This blog post marks a relatively special occasion: Hungry and Frozen, this very blog that you’re reading, turned ELEVEN years old on Sunday. I’m proud of myself, sure, but I’m also astonished. I mean, I’m always astonished by the passage of time, in that push-pull kind of way (y’know, HOW is it October already but also HOW is it only 8.03pm I swear the clock said 8.07pm before) but eleven years? Doing one thing? Were you even born eleven years ago? Frankly, I doubt it.
As I stand majestically upon this precipice, surveying all that I have done, I acknowledge there’s only so much looking back one can do – and don’t honestly have anything particularly deep or clever to offer you in summarisation of my life up until this point. But I did reread my first blog posts and was struck by how breezily carefree I was and just how much I cooked and blogged: in October 2007 alone I did twenty three blog posts in fifteen days, a hilarious quantity, really. It was hardcore stuff too: pavlova and steamed pudding and marinated ribs and choux pastry and madeleines. Present-day me could do well to be inspired by the sheer drive of then-me, time-rich though I was.
In the first post I pressed publish upon I asked “does the world need another food blog? There are millions! With really classy photographs as well! What on earth do I have to offer the world?” This was before Pinterest, before Instagram, before influencers, before videos of anonymous hands making recipes all over Facebook, before chiaroscuro or people dropping crumbs everywhere in their food photography, before Momofuku Milk Bar, before the recession – in fact I’m not sure what actually was around, come to think of it. Polka dots were big, if I remember correctly, and we were all getting into cupcakes?
Since then I’ve learned so much: how to take a photograph; how to write through literally anything happening in my personal life; to not be so righteous or else I’ll regret that I called vodka soda “a sneeringly dry drink” nine years ago; that if I refer vaguely to us all “reeling from the events this week” I will have absolutely no idea what I was talking about six weeks later especially in this rapid news cycle life that we’re stuck in; that if you hear me say something amusing in real life you’re probably going to read it repeated here because I only have so much material; and to write like I’m the most relevant and celebrated food blogger on earth even if there’s only one person in the audience. I mean where I stand currently, on this relatively fallow ground, it’s by no means a high point in my blogging career and it does weigh upon me heavily sometimes. But I’m also feeling happy and creative for the first time in ages, and I think that’s what I should be inspired by from eleven years ago: neither the quantity nor the quality, but the sheer confidence that someone out there wanted to read my writing and therefore I was going to throw my heart and soul into writing nonstop for them. And if I kept writing like that, if it was that good, surely more people would want to read it. Something I hope is still true.
What care I for the obviousness of a cake to mark a milestone; especially when it’s as incredibly delicious as this one. The champagne is a celebratory conceit but really does add something to the buttercream – a certain biscuity minerality (which sounds horrible but…trust me.) I tend to avoid putting inaccessible ingredients in my recipes and acknowledge that this one contains not just the champagne – which was a gift, I can’t imagine just owning some – but also freeze-dried passionfruit, which gives this eye-wateringly intense blast of sour passionfruit flavour and is almost irreplaceable. If it comes down to it though: I’d replace both the champagne and the passionfruit powder with a few tablespoons of strained passionfruit syrup, it won’t have the aggressive flavour but will undoubtedly still taste good.
Chocolate Maple Cake with Champagne Passionfruit Buttercream
A recipe by myself
- 1 and 3/4 cups plain flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup cocoa
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon golden syrup
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup almond milk (or similar non-dairy milk)
- 1/3 cup olive oil (not extra virgin – or just use plain vegetable oil)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
Champagne Passionfruit Buttercream
- 3 tablespoons good vegan butter (I used Nuttelex Buttery)
- 4 tablespoons freeze-dried passionfruit powder
- 3 – 4 tablespoons champagne
- 3 and 1/2 cups icing sugar
- a pinch of salt
Set your oven to 180C/350F. Line the base of two 20cm springform cake tins with baking paper.
Stir all your dry ingredients together in a large bowl – the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking soda – so everything is completely dispersed and free of clumps.
