence for its provenance. If you’re unfamiliar with Marmite, it’s a black, salty, vitamin-enriched yeast spread, which I concede sounds horrific, but as with most foodstuffs based on sodium it’s super compelling to the taste buds. There are variants, which inspire vehement allegiance from some – for example, Vegemite, or the Marmite you get in the UK, which curiously, tastes exactly like Vegemite. Despite their being so closely aligned in spirit, Vegemite tastes utterly disgusting to me, but if it inherently appeals to you, then by all means make this recipe using it instead. I don’t want it near me, but I can understand how someone would feel the same way about Marmite.

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Non-stop caveats and burnt bits aside, how does the Marmite Babka actually taste? Amazing! The dough is soft and feathery with a light, crisp pastry-like crust, and as you can see from the photos, a gratifyingly perfect swirl of Marmite throughout. Salt being the dear friend of sugar, the Marmite naturally pairs wonderfully with the sweetness of the dough, and the finished babka is barely savoury – I’d happily eat it for dessert. This is partially due to the coconut oil and tahini I added to mellow out the salinity, and honestly, it was a struggle to not simply eat the filling mixture on its own. I also can’t emphasise enough how half-hearted the dough-twisting process is for such good-looking results.

This is really not a practical recipe – it takes forever to make, though little of that involves effort from you, and once it’s baked the twisted pull-apart nature of it means it’s quite easy to make a whole loaf disappear in one sitting. But I woke up with the strong urge to make this idea which came into my head, and since having drive to do anything seemed like an avenue of joy rather lost to lockdown, I had no choice but to act upon it. If you want something more sensibly utilitarian to put in the oven, I recommend my Social Distancing Bread.

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Marmite Babka

A recipe by myself.

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup lukewarm water
  • 3 cups high-grade/bread flour
  • 1/2 cup aquafaba (brine from a can of chickpeas)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 heaped tablespoon Marmite
  • 2 heaped tablespoons coconut oil, softened
  • 2 heaped tablespoons tahini

1: Place the yeast, sugar and water in a large mixing bowl, swirl the bowl to combine them, and leave to sit for five minutes to get a little bubbly.

2: Stir in 1/4 cup of the flour, and sit for another five minutes.

3: Tip in the remaining flour and the aquafaba and stir to form a shaggy dough. Now, knead in the olive oil – drizzle some oil over, pull and push with your knuckles and the heel of your palm, and repeat until the oil is gone. The dough will be dense, and not particularly springy, but should be a fairly cohesive and smooth ball by the time you’re done.

4: Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap (sorry!) and leave in the refrigerator for six hours, or overnight.

5: Once the time is up, remove the bowl from the fridge and let it sit for about an hour to get to room temperature (I recommend setting your alarm early, staggering out to remove the bowl, and then going back to bed.) Don’t worry if it hasn’t risen dramatically, as long as it’s bigger than when it went in.

6: Mix the Marmite, coconut oil and tahini together in a small bowl.

7: Take the dough and roll it out to a large, even-ish rectangle about 1-2cm thick. It helps to do this on a piece of baking paper, which you can then use when you bake the bread.

8: Spread the Marmite mixture evenly over the entire dough rectangle, then roll it up from one side into a long cylinder. Slice this cylinder in half lengthwise, then twist these two halves around each other by lifting up one piece and shuffling the other underneath and so on. Don’t overthink it.

9: Transfer the dough into a baking-paper lined loaf tin – I just lifted up the piece of baking paper that it was sitting on and transferred the whole thing into the tin – cover again and leave to rise again for 40 minutes.

10: Bake at 180C/350F for 45 minutes or until cooked through. Check regularly to make sure it’s not burning – like mine did!! – and place a piece of tin foil over the loaf if it looks like it’s browning too quickly.

11: Leave the loaf to rest for a few minutes and then eat the lot.

Note: this was based on a recipe for babka I made for Tenderly which has photos of the rolling/cutting/twisting process if that’s helpful.

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music lately:

Rumble, by Link Wray. One of those perfect pieces of music you can listen to and feel the approaching shadows of so many songs to come since.

Ladies Who Lunch, performed by Audra McDonald, Christine Baranski and Meryl Streep yesterday, live-streamed from their respective houses for Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday celebrations. This should be too much – the three of them performatively drinking for the camera, singing Sondheim’s sardonic song disparaging rich women while very much being rich women during a global pandemic. But it was just right, and deliciously so – a demonstration of what real performing is, and how it doesn’t always need a stage. The whole concert itself was incredibly moving in places, a little not-for-me in others, but this was certainly the most instantly memorable part.

