death by chocolate is a myth, this I know because I lived

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I recently was re-reading Nigella Lawson’s seminal text How To Eat, a book I turn to in times of crisis, happiness, fragility, anxiety, normality, national sporting-related success to which I’m entirely indifferent, pre or post-jeans shopping – there’s literally no mood this book can’t augment. I got my copy of this book in 2006 and it’s really something reading the little notes that I wrote by recipes in the first blush of ownership – so earnest, so youthful! “Didn’t have red wine but used leftover sangria and it worked a treat” was scribbled beside a slow-braised lamb and bean dish, a troubling phrase that raises more questions than its supposedly helpful inclusion answers (Did it really work a treat? Was it really sangria or was it just corner dairy red wine mixed with orange juice? Why, nevertheless, did we have leftovers?)

What cracked me up was the amount of times I’d put a tick beside a title with a modifying note stating what part of the recipe I actually had been able to afford to make. Lamb and chickpeas (tick – just made the chickpeas.) Cod and mushy peas (tick – just made the peas.) Who could have predicted that twelve years later I’d be equally as broke and meatless: tick and double tick.

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All this was in mind as I went shopping for ingredients for this week’s recipe, these Chocolate, Coconut and Almond Cookie Bars. It was precisely the moment where I considered abandoning the recipe altogether because nuts are so whole-assedly expensive; but then I shrewdly deduced that buying dark chocolate with almonds in it ($5-ish) would be markedly cheaper than buying dark chocolate ($5-ish) plus a bag of almonds ($9,000,000.) I already was darkly resigned to the fact that maple-flavoured syrup is monumentally cheaper than the real stuff.

This recipe is based pretty tightly on one that I found online. I was taken with the simplicity of the concept of blending up bananas to essentially use as glue, holding the coconut, chocolate and almonds to the base. Strangely, but appealingly, it barely tastes of banana – just kind of gently sweet and caramelly. I was a bit panicked because at first, straight from the fridge, the slice honestly didn’t taste like much of anything. But the more it gets towards room temperature the more all the flavours reassuringly make themselves known. I made some slight adjustments to the recipe – I nearly doubled the oaty base because the measurements given seemed to make hardly anything; I fiddled with the quantities of what went on top, I added more maple syrup and I added plenty of salt, which I think was the most important addition – it just makes everything taste so much more confidently of itself, so don’t be afraid to scatter a decent amount across the top. The oat base gets super hard over time so you definitely want to consume this within the next day or so; if you can’t get through it then might I suggest microwaving it or adding an oat-moistening scoop of ice cream to your plate.

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With this low-stakes rollercoaster of establishing whether or not it tasted good out of the way, I can assure you that this slice is in fact, really very delicious – the toasty, nutty oats, the flutter of maple sweetness from the fake but gamely hardworking syrup, the bitter, cocoa-rich dark chocolate for your teeth to slice through, the damply chewy shards of coconut, and barely a whisper of intrusive banana. Sorry banana, but sometimes what you bring to the table is what you don’t bring to the table, you know?

Chocolate, Coconut and Almond Cookie Bars

based on this recipe from feastingonfruit.com

2 and a half cups rolled oats
7 tablespoons maple syrup or golden syrup
3 bananas
200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup almonds, roughly chopped (or 200g dark chocolate with almonds) 
3/4 cup shredded coconut
Sea salt

Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a standard brownie tin (you know, one of those standard ones…rectangular…not too big) with baking paper.

Process the rolled oats in a blender till they’ve turned into fine dust, then pour in five tablespoons of the maple syrup and a pinch of salt and pulse briefly till it’s all clumpy. Spatula it into your brownie tin and carefully press it down evenly (use the back of a wet spoon and be prepared for it to take some patience) and bake for ten to fifteen minutes, until it’s firm and golden around the edges.

Meanwhile, rinse out the blender, and throw the bananas in with the remaining maple syrup, blitzing them to an airy yellow puree. Spread this evenly over the oat base, and then evenly sprinkle over the chocolate, almonds, and coconut. Sprinkle over another good pinch of salt. Return the tray to the oven for another forty minutes, although check after 30, and cover with tinfoil if it’s browning too much. Allow to cool, then refrigerate overnight, and slice into bars. Taste to see if it needs some more salt sprinkled over – these ingredients really benefit from it.

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Should you wish to use different nuts (walnuts would be excellent here I think) or different chocolate or add other textural elements altogether – perhaps chopped dried apricots, or smashed up pretzels, or dried cranberries, or chopped crystalised ginger – you just go with precisely the amount of creativity that the intersection between what you want and what you can afford allows you to act upon, too.

