Vegan Chocolate Guinness Cake

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As a rule, an abiding principle, a personal boundary: I hate anything that suggests even the merest hint of “team-building exercise”, three words that make my shoulders immediately stoop earthwards in resigned anticipation of all the time I’ll never get back from my one wild and free life. That being said I also like to please and being in this endless (necessary! but endless) lockdown does strange things to all of us, in my case it’s that I’ve ended up kind of throwing myself wholeheartedly into Mum’s lockdown project of honouring a new theme each day. Which brings us to this Vegan Chocolate Guinness Cake.

You see, first we did a letter of the alphabet each day (for example on W day we listened to the Who and classical waltzes and I made a Woon Heng recipe for dinner) and when lockdown exceeded 26 days we hastily assembled the next ongoing theme: a new country each day, that at least one person in the family had been to, in – and bear with me here – alphabetical order, with music from that country and at least one regional dish or attempt thereof for dinner. We’re up to the letter I, which brings us to Ireland, which I visited in 2005, and The Cranberries/The Undertones/Thin Lizzy/My Bloody Valentine/Enya as the day’s soundtrack. I found a couple of cans of Guinness in my cupboard leftover from making last year’s Christmas Cake and before I knew it I was spontaneously and enthusiastically throwing together a vegan version of Nigella Lawson’s classic Chocolate Guinness Cake, like someone who enjoys activities and showing initiative. I don’t, but I do like hyperfocussing on a project and I love the opportunity for arbitrary culinarily decisions and in all honesty it has been a lot of fun – not a bit like team-building exercises, in fact.

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As I said, this recipe is inspired by Nigella Lawson’s cake from her book Feast, which I used to make all the time – because it was so incredibly delicious! – and while this version lacks that throat-coating full-cream dairy factor from the cream cheese icing, it’s a pretty fantastic tribute and I’m very pleased with myself. In case you haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing this combination of chocolate and Guinness before, the bitter aggression of the Guinness provides an intense and dark backdrop to the cocoa and yet all its rough edges are entirely bevelled back and tempered by the cake batter and the sweetness in the icing. Curiously, despite the sugar in the cake exceeding that in the topping, the latter is much sweeter than the former, such is the black-hole abilities of Guinness to absorb everything that comes into its path. I’m not someone who can sit down and drink a Guinness with any conviction – it’s too blood-nosedly ferrous for me – but mixed with chocolate it’s quite spectacular, entirely palatable, and makes perfect sense – after all, dark coffee and chocolate are a go-to pairing, this just takes it one step further in the direction of bitterness.

Real hungryandfrozen-heads will notice that this recipe method doesn’t differ too much from my Incredibly Delicious Mocha Cake; that cake has never failed me and so I figured it would be a decent blueprint for this Guinness cake – and once more it came through. As well as being utterly delicious, dense yet light-crumbed, rich and celebratory yet unpretentious and comforting, this cake is a mere one-bowl situation and it leaves you plenty of Guinness leftover to drink from its tall can – if you have the palate for it – otherwise, I guess you’ll just have to make another cake.

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Vegan Chocolate Guinness Cake

A dense yet light-textured chocolate cake full of rich bitter Guinness – my vegan take on Nigella Lawson’s classic recipe. This is a one-bowl affair with a creamy, tangy frosting, and is just incredibly delicious. Recipe by myself.

  • 2 and 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 cup good dark cocoa (see notes)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup plain oil, eg rice bran
  • 1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup (or light corn syrup or treacle if you’re in the US)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup/250ml Guinness

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and grease and line a 21cm springform or loose-based cake tin. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl, then sieve in the baking soda and cocoa and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre and add everything except the Guinness, and stir briefly – it will look thick and dry and unlikely at this point but we’ve still got the Guinness to go, so don’t you worry.

2: Pour in the Guinness and slowly stir everything together to form a thick cake batter, making sure there’s no lumps of flour caught in it. Spatula this mixture into your prepared cake tin and bake for forty minutes, covering with tin foil in the last ten minutes if need be. Allow to cool completely on a cake rack.

For the Icing:

This uses the sourness of citric acid and the fulsome saltiness of miso paste to emulate the vibe of the cream cheese icing that customarily goes with this cake; that being said if you can get hold of vegan cream cheese (or you’re happy to eat dairy) then feel free to use that instead in place of the coconut oil and coconut milk, leaving out the citric and miso and adjusting the lemon juice quantities as needed. I’ve included coconut milk here for its creaminess and because I figure you’ll have some leftover from the can you opened for the cake; you barely taste any coconut in the finished frosting. Finally, if you don’t have a food processor you can use a bowl and a wooden spoon to make this but it’ll take considerably more effort to get it thick and smooth. But, this is how people make icing for centuries so it’s not impossible.