Carefully pour in the water, golden syrup, oil, vanilla, almond milk and vinegar and fold the ingredients together gently till it’s just combined.
Divide this mixture between the two cake tins, using a spatula to scrape out every last bit. Make a swirl in the batter with the end of a spoon (or indeed, your finger) – apparently this helps it to rise evenly and flatly and I’m not sure if I truly believe it but it doesn’t hurt to try.
Bake the cakes for 25 minutes or until they’re both springy and a skewer prodded into the centre comes out clean.
Allow both cakes to cool completely.
For the buttercream, I find it easiest to use a food processor, but a bowl and spoon is by no means the end of the world. Blitz the butter, passionfruit powder, and icing sugar together, and then add the champagne and process again to make a thick, smooth, pale-golden icing. Add more champagne if it’s too thick, but only a little at a time.
Place one of the cakes on a serving plate, and brush half the maple syrup over it with a pastry brush. Spoon a large dollop of the buttercream onto the centre of the cake and use the flat side of a knife to spread it evenly over the surface. Place the second cake on top and repeat with the remaining maple syrup and most of the remaining icing, leaving some to patch up any spaces inbetween the layers. I do this by scooping up icing with the knife and running it around the curves of the cake’s sides. I then run the knife under hot water and run it around the sides again to make sure the layer of icing in the middle is thick and flattened while the cake layers themselves are relatively clean. It doesn’t matter though: the icing and cake will both taste good no matter how it looks.
Dot with sprinkles if you wish, and dust over a little more passionfruit powder. And that’s your cake.
But nevermind what’s left out of it, let’s talk about what’s in it: this cake is rich and dense but fluffy and springy and moist and has an old fashioned taste to it – the sort of chocolate cake that storybook characters would tuck into. There’s a slightly nutty flavour from the oil and maple syrup (although hell, leave the syrup out too if you’re really strapped for cash, I know I am) and the dark, soft chocolate layers contrast beautifully with the shivers-down-the-spine tartness of the passionfruit. And it’s so easy to make – some idle stirring is all that’s required. While it uses a lot of cocoa powder this cake would be an ideal go-to recipe iced however you want – if you’re the sort of person that is in enough cake-related situations to require a go-to. On top of that, this cake really lasts – three days after making it, it’s still as soft and rich as it was on day one.
Eleven years ago I hadn’t yet met my two best friends Kim and Kate and I can’t even quantify in words or describe with statistics the effect they’ve had on me since. Needless to say there was no better people to share this cake, and the remaining champagne, with, so that’s what I spent the afternoon of this blog’s eleventh birthday doing. As far as reading about it goes though, why, there’s no one I’d want more to do that than you.
title from: Paradise, by Meat Puppets. I love the Meat Puppets so much and have absolutely nothing amusing to say about them.
Cornelius Bros and Sister Rose, Too Late To Turn Back Now. That “I believe I believe I believe I believe” bit is just lovely.
The Sacred Harp Singers, I’m Going Home. I did not care for the movie Cold Mountain but it did at least introduce me to the Sacred Harp Singers, who perform – naturally – sacred harp singing, which is like…hymns but as discordant walls of sound crashing about your ears all at once. It’s hard to explain but when I watched this particular recording of the aforementioned song being sung at a convention I genuinely cried from the enormity of it and have listened to little else since. So put in some headphones and turn up the volume and see what happens, is my recommendation and opinion both. (There’s quite a bit of it on Spotify and I enjoy the existence of the album entitled New Years Eve at the Iveys’, 1972. Now, December 31, 1972 was in fact a Sunday and I love the idea of the sheer stone-faced Biblicality overriding any seasonal festivity. “What are we doing this New Years? Same thing we do every Sunday: we’ll stand in a square barking hymns discordantly at each other, and you’re a giddy and frivolous infidel for considering otherwise.”)