And if you’re on a specific chocolate buzz, may I also recommend such recipes as Salted Chocolate Cashew Butter Slice, or Homemade Bounty Bars.

title from: Death by Chocolate from Sia’s fourth album Some People Have Real Problems, absolute years before her mainstream breakthrough. This song is just gorgeous, melancholy with these occasional major key bursts, with real classic torch song vibes to it and a stunning coda that I almost wish was its own song, it’s so lovely.

music lately:

Nina Simone, Children Go Where I Send You. This style of song is known as cumulative and there’s something so weirdly thrilling about the way it builds and expands with each verse. Obviously Ms Simone is an absolute master of interpreting a song and making it the best, most joyful thing you’ve ever heard in your life. However! I also strenuously recommend Johnny Cash’s version with June Carter Cash (and the casually fulsome snarl in her vocals) and family, Carl Perkins, and the Statler Brothers on backing, it’s so earnestly rollicking and you’re like how does it keep going up a notch each verse? Was there ever even a more exciting song than this to be sung? I’ve literally listened to both versions of this song every day for the last week and would be happy to continue on in this manner for the actual rest of my life.

The Pharcyde, Drop. The incredible video has this almost queasy surreal vibe from the backwards-forwards Spike Jonze direction but even without the slightest hint of visuals this song is so so good, mellow and soft but just slightly sinister with amazing lyricism. You should definitely watch the video though.

Next time: I genuinely just want to make absolute bathtubs full of the corn butter from last time, but will attempt to look further afield for all of our sakes.

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grass grows greener on the other side, corn is sweeter on the other side

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This recipe is based on one that I found in a fancy cookbook at the fancy house that I stayed at with my friends last weekend (a callback for the fans!) specifically, the Genius Recipes cookbook from the Food52 website. There’s something about the language they use that occasionally even my hyperbolic-assed self will blanch at (not least the attribution of “genius” to everything) but I can’t deny that the recipe in it for what they call corn butter is genuinely incredible.

It’s literally just corn kernels, blitzed in a food processor, strained and heated, and somehow it turns into this satiny-smooth intensely buttery-rich stuff, with the texture of expensive moisturiser and with the flavour of corn to the power of corn times corn. Squared. Like corn yelling its own name through a megaphone. Like….it’s really corny. If you’re having trouble picturing it, it’s pretty much exactly like what lemon curd is to lemons in both taste and texture, if that makes sense. The book suggests using it in a risotto, so that’s exactly what I did.

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The risotto itself is very simple, to allow the Aggressive Corn flavour of the corn butter to shine through like the liquefied sunshine that it is. However, I use the husks and pulp leftover from the strained corn to make a quick stock to flavour it, lest you fear it’s going to be too bland, or indeed, wasteful. This doesn’t take too much effort but the effect on the flavour is amazing. And then the cool, silky corn butter against the rice’s softly gritty creaminess, from the starch in the rice grains bleeding into the stock with every turn of the wooden spoon around the saucepan – it’s honestly spectacular. Despite how wordy the method is the actual making of it is very simple too – all you’re doing is slowly adding water to rice and letting it absorb bit by bit, the hardest bit is having the patience to just keep stirring. In risotto, as in life. But mostly risotto.

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Corn Butter Risotto

2 ready-to-eat ears of corn*
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 cup risotto rice (I use calasparra rice because that’s what was in the cupboard, arborio tends to be the least expensive and always does the trick)
A splash of white wine or dry vermouth
salt and pepper to taste
one sprig of basil for garnish so your risotto doesn’t look nakedly yellow in the photos

1: Corn Butter

Carefully slice the corn kernels from the cob, throw them in a blender, and blitz to a thick yellow puree. Pour it through a sieve into a saucepan, pushing with a spatula and scraping underneath to get out as much velvety liquid as possible. Retain the remaining corn mush, because you’ll be using that to make a quick stock for the risotto.

Stir the sieved corn puree over a fairly high heat for a few minutes – it should thicken pretty quickly and start to look like lemon curd. Remove from the heat and set aside.

2: The risotto.

Put a kettle of water on to boil. Put the remaining corn mush from the sieve into a 1 litre measuring jug, fill it with the freshly boiled water, and give it a stir. If you don’t have a litre measuring jug, just use whatever size you have and add more water as you need it.

Heat the olive oil in a wide saucepan, and tip in the risotto rice, stirring it over medium heat for a few minutes just to allow the grains to toast a little, which makes the whole thing taste way nicer. Add the garlic, a good pinch of salt, and the splash of white wine which will steam dramatically and smell amazing.

Pour the corn stock through a sieve over the rice in small quantities – about half a cup at a time – and stir over a low heat till the rice has more or less absorbed all the stock before you add another quantity. Keep on stirring and topping up with more stock until the rice is super tender and creamy. If you need to add more liquid just add more, if you need less then that’s like, also fine.

Once you’re happy with the tenderness of the rice, remove the saucepan from the heat. Drizzle over some more olive oil (a tablespoon or two I guess) and add salt and pepper to taste. This is a really mellow-flavoured risotto so I tend towards plenty of both. To serve, spoon the risotto onto your plate and swirl generous spoonfuls of the corn butter through it.

This recipe serves two, more or less, because like, I ate it all, but in two goes.

*So, the recipe in the book asks for uncooked corn on the cob, but all I could find was the ready-to-eat variety. If you’re using uncooked corn, just be prepared to cook the puree for longer before it thickens. With that in mind, you could probably use canned corn (the plain kernels, not creamed corn) with similar effect.

