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) coco
  • 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.

ginger-molasses cake

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It’s nice to know I can climb to the weird age of thirty three (thirty four in just over a month!) and still be astonished by an ingredient previously unknown to my tastebuds. I say weird only because I seem to socialise with people much older or way younger than me and I’m either like “oh god, the eighties, what a time that was,” or “how do you find Frozen 2 compares to Frozen 1?” and were it not for my friend Charlotte in Wellington who was born ten days before me I’d think I was the only thirty three year old in the world, and even so I’ve missed the boat on knowing what a person my age is supposed to be like, and honestly, why is no one frantically trying to jovially relate to MY stuff?

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Returning to my original point: I’m thirty three years old, and I tried molasses for the first time. In my defence, it’s not a terribly common ingredient in New Zealand, though the word is so easily part of one’s everyday vernacular and thoughts – slow like molasses, Blackberry Molasses, the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 – that perhaps my brain complacently assumed I’d already eaten it. My brain was, typically, incorrect. Who could mistake that flavour! That heady, thick, magnesium richness, like sweetened road tar, like a puréed cedar hope chest, like a photo negative of Marmite. I practically needed a lie down afterwards. It’s too much! I thought. Too intense! And then I went back for another spoonful.

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My reason for trying molasses was this Ginger-Molasses Cake recipe from Bryant Terry’s excellent book The Inspired Vegan – I pared his down a little for simplicity (he includes walnuts that have been caramelised with further molasses, you should definitely consider following his lead there) but other than that the cake is entirely his and it is wonderful. Dense and intense, hefty and hearty yet light and springy, with the ginger’s rhizome heat and the baritone sweetness of the molasses and I swear, notes of chocolate appeared from somewhere. It’s incredible warm from the oven, and amazing after sitting in the fridge, the chill making it extra fudgy. And it takes about three minutes to mix together.

You know that feeling, when you can tell a recipe is going to be part of your life forever? A feeling almost as delicious as that which you just cooked? That’s this cake.

Ginger-Molasses Cake

Adapted very slightly from Bryant Terry’s recipe in his book The Inspired Vegan

  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 cup unsweetened rice milk
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a loaf tin with a sheet of baking paper.

2: Whisk the molasses, coconut oil, rice milk, apple cider vinegar, and salt together briskly. The coconut oil might form little clumps as it combines with the cold rice milk, which didn’t cause any issues – but if it puts you at ease you can gently microwave the mixture in fifteen second bursts to bring it all together. If you’re heating the liquids, do this before you add the vinegar.

3: Sift the flour and baking soda into a large bowl, and then stir in the sugar, ground ginger and walnuts.

4: Fold the liquid into the dry ingredients, stirring gently until just combined. Don’t worry if it’s a little lumpy or wet looking.

5: Spatula this mixture into your loaf tin, and bake for fifty minutes or until the top is springy and firm and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool for fifteen minutes before slicing, and store in an airtight container.

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music lately:

Love Is In The Air by John Paul Young. This, like Berlin’s Take My Breath Away, is from a highly specific genre – that possibly exists only in my head – of songs that are instantly, heart-poppingly euphoric, unflinchingly sincere, and bafflingly simple – I can’t think of anyone currently writing songs like this but I want to be proven wrong! Anyway, this song, with that come-hither disco beat, those iconic stair-step chords, the fact that he just repeats the title over and over and yet it sounds more profound every time? It’s a reward for being alive.

Emmenez-Moi, by Charles Aznavour. He was dubbed the French Frank Sinatra, although I personally pick up Scott Walker vibes – his voice ripples effortlessly over the music, I love the echoey, theatrical production, his deliciously glottal pronunciation, and the way the words speed up practically into patter at various intervals. Glorious! And without his jaunty Parce que tu crois we wouldn’t have Dr Dre’s What’s The Difference, so.

Next time: I was given some tiger nuts for Christmas and still haven’t tried them, it’s hard to tear my eyes away from what remains in the jar of molasses though.

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.

talking sweet about nothing, cookie I think you’re tame

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My tea-drinking has ramped up substantially since moving back in with my parents in a remote rural village, because, well, what else is there to do? I’m not even sure that any of us have particularly passionate feelings towards tea, but nevertheless we must drink it at quarterly intervals throughout the day. I suppose it provides a marker of the passage of time, while stopping us from doing this by drinking wine at 10am; though I could be talked into that without much effort if I’m honest, indeed, let this very paragraph be considered as planting the seeds of suggestion. The good thing about tea is that it usually brings with it a biscuit or confection of some kind, and the good thing about me is that I can be relied upon to bake such things.