  • 1 and 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • 3 tablespoons soft refined coconut oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon citric acid
  • 1/2 teaspoon miso paste
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1-3 tablespoons full-fat coconut milk

1: Tip the icing sugar into the food processor and pulse a few times to get rid of any lumps. Add the coconut oil, citric acid, and miso paste, and process to combine. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice and the coconut milk, one tablespoon at a time, and process until you have a very thick, very smooth, bright white frosting. If it needs more liquid add it a little at a time. Set the icing aside in a cool place until needed. (I put it in the fridge, which made it entirely too solid, but sitting the bowl in a second bowl of hot water and stirring it helped.)

2: Spatula the icing onto the top of the cooled cake and spread it evenly over the top, leaving the sides bare. Store in an airtight container.

Notes:

  • When buying cocoa, look for a brand that has a minimum of 20g fat per 100g – I try not to be fussy with you about ingredients but anything less than 20g is not worth your while and will taste weak and is false economy.
  • I accidentally overcooked my cake – it was fine, but the edges were a little crisp, so I just prodded it with a skewer and brushed it with a quick syrup of a few spoons of brown sugar dissolved in an equal quantity of hot water before applying the icing with a pastry brush, and I pass this along in case you find yourself in the same predicament.
  • You could probably use soy milk or something similar instead of coconut milk in the cake and still have it turn out fine; but Nigella’s original recipe uses sour cream and I wanted something particularly creamy and fat to offset the bitter Guinness, so I do think it’s necessary – the finished cake doesn’t taste anything like coconut, I promise.
  • If you don’t have miso paste or just don’t have any confidence in my decision making – and it’s true, we do ask a lot of miso paste these days, perhaps too much even – then leave it out and add a pinch of salt.

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music lately:

I Wanna Be A Cowboy, Baby! by CMAT – who, coincidentally, is from Dublin. My friend Jordan recommended her music to me and in turn, I enthusiastically recommend her to you (I also recommend to you to recommend songs to me in general, as long as you’re prepared for my candid evaluation.)

For Good from the musical Wicked as performed by original cast members Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel at the Tony Awards this week. Now – this is not something I say lightly – I don’t necessarily love this song in and of itself, it’s not the most exciting or lyrically dexterous, to me, but I will always drop everything to watch a live performance of it because what it does give you is four and a half minutes of Acting and Emotion and Unbearable Momentousness. To see Chenoweth and Menzel reunited here – a very rare occurrence in the eighteen years since Wicked launched on Broadway – at the first Tony Awards since 2019, to see them hold hands and perform this song with all the sincerity of their long-ago characters but also as themselves, to hear those gentle but defined harmonies where she goes low and she goes high – well, you already know I cried.

You Mean The World To Me by Toni Braxton, simply a perfect song – obviously you could take Babyface’s back catalogue to a desert island and never run out of hits but he and Braxton together are a match made in heaven – that “oh baby baby, baby baby, babyyyy” bit at the end of the chorus has to be up there with the various pinnacles of human creative achievement.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Homemade Mandarin Liqueur [vegan]

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Show a thousand people a Rorschach inkblot-rendered image of me and not one of them will say “that’s a patient person”. While patience is a virtue I’ve always considered myself to lack, I am good at making time disappear and jump forwards either through procrastinating or simply zoning out aimlessly – and what is zoning out if not patience’s weird goth cousin? Conversely, what is patience if not zoning out persevering?

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Whichever side of the coin you fall on, you’re gonna need at least one of these qualities to your name to endure the waiting time for this homemade liqueur to steep and come into bloom, and frankly, I suspect I have the rare edge over traditional patience here. Forgetting you have a large jar of homemade liqueur in the cupboard, only to remember it’s there waiting for you and ready to be consumed in the middle of a newly-announced nationwide lockdown? Now that’s a virtue.

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This recipe is a mid-winter take on the passionfruit liqueur I made back in April, but it’s so delicious and so versatile that it deserves a stand-alone place on the blog. The method is also slightly improved, as I found that dissolving the sugar completely before mixing it with the vodka makes for a much smoother finished product.

Our mandarin tree has been on the clock since 1984, producing season after season of hostile, tight-skinned, pip-studded little mandarins that you don’t so much peel as dig into, inevitably spraying juice hither and yon. What they lack in accessibility and friendliness they make up for in sprightly, acerbic flavour, the sort of unhesitating zing that the loose-skinned, pipless, baby’s-first-mandarins at the supermarkets could only muster a mere straining echo of. This liqueur makes use of both the fruit and the potent oils lurking in the peel, and the resulting liqueur is both delicate yet beautifully citrussy.

Triple sec (or Cointreau, or orange liqueur in general) is one of the most widely-used ingredients in cocktails after the base spirits, and while this liqueur has a more mellow and floral vibe it’s still vibrantly orange enough to slot into any classic you favour – the Margarita, the Sidecar, the Corpse Reviver No.2, the Cosmopolitan – a bottle of this in your cupboard gives you a wealth of potential (presuming you also have other bottles of cocktail-friendly liquor in your cupboard.) If cocktails are too much hard work, a splash of this in a glass of champagne (by which I mean, Lindauer) is an instant delight. Even easier than that is a nip of the liqueur, straight from the fridge, poured into a small glass for chic sipping pre- or post-dinner.