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My younger brother has been staying with me this weekend and while I haven’t cooked us anything I’ve been enjoying catching up with him over those things only someone who’s grown up with you can appreciate (eg the doctor who saw me after I had a horrible horse-riding accident in 1996 is still there at the same practice and is still astonishingly handsome.) In-between me being at work all the time, we went to an art gallery, ate at a pop-up vegan cafe, he visited Te Papa, he bought a sitar, just normal weekend-y things like that.

All I’ve been doing otherwise is working or going deep into the snake hole of fan theories about House of Leaves which I read last weekend, it’s the kind of book where you’ll be nineteen pages deep into an online forum at 3am and find yourself whispering “oh my god the protagonist’s name is an anagram for….protagonist” and being so unsettled as a result that you have to sleep with the light on. If it’s not obvious, I highly recommend it. I’ve also just finished The Miseducation of Cameron Post which has that kind of bubbling-hot-tar-mosquito-bite-sticky-faced American Gothic quality that I adore.

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I cannot wait to make vast quantities more of corn butter – the recipe above gives you about half a cup, but I know I need more than that around, to spread on toast, to daub onto grilled corn (how wry!), to fold through pasta, to enliven a salad, to spread over my entire body before floating in the sea, the options are simply endless.

If you are on a corn buzz may I also recommend such further recipes of mine as Roast Corn and Tomatoes or Blackened Corn and Tortilla Salad.

title from: In A Hole, by Jesus and Mary Chain. I love these guys SO much. It literally sounds like someone was doing the vacuuming while this song was being recorded and that is precisely the amount of (a) scuzzy reverby grubbiness and (b) white noise I want around me at all times.

music lately:

We Are Scientists, The Great Escape. Saying this song sounds like every British indie record from 2005-2007 was put in a blender and strained through a sieve, cooked over a low heat and what remained covered with water to use as a flavoursome stock does it something of a disservice; the way that the chords climb on “great idea/wait right here” is truly thrilling to the ears.

Lynne Thigpen, Bless The Lord, from the film adaptation of the musical Godspell. This song belongs to her, there is no better rendition – her demeanour so effortlessly joyful, her voice so effortlessly enormous. The way she does those “Ohhh, yeaahhhh” bits, like, they’re just begging to be sampled into something.

Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté’s album that they collaborated on, called rather straightforwardly, Ali and Toumani. It’s so heavenly and calm and beautiful!

Next time: I made some vegan cheese that tasted AMAZING-ly adequate, I cannot express how aggressively neutral I am towards this cheese, and you all frankly deserve better than to hear any more about that. So hopefully it’s not what I end up blogging about.

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i can see us many miles away, inactive, sipping cocktails

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So this weekend a group of us (eight to eleven people altogether I think, there’s no real way of knowing) stayed in a fancy house in Waikenae to celebrate the dear Kate’s birthday. Kate is one of my very best friends, from here on she’ll be referred to as just “Kate” for simplicity but know that I’m hyperventilating every time I mention her name.

Not only was the weekend itself really rewarding in terms of friendship and relaxation and real joyfulness, I also got such Instagram material out of the whole gambit. The entire place was just so aesthetic: pink magnolia leaves floating like bodies in a bright blue swimming pool at dusk; a blonde wood dining table laden with fairy lights; multitudes of tui birds, glossy thick boys calling flirtatiously from the tree branches; a cool clear river striding purposefully over flat, smooth rocks; no less than sixteen doors to the outside world; hand towels that we all initially thought were actually elegant scarves because they were so lovely looking. Like even just the bathrooms themselves were gorgeous, with this particular golden-hour warm lighting that made you look perpetually well-rested and cleverly made-up. I didn’t even care that the toilet was in the background of my mirror selfies, if anything it was an honour to include such an exemplary example of that facility in a photo of myself.

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I did barely anything useful the entire time I was there which was unquantifiably wonderful coming out of a nine-day week of shifts at work. I read a girthy novel (House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski); I prowled judgementally through the lush cookbook collection of the owners (I find myself fairly judgemental of cookbooks, in case you’re wondering why I used that adverb); I took selfies; I snuggled with Charlotte, a dear friend who we all hadn’t seen in two years who was back from London (for good, not just for the weekend as I initially and stupidly assumed) and that was about it; but the one thing I can say confidently that I contributed was that I made Aperol Spritzes for whoever wanted them. Actually, to be fair, lots of people ended up making them over the course of the weekend. But I definitely stumped up for the creation of at least one round. And then took one that I made for myself all around the house photographing it in various pleasing tableaux.

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pleasing!

If you haven’t had Aperol before, you might at least recognise its distinct orange colour and sassy logo design. It’s an Italian aperitif that has been kicking around since roughly 1919, and while the parent company is super cagey about what’s in it, there’s definitely some gently bitter herbs and sweet orange. It’s not unlike its altogether stronger and more bitter cousin Campari, which is even more tight-lipped about its ingredients – somewhat hilariously, the official website will reluctantly concede that there’s water and alcohol involved, but like, that’s all they’re gonna tell you. The Aperol Spritz is a fantastically sophisticated yet casual drink, combining Aperol, Prosecco and soda water – gorgeously orange like distilled sunset, mellowly herbal and sweet yet convivially refreshing, and low-alcohol enough that you can drink a case of it and still be on your feet. It was Kate’s idea to make them and it was honestly perfect and easy and delicious and I thoroughly recommend it if you’ve got a crowd to ease into gentle afternoon post-30s tipsiness.