Decemberists, The Infanta. I’ve been rewatching Mad Men, and as they say in the Youtube comments, “Mad Men brought me here” when the song was used at the start of one of its episodes. The sprinting drums and use of the word “palanquin” though!
(I didn’t start this format of listing music I’d been listening to until April 2009, and the first songs – with absolutely zero commentary – were Mad Tom of Bedlam by Jolie Holland, Let Me Drown by Idina Menzel and Brian D’Arcy James from the off-Broadway Musical The Wild Party, and Farmer John by Neil Young. All of which hold up well, although I did in the same breath claim to “love music with a dark passion” so you can’t win everything.)
Next time: I used all my mental capacity coming up with this week’s one, but it’ll be good, if eleven years has taught us anything it’s that we can all be certain of this.
PS: A dedicated fistful of people read this post already on Sunday evening – okay, Monday morning, but it should’ve been Sunday – and if you wish to be part of this enclave who receive my posts sent to their inbox first every week, sign up here. (On the other hand, the distance between that send-out and this post being published gave me room to add even more enthusiastic Sacred Harp Singing content, a trinket that you may or may not consider a reward for your patient waiting.)
Over on my Frasier food blog I talk about tropes a lot – a trope is, loosely, a recurring theme or motif – and I feel like I’ve hit a vegan trope with this week’s recipe: tofu. Let us face it, there’s no food more generically symbolising the vegan life as a whole than tofu, (perhaps other than lentils) the implication being that in its meatless blandness it represents not only all that you are missing out on and have left behind but also the miserable and sepia-flavoured journey ahead that you’ve chosen. (There are those who say “how do you know someone is a vegan? Because they’ll tell you at any opportunity” and there are those who say that people pre-emptively berating vegans outweighs any levels of militance from the vegan camp, and then there’s me, and I say guess what: everyone has the capacity to be really annoying.)
Rest assured, no one is forcing anyone to eat tofu. You can quite happily live your entire life without touching the stuff. I myself actually really like the taste of it – which is admittedly fortunate – and always have. It’s often said of tofu that peoples’ main mistake is not giving it enough flavour – but like, why would you want to make anything that doesn’t have flavour to it? If you cook something blandly, it’s going to be bland. A plainly-cooked chicken breast has no liveliness, it is at best tantamount to a dry flannel.
Anyway, if you are going to consume tofu, you might consider doing so in the form of this week’s recipe, since it’s monumentally delicious. I actually had the idea for the sauce first and worked backwards from there to fill in the blanks for how I could use it (other than just drinking the sauce in its entirety, I suppose) but it all worked so well that both the tofu and the sauce are the double-billing stars of the show.
The golden crust on the tofu is made from a glorious mixture of coconut, sunflower seeds and breadcrumbs – light, nutty, buttery, crunchy, with anything that doesn’t stick to the tofu toasted in the oven and scattered over your salad leaves. I’m all about contrast in texture and the intensely crisp exterior giving way to bouncingly tender interior is marvellous. And the sauce! How it shines! Wasabi has this particular, sharp, mustardy, sinus-scritching heat to it, which is balanced perfectly against the cool hit of mint, the sour, fresh lime, and the richness of the oil. All of which is then further tied together by the power of an entire bulb of garlic, roasted into mellow sweetness. The resolute mildness of the tofu is the ideal backdrop for all this action, but this sauce would be wonderful on pretty much anything, I imagine. If you don’t have wasabi or can’t find it then horseradish or indeed mustard would surely be a fine substitute, since all three are part of the same family.
Coconut-Crusted Tofu with Wasabi, Mint and Roasted Garlic Sauce
A recipe by myself
1 block of firm or extra firm tofu
2 tablespoons shredded coconut
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs (leave them out to make this gluten-free and up the coconut and sunflower seeds)
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon of cornflour
salad leaves, to serve
Wasabi, Mint and Roasted Garlic Sauce
1 bulb garlic
2 teaspoons wasabi paste, or add more to taste
3 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
4 mint leaves
A pinch each of salt and pepper
Set your oven to 180C/350F.
