Oat Butter, Two Ways: Homemade Vegan Oat Butter + Pecan Cookie Granola Butter

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Sometimes inspiration – not so much for recipes, but for the hunger that eventually drives their creation – comes from relatively ambient sources. And with COVID-19 things are getting more ambient and less direct every day. By which I mean, I saw someone tweet the words “oat butter” – I don’t even remember who it was or when, but as I was scrolling that pair of nouns really made themselves at home in the tastebuds of my mind and I knew, whatever oat butter was, I wanted it. I looked it up on google, and found two completely different culinary directions – first, a traditional table spread, based on actual butter, but made of oats, and second, a blended-to-smithereens peanut butter riff which promised to taste like cookies. I couldn’t decide which avenue sounded more appealing so – why not both? Two recipes it is.

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I’ve made several homemade butters before, with one based on ground almonds and one based on aquafaba and honestly? I love them all! Couldn’t choose between them. But there’s something about the rustic simplicity of the oats in this latest recipe, not to mention the recency bias, which appeals to me, and the resulting butter is stunning – rich, creamy, spreadable, light, delicious. Plus if you’re spreading it on wholegrain bread with oats in it, there’s the added deliciousness of synergy! It melts ably into a sauce to give added body (no surprise, with all that oil) and is equally at home under savoury or sweet toppings. I haven’t tried baking anything with it, mostly because it disappears so quickly. I wouldn’t rule out its working in this capacity, but homemade butters can behave differently to manufactured spreads so if you’re wanting to do this, I’d test it on something smallish and forgiving, as opposed to, say, your firstborn’s wedding cake for a union brought about to settle a generations-old blood feud.

If that weren’t enough synergy for you, there’s also the Pecan Cookie Granola Butter. It really does live up to its slightly overstuffed name, but I call it thusly for a reason: it simultaneously tastes like cookies AND granola, and pecans are expensive so I want anyone eating it to be super-aware of their presence. It’s made from a pulverised mixture of pecans, seeds, coconut and toasted oats, and you’ll curse my name as the food processor enters its fifteenth minute of noisy whirring with nothing to show for its efforts but pricey dust, but it does eventually come together, and upon tasting the finished product, you will forget the effort. It’s absolutely lush, nutty and oaty and dense and cinnamon-warm and delicious, and I’m so glad I found this recipe, as well as the other oat butter recipe, because my life has been genuinely improved by its existence. It’s one of those very America creations that I certainly wouldn’t have come up with it on my own (I mean I might have eventually, in a thousand-monkeys-thousand-typewriters way) and which sounds like there’s too much going on to process, but it makes perfect sense when you eat it.

Make one or both of these oat butters and – as well as the sheer thrill of experiencing synergy – your toast, instantly, will become a whole lot more exciting (which I say as someone quite easily diverted by toast, so hold onto your hats, I guess.)

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Oat Butter

A rich, buttery spread for your toast, sandwiches, and sauces, and it’s pretty much entirely made of oats? Amazing. This recipe comes from tastecelebration.com, I have made some slight adaptations, but otherwise it’s all theirs.

  • 500ml/2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons rice bran oil or other neutral oil (eg sunflower)
  • a pinch of salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 cup refined coconut oil, melted but not hot
  • 1/2 cup rice bran or other neutral oil, extra
  • 1 heaped teaspoon white miso paste
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon sugar (optional – I think it improves the flavour but up to you)
  • a pinch of turmeric, for colour

1: Bring the 500ml water to the boil in a small saucepan. Stir in the oats, remove from the heat, and leave to sit for half an hour.

2: Pour the oats and liquid into a high-speed blender with the 2 tablespoons oil and a pinch of salt, and blitz until very smooth, pale, and creamy. Now, you CAN strain this through a cloth or a nut milk bag or whatever but I literally just used a regular kitchen sieve and I was pleased with the results so don’t feel you have to rush out and buy equipment. Whatever you end up using, strain this liquid into a container – there shouldn’t be much ‘grit’ left behind, but this step will make it especially smooth. You only need half a cup of this oat cream to make the butter – store the rest in the fridge and add it to sauces, soups, or anything you want to make more rich and creamy.

3: All you have to do now is blend 1/2 a cup (125ml) of the above oat cream, along with the second measure of rice bran oil, the melted coconut oil, the miso paste, a tiny pinch of sugar, and salt to taste, until it’s smooth and thick. No need to wash the blender!

4: Taste to see if it needs a little more salt and then spatula it into a clean jar or airtight container and chill in the fridge until firm.

Makes around 325ml. Consume within a week.

Notes:

  • Refined coconut oil is important here so the butter doesn’t taste overwhelmingly coconutty – that being said I’m sure it’ll still taste good so if you don’t mind the coconut vibe and all you have is unrefined coconut oil, go ahead.
  • If you don’t have a high speed blender, a stick/immersion blender will do the trick. You could try using a regular food processor, you just might need to blend the oats and water together for a bit longer. I’m afraid it’ll be very difficult without some kind of equipment, as is the case for most vegan recipes it seems!