Aperol Spritz

30ml Aperol (or: 1 shot, 1 oz, 2 tablespoons)
90ml Prosecco
30ml sparkling water
Orange wedge, for garnish

Fill a wine glass or fancy tumbler with ice. Measure all the ingredients straight into the glass, give a stir with a teaspoon or chopstick or breadknife or your finger, whatever is within reach and more or less non-porous, really. Throw in the orange wedge – honestly pretty optional if you’re having a bunch and not selling them to anyone – and you’re ready to drink.

Or consider the 3-2-1 proportions: 75ml Prosecco, 50ml Aperol, 25ml sparkling water. This recipe I hasten to add is also based on the concept of A Shot being 25ml instead of 30ml as it is here in New Zealand, which I simply cannot even start getting into because it’s so confusing (“it’s tearing us apart!” is my usual response every time international Standard Drinks Measurements come up.) (Don’t even get me started on how you shouldn’t get me started on what constitutes “a double”.)

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Now! The recipe I give is roughly what I was making or advising people to make – because the more you consume and the more you make the more you just become one with the drink and pour until it feels right to stop (I say this as someone actually quite genuinely confident with free-pouring accurately.) It’s also a little lower in Aperol than the generally accepted recipe, this was mostly to make the expensive title ingredient stretch further, but also the fact that I feel like it benefits from being less sweet and more fizzy. The Wikipedia page for Aperol Spritz notes in an archly withering way that “perhaps not surprisingly” the official Aperol website calls for a lot more of their own product in the drink. You: well, you suit yourself.

It was a magical time that was so good for the soul, especially getting to spend so much concentrated time with my bests, Kim and Kate, and I feel really lucky that I got to partake in it considering how relatively un-conducive to having any personal time my work schedule is. I cannot actually fathom what it would be like to live in a house like that permanently, I mean like, getting to the point where your hand towels honestly resemble a chic neck accessory, with central heating vents in the floors and slab-sized books about interior design curated by Kinfolk magazine and spoons made from unwieldy rustic wood and ceramic that you can’t actually comprehend for what their use could possibly be, including ruling out decoration alone because they were in the spoon section of the cutlery draw implying some kind of practical application; but it seems like it’d be nice. I’ll tell you something though, it felt good to use the phrase “it’s a little lavish, but I call it home” in such a rightful setting. (That’s a quote from a 1940s noir film called Laura, it’s a really good film, because it’s called Laura, but I believe it’s actually widely-regarded as good based on other merits as well.)

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title from: A New Argentina, from the musical Evita. I cannot believe I’ve never actually listened to the original concept album that preceded the stage show; it has chewy-voiced Colm Wilkinson (who played Jean Valjean in both the UK original and Broadway transfer casts of Les Miserables) as Che, singing like his mouth is full of chestnuts and stretching his words like spandex attempting to encase a sturdy thigh when he’s all “let them have their freedermmm” (this is…praise.) I also love how Julie Covington as Eva has this slight crack and whisper in her otherwise plummy voice, it’s ever so appealing. I also recommend my broadway idol Julia Murney’s take on the title role: don’t let the sight of her stiff wig, somehow giving an air of reluctance at having to do its job despite being entirely insentient, put you off, because her voice and acting is splendid (did you know her vocal cords vibrate at two different speeds, actually – I’ll shut up now.)

music lately:

Ariana Grande, No Tears Left To Cry. This is such a good song! She sounds so in charge and confidently relaxed and I love how the cadence and chord progressions have this really early 90s Janet Jackson sound. I’m also a huge fan of tempo changes in a song. Which No Tears Left To Cry has, I wasn’t just stating that about myself for no reason.

Gary Numan, Trois Gymnopedies. Dreamy.

Idina Menzel, Not A Day Goes By. My other Broadway idol, absolutely trampling all over Sondheim’s intensely delicate and sorrowful song during a live show in 2002, by all accounts (that is, the youtube comments) her pop arrangement is an insult to the song, but! While, I grant you, her take on it is melodramatic, I adore it. The metallic rasp of her voice, the way she BELTS lines that are supposed to be almost whispered, the utter lack of subtlety is its own kind of vulnerability. She even says at the start (in another bootlegged version I have, not the one I link to) “I’ll probably get thrown into prison for this.” THAT SAID, you literally cannot go past Bernadette Peter’s definitive porcelain-about-to-shatter interpretation. Every decision – the pause before “and dying”, the way she folds her arms in “day after day after day” – is quietly devastating and not to be mistaken for weakness – “the full length velvet glove hides the fist”, as another Broadway song cautions us.

Blood Orange, You’re Not Good Enough. This 2013 song keeps sounding like it was released like, last week.

Next time: I took some photos of recipes from the fancy cookbooks at the fancy house and am hoping to try at least one out this week. 