And if you want in on the fun but don’t have access to (or use for) alcohol? Try this lemon cordial recipe instead, which you can adapt to any other citrus fruit and, better yet, enjoy on the day it’s made.

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Homemade Mandarin Liqueur

Put some stuff in a jar, forget about it for a while, come back and you have delicious homemade liqueur for sipping or shaking into cocktails. Of course, you can use any other citrus fruit here – tangerines would be excellent. Recipe by myself.

  • 750ml bottle vodka – look for at least 40% alcohol/80 proof, nothing lower than that
  • 15 – 20 mandarins (no fewer than this, but more is fine)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon citric acid
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1: Thoroughly wash a 1-litre glass jar in hot soapy water and dry with a clean tea towel. Using a vegetable peeler, strip off as much clean, unblemished mandarin peel as you can and use a paring knife to slice off any pith (the white stuff) from the underside of the peel. Now, the mandarins on our tree were quite firm-skinned – not the kind that you can easily peel without making a mess – but if you have the kind with loose skin which falls off almost as you touch it, just remove as much pith as possible and you’re good to go.

2: Next, remove any remaining peel from your mandarins and do your best to remove as much of the white pith as possible clinging to each segment. This whole prep section is quite fiddly and messy but it’s worth the effort for the delicious results.

3: Pour the sugar into a bowl (or better yet, a measuring jug so it’s easier to pour into the jar later) followed by the mandarin segments. Stir with a wooden spoon, crushing the mandarin pieces to release their juice, and keep stirring until the sugar has dissolved into the mandarin juice and is no longer gritty when you do a little taste test. Add the citric acid to the bowl and stir again.

4: Carefully tip all this into the clean jar (perhaps using a spoon to ferry the solid mandarin pieces into the jar first before pouring the liquid in) along with the slices of mandarin peel, and then pour in the entire bottle of vodka. Screw on the lid and store the jar in a cupboard – ideally, one out of sight where you won’t be constantly reminded of its progress – and leave it for a month, occasionally giving the jar a careful swirl (I say ‘careful’ because I’m still haunted by the memory of dropping a jar of quince-infused brandy onto the ground back in 2010). If your vodka is particularly high-proof you can probably get away with considerably less waiting time than a month; obviously, the only way to know this for sure is by doing regular taste tests.

5: Once the month is up, strain the contents of the jar through a sieve into a measuring jug, pressing down on any pieces of fruit with the back of a spoon to extract their last gasps of flavour. Then stir in the vanilla and funnel the liquid into clean bottles. It should keep just fine in the cupboard but will taste particularly excellent if stored in the fridge or freezer.

Makes – depending on your mandarin quantity and quality – just over a litre.

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music lately:

Fast As You Can by Fiona Apple. The way she just – does – that!!

Say Hey by Branford Marsalis Quartet and Terrence Blanchard, from the Mo’ Better Blues soundtrack. The kind of jazz that makes you feel like the main character.

Could I Leave You from the Sondheim musical Follies, performed here by Dee Hoty for My Favourite Broadway: The Leading Ladies in 1998, a highly comforting yet exhilarating concert that I revisit frequently. This is such a good song in anyone’s hands, but Hoty has precisely the steel and elegance and control that makes it really shine.

Supervixens, by A.R Kane, the thing about this song is that I just never stop listening to it!

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

rum and coke jackfruit

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The notes app on our phones and its contribution to our general existentialism cannot be overstated – it’s our id and ego condensed, an unkempt filing cabinet of shopping lists and auspicious dreams, of half-written poems, funny bits, bullet points, log-in details, recipes, addresses and other arbitrary ephemera.

(If this doesn’t make any sense: the notes app is a function on most smartphones that acts as a notebook for you to jot down literally anything – usually to forget about it immediately – and there’s also a good chance I’ve misused the word “existentialism” here but whatever, it’s the vibe of the thing.)

Because I ricochet from one thought to another like an earnest pinball, and every last one of these thoughts seems terribly meaningful, my notes app is rather busy. And because each note is filed away forevermore until you delete it, I’m always finding stuff I absolutely do not remember writing.

Like this note: “rum and coke jackfruit”.

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I don’t remember writing it – although evidently, I did at some point – but having found it, I decided to make good on this long-ago reminder to myself, and so we have this week’s recipe, based on that promising prompt. Jackfruit is a large fruit present in the cuisine of numerous cultures, including Bangladesh and Sri Lanka for whom it’s the national fruit, and South India and Southeast Asia. Over the last few years, it’s become increasingly common in NZ supermarkets canned in brine, which makes it straightforward to use, and its superb texture – dense, softly fibrous – and sweetly mellow flavour makes it ideal for vegan cooking.