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If your tea-drinking intervals could also do with an accompanying sweetmeat then you might consider these Dark Rum Tahini Chocolate Walnut Cookies. Don’t be alarmed by the effect of the rum content on your day ahead, as there’s only a bare tablespoon in the mixture – you could literally allow a teething infant to use it as a rusk. Even its contribution to the flavour is fairly minimal, I just really liked how it looked in the recipe title there – aesthetic or death, as I always say. Whatever your preference, these cookies are very easy to make and completely delicious. They’re snappishly crisp with a muted sweetness and caramel warmth from the combination of brown sugar and tahini, with beautiful textural interruption from the walnuts and chunks of chocolate. If I were to make them again I would try baking them for as little time as I can get away with to try make them chewier, but as is, their light crunchiness is perfect tea-dunking material. Needless to say you could change the walnuts for something else or leave them out altogether, same with the chocolate, this dough seems well-built to support any particular fixings you might choose to mix in.

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Dark Rum Tahini Chocolate Walnut Cookies

A recipe using this one at The Curious Chickpea as a starting point.

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plant milk
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum (or an extra tablespoon of milk instead)
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate

Place the coconut oil, tahini, and the two sugars into a mixing bowl and beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thick and smoothly combined. Stir in the milk and rum, then the flour, salt, baking powder and soda, and the walnuts and chocolate. Stir thoroughly, then refrigerate the cookie dough for about half an hour, or overnight.

While the dough is chilling, set your oven to 180C/350F. Line a baking tray/cookie sheet with a piece of baking paper. Scoop out spoonfuls of dough – I used a coffee spoon of about 1 1/2 tablespoon capacity which, nevertheless, did not result at all in uniform cookies – and arrange them in rows on the tray. Don’t flatten the cookies – just leave them as squashy balls of dough on the tray, and stop when you get to about twelve cookies.

Bake them for 10 – 13 minutes, or until browned and crisp-ish looking (they’ll continue to firm up as they cool). Carefully slide them onto a cooling rack and repeat with the remaining dough.

Makes around 28 cookies give or take how much cookie dough you eat as you go.

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On Thursday night I attended the launch of Dominic Hoey’s new book I Thought We’d Be Famous, if you like extremely beautiful poetry that feels like it has its thumb on your trachea than you can and should order a copy through Dead Bird Books. This weekend I’m going down to Wellington to visit my best friends and to bask in the sensory overload of being back in a city again. Till then: it’s probably time for another cup of tea.

If you are intrigued by the use of tahini in this recipe then you should also consider my Black Salted Caramel Sauce recipe, which is then used in my Black Salted Caramel Ripple Ice Cream recipe. That particular blog post last year marked my revamp of hungryandfrozen.com, where I moved everything to another platform and changed the logo to the one you can see above, and started allowing you to receive my blog posts emailed to you before I publish them. And this is my fiftieth blog post since I changed everything! Isn’t that something? Well, not really, compared to my last blog post about how hungryandfrozen.com turned twelve years old, but I am nothing if not a Russian Doll of self-congratulation, ever striving to further uncover ways to draw attention to myself while disguising it as edifying content!

title from: Tame, by Pixies. Maybe it’s cognitive dissonance or 2019’s news cycle eroding me like a deviated septum but despite it being full of howling screams, every time I hear this song I just fondly think “ah, that’s nice. Good for them.”

music lately:

Thursday Girl by Mitski. She’s almost too powerful: yesterday I just saw her name written down and got a lump in my throat. This song is so gentle and so brutal at the same time, like a…knife with a smiley face drawn on it? Look, I can’t even write metaphors when I listen to it, that’s how good she is.

Bolero, by Ravel. I thought this piece must be like 300 years old since that’s when I assume all classical music is from, but it actually premiered less than a hundred years ago, which seems kind of wild and recent, right? Angela Lansbury is older than this song! Were people like, “ugh Maurice Ravel, you can’t do the Charleston to this“? Well if they did, jokes on them, because Bolero is an unimpeachable rumpshaker, listening to it gets me so hyped up I want to headbutt someone. If you have a short attention span like me then jump ten minutes in first to experience the drop, but I promise that you’re going to want to start from the beginning again afterwards because that build is just exquisite.

Next time: Something savoury, between last week and this week that’s quite enough chocolate for now.

PS: if you enjoy my writing and want to support me directly you should join my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, the opening sentences of the novel I wrote.

you’re all mixed up like pasta primavera

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This post is like a companion to last week’s recipe for Roasted Asparagus with Almond Butter Skordalia, or perhaps an answer to the question, “so I got lots of asparagus, now what?” Spaghetti with Stuff In It is one of my very favourite foods and if I were even more permissive and self-indulgent than I already am that’s probably all this blog would comprise of; it’s certainly a great way to enjoy the new season’s asparagus. As with the previous asparagus recipe it was still pouring with rain when I made this distinctively spring-like pasta but the sheer buoyancy of flavour made it feel like the sun was momentarily shining.

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This recipe is incredibly easy, with only one strict proviso, that the pasta goes in the boiling water at the same time as the vegetables go into the oven so that they can emerge, perfectly cooked, simultaneously, but even if you muck that up and something ends up having to sit around for a bit it’ll still be fine. Zucchini and asparagus are very friendly together, both with a certain rich green flavour, and roasting them makes them soft and caramelised and stickily delicious, with the olive oil, a little wine, and a few drops of the pasta cooking water providing a brief sauce to entangle them all in. (Also: here in New Zealand we tend to refer to zucchini as courgettes in the French/English fashion but I prefer their Italian/American name. Theirs is more sprightly and sexy, ours sounds damply microwaved.)