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her legs are chafed by sticky wings

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One week in to the return of Hungry and Frozen and I was already a day late, a buck short, on my self-appointed schedule that is; however I am undeterred and gaspingly but enthusiastically dragged myself over the finish line. Much like episode two of Frasier which was essentially a retread of the pilot; you may notice some common themes between this and the last blog post because to be honest I’m still finding my feet with this whole operating-on-a-routine thing, but I can tell you something for free: the recipe this week is absolutely BANGING.

I cannot wait to write one of these posts where I’ve comfortably settled into a routine and don’t feel like I’m racing against the clock like I’m trying to defuse a bomb in the manner of a character in Mission Impossible, or, say, Mission Impossible 2 (I more or less just woke up and have to go to work again soon and my battery on my laptop was ticking downwards rapidly in direct proportion to my heartbeat racing faster before I remembered that I was sitting in bed and could in fact lean over and plug it in to the charger.) But nevertheless, I’m pleased with myself for actually making a recipe more or less on time which is not only delicious, it also tastes incredible.

Related to this mood, I downloaded this horoscope app called costar which told me the following: “Exhaustion is not always a bad thing, sometimes it is the good result of hard work. Keep asserting yourself, you’re doing fine.” Sometimes the specificity is bordering on Black Mirror-level what-if-phones-are-bad horrifying (it literally told me to consider studying attachment theory) but I was like yes! I am tired and adequate! Thank you algorithm for truly seeing me.

Unlike me, cauliflower is really having its day in the sun, and has found itself mangled and extruded into all kinds of carb and meat replacements and dupes in the last few years. I’m not going to lie to you, while this recipe is something I devised myself, the concept of it stems from much scrolling through Pinterest and having people brightly insist that cauliflower can be made to taste exactly like chicken wings. Whatever, I love the taste of cauliflower as it is, particularly when massive amounts of heat are applied to it: its aggressive mildness becomes caramelised and nutty and just generally wonderful.

This recipe is all about texture – the crunch of peanuts and sesame seeds against the stickily crispy batter, which gives way to a creamily soft cauliflower interior. The combination of salty, sweet, oily and a touch of chilli heat makes it kind of addictively good, the eating equivalent of finding yourself scrolling through the same social media app on your phone and your computer at the same time. The method is not exactly fiddly, but there are a few steps and a lot of ingredients involved – the really important thing is to make sure the oven and the tray are really, really hot before you put the cauliflower in. And eat it right away: when left to sit for too long they go kind of soggy and soft, which is itself strangely beguiling, but not the real desired result.

But I happily ate the remainder of these sometime around 4.30am when I got in from work and in the way that cold leftovers eaten in the middle of the night often are, whether through actual merit or that Mallory Towers midnight feast illicit thrill elicited: they were still really good.

Sticky Sesame Peanut Cauliflower

A recipe by myself, serves two as a snack but just, to state the obvious, make more if you want to feed more people.

half a head of cauliflower
olive oil

Batter:
1/2 cup plain flour
a pinch of ground cumin
a pinch of ground chilli powder
a pinch of ground cinnamon
a pinch of ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold water
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Saucy stuff
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar or cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons toasted peanuts, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Firstly, set your oven to 240C/450F. Pour enough olive oil onto a large roasting dish to just coat the surface and put it in the oven to heat up too while you prepare the cauliflower.

Break the cauliflower into florets and cut them into smaller pieces, slicing through so you get decent surface area on each piece for the batter to cling to. Don’t stress about this step too much, you just need everything to be fairly small so it will cook quickly and evenly in the oven.

Mix the flour, spices, and water together in a small bowl to make an unappealing batter that if you’re anything like me you’ll be unable to stop yourself tasting anyway. Place the panko breadcrumbs in a bowl and dunk the cauliflower pieces first into the batter, then into the breadcrumbs. I find it easiest, cleaning-wise, to put a piece of baking paper down to sit the dunked cauliflower on until you’ve finished it all.

Transfer the cauliflower to the heated oven tray, in a single layer, and roast for ten to fifteen minutes. While they’re cooking, mix the hoisin sauce, vinegar, mustard and sesame oil together in a small bowl.

Once the time is up, remove the tray from the oven and carefully turn the cauliflower pieces over. Use a pastry brush to liberally dab the hoisin-sesame sauce onto the cauliflower pieces and sprinkle the roasted chopped peanuts and sesame seeds over everything.

Return the tray to the oven for another five to ten minutes – keep an eye on it because you definitely want it a little scorched and browned but not burnt. At this point, remove from the oven and you finally get to eat it.

If this has stirred you aflame with a potent desire to like, cook more cauliflower, may I also suggest my other recipes such as Velvety Chilled Beetroot and Cauliflower Soup, Roasted Cauliflower with Almonds and Whole Spices, or, entirely demonstrably, Double Cauliflower Salad.

title from: The Birthday Party, Release the Bats. “My baby is alright, she doesn’t mind a bit of dirt.”

music lately:

Linda Eder singing Man of La Mancha, from the 1965 Broadway musical of the same name, a song that was written for a male character but which was actually surely written and waiting for her to perform it. There’s this bit two minutes in where she starts just going off in flawless whistle register and she does this little eyebrow raise to show how easy it is and honestly, I didn’t think an expositional song about Don Quixote was going to floor me like this but here we find ourselves.