Rum and Coke are both sweet, and somehow spiced without being spicy – and together they plus a few other ingredients create a sticky, saucy coating for the jackfruit under the heat of the oven’s grill. Now, if you were to taste this wearing a blindfold I don’t know if you could confidently name either ingredient, and if I’m very honest the rum is mostly just window-dressing because the come-hither familiarity of the title is cute – but nonetheless, this is monumentally appealing, with the smokiness from the paprika, earthy cumin, and plenty of garlic. And despite the length of the recipe, it’s easy too – a bit of simmering, a bit of scorching in the oven, and it’s all yours, to be draped over rice or tucked into tacos and sandwiches.

@hungryandfrozen

my best loop yet 🥲 Rum and Coke Jackfruit, recipe @ hungryandfrozen.com 🤠 #recipe #vegan #veganrecipes #jackfruit #foodblogger #cooking #fypシ #fy

♬ Bluebirds Over the Mountain – Richie valens

This sauce mix – by which I mean everything minus the chicken stock and jackfruit – would be excellent coating other star ingredients as well, with its general barbecue-ribs-flame-grill mood – tofu, obviously, or seitan would be great, but I think oyster mushrooms would be even better. I based the method on the pulled jackfruit recipe I made back in 2017 – before I was vegan but tentatively contemplating it – and I enthusiastically recommend you make that one too. It’s true for both recipes: no matter how much jackfruit I cook, I always wish I’d made more – you’d better write “two cans of jackfruit” in your notes app, to be safe.

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Rum and Coke Jackfruit

Sticky, smoky and sweet, this vegan jackfruit is perfect over rice, in tacos, in sandwiches – basically wherever you want something extremely delicious. Recipe by myself.

  • 1 x 500g can jackfruit in brine (300g drained weight)
  • 1 cup vegan chicken stock (eg 1 cup water, 1 stock cube)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
  • a pinch of cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1/2 cup coca-cola
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornflour (cornstarch)

1: Drain the liquid from the can and roughly chop each piece of jackfruit into smaller pieces lengthwise. Don’t worry if there are any seeds – leave them in.

2: Place the jackfruit pieces, the chicken stock, and the unpeeled garlic cloves into a saucepan and simmer for ten minutes. Simmering the garlic cloves like this gives them a more mellow flavour and makes them easy to peel later.

3: While this is happening, turn your oven to 200C/400F, pour the olive oil into a roasting tray, and place it in the oven to heat up.

4: In a small bowl, mix together the mustard, cumin, paprika, sugar, and cinnamon. Stir in the soy sauce, dark rum, coca-cola (it’ll fizz up a little) and the cornflour.

5: After ten minutes, drain the stock from the pan of jackfruit (you can save it for later use, I’m not advocating wastefulness here.) Press down on the garlic cloves to release them from their skins and roughly chop them. Return them to the pan of jackfruit along with the coca-cola/spice mix and stir to combine.

6: Remove the hot roasting dish from the oven. Transfer the jackfruit mixture onto the roasting dish – I recommend using tongs to ferry the jackfruit pieces across before pouring the remaining liquid over rather than just dumping the contents of the pan onto the roasting dish because it will splutter when the liquid hits the hot oil.

7: Place the tray in the oven and leave for twenty minutes. At this point, remove the tray, turn the jackfruit pieces over, switch your oven to the grill/broil function and grill for a further ten minutes, keeping an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t scorch too much. By this point, the liquid should have evaporated and the jackfruit should be burnished brown at the edges.

8: Serve immediately, although you can store it in the fridge and reheat it in a hot pan if need be.

Serves – well that depends on how you serve this. It fed four as part of a rice bowl, but if I was having it with fewer extra bits I wouldn’t want to make this for any more than two people, and one person could eat the lot very easily. Making double would be sensible (in which case I’d only increase the liquids by about half – eg 1/2 cup coca-cola becomes 3/4 cup – but the spices can be fully doubled.)

Notes:

  • If you don’t have rum or don’t wish to use alcohol in the recipe, that’s all good – just add an extra teaspoon of sugar. I wouldn’t make this if I only had white rum in the house, but spiced rum could be interesting.
  • Feel free to add your preferred form of chilli to this recipe – my family’s taste tends towards the mild, but if I was making it just for myself a little gochujang wouldn’t go amiss.
  • I suspect diet Coke or Coke Zero wouldn’t have the same effect here – you need the sugar to make it work.

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music lately:

Pretty Little Angel Eyes by Curtis Lee. I’ve had of late an odd nostalgia for the songs used in my jazz dancing classes in the early nineties – those hard-working cassette tapes dubbed from other tapes by my teacher. This song was one which we danced to, and despite its chirpy lyrics and break-neck pace – I’m not sure it actually has any verses? It’s literally all bridge? – there’s something about that doo-wop sound that makes me feel super melancholy the minute the “woo-ooo-ooo” bit starts. Anyone else?

Overload by Zappacosta, another song on high rotation in my jazz-dancing years – and I’m sorry to sound ancient but WHY don’t songs sound like this anymore? When will people be brave enough to do that? Is it so much to ask?