Slice the very base off the garlic bulb – the knotty bit holding it all together – and wrap the garlic itself loosely in tinfoil and roast it for twenty minutes in a small dish that you’ve drizzled the two tablespoons of olive oil into.
While this is happening, slice the tofu in half horizontally so that you’ve got two flatter rectangles, and either reserve one of them for later or add some more coconut and sunflower seeds to your coating and make two.
Blitz the coconut and sunflower seeds in a blender till they resemble breadcrumbs, and tip into a small bowl. Stir in the panko breadcrumbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
In another small bowl, mix the cornflour with a tablespoon of cold water.
Spoon some of the cornflour mixture over the tofu and then sit it, cornflour-spooned side down, in the bowl of coconut breadcrumbs. Spoon more cornflour mixture over the side facing you and turn it over. Continue spooning more cornflour over and pressing more breadcrumbs into it so it’s as thickly coated as possible.
Remove the roasting dish from the oven and carefully lift the coated tofu into it, sitting it beside the garlic. Return to the oven for another ten minutes. Reserve any remaining breadcrumb mixture.
Once the ten minutes is up, turn the tofu over and remove the garlic. Put the tofu back in for another five to ten minutes.
Unwrap the garlic and carefully – it will be hot as hell – squeeze the garlic cloves from their paper casings into a small blender or food processor. Add the remaining sauce ingredients and blend it into a lime green sauce.
At this point – you’re almost there – remove the tofu to a serving plate, sitting it on a bed of salad leaves or kale or something and tip any remaining breadcrumbs into the roasting dish. Put the dish back into the oven for a minute or two until the breadcrumb mixture starts to brown and the scatter them over the salad, then pour over as much of the sauce as you want. Finally, eat.
So my usual plan is to send these blog posts out on a Sunday night to all the email subscribers (and sign up here if you want this to be you) but instead on Sunday gone I was too hyped up watching the Khabib vs McGregor fight before work to write (reacting to my livestream cutting in and out alone provided ample adrenaline) and then after work I accidentally got on the go from having several birthday shots given to me (not my birthday, I might add, I was merely collateral damage.) Not drunk, but precisely enough consumed to immediately and heavily fall asleep when I got home instead of diligently writing as planned.
I don’t know if it was my addle-headedness either just in general or post-shots but no matter how hard I revised, this recipe came out sounding monstrously complicated. It’s literally just sticking some stuff in an oven and then sticking some stuff into other stuff and then sticking that in an oven and blending yet further stuff but trying to explain it was oddly difficult; should you have glanced over the recipe and felt a quickening in your heart at how many steps are involved rest assured it’s just 1000% me talking myself into a corner. This is easy as. And so cheerfully resigned to a life of tofu am I, that the next day I made myself some tofu scramble, for the express purpose of (a) writing about it on my next Frasier food blog post and (b) eating. For, you see, the only thing I’m even more cheerfully resigned to is a life of self-promotion.
title from: Loser, by Beck. This is one of those songs where it’s like wow, he really just…wrote those lyrics down….didn’t he…but then that recurring guitar lick is so good and the chorus so singalong-friendly that I’m like you know what, who cares, sing on about rabbits shaving their legs or whatever, sweet Beck. Also because I’m always worried that people won’t get the joke – on account of I often need stuff explained to me – tofu is…made of soy…hence this title.
Edwin Starr, 25 Miles He’s better known for the song War but I maintain that the “ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah” bit in this song is honestly one of the greatest contributions ever bestowed upon the musical canon.
Fiona Apple, Hot Knife. “If I’m butter then he’s a hot knife” is such a perfect and simple metaphor to build this light, chatty and intoxicating song around.
Alice Coltrane, Om Rama. This song just drops you head-first into it and keeps it frenetically high-paced until the middle section where it dramatically changes tempo and gets all woozy and dreamy and just when you start to relax it speeds up again. I love this song so much.