So What’cha Want, Beastie Boys. I love this song so much, I love them so much, and I want that lumbering drumbeat to follow me around everywhere.

Next time: I totally forgot that I was going to blog about pesto seitan! After spending so long asking the universe for a good seitan recipe! You can really see how I could accidentally leave a loaf of bread in the oven too long, huh.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Triple Pickle Macaroni

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A birthday in lockdown is no great hardship compared to the breadth of suffering and distress worldwide resulting from COVID-19. I also can’t pretend to be winsomely diffident, it took some getting used to – but it was only a very small adversity. There were many positives: I received a lot of love online – and truly, there’s no greater gift than online displays of affection. Would I rather have an elaborate present, or a nice instagram story about how much someone loves me? That’s so unchallenging a question it’s practically rhetorical. (But the answer is the latter, in case I wasn’t clear.) I also got to make dinner for my family, and since making dinner is a pastime I anticipate with irrational vigilance, it was like another gift to me.

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On the menu was pesto seitan, a salad with the final precious avocado for the foreseeable future, and something I call Triple Pickle Macaroni, since, well, that’s what it is. Like all good recipes this idea appeared in my head all at once, fully formed, and all I had to do was make it. I was going to call it a Mac and Cheese because it’s certainly evocative of that wonderful dish, but there’s no actual cheese involved and something in the sheer inelegance of the title Triple Pickle Macaroni cheered me hugely. Now, no matter how defined the image of a recipe is in your mind, the tangible result doesn’t always match up. Fortunately for me, my family, my birthday, and ultimately you: it was so delicious.

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The pickled elements I refer to are sauerkraut, gherkins and pickled apples, each of which tangle into the creamy sauce and provide tangy, biting contrast. With all the sharp-sweet-saltiness going on it almost tastes like there is cheese involved, and in fact – well, I’m only human – I concede it would probably taste particularly great with actual cheese added. Naturally, referring here to vegan cheese – if you can find one which doesn’t go unsettlingly waxy when melted then feel free to plough ahead and stir it in. Should you eat cheese made out of dairy I’m not going to hold it against you if you put it in this recipe, nor would I assume you’d care what I think about this decision, but you know I’m obliged to mention our terrible expensive vegan cheese first. Should you have no cheese of any sort to hand, fear not: the Triple Pickle Macaroni is wonderful on its own. Rich, robustly hearty, tasting of lurid kitschy yesteryear and the punctilious present all at once, dense enough to make you sleepy but strewn with enough vinegary bursts of texture to wake you back up again.

In my last blog post I talked about the overwhelming, impenetrable irritability that has grown like a haunted forest around my brain in lockdown. If I may be frank, after some reflection I’m not entirely convinced it’s me being disagreeable – I think people really are just becoming more annoying. I am, however, doing my best to remain sanguine. Turning 34 was not at all what I thought it would be, but it was, all told, a rather happy little birthday, and I’m immensely grateful to everyone who helped make it so.

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Triple Pickle Macaroni

A recipe by myself.

  • 1 x 500g package macaroni elbows
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Marmite or half a stock cube
  • 2 cups oat milk or whatever you have
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 cup sauerkraut
  • 1/4 cup chopped gherkins (or as they’re sometimes simply known: pickles)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pickled apples
  • salt and pepper to taste, plus a little paprika to sprinkle over

Note: I don’t assume you have pickled apples to hand – you can use pretty much anything else you think would work, whether it’s pickled onions, beans, zucchini, whatever. Or just more sauerkraut and gherkins.

1: Cook the macaroni in a large pan of boiling, well-salted water for about eleven minutes or until it’s tender.

2: Meanwhile, stir the coconut oil, olive oil, flour and Marmite together in another pan over a medium heat, continuing to stir for about five minutes or until it’s somewhat thickened. Slowly add the oat milk, continuing to stir the whole time. Let it simmer away over a low heat, stirring often. It should be fairly thick and saucy but still plausibly able to coat a whole lot of pasta at this point, add more milk if it gets too thick. 

3: Stir in the nutmeg, nutritional yeast, and all the pickled ingredients. I’ve suggested 1/4 cup of each as a starting point but you can absolutely add more, indeed, I encourage it.

4: By this point your pasta should be cooked. Drain the macaroni, reserving about 1/2 a cup of the cooking water, which you then add to the simmering sauce. Taste the sauce to see if it needs more of anything, then stir through the drained macaroni. Serve sprinkled with a dusting of paprika.

This makes a LOT, and will serve four people very generously with plenty of leftovers, and probably up to eight people as a side. 