Skeeter Davis, The End of the World. This is just a perfect sad song.

Next time: I’m going away this weekend for best friend Kate’s birthday so I’m hopefully going to make at least contribute to at least one cute thing during that time! 

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could we start again, please?

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In the time between my last blog post in mid-June and right this very second, I’ve been, with modest effectiveness, working on getting this site to a point where, to use a metaphor to briefly illustrate a much larger point while also weighing it down by explaining my use of metaphor in a belaboured, some might say deeply unnecessary way: the romance is rekindled in the relationship. I’ve loved writing this blog for almost eleven years now and damn it, I’ll love it again.

Part of that includes the added dimension of encouraging you strenuously to subscribe to this blog so you can receive the posts, before anyone else sees them, in your inbox each week! I just thought it would be fun!  What you’re reading now is the post, (edited lightly for context), that I already sent out, because of course this is still a functioning blog and I don’t want to make you sign up to get these posts sent to you. But it’s like, aren’t we all conspiratorial and cosy and secret, and isn’t this easy, just me landing in your inbox without the unspeakable drudgery of having to go manually find my blog yourself. It’s a little like the pilot episode of a TV show where I’m seeing what works, things might get moved around without explanation in further episodes, but if I didn’t actually post this now, unpolished and unprepared as it is, it might never happen. But also like, imagine me being polished and prepared ever. It’s good to laugh!

I realise the last blog post I did back in June is VERY heavy on this same kind of talk about, you know, where am I going and what am I doing and is it just that I’m too tired all the time or is it that I’m scared that if I had the time to create I still wouldn’t achieve anything, so I’m going to try to not double down on that. I will concede that the last few weeks have been massively busy at work with the Wellington on a Plate food festival going on and what I’ve lacked in spare time I’ve made up for in lack of spare time.

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But here’s what I’ve actually done. While the layout of the new-not-new hungryandfrozen.com isn’t perfect and there’s broken links everywhere and strange formatting from the blog being uprooted from format to format like an army brat; I feel like this latest home has a warmth that the last one was lacking a little, and that made me feel distanced from what I was creating. My dear friend Jason patiently walked me through the entire process and did a lot of fiddly code work, and even more heroically, a lot of answering my endless emails. (Did you know he moved 640 blog posts over to WordPress for me? “What a dick” I said, upon discovering I’d written that many.) My wonderful friend Matt made me a beautiful new logo – scroll up and look at it! – which I feel kind of encompasses everywhere that the blog and I have been. And finally I, Laura Vincent, wrote this post. What a hero.

Because I love to not be able to see the woods for the trees, I naturally got incredibly stuck on just what recipe to don’t-call-it-a-come-back with. Whether it’s ADHD or I’m just a slatternly genius, I genuinely cannot achieve a single thing during the allotted, logical achievement time. No, not for me: I instead must wait till the very last minute and then do it all at once, heart pounding and words falling over themselves. That’s what happened here. After tapping my foot impatiently for days and days this black salted caramel ripple ice cream came about in my head very suddenly, and thank goodness: it’s incredible. And ice cream being one of my very favourite foods: it’s appropriate.

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Tahini has this rich, fudge-like texture and while I was sold on the blackness of the colour alone, for vague goth reasons unrelated to being even the slightest bit goth and more about simply enjoying ascribing the word goth to things willy-nilly in a doubtless irritating way – the actual flavour is a little sweeter and more mellow than regular tahini. If that’s all you can find though, it’s extremely sweet as. The other major component is simply golden syrup, which has this buxom sweetness, all mouth-fillingly caramelly and sticky and almost buttery once you add the salt to it.

And almost is the crucial word there, because I guess the other thing of note since I last posted is that I’ve decided to go a bit vegan. I hesitate to actually label myself as such with any fanfare since that would seem to set me up for failure, but it’s just something that I’m doing and I am enjoying it. Initially I was all, “restrictions make creativity flourish!” but now it’s less about the absence of animal products and more about the abundance of literally everything else. I wouldn’t say I don’t want to talk about it per se, since all I want to do is talk about myself, but it’s just something I’m trying and it’s been very low key and do-able so far.

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So it helps if you think of this salted caramel sauce as not just good in comparison to what it’s not, but in fact how good it is on its own terms: salty-sweet, slow-movingly thick as it slides off a spoon into your mouth, buttery and butterscotchy and rich. Freezing amplifies the fudgey texture which contrasts deliciously with the icy, clean swirls of delicately flavoured coconut cream wrapped around it. On top of which, this ice cream is – as I intend for all my recipes to be – really, really easy to make.

Black Salted Caramel Sauce

  • 125ml/half a cup black tahini
  • 125ml/half a cup golden syrup
  • 3 tablespoons coconut cream
  • Sea salt, to taste, but at least a teaspoon

Get a jar ready to tip the sauce into. Warm the ingredients together over a low heat in a saucepan, stirring constantly, till it forms a thick, shiny black sauce. Remove from the heat and spatula into the jar.