Next time: GUESS WHAT, next time you read this my blog will have officially turned eleven years old, I don’t know quite what to cook to acknowledge this level of momentousness and indeed, welcome any thoughts and feelings you might have.
I’ve been pretty committedly vegan for a few months now, but it felt like the one insurmountable hurdle I truly had to surmount was the issue of butter. And that’s because I’ve really made butter my thing over the years. Why, in 2009, when this blog was but two years old, I wrote the following:
“Maybe in years to come, when my blog has changed lives, and gets turned into a beautiful book, and then the movie of the book of the blog changes peoples’ lives (oh wait, that’s Julie and Julia that I’m thinking of, and somewhat more feasibly, I’ll probably slide quietly into further obscurity), and a naive child asks their grandparents what the ultimate blog post that would describe Hungry and Frozen would be, what the very distilled essence of this whole strange business is, the ur-text, the definitive piece of writing, their grandparents might lean down and utter with a wise, earthy croak: The one where she made her own butter.“
(the blog post was about me making my own butter.)
I actually did of course, some years later but also some years ago, get my blog turned into a beautiful cookbook (such are my powers of manifestation) although it didn’t quite take the path that I so breathlessly imagined back then. The point is, I was extremely about butter and it’s scary backing down from anything you’ve been vocally definite about, right? When I first started this blog in 2007 the subheading was a quote from Nigella Lawson herself about butter and in all honesty, the very thought of butter alternatives (alright, margarine, the butter alternative that dare not speak its name) made me genuinely quite panicky. Like my reputation – whatever it may have been or currently be – would be utterly tarnished if one single person wasn’t wholly aware of my commitment to butter.
When you are as righteous and strident as I have been about ever so many things, it becomes extremely stressful to change that, because there’s this heavily-weighted sense that people will judge you for subverting the expectations that you’ve built up so thoroughly for them. That you’re letting people down somehow by stepping sideways into slightly newer versions of the person they usually recognise you as.
It’s chilling in every sense of the word (that is, it’s horrifying but also relaxing) that actually people never are thinking about you as much as you think they are; I’m also learning ever so slowly that being low-key instead of super righteous makes for much less stress in the long run, and reminding myself what people expect from me and what I owe people are pretty equally minimal. This is a good thing to remind yourself of, and while it’s easy to just say don’t worry about what people will think of you for your various life choices, just like…on the whole, none of us have to worry as much as we think we do.
So with ALL this in mind, I handed over New Zealand Dollars in exchange for a butter alternative for the first literal time in my life the other day, and not only did the sky not fall in, not for want of me waiting for it to; the stuff I bought also tasted pretty decent. I do genuinely still believe there’s no better flavour on earth than actual butter but I’m also okay, currently, with just not having it. I suppose in the same way that any commitment you make has its compromises. Nuttelex Buttery is what I went for and it tastes quite similar to Lurpak, that pale European butter that I used to spread on my toast when I lived in England.
And I used it in this recipe (yes finally, the recipe!) comprising cauliflower roasted with miso and mustard, wrapped in sheets of filo pastry, each layer of pastry brushed with a mixture of the melted vegan butter and nutritional yeast. I purchased the former and the latter together and really felt like I’d levelled up in my veganism. If you haven’t had it before, nutritional yeast is this truly magical dust, it makes everything taste intensely savoury and savourily intense. If I were to describe the flavour it would be somewhere between parmesan, Marmite and roasted mushrooms, and it’s absolutely perfect with the cauliflower’s mildness and the papery-thin crispness of the pastry.
I made these filo cigars very much on the fly, one of those recipes that is a reaction to whatever one happens to have on hand as opposed to the result of actual planning. But I was, as is often the case with such recipes, completely delighted with them and ended up eating five out of the six pictured in one go as opposed to having them sitting about for future snacking purposes. The whole thing is an exercise in savouriness – the sharp, salty miso mustard coating the cauliflower, the nuttiness of the sunflower seeds and the, yes, vegan butter, the crunch of the pastry with the aforementioned absolute magic of the nutritional yeast between each fragile layer.