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music lately:

I Want You To Love Me, by Fiona Apple. The only thing better than public displays of love on my birthday is Fiona Apple releasing a brand new album. This is the first song on Fetch The Bolt Cutters and it arrives with a clatter of piano keys and Apple’s throaty voice and her lyrics which have the emotional effect of being suddenly kicked behind the knees: Whenever you want to begin, begin/We don’t have to go back to where we’ve been/I am the woman who wants you to win/and I’ve been waiting, waiting for you to love me.

Simon Zealotes, from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, covered by Ledisi. Very specifically, I’ve been listening to the stretch between 2:12 and 3:09 over and over where she sounds especially incredible, and I strongly encourage you to do the same, I wish the whole song consisted of this bit.

Cheree, by Suicide, I love this song so much, it’s kinda creepy and yet makes it feel like the world is full of possibilities all waiting for you to discover them, which is, you must admit, a rare combination to pull off.

Next time: the pesto seitan was also super delicious and I finally am truly at one with seitan, so I might post that recipe.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. And if dovetailing is something you’re keen on, then there’s truly no better time than at this close proximity to my birthday.

a low-key handful of recipes: mushroom stroganoff, gumbo-esque stew, mince on toast, chocolate pear pudding

We’re about three weeks into lockdown here in NZ but for me it’s been a full month since I’ve left the house – even to go outside at all. I had romantic notions of reading and knitting in the yard but every time you open a window wasps and mice and flies pour in and though it gives the vibe of living in a Southern Gothic novel it’s also massively off-putting. I generally regard the outdoors with suspicion anyway so I guess this is simply the universe reinforcing my assessment of it.

If you’re reading this I certainly hope things are as close to your current working definition of “okay” as possible. I personally cannot complain too much (and yet!) but I do find myself increasingly quick to irritation as a result of all this repetition. People trying to be funny online annoy me, people trying to be heartfelt annoy me, if you say something inane, that’s annoying, if you say something deep, that’s super annoying, if you mention hanging out with your partner, it’s plumbing the very teeth-eroding depths of intolerable. Oh, don’t worry, I find literally everything I say and do annoying too – and then comes the guilt at being so grumpy at everyone, guilt for not being a fountain of perky positivity – even though I’ve always been irritated by fountains of perky positivity whether or not there was a pandemic closing in on us. Then, just as it feels like my skin is going to fall off from sheer, resentful aggravation – I stand up and do some form of cardio exercise. And afterwards, even if I only exerted myself for ten minutes, and if I’m honest it’s seldom more than ten minutes – afterwards I’ll feel benign, positively magnanimous. Everyone is excused, everyone is clearly doing their best in these trying circumstances!

And then I get annoyed at the exercise, for being so maddeningly effective. Why can’t I get my endorphins from sitting down?

As you can see this blog post is a little different from usual; despite having all the time in the world I have a lot less focus – and I didn’t have an abundance to begin with – and while I’ve been cooking food I haven’t exactly been making specific recipes. I was about to give up on the notion of writing this altogether to sit and stew in my own pinging, directionless ire, when I realised I could still talk about what I’d cooked, and perhaps, collectively, it might be of some use. Each recipe is, as you can see, open to tinkering with – indeed, each one of them was the result of me meandering about, hoping what I was cooking would meet the image in my mind. The stroganoff is rich and creamy and lush (and don’t skip the cayenne, it might be that there is very little going on in my life but for days after I couldn’t stop thinking about how perfectly a pinprick of pepper brought the whole stroganoff to life.) The gumbo-esque stew was inspired by a Bryant Terry recipe, in that I looked at it and then ignored pretty much everything he suggested, but I would absolutely not have had this incredible dinner without him as a starting point. Mince on toast is pretty self-explanatory but I am keen to champion Chinese Five-Spice to anyone who will listen; and the pudding is even more self-explanatory: pudding is nice.

You may notice I haven’t mentioned garlic at all in any of the savoury recipes: it’s not that none was used – quite the opposite – but I also assume you each have highly specific opinions on what constitutes a suitable quantity and so I’m going to trust you to follow your instincts there. And once again – I really do hope you’re all okay, whatever okay is!

