Vegan Rum + Pecan Cookies

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Well, 2021 has shuffled in the back door looking suspiciously like 2020 in a trench coat with a large fake moustache affixed under its nose. And with it, I also shuffle forwards in continuous pursuit of the most palatable way to be all, “here’s a cookie recipe” as the systemic failures and relentless atrocities of the world spiral around us. Truth be told, I don’t know if there is a good way of doing it – and I also don’t believe it’s actually possible to politely withhold politics from the dinner table. What else is there to talk about? Everything’s political! If anything, my hesitancy in alluding to current events is less based in coyness and more based in the fact that there is just SO much happening right now, and all these happenings are jostling for the attention of whatever shreds of my attention span remain after being pan-fried in the savagely hot, high-summer sun which is, I believe, currently located on the roof of my house and not in outer space. (All that being said: a president having two impeachments – while demonstrably imposed far too late to have any real mitigation of risk and harm – is objectively hilarious. Or careless, as Lady Bracknell would have said.)

On New Years Eve my dear friend Charlotte and I watched the sun setting meditatively over the Tasman Sea, and under that sinking sun we listed our intentions and goals for the year – as you can guess, mine include getting an indulgent yet solicitous agent; having a manuscript published to fabulous acclaim; working out how to make a food blog relevant without changing a single thing because I like it as it is; and acquiring a weighted blanket – and I’m speaking them aloud here to give the manifestation process a purposeful bump forwards. We then went home and played Scattergories until 1am when I realised it was suddenly no longer 2020. It was maybe the most lovely new year I’ve ever had, and I hope you, like me, also had a chill and delightful time over the holidays.

Anyway – here’s a cookie recipe?

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You know and I know that the chocolate chunk cookie rules supreme in hearts and imaginations, but this recipe – which I’ve adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s excellent Veganomicon cookbook – is sensational, and extremely worth your attention. The original recipe evokes the flavours of eggnog, but not having ever tried eggnog I can’t speak to its accuracy. Even sans context, these flavours are glorious – the demure warmth of the nutmeg and cinnamon, the buttery elegance of the rum and pecans, the latter offering mellow crunch strewn throughout each chubby golden ball of dough.

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I have to assure you that your cookies won’t turn out cracked and funny like the ones pictured – I’ve made this recipe so many times, but the one occasion where I thought to photograph them, I’d only had self-raising flour on hand and so that affected the way they baked. Your cookies will be smooth-surfaced and beguiling, I promise. I really have made these rum + pecan cookies dozens of times – including a triple batch just before Christmas, prepared in such large quantities for – unsurprisingly – Christmas presents to distribute to the whānau. I also attempted a version while camping last week, “baked” in the large gas-powered frying pan – and they weren’t terrible. Even if you accidentally overcook these they’re still fine, you just really need a cup of tea on hand for significant dunking.

These are grown-up yet comforting and cosy – a truly remarkable cookie. I don’t think I’ve made a batch yet without doubling up the quantities since the first time I tried it.

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Vegan Rum + Pecan Cookies

My favourite cookies – maybe even more than chocolate chunk? Adapted from a recipe in Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. See notes at the end of the recipe for ingredient substitutes and how to make these alcohol-free.

  • 3/4 cup pecans
  • 1/3 cup neutral-flavoured oil (eg rice bran)
  • 1/4 cup soy milk or similar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses, treacle, or golden syrup
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 and 1/4 cups plain flour
  • 1/4 cup cornflour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or use ground)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a baking sheet (or two, if you have them) with baking paper. Roughly chop the pecans, or – I personally find this much easier – crumble them with your fingers, and set aside.

2: Briskly stir the oil, milk, white and brown sugars, molasses, rum and vanilla together in a mixing bowl, then stir in the pecans. Sieve in the remaining dry ingredients and mix into a thick dough. If it looks too sticky, add a little extra flour (and sometimes I roll each unbaked cookie in a little extra flour before baking just to be safe – hence the dusting of flour you can see on the cookies in the photos.)

3: Roll tablespoons of the dough into balls and place about two inches apart from each other on the baking tray – no need to flatten them or anything. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes, until the pale dough has turned golden. As I’ve noted elsewhere, your cookies probably won’t crack like mine did in this photo – I only had self-raising flour when I made this batch and I think it affected them a little.

4: Carefully transfer the cookies to a cooling rack using a lifter/flipper tool and continue rolling and baking the remaining dough. If you are baking two trays of cookies at a time you may need to give the tray on the bottom an extra minute or two.

Makes 20-24 cookies.

Notes:

  •  The rum I used was Plantation Original – it really is crucial that you use a darker rum here, not a white rum. That being said, if you have spiced rum on hand that would work perfectly. Bourbon would also be extremely ideal here.
  • If you don’t want to use alcohol at all, replace the rum with more milk or orange juice, and up the vanilla extract to 2 teaspoons.
  • I feel compelled to emphasise that the ingredient we call “cornflour” in New Zealand is called cornstarch in America, and is not to be confused with polenta.
  • The original recipe only uses white sugar, so you can absolutely do the same
  • Walnuts work great instead of pecans
  • I don’t recommend using self-raising flour!

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music lately:

No 1 Fan by Majesty Crush. This song, from the very underground early 90s shoegazey band Majesty Crush, is just startlingly gorgeous. It makes you feel exhilarated but in a really sad way, you know?

That’s Where The Sin Is, by Minimal Man. I started 2020 with MM’s transcendently wonderful song Pull Back The Bolt – I urge you to go listen to it! – and we meet again in 2021. That’s Where The Sin Is bears a more sinister, nihilistic vibe, but is no less immediate and alluring.

Nobody’s Side, sung by Broadway’s Julia Murney in the 2003 concert version of the musical Chess – this is the definitive interpretation of the song. The cerebral quality Murney brings to every role, the Capital-A Acting that she does, her unparalleled vibrato absolutely pinging, that note she hits precisely three minutes in which is so stratospheric I couldn’t even tell you what it is (a high J perhaps? An N major?) I could pummel whoever decided to cut away from her expressive face at that moment to do a wide shot, and I would gladly hand over a non-essential organ for a high-quality cast recording of this show – till that blessed day comes, a grainy YouTube video it is.

Next time: I believe it’s that time of year where, despite professing to not be wild about soup, the only thing I can face eating in this stifling heat is…chilled soup.

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

Thai Yellow Curry Mac and Cheese

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A lot to unpack here – despite the title of this recipe there is demonstrably neither macaroni nor cheese involved, and as for the wayward cross-cultural Thai-Italian fusion, perhaps the less said the better. But this is a food blog, so unfortunately for us all, I legally have to say more.

That being said – because we’re sliding headfirst into Christmas and because I am significantly sucrose-dizzy from eating large amounts of the mixture while making my Christmas Cake and Raspberry Rainbow Slab before settling down to write this – I will keep to the point: this is perhaps the best mac and cheese I’ve ever made. I’ve had numerous stabs at making THE vegan mac and cheese and they’ve all been great – usually involving cashews and pureed roasted carrots and nutritional yeast – and they’re still excellent recipes which I’m happy to call my own! This specific recipe just happens to be at the charming crossroads of tasting fantastic, while involving barely any effort (and not a single blender.)