Miso Cauliflower Filo Cigars
A recipe by myself
- 9 sheets of filo pastry
- 4 tablespoons vegan butter (or actual butter, or olive oil)
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (Bragg’s is the brand I got)
- half a head of cauliflower
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons sunflower seeds
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons miso paste
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
- Black pepper, to taste
Set your oven to 200C/400F.
Chop the cauliflower roughly into small pieces. Place on a baking tray, drizzle with the two tablespoons of olive oil and roast for fifteen minutes or until softened and browned at the edges.
Mix the miso paste, mustard, and black pepper together and spoon or brush it over the cauliflower, and return to the oven for another five minutes. Throw the sunflower seeds over the top at this point as well so they can get toasted by the oven’s heat, if you wish (I, for one, recommend it.)
Melt the butter in a small bowl in the microwave and stir in the nutritional yeast.
Three layers of filo pastry will yield you two cigars, so brush one sheet of pastry with the melted butter/nutritional yeast mix, then lay another sheet of filo on top and brush that with butter, and then finally another sheet. Cut it down the middle so you’ve got two layered rectangles.
Mix the breadcrumbs and dried rosemary in another small bowl (sorry about all the dishes involved.)
Spoon a small quantity of the cauliflower and sunflower seeds into roughly the middle of one of the pastry rectangles, followed by a heaped spoonful of the breadcrumbs. The simplest way to fashion these cigars, I find, is to tuck the sides in over the top of the cauliflower and then roll the whole thing away from yourself so you’ve got a thick parcel. Set aside onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, and repeat with the other rectangle of pastry.
Brush more sets of three sheets of filo with the butter and then cut, fill, and roll into cigars in the same manner. Brush the cigars with any remaining butter and bake for ten to fifteen minutes or until crisp and golden. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and more rosemary if you like. And then eat them.
You could be as reactionary as I’ve been and make these based on what you have to hand or can easily access – broccoli would surely be just as good as the cauliflower, literally any nut would be fine instead of sunflower seeds, obviously you could use real butter or olive oil instead of a butter alternative, and if you wanted to bulk it out with couscous or bulghur wheat instead of breadcrumbs I suspect it would be fantastic. But as they are, as I made them, these tasted incredibly incredible, and even the one remaining cigar, consumed cold and moderately soggy after work sometime around 5am, was unexpectedly delicious. Maybe even more so.
title from: Off to the Races, by Lana Del Rey. The very distillation of a Lana Del Rey song, to be honest, and I love her for it.
INXS, Don’t Change. As far as INXS songs go this one from 1982 is not nearly as well-known as their main hits but it’s so, so good! It has this drive and energy and sounds so ahead of its time, like a song from 2004 written by a band trying to sound like they were from 1982!
Felt, Primitive Painters. This already lovely song is sent into the stratosphere by the presence of Elizabeth Fraser, “the voice of god” – she sounds like cold falling water, like a feather being run across the back of your neck, like a casual angel (to corroborate this, should you have your doubts, may I direct you to where you’ve probably heard her already: Teardrop by Massive Attack.)
Tim Buckley, Song to the Siren. SO sad and pretty, a real exemplary example of this genre. (The genre being, sad and pretty.)
Next time: CAN YOU BELIEVE it’s technically, and worse, literally, October; I’m super excited to eat some asparagus, should I manage to ever not sleep through the Sunday markets, or indeed, Spring itself.
PS: if you want to receive these blog posts ahead of the crowd like the bon vivant you are, you may consider signing up here which will allow you to get these posts sent to your inbox every Sunday, which, if you’ve done it already, means you already read this post three days ago, in which case congratulations on your excellent taste for making it through this far upon second reading.
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.
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.
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
200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup almonds, roughly chopped (or 200g dark chocolate with almonds)
3/4 cup shredded coconut
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
30ml Aperol (or: 1 shot, 1 oz, 2 tablespoons)
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”.)
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.)
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.)
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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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
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
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.”
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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