Black Salted Caramel Ripple Ice Cream

  • 125ml/half a cup black salted caramel sauce
  • 2 x 425ml cans coconut cream (forgot to say this in the email, but absolutely use the remainder of the can from which you took the small amount of coconut cream for the sauce, as opposed to opening a whole other one) 
  • two tablespoons golden syrup

Empty the cans of coconut cream into a large bowl and whisk in the golden syrup. Continue whisking briskly until the coconut cream thickens somewhat, like, it’s not going to look like whipped cream but it’s going to have some body to it, you know?

Pour the coconut cream into a container and freeze for at least an hour, until it’s partially solid. At this point, drop spoonfuls of the caramel sauce into the semi-frozen coconut cream and use a skewer or chopstick or similar to swirl ripple patterns into them. Try to use as few movements as possible or the whole thing will end up grey, and the point is to have dollops of caramel sauce amongst the frozen coconut as opposed to blending it all together.

Freeze for about six hours, or until completely solid, then take it out of the freezer about twenty minutes before you want to eat it to let it soften a little.

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If this has stirred within your loins an urge to make further frozen things, may I direct you to other blog posts I’ve done of this nature, such as my recipe for Cucumber and Lychee Sorbet or my recipe for Lemon Poppyseed Ice Cream.

title from: Could We Start Again, Please from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, an eleventh hour plea to match the eleventh hour nature of well, literally everything that I do. I first came into contact with this musical when we saw the local production of it up in Auckland in 1994, with laser lights and Janet Jackson microphones and people from Shortland Street in it, naturally it had an enormous effect upon me. Whoever did the arrangements for the vocals in this particular production and decided to have Simon Zealotes slide upwards on “ought to call a halt”, thus adding extra drama and anguish: thank you. Margaret Urlich was so beautiful as Mary Magdalene and I stand by my 1994 assertion that her voice sounds like two silver coins being rubbed together.

music lately:

Mitski has been casually, effortlessly ruining me. I’ve been listening to Thursday Girl over and over and over, it has this mellow early 90s singer songwriter Natalie Merchant Sophie B Hawkins ache that I genuinely cannot get enough of.

I’ve been watching a lot of this show Kingdom about MMA fighters and initially I thought the soundtrack was amazing but occasionally it’s more that no, the snippet of this song just sounded amazing while these handsome men were doing some high-stakes beating up of each other. I Got Skills by Mozes and the Firstborn though, is appealing in or out of diegesis.

Next time: I don’t know yet but it’s good to be back. Uh, and it will be something vegan.  And you’ll find out sooner if you subscribe, but also just waiting for the blog posts is ENTIRELY valid. 

ever since we met, the world’s been upside-down

So about three weeks ago I started writing a blog post on here and then suddenly, like those weird half-dreams you have before you’re properly asleep, where you slip over and fall, slamming hard into your own bed, waking up with a gasp, I just like…could not write another word. And wanted to throw my iPad against the wall to create as much distance between myself and this blog. Once the dramatics subsided I was like okay, let’s actually analyse this rather than unsubsiding into more dramatics, tempting though it is. I think I’ve allowed myself to just drift aimlessly on here without any great sense of purpose and it’s kind of dragging me down a bit. And then I tried to look at the bigger picture, which is not something I do very often, and I was like to be fair, for the entirety of last year I was battling some massive-assed depression, so every single blog post that I wrote felt like a small victory, a mountain climbed, a display of life continuing. Then at the start of this year I spent well over a month recovering from a Literal Head Injury so actually it’s no wonder I ended up feeling super listless about my writing. Right now though, I’m actually doing pretty okay on most fronts, so I can finally take some time to focus on what I want out of this blog, out of life, out of everything. I’m not actually entirely sure what I want yet, it seems just out of reach. BUT I do know that I don’t actually want to give up on this blog at all.

Out of some kind of bloody-minded curiosity I made a list of every project I’ve embarked on and abandoned and it was almost hilarious: for a minute I had a food podcast, for a while I interviewed musicians about food, I had a mercifully short-lived (like, if only it were so short-lived that it didn’t even occur at all) foray into vlogging on YouTube, for a while I was making instructional cooking videos, for a bit there I was making cookie dough pretzel sandwiches and selling them with flagrant disinterest in the laws around making food for profit. But this blog, somehow, has remained a part of my life for ten entire years! Eleven in October! And a lack of focus is not a good enough reason to give up on it, it is in fact merely a prompt to get more focussed. It’s okay to have peaks (eg writing a cookbook) and low points (eg being ghosted by my publishers) and it’s okay to start projects and not finish them, but it’s also okay to challenge myself and to try to fight against complacency and to maybe, just maybe, put some effort into planning things rather than just starting them without any thought of sustainability.

I also realised that part of what was making me all disillusioned was how broke I am, it’s kind of hard to keep up a regular conveyer belt of blog-worthy food and it feels like any goals I do try making end up getting ground down into nothing through lack of funds. But there are small things I can do! My angelic friend Sarah gave me a laptop cord – mine had broken and I couldn’t afford to replace it so I was taking photos on my phone rather than with my proper camera because the editing software was on the laptop and the increased lack of quality was increasing my disillusionment – so this is a start. I’ve decided to put myself out there as available for freelancing work again and am working on putting together a small online portfolio. I was reading through old pieces I’d done – travel writing, pop culture stuff, whatever – and I was like you know what, I’m really good at this! And I could do it again! None of this is stopping me being broke in the short term but it is helping at least to keep my chin up. I’m also, don’t you worry, determined to not let my Frasier food blog fall by the wayside.