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This is a recipe I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time – based simply on some stove-side musing, while using Thai yellow curry paste in its intended form. It occurred to me, while tasting the curry sauce I was stirring and simultaneously stealing small spoonfuls of the curry paste from the jar to eat – that its savoury, salty fulsomeness might be surprisingly wonderful and slightly cheese sauce-adjacent draped over pasta.

I figured this concept might also require what we in the business call a soft-launch – by which I mean, I made it just for me and my brother on a night when my parents were out. It was all I had hoped for and more: the pasta and creamy roux provided a smooth tranquil background to the mellow heat and heady mix of spices in the curry paste, somehow – corroborated by my brother – quite bewitchingly cheese sauce-like – and yet also its own unique creation. What I’m trying to say is, this definitely tastes like yellow curry paste and pasta, and that is a very good thing, and yet it doesn’t taste incongruous. It’s so good, even though its main ingredients weren’t originally intended to be bedfellows – just so good! Besides, 2020 has made strange bedfellows of us all, and this mac and cheese is precisely the sort of comforting and easy tuck you want at this destabilisingly intense and hyper-emotional time of year – or indeed – any time.

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Thai Yellow Curry Mac and Cheese

So simple, so delicious, maybe the best vegan mac and cheese I’ve ever made? A recipe by myself. 

  • 200g macaroni or small pasta shape of your choice (I only had casarecce for some reason hence the photos)
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons refined (flavourless) coconut oil (plus extra for the breadcrumbs)
  • 2-3 heaped tablespoons Thai yellow curry paste
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup soy milk

1: Bring a pan of water to the boil, add plenty of salt, and cook the pasta until it’s, you know, cooked.

2: Meanwhile, toast the breadcrumbs in an extra tablespoon or so of coconut oil in a saucepan over a medium heat until they are lightly golden brown. Transfer them to a dish and cover to keep warm until required.

3: In the same pan, melt the coconut oil and stir in the curry paste, heating it through for a minute or so. Add the flour and stir for another minute or so, by which point it should be a very thick, orange-coloured doughy roux.

4: Add the soymilk, a little at a time, stirring it into the roux the entire time to prevent lumps – it may help to switch to a whisk at this point – and continue stirring constantly over a medium heat until the sauce is thick and, well, saucy. Add about a quarter cup of the pasta water to the sauce and continue stirring. Once it looks thick enough to coat, pleasingly, the pasta, remove it from the heat. If it gets too thick, however, just stir in some more milk or pasta cooking water. Stir in the nutmeg, and then taste to see if it needs any more seasoning – you may, quite justifiably, wish to add more curry paste, which I encourage you to do.

5: Drain the pasta, stir it into the sauce, and sprinkle the toasted breadcrumbs over the surface.

Serves 2 as a main.

Notes:
  • I know you’re going to use whatever oil you have in the cupboard and that is absolutely fine but I’ve only tried this with refined coconut oil and its particular buttery flavour is quite specific!! However I’m sure unrefined coconut oil or olive oil would be great instead if that’s what you’ve got.
  • All the Thai yellow curry paste I’ve found has been vegan, but definitely check the ingredients just in case.
  • You may be tempted to skip the nutmeg, to which I say: no. Don’t.

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music lately:

LA WEED, by Allison Stone from her latest album of the same name. A long-awaited new release from Stone brings the year to a close in a slightly more bearable way – I love the title track and just everything from this album, it sort of sounds like Elastica if they were slowed down and then sped up again but only slightly?

Supervixens, by AR Kane, I know I talked about this song last week but the truth is I just have not stopped listening to it! And nor should you! Can you honestly tell me that whatever else you’re doing right now is more important than this?

Lonely Train by Judy Henske. Equally at home in folk as she was doing torch songs, this is more the former and showcases her jaw-dropping rich howl of a voice as it surges over an urgent, steam-powered guitar rhythm.

Next time: 2021, baby.

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

The Annual HungryandFrozen Edible Gift Recipe Round-Up

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Once more Christmas lurches purposefully towards us, engorged with expectation, and emotion, and the hopes and fears of all the years, and capitalism. Which means one thing, round these parts: it’s time again for my annual list of edible gift idea recipes, gathered from my prior blog posts over the past thirteen years. It’s a self-serving action, yes, but also hopefully helpful in some way – and all I ever really want is to be useful, but to also draw attention to myself in the process.

Time is forever a strange and fluctuating thing – and never in such a collectively experienced manner as this year with COVID-19. We all felt how it was March for six months, now next March is inexplicably three months away – and I know for many, this Christmas is not going to take its usual form. If you’re confined to a relatively small circle of people, there are still neighbours, the postal service, any number of people nearby who might be cheered by a small jar or box of something in their letterbox, or on their doorstep. Even just you, alone, are reason enough to bake a cake. I also realise to heaps of people Christmas is quite reasonably another day of the week! But generally there will be some point in your life where giving a gift is required, and almost all the recipes listed below work beautifully year-round (though I personally can’t eat candy canes out of season.)

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As for the financial pressure of this time of year – I won’t lie, between the ingredients, time, electricity, storage and wrapping, homemade edible gifts aren’t necessarily that cheap, and there’s no moral superiority in making your own jam. It is undeniably delightful to receive something homemade – but if this is too strenuous, stick with the food concept and do your Christmas shopping at the supermarket. Chocolates, candy, olive oil, fancy salt, peanut butter, curry pastes, hot sauce, olives, a complicated shape of pasta – even just food you know someone eats a lot of. They love noodles? Get them noodles! I guarantee they’ll be pleased. Basically, we cannot escape capitalism but giving an edible gift of any kind has so many upsides: it’s delicious, it has immediate application, it will eventually cease taking up space in the receiver’s house, it makes you look like a really great person.

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To the list! I’ve grouped the recipes into three categories, and have also included some of the recipes I wrote for Tenderly over the last year.

Two caveats: some of these recipes are from years ago, but while details and contexts and locations and motivations have changed, the deliciousness remains constant. Also I feel like it’s worth pointing out that anything involving an ingredient which either could melt or has been melted, should be stored in the fridge rather than under the tree.

Also – all these recipes are vegan.

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Category One: Things In Jars

No matter how uncertain the world we live in, you can still count on Things In Jars. From relish to pickles to the unsinkable salted caramel sauce, it’s always well-received, it always looks like you’ve gone to arduous levels of effort, and it’s an ideal gift for everyone from your most marginally tolerable of coworkers to the most highly specific love of your life. For added personal flair – although this could just be my neurological predisposition for over-explaining – I suggest including a gift tag with recommendations on ways to use the contents of the jar.

Savoury:

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Sweet

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Category Two: Baked Goods

They’re baked! They’re good! While biscuits and cookies are more commonly gifted, don’t rule out a loaf, perhaps wrapped in baking paper and then brown paper – the banana bread and ginger molasses loaf below keep well (especially the latter) and would make a charmingly convivial offering. At this busy time of year, having something to slice and eat with a cup of tea or a snifter of whatever weird liqueur you can find in the back of the cupboard is nothing if not a stroke of good fortune.