SpottieOttieDopaliscious by Outkast. Everyone mentions the horns first – and they’re the greatest – but I also harbour deep affection for that “damn, damn, damn James” refrain. This song is seven minutes long and it feels like three – honestly, forty minutes would still leave you feeling bereft the moment it ends.

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

Homemade Passionfruit Liqueur [vegan]

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I have but two modes: asking “are we there yet?” every five minutes; and then, without warning, forgetting completely that we’re going somewhere and arriving at the destination in a state of unexpected incredulity, saying “who put this here?” and “what’s all this then?”

This passionfruit liqueur recipe allows me to keep a foot in each of these lanes – first, there’s the infuriating, clock-watching wait for the flavour to abscond from the passionfruit pulp to the vodka in which it’s soaking. That occupied me for about a week, then I just totally forgot about it and two months passed – probably more than was even necessary to make a decent liqueur! – before I went to look in the cupboard in the garage for something else and found there the jar of fruit and liquor, patiently waiting for me like a small child at the gates of a boarding school – possibly Dickensian – on an exeat weekend.

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Depending on your neurological makeup the waiting aspect of making this liqueur may not come heavy with psychological roadblocks and learnings, but either way, it’s certainly the hardest part of the recipe. Aside from the wait, all that’s involved is throwing fruit and sugar and alcohol in a jar, which yields a liqueur of such exquisitely balanced sweetness and fruitiness, with a silky bod and a long, zingy finish – it tastes of strenuous effort but does not ask it of you.

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This is really a recipe for windfall times – we were lucky to have a heavily laden passionfruit vine absolutely lousy with fruit, and I definitely wouldn’t make this out of season. However, you could probably use any fruit here and in the interests of accessibility I encourage this, but there’s something so heedless and merry about the passionfruit which lends itself to a frivolous liqueur as opposed to, say, the stern workhorse apple. They’re not like the other fruits, they’re a cool fruit! And passionfruit’s lip-smacking sourness and beachy sweetness are just the ticket when suspended in alcohol. As for what to do with the liqueur, I imagine it would bring great perkiness to the already perky daiquiri, or you could make a zesty version of the French Martini by shaking this liqueur up with Chambord and pineapple juice. You also can’t go wrong by simply pouring measures of it into small glasses for sipping before or après dinner – or both. And of course, if you can bear to part with it, it makes a great gift.

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I was hoping an analogy or metaphor would come to me by now to link what I’ve just said to what I’m about to say – something to do with patience, probably – but there’s no way to sugarcoat this news, let alone soak it in alcohol for forty days; I found out this week that Tenderly, the publication I’ve been writing for since June 2019, will be closing down soon. This is terribly sad on many levels, not just because I’ve lost my main source of employment. Tenderly offered me untold editorial freedom and I was proud to be part of its incredible writing team. There are fewer places than ever for a writer to make their living and I hate to see Tenderly join these ex-publications, but I also feel like the work published there was really important! (Yes, even my “31 Great Songs For Horse Fans” playlist.) A few stories remain left to be published and then that’ll be that. I’m glad I got to be part of it and I’m grateful for the opportunities it gave me.

Between this and my recent birthday (which we’re still dragging out, for Main Character purposes) there’s truly no better time to join me on Patreon if you like what I do and want to support me directly and have the means to do so! My entire Patreon archives are available for as little as a dollar a month – in fact, I’m scrapping the higher levels so that literally everything is available for a mere dollar because if I’m taking peoples’ money I want to be able to sleep at night about it. If you like what I do but feel like Patreon is too much of a commitment financially or emotionally that’s also totally fine as well, a great choice in fact!

Finally – back to the passionfruit – if you’re blessed with multitudes of this fruit and have made the liqueur and still have heaps leftover, I wholeheartedly recommend this passionfruit panna cotta recipe from back in March.

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Homemade Passionfruit Liqueur

The hardest thing about this delicious homemade liqueur is the waiting. Recipe by myself.

  • 30 – 40 passionfruit (no fewer than this, but more is cool, welcome, ideal)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
  • 750ml vodka
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1: First, sterilise a 1-litre jar. Once that’s done, start halving your passionfruit and scooping their pulp into the jar. Stir in the sugar to dissolve it a little – although the sitting around will take care of that eventually, so don’t feel you have to exert yourself.

2: Empty the bottle of vodka into the jar, add the vanilla, give it another stir, then screw the lid on and leave the jar in a cupboard for about two months. Every once in a while, pick up the jar and give it a jiggle before returning to the cupboard. You’ll probably do this every day for a week and then completely forget about it: this is fine.

3: Once this wait is over, strain the contents of the jar through a sieve into a jug, and really stir and press down with a spoon to extract as much flavour as possible from the pulp. Pour this sunshine-coloured liquid through a funnel into clean bottles, and there you have it: passionfruit liqueur. Give the bottle a gentle shake before serving, as the sieved pulp tends to settle a little.