And I made a cake.

Yes, hand-wringingly long-story-short, I’m still here and I made a cake. I got some rhubarb from the Sunday vegetable markets (dragging myself to the markets is itself a gigantic achievement) (also I went with tip money from work the night before and this is why you should tip your bartenders, people!) and while there are any thousand million numbers of ways that you could enjoy rhubarb, I was in the mood for something pinkly sugary. An upside-down cake is a rakishly attractive way to use fruit in your baking, as it provides both flavour and decoration, but there’s certainly nothing stopping you from just folding the chopped rhubarb through the cake batter. This makes a handsomely tall and proud cake from which to carve thick, tender slices, and it’s wonderfully easy to make as well – just a one-bowl affair and a bit of stirring.

I scattered some pink peppercorns across the rhubarb before draping over the cake batter; I liked the pink-on-pink dovetailing and their musky-sweet warmth is lovely with rhubarb’s jammy tartness. If you don’t have them though just leave them out – regular pepper is too harsh to substitute in here.

rhubarb and pink peppercorn upside down cake

a recipe by myself

  • six sticks of rhubarb
  • one teaspoon pink peppercorns
  • quarter of a cup of sugar
  • three cups plain flour
  • one and a half cups of sugar (extra)
  • two teaspoons baking powder
  • one teaspoon baking soda
  • one teaspoon salt
  • two teaspoons vanilla extract
  • one can of good coconut milk
  • two thirds of a cup of sunflower or similarly plain oil
  • quarter of a cup of lemon juice

Firstly, set your oven to 180C/350F and line the base of a 21cm springform cake tin with baking paper. Trim and discard the leaves from the rhubarb, and chop the pink stalks into slices of roughly 2cm/one inch. Arrange the slices evenly inside the base of the cake tin, sprinkle with the quarter cup of sugar and the peppercorns, and set aside. 

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl, then stir in the sugar, followed by all the wet ingredients. Mix to create a thick batter, and spatula this carefully over the rhubarb in the caketin. 

Bake for fifty minutes (it may need longer, it depends on your oven) and let it sit for a few minutes before running a knife around the cake inside the tin and upturning it carefully onto a plate. Dust with icing sugar if you like, and be on your way. 

Rhubarb’s natural sourness means it can carry a lot of sugar and it works beautifully with the hint of lemon and vanilla in the cake. If rhubarb isn’t in season or just not what you’re into, you could use this as a template for damn near any other baking-friendly fruit – upside down apple cakes, berry cakes, whatever, would all be worthy uses of your time. I was really happy with this just as it was though – don’t get me wrong, I’ve been eating, but it’s been nothing particularly inspiring or joyful and nothing felt worthy of writing about here, and so the act of making a cake felt good.

And I guess after ten years it would almost be weird if I didn’t have some moments of uncertainty, yeah? Who knows if blogs will even still exist by the time I get my act together, but for now my goal is: to have a goal!

If you’ve found yourself on an fired-up upside-down cake rampage after reading this, may I suggest other recipes I’ve blogged about, such as upside-down caramel nut cake, Nigella’s pineapple upside down cake (which I blogged about in July 2008, damn) or this pear and almond cake which isn’t actually an upside-down cake but…it looks like one.

(PS: I went back and forth about whether to say something about Anthony Bourdain, who died last week. Like, does anyone need me to say anything? Nah. Have five thousand tons of things already been said? Yeah. But it’s terribly, terribly sad, isn’t it. I cannot recommend hard enough that you look up some of his shows where he traveled around the world and just listened to people about their food and their lives.)

title from: a sad and strange story – Connie Converse was one of the earliest examples of the singer-songwriter genre, but her recordings made in the 1950s went by and large unnoticed until 2004, nearly thirty years after she completely disappeared never to be seen again. I don’t mean from the music business, she like, fully disappeared. Her small but beautiful collection of music has a kind of thoughtful melancholy to it, very spare and gently folky. I took the title from her song Trouble, a short little song with the repeated stanza – “but if you go away, as trouble ought to do, where will I find another soul to tell my trouble to? 

music lately: 

Chelsea Jade, Laugh It Off. I love her! I love this new song of hers!

Faith No More, We Care A Lot, the original 1985 recording with Chuck Mosley. It’s not that the more well-known version is all that polished but I love how sludgy and grubby this one is, like it’s about to slide off the beat any second now, and I looove Mosley’s bratty, congested-sounding voice.

Rock Star from the musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, a pop-punk musical about a bad and useless American President, which as a premise may or may not appeal but this song is SO GOOD to listen to while striding purposefully down the street. If you’re more into striding with aimless melancholy I recommend instead listening to Saddest Song from the same musical.

next time: As if I know! But I’ll be here.