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Category Three: Novelty, No-Bake Sweets, and General Sugary Chaos

The best category, let’s be frank. Whether it’s dissolving candy canes in bottom-shelf vodka or adding pink food colouring to white chocolate for the aesthetic, sugar is the true reason for the season. And since dentists wildly overcharge us for their service, you might as well make them really earn it.

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music lately:

Supervixens by AR-Kane, I love this song so much, the way the woozy vocals slide over the melody, the way the melody slides over the beat, in fact this whole album (“i”) is exhilaratingly glorious.

Brooklyn Blues, by Clifford Gibson. Okay so I love early blues, but if I’m honest, I only initially got into Gibson because I found him on Wikipedia under the list of people who have the same birthday as me (April 17.) Fortunately this rather vain curiosity was highly rewarding because he was a wonderful musician (of course!)

Irma La Douce, by Shirley MacLaine from her fantastic Live at the Palace album. This is the English version of the title number of the French stage show on which the film of the same name was based, in which Shirley MacLaine played the title character – Irma La Douce – very straightforward. It’s one of my very favourite films and I love her performance of this song, from its wistful, introspective beginning to its unhinged, full-throated conclusion.

Also – I was genuinely heartbroken to learn of the passing of Broadway legend, icon, star, Ann Reinking. I could say SO MUCH about her, and Fosse’s choreography, and Gwen Verdon, and the way they all worked together – but instead I’ll just link to this clip of her dancing in a dream sequence in All That Jazz – a film I could watch every day and never tire of. It’s a deceptively simple number, but her precision and ownership of the movements is astonishing. Everything she does – even just lowering her eyelids in a blink at 46 seconds in – is a dance movement, on a level the rest of us can only dream of.

PS: if you enjoy my writing and would like to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area, where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, poems, short stories, all for just $2 a month.

24 Hour Party Seitan

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“One Christmas,” wrote Dylan Thomas in A Child’s Christmas in Wales, “was so much like another…I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.” It’s that sudden, concentrated repetition which defines the season – the same songs, the same pine tree smell, everything squashing into one red and green fever dream until it’s over, and we put it away for another eleven months. It’s much the same with food – even Nigella Lawson, with every new cookbook she releases, still returns to that one brined turkey recipe every Christmas Day. If you’re vegan, however, there’s a decent chance you’re more amenable to trying new things at this time of resolutely clinging to old things, which is why, eleven days in to December of 2020, I confidently suggest my 24 Hour Party Seitan as your perfect new Christmas Day recipe. I’ve made seitan many, many times before, but this one is easily its ultimate iteration – I certainly wouldn’t suggest anything less for such an occasion.

Despite all this talk of Christmas I’ve given it the seitan a more secular title in case you (a) don’t do Christmas or (b) want to make this at any other time, because it is absolutely worthy of being wheeled out year-round. (I also just thought this name was kind of crack up.) Unfortunately I couldn’t resist taking photos festooned with the apricot-coloured eighties Mardi Gras beads from our decorations and the tree lights glowing in the background. The “24 Hour” part is quite literal – you rest the seitan overnight in the fridge – but this is entirely in its, and your, favour. First of all, it means you can just pull it from the fridge and briefly sear it on Christmas Day – or whenever you want to eat it – meaning minimal on-the-day toil for you. Resting it also significantly improves the flavour, and I assume, being largely made of gluten, it must do something for the texture as well.

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(I actually initially intended this to be sixty hour seitan, imagining that the prolonged relaxation period would do wonderful things for the gluten. And so I rested the dough overnight three times – after kneading, after cooking, and after searing. Unfortunately the dough relaxed so hard that it was essentially sedated, positively tranquillised, and had a texture akin to partially solidified PVA glue. And yeah, I contritely ate it all before returning to the drawing board. Excess: sure! Wastefulness: no!)

Seitan is, more or less, a meat substitute made from gluten flour, which is, contrary to how it sounds, extremely high in protein. The gluten flour, when combined with some kind of lengthener – in our case, pureed cannellini beans – kneaded, and steamed or simmered, forms a chewy, dense, flavour-absorbing mass, with the kind of toothy bite and texture one might associate with the memory of meat. The longer I continue with this vegan thing, the less necessary it seems to describe food with its proximity to meat, but I realise it’s helpful to know what you’re getting into. Ultimately, to me, seitan is seitan: an ideal main ingredient and when done well, incredibly delicious. And although you could make various risottos or pastas or just eat the roast vegetables on Christmas Day, it’s sometimes nice to have something on offer which matches what everyone else is eating.

The size of the recipe may appear needlessly fiddly but it’s mostly because I like to really explain every step to make sure you’re okay with it, as opposed to the method itself actually being arduous. When you break it down, it’s just three steps: making the dough, steaming it, and then giving it a final caramelising sear. I’ve included finely shredded jackfruit to add even more fibrous texture, plus a proprietary, specific blend of spices and flavourings to make it taste the way it does: savoury, herby, perfectly salty, rich, pinging with umami, with a crisped, chewy crust. It looks fabulously celebratory sitting on a plate strewn with rosemary ready for carving – a Christmas offering you can be proud to call your own. I would strongly suggest a sauce alongside this – basil pesto, aioli with horseradish stirred in, cranberry sauce, mint sauce or, of course, plenty of gravy, would all be ideal. Even just wholegrain mustard would be excellent. And I can’t even tell you how good the leftovers taste, cold, the next day.

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24 Hour Party Seitan

The very best seitan I’ve ever made, ready for Christmas Day dinner or any time you need to impress someone.

  • 1 x 400g can jackfruit in brine
  • 1 x 400g can cannellini beans
  • 1 vegan chicken stock cube (I use and heartily recommend the Massel brand)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon dried celery (or, a dash of celery salt)
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup/tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon Maggi seasoning/liquid aminos or soy sauce (Maggi is preferable)
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup, maple syrup or treacle
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 and 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

To serve:

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • a pinch of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper

1: Drain the jackfruit. Remove any of the seeds (I just ate them.) Finely shred, with your fingers, the feathery softer parts of the jackfruit, and finely slice the more firm parts lengthwise. Set aside.

2: Drain, but don’t rinse the cannellini beans, and place them in a small mixing bowl along with the vegan stock cube and water. Puree until completely smooth using a stick blender. Alternatively, you can puree this in a blender or a high speed food processor, making sure you keep blending until it’s very smooth with no visible beans left. Stir in the celery, ketchup, Maggi seasoning, and golden syrup, and the shredded/finely chopped jackfruit. It’s important that you add the jackfruit at this point, rather than after the liquid has been added to the gluten, otherwise it will be incredibly difficult to mix it together.

3: In a larger mixing bowl (sorry about the extra dishes here) combine the rosemary, sage, vital wheat gluten and nutritional yeast. Tip in the bean and jackfruit mixture and carefully stir it together to form a ball, then briefly knead it, just until it is firm and springy and quite dry to the touch, and strings of gluten form when you break off a piece of the dough. If it’s a little damp and sticky still, sprinkle over a couple of tablespoons extra of the wheat gluten. It will look (and smell) very unlikely at this point, but bear with me.