Makes about 1 litre.

Note: the vodka I used was 80 proof which isn’t terribly punchy, hence the longer wait time to extract the flavour from the passionfruit – if you can find a bottle at 100 proof or over you can cut that time by at least half.

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music lately:

The White Keys and The Black Keys by Hazel Scott, from the 1943 film The Heat’s On, the way she plays two pianos at once so effortlessly, elegantly, joyfully! She was truly the greatest.

Ground Zero by Bam Bam, slushy yet aggressive and slightly ethereal, like snow melting over broken glass.

Every Story Is a Love Story/Fortune Favours The Brave by Sherie Rene Scott and Adam Pascal from the 2001 Broadway musical Aida. These songs are meant to be heard as one – starting with the introspective bloom of Every Story and Sherie’s mellow belt, suddenly zooming a thousand miles an hour into the rollercoaster energy of Fortune Favours and Adam’s huge, crunchy vibrato, it’s so much more thrilling than you can imagine. Elton John wrote this with Tim Rice if that motivates you to click through (it also might demotivate you, but at least you’ve got all the information.)

PS: I’ve already talked about it but once more with feeling, if you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

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.

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.

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 penne alla vodka

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The subject of vodka raises ire within me, frankly I turn into a real killjoy when I talk about it. Then I feel bad and overcompensate, which extrapolates into me just yelling “It’s STUPID! And that’s VALID!” while people rapidly vacate the room. I say this with a former bartender’s hubris, and the absolute humility of someone who – on this very blog! – once sincerely referred to a vodka soda as a “sneeringly dry drink.” In my defence, 2009 was a simpler time and being exposed to fewer ideas meant you could garner unearned braggadocio alarmingly easily.

My issue with vodka? Its purpose is to not exist; a vodka soda might as well just be a soda. There is nothing else it can possibly taste like. If you sincerely want to make your juice alcoholic without the burden of experiencing flavour then that’s fine, go right ahead and add vodka, but I don’t understand the appeal of prestige brands – there is bad vodka, there is competent vodka, and beyond that, there’s not a lot to discern them. My one exception is Zubrowka, but that’s because the bison grass flavouring makes it delicious and actually recognisable, as opposed to the base spirit itself.

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However. Where I begrudgingly – no, blatantly! – acknowledge this otherwise dullard spirit coming into its own, is in the Italian-American dish, Penne Alla Vodka. Everything about this recipe is pleasing: its drawly, Appenine-via-the-Baltics title, the simple joy of tomato sauce spliced with cream, and, yes, the vodka, which provides sinewy, vigorous richness. Pouring vodka into your pasta might suggest novelty, but a splash of white wine in a hot pan will improve any sauce, so switch out a far higher ABV in the form of vodka and you’re rewarded with even more intensity.

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My version is vegan, so there’s obviously no cream involved. The richness instead comes from coconut yoghurt – the sort that’s so thick you can genuinely stand your spoon up in it – and a little pasta cooking water. Unlike Penne Alla Vodka, which first emerged – unsurprisingly – in the 1970s, the notion of using the starchy water from your pasta as an emulsifier dates back to the Roman Empire. Don’t leave it out, it somehow thins and silkily thickens the sauce simultaneously. The yoghurt lends tangy luxury, and yeah, you can taste the coconut to a certain extent, but coconut becomes your zero point when you’re vegan for a while. And anyway, its unique mellow sweetness works beautifully with the acidic tomatoes.

More than just the same old pasta with tomatoes you think you know, Penne Alla Vodka has a dishevelled sexiness to it, a dish you could make for someone you’re trying to impress while also doing your best to appear artless and nonchalant. And if you don’t have the titular vodka in your liquor annexe? You can always use instead that most gratifying of flavoured vodkas – gin.

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Vegan Penne Alla Vodka

A recipe by myself.

  • 100g dried penne pasta
  • 4 ripe tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 spring onion
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vodka
  • 2 tablespoons unflavoured coconut yoghurt
  • salt and pepper
  • Olive oil, to fry and serve
  • chopped parsley, to serve

1: Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling, well-salted water. This should take around twelve minutes, give or take.

2: Halve the tomatoes, cut off the green stalky part, and scoop out the seeds. It doesn’t matter if some are left, and you can just eat them if you’re aghast at the wastefulness, I did. Roughly chop the remaining tomato flesh. Finely chop the spring onion and garlic cloves.

3: Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan, and cook the onion, garlic and tomato – all together at once – over a medium heat till the tomato has broken down a little. Add salt and pepper to taste, plus a small pinch of sugar. If you’re using crushed garlic from a jar, leave the sugar out.

4: Add the vodka and let the sauce bubble away on medium for another minute, stirring constantly.

5: Once your pasta is nearly tender and cooked, scoop out two tablespoons of the pasta cooking water and mix it into the coconut yoghurt. Stir this into the tomato sauce, and turn up the heat a little to get it bubbling. Stir until the sauce has thickened, then remove from the heat.