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Pecan Cookie Granola Butter

This is SO GOOD and worth the hectic endless blending – instead of a spreadable butter, this is in the peanut butter family of spreads, blitzing toasted oats, nuts and seeds into an incredibly delicious spread which tastes like melted cookies, if that were a thing. Recipe adapted a little (and gratefully) from this one at foodfaithfitness.com.

  • 1 and 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup pecans
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup coconut chips/flakes
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil (either refined or unrefined is fine here)
  • 4 tablespoons golden syrup or maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

1: Place the oats in a large frying pan and stir them over a low heat for about five minutes to lightly toast them – you don’t want them scorched, but a little golden and browned in places is good. As soon as they hit this stage, and you can smell their fragrance wafting up to you, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the oats into the bowl of a food processor.

2: Place the pan back on a low heat and tip in the pecans, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds, stirring over a low heat for a couple of minutes until they are fragrant and warmed through. Transfer them to the food processor with the oats, and finally, toast the coconut chips for a minute or so until lightly browned in places – this won’t take long at all. If you’re feeling reckless/impatient you can toast the whole lot at once, oats and nuts and everything, bearing in mind that the coconut will toast quicker than anything else.

3: Blend these ingredients on high for about fifteen minutes, stopping every now and then to scrape down the sides with a spatula and to give your processor’s motor a break. Nothing will happen for ages – it’ll just look like rubble – but eventually, if you keep blending for ages and ages and ages – the nuts, seeds and coconut will release their oils and it’ll suddenly start to look more promising and like a potential spread. But you really just have to keep blending and blending and blending, much longer than feels right, and I’m sorry in advance!

4: Once it gets to this point, add the remaining ingredients and continue blending for another five to ten minutes until it’s a thick paste that vaguely resembles almond butter. Taste to see if it needs more salt, sugar, or cinnamon (I usually end up adding more of each for what it’s worth) and then spatula it into a jar and store in the pantry.

Makes around 250-300ml (It really feels like it should make more, but all that blending really minimises and compacts the structure of its ingredients.) (Sorry.)

Notes:

  • You can muck around with proportions and ingredients here – pecans have a specific flavour which seems to evoke cookies, so I wouldn’t want to make it without them, but I’m sure walnuts would have their own charm instead.
  • You can toast the nuts and seeds etc in the oven, which will result in more even toasting, but I prefer the speed and ease of the stovetop method. Either way, keep a close eye on them.
  • The original recipe asks you to blend the nuts and seeds first before adding the coconut and oats and I probably should have done that too, but I read the recipe in a heedless fashion and just blended everything together all at once. As you can see, it worked out fine, but I still feel like I should tell you and you can definitely choose this option instead! Probably to your benefit!

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music lately:

A Man Without Love by Robert Goulet. That chorus! So boisterously mournful! I listened to this forty times in a row on loop on Friday and look, I turned out fine!

You’re No Good by ESG, minimalist yet stroppy with a delightfully cunning bassline.

A Love From Outer Space, by A.R Kane. Yes, them again, I just love them!

Lonely Room from the soundtrack to The Apartment by composer Adolph Deutsch. I’ve been listening to a LOT of old film scores lately which is, if you’re similarly inclined, an excellent way to make one’s COVID-restricted life feel slightly more glamorous. The Apartment is one of my very favourite films and its score is just heavenly – as demonstrated in this track which is somehow sorrowful yet immensely comforting at the same time.

Next time: I feel like I haven’t done anything savoury in ages BUT I also made an incredible passionfruit panna cotta, so! The sugar rush continues.

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 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.

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.

Vegan White Chocolate

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

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

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

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

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Vegan White Chocolate

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

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

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

Slice into squares and store in the fridge.

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

Vegan Kale, Pecan, and Fried Carrot Salad

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

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

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

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

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

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Kale, Pecan and Fried Carrot Salad

A recipe by myself. Serves 4 as a side.

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

Vegan Lemon White Chocolate Slice


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vegan Lemon White Chocolate Slice

A recipe by myself.

Base:

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

Filling:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

 

Pesto Seitan

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

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

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

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

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Pesto Seitan

A recipe by myself.

Seitan

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

Marinade

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

Pesto Sauce

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

Step One: Mix and Simmer the Seitan

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

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

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

Step Two: Make the Marinade and Sauce

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

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

Step Three: Fry, Stir and Serve

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

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

3: Serve immediately.