4: Place a rack inside a steamer snugly fitted on top of a pan of water. If you don’t have a steamer basket, you could try to engineer one by placing a round metal cake rack inside a metal colander and finding a lid which will fit snugly on top of that. A large bamboo steamer will also work perfectly. Press the seitan dough into a vaguely pleasing shape about an inch or so thick (making sure it can fit inside the steamer.) Cut a piece of baking paper to about the same size as the seitan, lay the baking paper on the steamer rack, and the seitan on top of the paper, and top with the steamer lid. Let the water in the pan underneath come to the boil, and once it is – you’ll be able to hear it and see the steam forming on the underside of the lid – let it steam for a full half hour, without turning. Leave the seitan to cool in the steamer, then place in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight.

5: About half an hour before you plan to cook it, take the seitan out of the fridge. Heat up about a tablespoon of oil in a heavy pan and fry the seitan for five minutes on each side, turning carefully with the help of tongs and a flipper.

6: While it’s on its second side, mix the olive oil, rosemary, thyme, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Press about half into the exposed side of the seitan, carefully turn it over, and cook for another minute or so. Repeat on the newly exposed side with the remaining breadcrumb mixture. Some of it will fall off, which absolutely doesn’t matter. Transfer to a serving plate, and serve while hot.

Makes around 10-12 thick slices. Store any leftovers in the fridge and reheat in a hot pan as necessary.

Notes:

  • You can make this up to three days ahead, but I wouldn’t start it any later than Christmas Eve.
  • Vital Wheat Gluten, sometimes labelled Wheat Gluten or Gluten Flour, should be available from most supermarkets, though if you’re near a Bin Inn I found it there in larger quantities for much cheaper than the supermarket.
  • Some seitan recipes – including ones that I’ve written – call for simmering the seitan submerged in water rather than steaming it. I find the steaming here is better for the texture and flavour, and you don’t have to worry about the bits of jackfruit falling out. Unless it’s absolutely impossible to steam it, I would advise against simmering this particular recipe.
  • This seitan can be used for pretty much anything once it’s steamed – you can stir-fry it, eat it cold, glaze it with various sauces, etc. Sometimes I make a glaze to brush on before searing – usually involving Maggi seasoning, oil, sugar, and Chinese Five-Spice powder.
  • Don’t skip the step where you take it out of the fridge before searing – letting it come closer to room temperature means you can thoroughly brown it on both sides without worrying that the centre will still be ice cold.

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music lately:

I Enjoy Being A Girl, by Pat Suzuki, from the 1958 Broadway show Flower Drum Song. Unfortunately she wasn’t cast in the later film adaptation – instead the role went to Nancy Kwan who, while very beautiful, had the singing parts dubbed by another singer. Nonetheless, Suzuki’s rendition remains the definitive one, and her voice is incredible – easily enormous, so expressive, with that delicious growl.

Get Up Off Your Knees, by Ethel Waters. There’s something so reassuring yet sexy about her voice, and she had a number of songs from this era (the late 1920s) which were fantastically strident and sexy like this song about a trifling lover (and some songs which were near-outrightly raunchy, in the case of Do What You Did Last Night.)

Sweetness and Light by Lush. Fizzy, feathery, swoony, delicious, listening to this makes exciting things feel possible again.

Next time: Okay so I did make butter out of oats but it also might be time for my annual edible Christmas present round-up.

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

Vegan Raspberry Rainbow Slab

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While, generally, no one wants to hear about the dream you had last night – which took me well into adulthood to grasp, as you are probably unsurprised to hear – I believe the exception to this rule is today’s recipe for Raspberry Rainbow Slab, which appeared to me in a dream and which I made come deliciously true. Whether this strikes you as whimsical, or a sad indictment of our current content-churning, always-on gig economy in which being asleep is still a fruitful opportunity to keep working, either way it tastes, in real life, every bit as good as it did in my head. (Side note, I really could taste it in my dream. Is that weird? Is that a sign of genius? Surely?) Coming up with recipes from dreams is nothing new for me, although my brain is getting slightly better at it – the first time this happened was in 2003 when I woke up and, still mostly asleep, wrote “steak with Baileys??” on a piece of paper beside my bed.

This is essentially a riff on my Vegan White Chocolate recipe, which is not something I thought could ever be improved upon – and superlative though that is, something about this bigger, thicker, creamier, baby pink confection is even more delicious, if not, possibly, the most delicious thing I’ve ever made. It tastes like the tops of those pink iced buns from the bakery – like the sort of birthday parties you’d read about in Enid Blyton books – like, well, a dream.

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You really do need to use the raspberry flavouring here instead of freeze-dried raspberry powder or something – that’s the point, that giddy, bright red fizzy drink flavour. Even the sprinkles add something – visually, obviously, but also a pleasant gritty crunch before your teeth sink clean into the chocolate below. Somehow, with all that icing sugar, it’s not too sweet – or too rich. It’s just perfect, raspberry-tinted white chocolate. However, between the cashews and the cacao this is not a particularly cheap outing, unfortunately, so I would only make it to share with someone you think will genuinely appreciate it, and indeed, you.

I know it’s really all I’ve said in this post but I just need, for my own peace of mind, to make sure that you really understand me when I say this is probably the best recipe I’ve ever invented. If, however, it still seems like too much of an outlay or too cutesy or something, why not start by making the original vegan white chocolate and work your way up.

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Raspberry Rainbow Slab

Raspberry-flavoured, pink-toned vegan white chocolate studded with rainbow sprinkles. The food of my dreams. Recipe by myself.

  • 1 and 1/2 cups roughly chopped cacao butter
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (refined or regular is fine)
  • 3/4 cup cashew butter
  • 2 and 1/2 cups icing sugar, with more just in case
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons raspberry essence/flavouring
  • couple drops pink food colouring
  • a pinch of salt
  • hundreds and thousands/rainbow sprinkles

1: Prepare a 20x20cm tin by lining it with baking paper. Slowly melt the cacao butter by placing it in a heatproof bowl and sitting that bowl on top of a small pan of simmering water – the bowl should rest in the mouth of the pan without the water touching the base of it, if that makes sense – stirring occasionally and removing from the heat as soon as it’s melted. Be careful not to overheat the cacao butter or it will seize up.

2: Alternate stirring the melted cacao butter and icing sugar into the cashew butter a little at a time. It will probably look gloopy and unpromising, but it will come together. It should be really quite thick but still somewhat liquidy once you’ve added everything – all that cacao butter will make it set, so don’t worry, but if it appears split and as though the oil and cashew butter aren’t making friends, just stir in more icing sugar till it behaves.

3: Fold in the vanilla, raspberry essence, a couple drops of pink food colouring, and the salt. Add more food colouring if need be, and taste to see if it wants more raspberry.

4: Turn this mixture into the lined tin and press out evenly, giving the tin a couple of taps against the bench to prevent any air bubbles and to even out the top. Sprinkle over a layer of hundreds and thousands, and put the tin in the fridge for two to three hours, or until it’s set.

5: Slice your raspberry rainbow slab into squares, and then store in an airtight container in the fridge. I find it helps to let the slab sit, uncut, on the bench for a minute if you want more even squares – what you can see in my photos here is what happens when you’re impatient and slice it straight from the fridge. Similarly, while you need to store this in the fridge, it tastes best when it’s not quiiite freezing cold, so let it sit for a minute before eating if you can help it.