6: Fold the cooked, drained pasta into the sauce. Drizzle with more olive oil if you like, and sprinkle over chopped parsley.

Serves 1. If you want to make this for two I’d double the pasta but you can probably just add half the ingredients – like, another two tomatoes and another tablespoon of vodka.

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music lately:

Brand New Love by Sebadoh. Oh, what a song! You think it’s going to be fast and then it’s slow, you think it’s going to be slow and then it’s GINORMOUS. And I will never ever get over how 53 seconds in it sounds exactly like the Defying Gravity coda, like, Stephen Schwartz should be paying them royalties (seriously, please indulge me, the coda starts at 4:28 in Defying Gravity. It’s also, incidentally, my ringtone, and receiving phone calls makes me anxious, which has now made my relationship with this song super weird, although I guess my relationship with it was demonstrably already kind of weird for a grown woman.)

Wimp, by The Zeros, the A-side to their better-known 1976 song Don’t Push Me Around. It’s a great track, but I prefer Wimp’s sludgy, Stooges-y, fulsome brattiness.

Next time: As you can see from the photo above – a small sample! – we are overrun with tomatoes, so they will probably feature.

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.

it’s time to face facts and not mince a word

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When I was a kid, it felt like every day from December 1 onwards was basically Christmas Eve. As an adult working in the hospitality industry it’s like, literally every day is just another shift to clock on and I might start idly organising Christmas-related things at 11pm on the 23rd if I’m feeling sprightly. This year I’m instead occupying the odd world of freelancing, where you’re always working but it never looks like it, where no thought can go unexamined but for the question, “is this content?” Working for yourself means no Christmas parties and a very biased HR department, but on the upside, most of the toil can be done in track pants on the couch. Nevertheless even with all this sitting down I still find myself astonished at the haste with which this month has moved.

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Even with the big day itself getting precariously close it’s not too late to make one last objectively unnecessary but subjectively delicious thing, and this Rhubarb Vanilla Christmas Fruit Mince from Nigella Lawson’s wonderful book Feast easily fits the bill. Fruit mince is confusing on so many levels – why does it sound like meat, why would I actually want to eat a bunch of sultanas, how is it overly sweet yet rudely flavourless? Not this stuff though. The inclusion of rhubarb, sour-sweet and fragrant as it collapses in the heat, and lush vanilla, makes for a wonderful rush of flavour. It’s hefty and plummy and wintery yet somehow lively and vivid. The dried fruit absorbs all the intense flavour as it cooks, and it all tastes immensely luxurious. Plus it’s incredibly easy to make.

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(I freely acknowledge that I went slightly overboard with these photos, like, you can barely even see the jar in this one, but the decorations were just sitting there on the table! What was I to do! Be tasteful? At Christmas?)

Rhubarb Vanilla Christmas Fruit Mince

Adapted just slightly from Nigella Lawson’s Feast

  • 1kg rhubarb, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced into 5mm pieces
  • 300g brown sugar 
  • 2 vanilla beans*
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 250g raisins
  • 250g sultanas
  • 250g currants
  • 2 tablespoons brandy (or similar – I used dark rum)

* I only had one vanilla bean, so added a couple of teaspoons of vanilla extract at the end. Vanilla beans are also sometimes called vanilla pods. I also just did double sultanas because I don’t really favour raisins. 

Place the rhubarb, sugar and mixed spice into a good-sized saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla beans into the pan and then slice up the beans themselves and throw them in too. Turn the heat to medium bring it to a good simmer, stirring to prevent the sugar burning. After five minutes, add the dried fruit and simmer for a further thirty minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat and stir in the alcohol. Transfer into clean jars.

Nigella reckons this makes 1.25 litres, I got a bit less but still heaps so by all means have some jars on hand.

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Obviously you need to choose your audience here but a small jar of this would make a lovely gift. It can also, of course, be made into slightly untraditional pies, or stirred into cake batter, or heated up and spooned over ice cream. Nigella recommends spreading it on toast like jam, I think it would work particularly well on a toasted bagel. I do enjoy marinading myself in Nigella’s Christmas-related material – nothing else quite makes me feel so resolutely contextualised in the season.

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Meri Kirihimete! Whether Christmas is something you delight in, politely acknowledge, or have no connection to, I certainly hope either way that the 25th is a nice day for you.

PS I absolutely recommend my last blog post where I rounded up a ton of edible gift idea recipes. The day is still young!

title from: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Love by Barbra Streisand, an unreleased song of hers that would be otherwise a standard workhorse pleasantry if not for the remarkable D5 belt at the end that she holds for ages, truly one of the queens of possessing vocal chords.

music lately:

Pop A Top by Andy Capp. This early reggae track from 1968 is joyful and mellow at the same time, just what we need at this frantic time of year.

Thursday Girl, by Mitski. This song was my number one most played track on Spotify for 2019, which could be partially to do with my making a playlist consisting only of this song on a loop and spending many hours playing it while staring mournfully into space. It’s just devastating.