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mushroom Stroganoff

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

Gumbo-esque Stew

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

Mince on Toast

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

Chocolate Pear Pudding

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

music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

Spaghetti with Olives, Nori, Pine Nuts and Chilli

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Not once in my thirteen years of writing hungryandfrozen.com has a recipe featured anchovies. I wasn’t against anchovies – I also clearly wasn’t going out of my way to court their flavour. Being vegan now would suggest that stance is unlikely to change, but then I re-read a Nigella Lawson cookbook, as smooth and eroded from my fingerprints as a statue of Mary in a particularly tourist-friendly French cathedral, and suddenly I was consumed with trying to capture the flavour of anchovies – minus the anchovies. You might shrewdly ask, where was this fervour over the last thirteen years? The thing is, I’ve already had my first Nigella-fuelled attempts at an anchovy phase back in 2006, just before I started my blog. It wasn’t successful – I don’t think I’d amassed the life experience needed to truly enjoy anchovies – and it had since lain dormant, waiting for the trigger: the fact that I really can’t eat them anymore, and so of course, strangely want them. Limitation being the mother of invention – and Nigella being the mother of the mother of my invention, which I guess would make me the mother of my own limitation, and my limitation a servant of two masters, and this paragraph complete nonsense – I made this spaghetti.

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As they say when they’re quoting The Wire, all the pieces matter – the olives give briny density, the nori sheets strongly suggest the ocean, the pine nuts are gently rich, the parsley is strident and a little astringent, and the prunes add darkly subtle balancing sweetness without any actual, you know, pruniness. I know prunes are deeply un-alluring but I insist that you humour me here! I’ve previously paired them with olives in my tapenade recipe – frankly I think they’re an ideal match for each other’s intensity. The chilli flakes were a reckless, “more is more” addition, but their heat grounds the sauce, stopping the flavour from skidding too wildly off-course.

The flavour of this sauce is A Lot, and it looks completely hideous – like hearty mud – but once you’ve made peace with both these factors, deliciousness awaits you. Because, A Lot of flavour is great! And the ugliness of the pasta can be carefully hidden under parsley and extra pine nuts, as you see in the photos. It would take someone more recently familiar with those tiny fish than I to assess for sure if this captures the flavour of anchovies, but it’s definitely got a vibe, you know? This is pasta that has known the sea.

Given that this was inspired by her numerous anchovy-pasta recipes I probably should’ve given it a Nigella-esque high kick of a name, but I find it more helpful for all involved to simply list the main star ingredients. (Pointedly, minus the prunes, since I don’t want to alienate people before they’ve even begun.) That style works for Nigella – no-one needs to read me calling something “Sprightly Spaghetti.”

(To be fair, it really is sprightly.)

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Spaghetti with Olives, Nori, Pine Nuts and Chilli

A recipe by myself

  • 1/2 cup pine nuts (70g)
  • 3/4 cup black olives, pitted
  • 1/2 cup parsley (more or less – just grab a handful)
  • 2 x 10cm nori sheets, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves or to taste
  • 2 prunes
  • chilli flakes, to taste
  • 100g spaghetti or pasta of your choice

1: Toast the pine nuts in a small pan over a medium heat till they’re lightly browned. Reserve a tablespoon or so for sprinkling over at the end, if you like, along with a little of the parsley.

2: Blend the pine nuts, olives, parsley, nori sheets, olive oil, prunes, and chilli flakes either using a stick blender in a small bowl (which is what I did) or in a small food processor, until it forms a thick paste. You will probably need to scrape down the sides once or twice. Taste to see if you think it needs more chilli, nori, etc.

3: Bring a pan of well-salted water to the boil (or, more efficiently, boil the jug and then pour that into the pan along with your salt) and cook the spaghetti for ten to twelve minutes, or however long it takes for them to be done.

4: This is a good opportunity to steal some of the pasta cooking water to stir into the olive paste to make it more saucy, if you like – around quarter of a cup should do it. The starch from the pasta makes the cooking water particularly great for this purpose, as opposed to plain tap water which will just make it watery.

5: Drain the pasta, stir through as much of the olive sauce as you like, and sprinkle over more parsley, chilli flakes, and the reserved pine nuts to serve.

Serves 1 generously, and the sauce would easily stretch to two people, just double the pasta obviously. If you don’t have a blending implement, you could chop all the sauce ingredients as finely as possible and mix them together – it will be a lot more textured as opposed to saucy, but this isn’t a bad thing!

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music lately:

All Through The Night, Cyndi Lauper – one of the most beautiful pop songs. My introduction to this was via a 2002 Idina Menzel concert bootleg at Ars Nova (if you know, you know!) but Lauper’s original is glorious, with those delicious twinkly keys and that reckless, triumphant, anything-is-possible chorus.

Suddenly Seymour by Ellen Greene and Rick Moranis, from Little Shop of Horrors. There is no one else on earth who should sing this but Ellen Greene – the way she goes from that feather-squeak speaking voice to a blood-freezing full belt is astonishing. I love the way the verses rush over each other in the middle section, I love the Kermit (as in, the Frog) earnestness of Moranis’ voice, and – Ellen Greene’s belting! So exhilarating.

Also, if you like the way I write about music and also like dogs, I made a playlist called 25 Great Songs For Dog Lovers and wrote a bit about each song for Tenderly, and you should definitely both read and listen to it.

Next time: I cooked some pulled jackfruit into which I may have put way too much chilli. I’ve been nervously avoiding returning to it to taste-test, but if it actually is good you’ll be the first to know.

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.