Note:

  • If you don’t have cashew butter, soak one and a quarter cups raw cashews in boiling water for about two hours before blending in a high speed processor or with a stick blender.

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music lately:

It’s Coming, It’s Real, by Swans. I love songs which have an air of starting very far away and slowly but determinedly approaching you before they wash over your head and sweep you away and you think you’ll drown but it turns out you can breath underwater. This song belongs firmly in that genre, and also in the genre “I will listen to this on loop until I black out.”

Don’t You Think I Ought To Know, by Hadda Brooks. Her beautiful voice is somehow enhanced by the atmospheric crackly noise from the 1947 record still present on this.

Let’s Kill This Love by BLACKPINK. I watched the documentary about them on Netflix and while it wasn’t particularly enlightening and clearly entirely done in the name of promotion I guess it worked, because here we are. But it also makes sense: the tempo changes every five seconds, the costumes change even faster, there’s a lyric about crying tears of blood, they have a terrifying work ethic, of course I love it.

Next time: I am working on a seitan recipe which is worthy of Christmas day. I also made butter out of oats.

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

The Very Best Christmas Cake (vegan)

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If growing old is humanity’s largely unavoidable curse, its reward is surely discovering and ageing into the untold experiences and possibilities and freedoms which adulthood affords you. Or at least, so I hear. Currently, the only one of these afforded freedoms I can afford, is that the years have sufficiently killed off my tastebuds, so I may genuinely enjoy eating Christmas cake.

Christmas cakes – or fruitcakes in general, be they secular or vaguely pious – were an extreme letdown in my childhood, not just because they tasted so foul to my dilettante palate – but because they looked so storybook spectacular, with that smooth expanse of uninterrupted white icing and that rich chocolatey-looking interior. But oh, such injurious, disgusting dissonance! The icing tasted like fimo modelling clay – the cake beneath like the inky pages of a King James Bible, recently flung into a puddle.

Anyway, time passed, now I like them.

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But if I’m going to eat fruit cake, it still better be excellent, and this recipe, let me assure you, is the most excellent. Yes, it’s vegan, but specifically, it’s not merely the best vegan Christmas cake, it’s, in fact, the best Christmas cake. It is vegan – and it is best. It’s even better than the recipe I put in my 2013 cookbook (pictured up the top there with its dashing star wreath icing – look, it’s a nice picture, and visually, an iced fruitcake is an iced fruitcake, so I reserve the right to repeatedly trot out this relatively old image.)

This fruitcake is wonderful both to make and to eat – as you’ll see in the recipe, the most stressful aspect is lining the tin with baking paper. The combination of dark rum, Guinness and tea give it such a robust backbone of flavour – for some reason, the combination of chai and rooibos is particularly buttery and rich, but if you can only get one or the other then so be it. Guinness tracks its muddy footprints through the batter, lending complexity and intensity. Dark rum speaks for itself (but in case you can’t hear it: it’s just very delicious.)

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I impatiently cut myself a slice as soon as the cake came out of the oven – needing to know whether the recipe actually worked or not – and it was incredible. Two days later, it was like a whole different cake. Deeper, darker, more settled, more confident, it tasted so good I’m ascribing human qualities to it. It tastes like the sound of Bing Crosby’s least phoned-in Christmas album. It’s amazing. It’s the Christmas cake you deserve.

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The Best Christmas Cake

Easy, incredibly delicious, only gets better with age – just like you – and it’s vegan – just like me. I recommend starting this about five days before Christmas, for it to be really peaking right when you need it.

Fruit:

  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup prunes
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sultanas
  • 1 and 1/2 cups tea made with two chai rooibos teabags (or one rooibos, one chai)
  • 1/2 cup dark rum

Cake:

  • 1/2 cup neutral oil, eg rice bran or sunflower
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup treacle, or golden syrup
  • 1 cup Guinness
  • 1/2 cup soy milk, or your preferred milk
  • 4 teaspoons malt vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 3 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3-4 drops pure orange oil

1: Roughly chop the prunes and dried apricots (measure them out first, then chop them) until they’re all more or less in quarters or thirds, and place them, along with the sultanas, into a small bowl. Cover with the hot tea and the rum, cover, and leave in the fridge overnight, or for at least six hours. But ideally overnight.

2: After a suitable quantity of time has passed, drain the fruit, retaining any of the steeped liquor (there won’t be much, it will be delicious.)

3: Now comes the most difficult part – lining the tin. Take a 22-23cm springform or loose-bottomed cake tin, cut a circle of paper to fit the base, then take a long stretch of paper, fold it in half horizontally/along the long edge, bring the two edges together to make a loop, and fit this inside the cake tin, overlapping the paper where necessary to make it more or less hug the tin’s inner walls. It doesn’t matter if it’s all a bit hodge-podge, the cake batter will hold it in place, but it might help to place a bowl or something inside the tin while you wait, to hold the paper in place. You should end up with the cake tin lined on the base and sides with paper, with a good-sized collar extending over the top edge of the tin.

4: Now comes the easy part – making the cake. Set your oven to 160C/320F. Mix the oil, sugar and treacle together in a large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon. Stir in the Guinness and milk – it will probably froth up a fair bit, but it will subside – followed by the vinegar and vanilla.

5: Add the remaining dry ingredients (you don’t have to sieve the flour but I always sieve baking soda, because I live in fear of lumps in my baking and unfortunately have the past experience to justify such fears) and slowly stir together till it forms a cohesive, liquid-but-thick batter. If you’re worried, the cocoa doesn’t make it taste chocolatey – it just adds another layer of dark intensity.

6: Fold in the drained steeped fruits. Taste to see if you think it needs a bit more of any of the spices – and also just because the batter tastes really good, and you deserve it – and then spatula it all into the waiting cake tin. Even out the top, and then bake for around one and a half hours, or until it’s no longer jiggly when you carefully prod the centre, and a skewer comes out more or less clean. You may want to cover it loosely with tinfoil halfway through, to prevent burning (I did!) Check after an hour, but be prepared to bake it for closer to two hours, it being a very dense mixture.

7: Remove the cake from the oven, spoon over the remaining tea/rum liquid, and allow the cake to cool in its tin. Once cool, carefully remove it and transfer to an airtight container till required. This gets better every single day, although I haven’t had it last longer than a week so I can’t say for sure how far ahead you can make it, but if you keep it in an airtight container still wrapped in its paper, it should be good for at least that long, and surely longer still.

Notes:

  • If you need this cake to be alcohol free, replace the rum with more tea, and I would definitely go for a chai/rooibos blend here rather than black tea. I would add an extra dash of vanilla and maybe an extra quarter cup of brown sugar too. It occurs to me now that the carbonation of the Guinness helps aid the texture of the cake, so try a good ginger beer or ginger ale in its place instead.
  • If you can’t get hold of orange oil, add the zest of a large orange instead.
  • If you lack dark rum, you could use bourbon or a decent-ish brandy – either of these would be preferable to white rum, but golden rum would work in a pinch, and spiced rum is obviously not going to do any harm.
  • You can quite reasonably use just sultanas and prunes if you don’t want dried apricots in it. These are the only concessions I will concede!