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! by the sadly late but never forgotten Elaine Stritch. If everything is feeling too comfortably sugary this Christmas, there’s always Stritch to reinvigorate your senses, her singular, matter-of-fact bark is like a cold bucket of lemon juice to the face. In a good way.

Next time: I did make some amazingly good fudge that I’d like to share with you, whether this happens before the end of the year or not is in the hands of Fate (and nothing whatsoever to do with my own diligence.)

PS: What is the true meaning of Christmas if not directly supporting me through my Patreon? It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, poems, stories, the opening sentences of the novel I wrote.

c’mon everybody and rock with me, I am the one on the Christmas tree

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I love this time of year – no, not Christmas, I mean this precise moment, where I do my annual round up of recipes from this blog that I believe would make ideal potential edible gift ideas for the season ahead or indeed any time (which also coincides with my annual struggle to convey this concept in a concise manner.) It’s not just that it gives me a break from devising content, and it’s not just that it’s an opportunity to be self-congratulatory and self-serving in equal measure – actually, that’s more or less precisely it – but I also do love being useful, and I’d like to think this list is, in fact, of use to someone out there.

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Sake Pickled Radishes

Whether or not you subscribe to Christmas at any level there will still probably be an occasion throughout the year where a gift of some kind is required from you, and personally – second to flagrant quantities of money – there’s no better gift than something you can eat. By its very nature the space it takes up in the receiver’s home will be temporary and receding, it’s thoughtful, it’s fairly low-level as far as rampant consumerism goes, and you can completely personalise it. Giving food also lowers the fear of accidentally getting a person something they already have – as far as delicious food goes, more is more.

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chocolate-dipped pumpkin spice lemon pistachio cookies

This year I’m also going to be including some of the recipes I contributed to Tenderly, since the only thing I enjoy more than calling attention to myself is doubling down on calling attention to myself. They’re all separated out into helpful categories, and you should know that some of these recipes are from years ago, but while details and contexts and locations and motivations have changed, the deliciousness remains constant.

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salted vanilla brazil nut butter, coffee cinnamon hazelnut butter, cumin and paprika spiced pumpkin seed butter

The HungryandFrozen Inviolably Unimpeachable List of Edible Gift Ideas For Life, Not Just For Christmas, But Definitely Also For Christmas

Category One: Things In Jars

Seasons change, fickle trends come and go, but still jars abide. Put some stuff in a jar and you’ve instantly got a simple, elegantly rustic benefaction which no one can deny looks as though some considerable effort was made. It’s also what we in the business (that is, show business) call a twofer, because as well as getting something delightful to eat the receiver also gets a handy jar for their own future shoving of food into.

Savoury:

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Berry Chia Seed Jam

Sweet

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Vanilla Chocolate Macarons

Category Two: Baked Goods

Baked goods! It’s right there in the name! They’re good!

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Peppermint Schnapps and Coffee-Orange Liqueur

Category Three: From the Unbaked to the Unhinged

This is everything else, the kind of thing that comes from such lines of thought as “what if I dissolved candy canes in vodka?” The results are remarkably almost potable! Some of these items have a fairly low melting point, so use your judgment when it comes to packaging and storing them.

Oh yeah, and all these recipes are vegan.

title from: Master-Dik by Sonic Youth, a sprawling and loquacious song where the less of a point it makes the better it sounds.

music lately:

Do You Love Me Now by The Breeders, I just love this song so much, there’s something about it that evokes running through an airport frantically but also trying to wade through syrup, like it’s on fast-forward and in slow motion simultaneously.

The Look, Roxette. RIP Marie Fredriksson. This is just literally one of the best songs in the world – that chord progression in the chorus that almost makes me feel carsick with its urgency, the fantastic devil-may-care bizarreness of the lyrics, the drama of the synths, the muffled 80s production making it sound like you’re running down a corridor trying desperately to find the locked, padded room that it’s being recorded in.

Paradise By The Dashboard Light, originally by Meat Loaf, as performed on Glee. I realise that is an extremely cursed sentence right there but hear me out. I genuinely hate all of Meat Loaf’s music and by all accounts the man himself is a Republican; I also realise Glee covers of songs do not necessarily represent the highest form of art. Nevertheless, this performance is incredible and it makes my heart ache to watch it, because it was really the last time things were good on Glee, on and offscreen. The cast looks like they’re having a ball, and there’s so many little moments – I love Santana resting her head in Brittany’s hand at 1:25 – but it’s Lea Michele’s entrance at 1:40 that kills me, I swear my achilles tendons nearly snapped when she growled “I gotta know right now.” I genuinely can’t stop watching this video. On that note you should definitely read this piece I wrote about Glee and Rachel Berry (Lea Michele’s Glee character) for Tenderly – it’s one of my favourite things that I’ve written this year.

Next time: Back to business as usual! Like I don’t know what it will be specifically, but it will be business as usual.

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, a short story, the opening sentences of the novel I wrote.