Mushroom Stroganoff

Slice enough button mushrooms for however many people you’re serving. If you don’t know how many mushrooms to serve people, just slice up every mushroom you have – they shrink in the pan and if you have leftovers, so be it. Fry a chopped onion in plenty of olive oil till softened, then add the mushrooms and continue stirring till they’ve collapsed and browned. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, one heaped teaspoon paprika, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and a spoonful of whatever mustard you have, along with two tablespoons of flour. Add a splash of whatever wine you’re drinking, if you have it – red or white, doesn’t matter. After stirring this around for a minute or two, slowly pour in coconut milk (or almond milk/soy milk/whatever) continuing to stir as you pour, and then let it simmer away, stirring, until as thickened yet saucy as you want it to be. Feel free to add more coconut milk and make it really saucy, and if you only have a little milk to hand you can top it up with water. I am going to assume at some point you’ve added salt and pepper. Taste to see if it needs more of anything, then serve over rice or mashed potatoes with chopped parsley. Of course you can use portobello mushrooms or fancy mushrooms or a mix but, button mushrooms will do the trick just fine.

Gumbo-esque Stew

I say Gumbo-esque because this lacks the requisite filé powder (though if you have it, go ahead) and other signposts of a classic gumbo. It tastes magnificent though, and it’s even better the next day. Roughly chop a generous handful of greens per person: spinach, kale, silverbeet, cabbage, whatever you have. It’ll shrink down in the pan, so don’t hold back. Finely chop a large onion, one or two sticks of celery, and a green capsicum (bell pepper for the Americans.) Heat four tablespoons olive oil and half a cup of flour together in a large pan, stirring over a medium heat for at least ten minutes, or until the flour is a rich golden brown colour. Then add the onion/celery/capsicum mixture and cook until the vegetables are a little softened. Add two teaspoons paprika, a good pinch of cayenne, a teaspoon of sugar (or maple syrup or molasses or whatever) and then slowly stir in about four cups of strongly seasoned stock/broth (I like vegan beef stock here for the flavour), followed by a drained can of black beans (or whatever beans you like, and you can add more beans to feed more people) as well as any extra chopped vegetables you want – carrots, kumara, etc. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly, then add the greens. Simmer for about 20-40 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more of anything (including stock) until it’s the taste and texture you want. If you have some good vegan sausages, chop them up and add them to the simmering pot too. And if you have a bay leaf, now would be the time to throw that in. Once it’s done simmering, stir in plenty of fresh thyme leaves and a splash of any vinegar you have before serving over rice or simply as is.

Mince on Toast

I mean like: cook mince and put it on toast, but also: fry an onion and a few chopped button mushrooms, add your vegan mince, stir to let it cook through, then tip in a quarter to half a jar of tomato relish and a good teaspoon of Marmite, add a splash of water/red wine and let simmer. A pinch of Chinese Five-Spice always makes everything delicious. If you don’t have vegan mince to hand, a mixture of fried mushrooms, chopped walnuts and chopped sun-dried tomatoes is really good.

Chocolate Pear Pudding

This is based on a recipe of Nigella Lawson’s, which I made vegan and more chocolatey. If you have fresh actual pears – which we did, and which was what prompted the making of this – then slice them up and arrange them in the baking dish and pop them in the oven as it heats up while you make the batter. Otherwise, as is more likely the case, simply drain two tins of pears and arrange over the base of a baking dish. Melt 1/3 cup coconut oil (though you could use margarine) and stir in 1 cup sugar, 1 and 1/2 cups flour, 4 tablespoons cocoa, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds mixed with 4 tablespoons of water (mix the flaxseed and water first and leave it to sit while you mix everything else.) Finally, stir in around 3/4 cup soy milk or whatever milk you have, until the texture is thick yet softly spreadable. Chop up about 50g-75g dark chocolate and sprinkle it over the pears, then spoon the batter over the top, smoothing it evenly with a knife or the back of a spoon. It will only just cover the pears, so try not to eat too much while you’re making it. Bake for about thirty minutes at 180C/350F. Serve as is, or with cold coconut milk or ice cream.

music lately:

Lungs, by Townes Van Zandt, from his Live at the Old Quarter album. That final line, “we’ll tell the world we tried,” I just!

Yon Ferrets Return, Neko Case. Possibly the most fiercely joyful song ever written about the ferret, and #14 in another playlist I made for Tenderly, this time about the less-celebrated members of the animal kingdom.

I’m Going Home, from the 36th Annual Sacred Harp Convention. Turns out you can get your endorphins sitting down: listening to this – and I recommend headphones – is even more rewarding than cardio. I mean, everything’s more rewarding than cardio to me, but this really does approach similar levels of busting through the hardened plaque built up around one’s brain.

Next time: photos, I promise! It’s my birthday tomorrow (the 17th) so I’m aiming to cook something cool for dinner and will report back here. I mean, there’s not much else I can do for a birthday in lockdown, but fortunately cooking dinner is pretty much all I ever want to do anyway.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Also! I wrote a round up of television recommendations if you need them while stuck at home, which anyone can read on my Patreon for free.