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Also, if you really hate fruitcake but seeing the word “cake” has triggered a response in the brain of your taste buds, I recommend this perfect mocha cake (go for the fudgy icing variation) or this molasses loaf which I make roughly once a week, it’s incredibly good and slightly more chill with treacle instead of molasses, too. 

music lately:

Lovely Head, by Goldfrapp. My dear friend Charlotte and I once listened to this song on loop for literally forty minutes – it was also about 1am – and this is exactly how you should listen to it too, and don’t even click through unless you’re prepared for that commitment.

Where Do We Go From Here? by Death. Where, indeed? This is sludgy yet crunchy, like a smashed car windscreen falling into your porridge (or vice versa, I guess.)

A Perfect Relationship by Judy Holliday from the film (based on the Broadway musical) Bells Are Ringing. She was so deadpan hilarious and yet there was something so heartbreaking and tremulous about her. This song, however, is very cute, and in theory is not at all heartbreaking.

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

Vegan Treacle Black Pepper Ripple Ice Cream

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For something to be delicious, it only needs one person to perceive it as such. “The customer may not always be right, but their tastebuds are,” is a phrase I used to diplomatically employ while bartending, and it’s true – if a customer wants a microwaved gin and tonic, or a slice of salami garnishing their glass of mid-level chardonnay – if that’s what their personal tastebuds crave – then who am I to deny them? It’s valid! Distressing, but valid. (That being said, your bartender is probably in a huge rush and trying valiantly to ignore their lumbar pain so I would also advise not being wilfully irritating.)

All of which is to say, I made an ice cream that I adored, but no one else in my family wanted to go near. Normally I am disproportionately, long-term wounded if peoples’ response to my cooking doesn’t match the applause I envisioned, but in this case I was happy to take the L, since it meant I got the Treacle Black Pepper Ripple Ice Cream all to myself.

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Despite the presence of treacle, and despite my usual sugary tendencies, this ice cream is bracingly unsweet – or at least, any sweetness is strongly counteracted by the black pepper and generous splashes of malt vinegar. I’ve always found treacle – and by proxy, its cousins golden syrup and molasses – to have a throat-prickling, peppery edge, which is why it traditionally pairs so well with other heat-emanating flavours like ginger and cinnamon. Here, I’ve decided to take this opinion to its natural conclusion and pair the treacle with freshly ground black pepper, adding spice and depth to its already near-savoury burnt toffee taste. Propping it up is whipped aquafaba, that magical leftover brine from your can of chickpeas. Whisked into a billowing meringue with just a scattering of extra sugar, it provides a fluffy, creamy, instantly spoonable proper ice cream texture – even though it’s just water that some beans have been sitting in – and the ideal backdrop to the ribbons of peppery treacle.

The result is quite intense but highly rewarding, and you’ll probably already know whether or not this ice cream is for you. If it’s not, don’t worry – you can make my entirely more accessible, traditionally sweet berry ice cream, which also uses a similar method. And if treacle isn’t hard-core enough for you, then I recommend this ginger-molasses cake (which is, incidentally, also delicious made with treacle) from Bryant Terry’s book The Inspired Vegan – I’ve made this loaf at least once a fortnight since I first posted about it.

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Treacle Black Pepper Ripple Ice Cream

No churn, no equipment, no dairy, no nuts, no coconut – and not for everyone. But for those who dare, it’s SO delicious. Makes around 800-900ml (around two US pints) Recipe by myself.

  • a heaped 1/3 cup treacle (by heaped, I mean – let it be really full and convex meniscus-y)
  • 1/4 cup soy milk
  • 1/4 cup water
  • just under 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup aquafaba (the brine from one standard tin of chickpeas)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 teaspoons malt vinegar

1: Place the treacle, soy milk, and water in a small pan. (I just use the 1/3 cup measure for the soy milk and water, filling it not quite to the top and scraping out every last droplet of treacle with it.) Bring it just to the boil, stirring all the while, and then let it simmer, still stirring regularly, for a minute or two more. It will likely appear quite frothy and pale, but will regulate back into liquid once it cools a little. Remove from the heat, stir in the pepper and salt, and set aside (I sit it in a sink filled with an inch of cold water to rapidly bring down its temperature.)

2: Place the aquafaba and another small pinch of salt in a large mixing bowl and using a whisk, start whipping/beating the aquafaba until it thickens and becomes an opaque white. At this point, continue whisking it briskly while adding a tablespoon of the sugar, whisking, adding a teaspoon of vinegar, whisking, and continuing in this alternating fashion until everything is incorporated and the mixture is thick enough to form soft peaks – this is when you lift the whisk out of the bowl and the mixture rises up with it to form a small peak, which holds its shape long enough for you to notice it before eventually dissipating back down again. Also, if you want to increase the sugar here, I won’t hold it against you.

3: Whisk most of the treacle mixture, saving a few tablespoons, into the aquafaba. It will deflate a little, but this is fine. Turn this aquafaba mixture into a freezer-safe container, and then using a spoon, drizzle the remaining treacle mixture over it in a ripple fashion.

4: Cover the container and refrigerate for two to four hours, but two at the very least. Then, transfer the container into the freezer and leave it for six hours or overnight.

The ice cream is ready to eat, and should be soft enough to scoop, straight from the freezer.

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music lately:

Televised Mind by Fontaines DC. Dad recommended this song to me and he hit it out of the park: it’s really good! Somehow it calls to mind both Joy Division and Dick Dale, a genre crossover which should happen more often in my opinion.

Suddenly Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors by George Salazar and Mj Rodriguez. I’ve listened to so many covers of this song and none comes anywhere close to occupying the same stratosphere as Ellen Greene’s iconic original – until this one. It’s so beautiful, and powerful, and exhilarating! I have chills just thinking about it!

In The City, by Elastica. Ugh, they were just so good.

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

Nigella’s Norwegian Mountain Loaf (no-knead, vegan)

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Over the past few months of undulating lockdown levels I’ve been turning to this bread recipe at least once a week, baking loaf after loaf of seeded, grainy future toast. This recipe is as reliable as it is easy, and I’ve loved it since I first got Nigella Lawson’s wonderful book How To Be A Domestic Goddess back in 2006 – and yet somehow I never once blogged about it in all the ensuing years. Which is kind of odd, given how consumed I am with turning everything I consume into words for you to consume. What a treat from the universe for the tired-brained writer – here’s one I actually did prepare earlier.

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I really can’t express how minimal the effort is here – some half-hearted commitment to the ingredients list, a little apathetic stirring, the most unceremonious hiffing of the dough into a loaf tin, and then the oven does the rest of the work for you.

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This bread is fine on its own – if a little strenuously chewy – but really comes alive once toasted, and that is my strongest recommendation for it. In turn, the more seeds you add to it, the more wonderfully nutty and crunchy it will be when put through the toaster. The combination of flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds means you can practically feel your hair getting shinier with every mouthful – however walnuts, sesame seeds, chia and hemp seeds would be great too. I favour this toast spread with refined coconut oil and Marmite, a combination which, chaotic though it may sound, tastes deliciously, butterishly logical to me.

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If you fancy further bread recipes, I recommend my (also no-knead) Social Distancing Bread or, if you really need a diversion, my Marmite Babka.

Also! If you are eligible to vote in New Zealand and haven’t yet enrolled please consider doing so as soon as possible! The process is honestly? Not very straightforward. The options of who to vote for? Often disappointing and underwhelming! But I assume if you’re reading this you’re probably a cool decent non-rightwing person and so, we need you do vote for whoever disappoints you the least so that the most disappointing and harmful people don’t get all the power. It may not feel like it, but your vote does count for something! Unfortunately that something might be “the lesser of several evils” – but it’s still something. I would really love to be more positive about this! And also to write about it with fewer double negatives! Unfortunately I am bitterly pragmatic and obtusely wordy. In short: enrol online here.

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Nigella Lawson’s Norwegian Mountain Loaf

No rise, no knead, grainy seedy bread. Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess – I’ve listed the ingredients I’ve used but have included Nigella’s exact ingredients below the recipe for you to compare/consider using instead. With this in mind you could definitely experiment with different seeds, grains and dusts, but this combination works very well for me.

  • 350g strong bread flour (usually labelled “high grade”)
  • 50g wholemeal flour
  • 50g rolled oats (not instant)
  • 10g instant/active dried yeast
  • 1 heaped tablespoon sugar, any kind
  • 1 cup/250ml soy milk, diluted slightly with water
  • 1 cup/250ml cold water
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt flakes or 1 and 1/2 teaspoons regular table salt
  • 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  • 3 tablespoons flaxseeds
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower seeds

1: Mix all the ingredients together to form a thick, sticky batter.

2: Tip the mixture into a loaf tin lined with baking paper. Place in a cold oven, immediately turn the temperature to 110C/230F and leave it for half an hour.

3: Once the thirty minutes is up, turn the temperature to 180C/350F and cook it for another hour. Because this is quite dense it might need a little longer – Nigella recommends sticking a skewer in it to see if it comes out clean which is a pretty good way of checking.

Note: I genuinely don’t know why I increased the yeast to ten grams from seven other than being the victim of my own rakish whimsy but! Now that I’ve started doing it I find it hard to stop, so ten grams it is. If you want to use the original seven there is no reason why that won’t work, it is after all what Nigella herself uses.

Nigella’s exact ingredients, for your comparison/consideration:

  • 250ml water
  • 250ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 350g wholemeal bread flour
  • 50g rye flour
  • 7g easy-blend yeast or 15g fresh yeast
  • 50g porridge oats (not instant)
  • 25g wheatgerm
  • 3 tablespoons each flaxseeds and sunflower seeds
  • 1 tablespoon salt

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music lately:

Losing True by The Roches. If you ever wished the band Yes sounded more like the Cocteau Twins, or vice versa, this song might just be for you.

Route by MC Mabon – I want to say it’s kind of early Beck-esque downbeat…hip hop? It’s definitely extremely Welsh, and definitely extremely bewitching, I genuinely can’t stop listening to it.

First Love/Late Spring by Mitski. I’ve said it before but whenever I don’t know what to listen to and can’t commit to sitting through a whole song, she is always what my brain really wanted the whole time. If you’ve never heard her before I urge you with everything I’ve got to also listen to her song Your Best American Girl – what I wouldn’t give, to go back to the feeling of hearing one minute and twenty two seconds into that song for the first time!

Next time: I’m trying a new ice cream recipe! But also made another pasta recipe.

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

Vegan No-Churn Pineapple-Lemon Gelato

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This frozen dessert occupies a space somewhere between sorbet and ice cream – it’s opaquely, mildly creamy, and yet icily brisk and refreshing – and so, with the kind of abject, disrespectful non-authenticity which I seem particularly intent on applying to Italian cuisine only, I’ve called it gelato. It’s inspired by this wonderful lemon curd recipe which I devised last year, with three key components: the pineapple juice for buttery zing and general lengthening, a cornflour-based custard for smooth texture, and a little raw cacao butter for body, richness, and to bevel out the water content.

Unlike with the lemon curd, you really can taste the pineapple when it’s used here, but I decided – once I realised this – that it was intentional. Pineapple and lemon frozen together taste like cold distilled sunshine, with the sugar content somehow making the lemon even more sour, and vice versa. A truly delightful combination.

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As with all my recipes of this nature, this Pineapple-Lemon Gelato doesn’t require an ice cream maker – and I will never cease my objections against Big Ice Cream Maker – you don’t even have to stir or blend it as it freezes, that’s how well-behaved the recipe is. However, the key to success here is to cool the mixture very slowly – first on the bench, and then in the fridge. This allows the cacao butter content to gradually solidify without separating out, plus you can say the gelato has been “aged” to improve the flavour, as though it’s a twenty dollar bottle of wine or a rare cheese. Neither of these outcomes is based on any scientific knowledge – just wild guesswork and following my heart – but the method worked for me.

If being self-satisfied about making a recipe based on another recipe I made up isn’t enough, I also have an alternative ice cream recipe for you that’s even easier than this gelato – the fluffy, soft, rich no-churn Berry Ice Cream that I made for Tenderly, published this week. If making custard and sourcing cacao butter feels like too much effort, all this ice cream uses is a bit of fruit, some sugar, and the aquafaba from a can of chickpeas. And it tastes like a dream.

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Look at it!

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But also look at this! Better make them both, just to be safe.

No-Churn Pineapple-Lemon Gelato

Sour-sweet and delicious, and no special equipment required beyond a wooden spoon. Recipe by myself.

  • 2 cups pineapple juice
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (around four good-sized lemons’ worth)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup soy milk
  • 7 teaspoons cornflour (aka cornstarch)
  • 1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped raw cacao butter*
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • finely grated zest from the lemons (optional but very good)

1: Bring the pineapple juice, lemon juice and sugar to the boil in a saucepan, and then lower to a simmer and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Turn off the heat, but leave the pan where it is.

2: Mix the cornflour with a little of the soymilk in a small bowl – just enough to make it into a wet slurry, which will ensure it blends smoothly without lumps. Add the cornflour mixture and remaining soy milk to the pineapple mixture and cook it over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to about the texture of a good smoothie – you’ll be able to feel the difference in it as you stir, as it becomes less watery and more saucy.

3: Remove from the heat and stir in the cacao butter, vanilla extract, and salt, continuing to stir until the cacao butter has melted and is completely incorporated. At this point, stir in the lemon zest if using.

4: Transfer the mixture to a freezer-safe container, cover, and allow to come to room temperature on the bench. Then, refrigerate it for four to six hours. This step is important – it helps the mixture to settle, so that the fat doesn’t separate, and I am convinced it improves the flavour. Give it a stir – only if it looks like it needs it – and then freeze for six hours or overnight. It should be ready to serve right away, otherwise sit it on the bench for ten minutes first.

Makes around 800ml.

*If you can’t find cacao butter this will probably work with coconut oil – I haven’t tested it but I’m quite sure it would be fine. Keep it at a heaped tablespoon, but you won’t need to chop it up because coconut oil melts very quickly.

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music lately:

Classic Girl by Jane’s Addiction. I love the way it starts drowsy and woozy and suddenly springs to life with those jaunty, Space Oddity-style drum fills. I love whatever top-of-nose metallic register Perry Farrell’s voice is in. An excellent closer to an eternally excellent album.

Legends Never Die by Orville Peck and Shania Twain – in a year of so little positivity, this song is just very uncomplicatedly lovely. Peck’s cavernous Orbison-y voice blends gloriously with Twain’s more raspy vocals on the road-weary lyrics, and they’re both clearly having a wonderful time.

You’ve Got A Friend, sung by Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters and Mama Cass on a 1971 episode of The Carol Burnett Show. My friend Sam sent this to me correctly assuming it would bring me joy – and oh what joy it brings. The daffy choreography, the flowing gowns, the teeny microphones, the hyperactive vocal arrangement (“you’ve got a friend, you’ve got a good friend, you’ve got a very good friend”) the soaring sumptuousness of Mama Cass’s voice, baby Bernadette Peters’ voice like a china plate falling to the floor but never quite hitting it, the fact that the song lasts six minutes and fifty five whole seconds. There’s something so comforting about that immense, competent professionalism that you get in stars of yesteryear like Carol Burnett (see also the endlessly capable Julie Andrews) which becomes even more comforting when she’s assuring you repeatedly through the medium of song that you’re not alone.

Next time: more pasta?

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

Sticky Shiitake Yuba with Creamy Double Corn Polenta

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When making or devising vegan recipes, a lot of the time the point is suggesting a prior, existing food – eg, this tastes just like white chocolate! This tastes like pulled pork! I can’t believe it’s not butter! and so on. In choosing to close myself off to several avenues of consuming food, this comes as no surprise. When considering what today’s recipe was supposed to represent, however, I couldn’t come up with anything. It’s supposed to be itself, that’s all. In fact I wasn’t even making it to be blogged about – as you can probably tell from the slightly hasty vibe of the photos – but it tasted so good, that I couldn’t selfishly keep it to myself. Fortunately for me there’s a current vogue for food photography which looks as though it took place under a yellow lightbulb, but it probably helps to let you know of this trend in case the imagery strikes you as hideous and unwarranted. It’s warranted! Much as prior generations gasp at the antics of the subsequent youth, I can imagine my 2007 self being moderately aghast that the ugly photos I took then out of necessity, due to living in a house as dark and wet as the underside of a lake, might later be recreated on purpose. That being said, the photos I took back then were properly ugly regardless of context, and no, you should not go back into the archives and investigate. I love to brag about how I’ve been blogging for a very long time, less fun is having reminders of what that content actually was.

Anyway, the recipe!

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This is a double bill of which you can take or leave either part, but the components work beautifully together. Firstly, yuba – more specifically, the skin that forms on top of the soy milk while making tofu, then sold as a versatile product in its own right – which is marinated in a number of condiments and pastes and fried till stickily dense and chewy in a delicious and elegant salty-sweet tangle of crisp shiitake mushrooms and caramelised onions.

Secondly, the lotion-thick polenta, slowly simmered in coconut cream and stock with corn kernels added for no real reason other than I like corn and that’s my prerogative. If you’ve never had soft polenta before its floppy, porridge-like texture might seem a little disconcerting – is it hard soup? Is it cake batter? Big sauce? But its creamy, rich yielding-ness is wonderfully comforting and a great way of both propping up and absorbing the sauce of other foods in the same way you might use mashed potato. If, on the other hand, you are extremely familiar with polenta then you’ll probably hate my explanation not to mention my untraditional method of mixing the polenta and liquid together before heating it, instead of dropping the polenta into hot liquid and I’m sorry but I refuse to change! Or apologise!

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This recipe would be, I think, an ideal meal if you want to impress someone. I just made it for my brother and me for dinner, but I was pretty impressed with myself, for what it’s worth.

We’re back in lockdown in New Zealand, or at least, we are in my part of the country. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by returning to prior restrictions, I’m glad we have relatively clear leadership deciding this for us. Like, I extremely resist any sense of being part of a “team of five million”, which to me sounds like the realm of people who enjoy ice-breaker games and beep tests, but there’s nothing stopping us not being dicks about it at least. We’ve done this before and it’s not a surprise. We got to enjoy one hundred days free of COVID-19, on borrowed – and unprecedented – time, and now we’re putting in the work again. I’m very lucky that the activities which bring me joy are mostly housebound – knitting, cooking, writing, watching movies, reading – and maybe next time you hear from me I’ll be frazzled and denouncing this calmness, but till then: one hour at a time, one day at a time.

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Sticky Shiitake Yuba with Creamy Double Corn Polenta

Low-key and elegant. Recipe by myself. Serves 2.

  • 1 package yuba (also sold as tofu skin or bean curd skin)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for frying
  • 1 tablespoon liquid aminos or soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
  • A dash of your preferred hot sauce, or to taste
  • 1 heaped tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 large onions
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Polenta

  • 3/4 cup polenta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup coconut cream
  • 1 and half cups water
  • 1 vege stock cube (or your preferred flavour)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 can corn kernels, drained (or 1 cup frozen corn kernels)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

1: First, the prep – place all of the yuba into a medium bowl and the shiitake mushrooms into a smaller bowl. Cover the yuba in cold water and leave for about four hours or until very soft. If the day is warm, cover and put it in the fridge, otherwise just leaving it on the bench is fine. At the same time, since they need to be soaked too, you might as well cover the shiitake mushrooms in boiling water.

2: Drain the soaked yuba, gently squeezing it to remove most of the water. Roll it up on a board and roughly chop into thin strips and shreds. Return it to the same bowl and add the olive oil, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, sugar, hot sauce and tomato paste. Drain the mushrooms, reserving a tablespoon of the soaking liquid, and add this liquid to the yuba. Leave the yuba to marinate for about an hour, and set the drained mushrooms aside.

3: Peel and finely slice the two onions, and fry them in a medium-sized saucepan in a little extra olive oil till quite browned. Turn off the heat, but leave the saucepan where it is.

4: Now for the polenta – mix all the ingredients except the corn kernels together in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring often with a wooden spoon, then add the corn kernels, lower the heat, and allow to simmer for about twenty minutes – stirring quite often – until the polenta has lost any grittiness. You may need to add a little extra water along the way. I like to stir in more olive oil at the end but it’s optional, I am just extremely pro-oil. The level of seasoning is also up to you, but please, do season it.

5: While the polenta is simmering, turn the heat up under the onions again, push the onions to one side of the pan, add a little extra oil, and fry the shiitake mushrooms, allowing them to get browned on both sides. Next, push everything to the side and add the yuba along with its marinade, and the chopped garlic cloves, and stir over a high heat for a couple of minutes. The yuba should be sticky and chewy, and a little shrivelled in places, for want of a better word.

Spoon the polenta onto two plates, and divide the yuba mixture between them on top. Sprinkle over the parsley.

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music lately:

Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain by Harry Dean Stanton. A classic, from a classic.

Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu by Dolores Duran – a song often recorded under a name you might be more familiar with: Volare. Duran’s voice was stunning – smoky and rich with a comforting heft which belied her young years.

Next time: Ice cream!

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