You can do a zillion different things to make this your own: green beans would be very fine roasted instead of or as well as; you could stir in baby spinach or something else leafy, you could add thyme, basil, or flat leaf parsley as well as or instead of the mint, you could augment or replace the almonds with something else altogether. This could be made with something like fusilli and served cold as a pasta salad, you could add chilli or capers or sliced preserved lemons. Honestly, I wish I did – the reason the recipe is like this is simply because this is what I had: a few leftover asparagus spears, some mint in the garden. I wasn’t even planning to photograph it because it was so barely-considered, just a thrown-together meal – but I’m glad I did, because it is very, very delicious, both decadent and light, artless but elegant.

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Spaghetti with Roasted Asparagus, Zucchini, Mint and Almonds

A recipe by myself. Serves 1.

  • 100g spaghetti or long pasta of your choice
  • 6 or so asparagus spears
  • 2 medium zucchini (courgettes)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • a splash of white wine (optional – if not a squeeze of lemon juice) 
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • handful of fresh mint leaves
  • salt and pepper

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Cook the pasta in lots of boiling, salted water for about twelve minutes or until tender. As always, I boil the kettle first then pour this into the pan rather than heating the water in the pan because it’s faster but feel free to ignore this suggestion!

While the water is boiling, trim the ends off the asparagus, and slice them into thirds lengthwise. Trim the zucchini and slice lengthwise into sticks roughly the same size as the asparagus. Peel and roughly chop the garlic cloves. Place the asparagus, zucchini and garlic into a small roasting dish and drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Sprinkle over plenty of salt and pepper and roast for around ten minutes.

At this point, give the vegetables a bit of a stir, sprinkle over the almonds and return to the oven for another couple of minutes, to let the almonds brown lightly.

Remove the dish from the oven, pour in the white wine if using and extra olive oil, and then use tongs to transfer the cooked pasta into the roasting dish. Moving the pasta like this rather than draining it allows some of the pasta cooking water to transfer into the roasting dish as well, the starchiness of which helps everything cohere. Sprinkle over most of the mint and use the tongs to lift and stir everything together, then transfer to a plate and sprinkle over the remaining mint, and more olive oil, salt, and pepper if you want it.

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Speaking of delicious, here is a round up of pieces I’ve written for Tenderly recently! I’ve derived so much joy from contributing to this publication since it launched in July, not least because it’s literally wild to be able to support myself through my writing. To be fair I’m still living at home with my parents but – if I hadn’t moved back in with them I wouldn’t have had the time and energy and clarity of mind to pursue an opportunity like this and to actually deliver content without having a mental meltdown at the thought of self-directed task based activities – like a snake eating its own tail on a rollercoaster, it’s hard to know what went up, down or around first, but it’s definitely happening and I am one happy snake.

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Speaking of “speaking of delicious”, if you, too, are into Spaghetti With Stuff In It as a genre, you might also want to consider other recipes of mine like Spaghetti with Caramelised Tomato Sauce; Lemon “Parmesan” Spaghetti; and, as a true companion to this spring-y recipe for my northern hemisphere readers, Autumn Spaghetti (Spaghetti with Roasted Butternut, Parsnip and Broccoli; Maple Nutmeg Black Pepper Walnuts and Pumpkin Seeds; Garlicky Crumbs and Fried Sage.) (Easier to make than it is to say out loud, I assure you.)

title from: What Goes Around by Beastie Boys, a sunnily traipsing track from 1989’s Paul’s Boutique, an album that was largely passed over when it was released but eventually was recognised as an important and influential classic, something I can’t wait to relate to.

music lately:

Alley Oop by The Hollywood Argyles, this is a novelty song from 1960 and the lyrics are indeed stupid as hell but it has the cadence of a really good song, with that tick-tock bass and slightly honky tonk piano and Gary Paxton’s insolent vocals, weirdly sexy despite the purposefully silly lyrics.

In My Room, The Walker Brothers. This song is stunning, from its Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor-biting opening chords to Scott Walker’s intense, soaring voice and that pure sixties shag-carpeted beat. Perfectly deployed in The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, it’s as much synopsis as it is soundtrack.

Next time: time for something sweet, I think.

PS: if you enjoy my writing and want to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. A mere dollar or two per month will not only extremely help make hungryandfrozen.com possible, it also gets you exclusive content created just for you. Exclusively.

she saved enough to get back home when spring replaced the winter

 

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Presuming I’m not an unreliable narrator – and we can’t be sure – according to this very food blog I haven’t eaten asparagus since 2014. This would not be particularly worth commenting upon other than the seasonality of asparagus makes it a kind of touchstone to me for the arrival of spring, consuming it is like a tiny ritual heralding both the end of winter and glad days of sunshine to come. I’ve mentioned my intentions to acquire asparagus in every ensuing year since 2014, but it appears to have taken me until today, five years later, to clear this remarkably low bar. Is it coincidence that this timeline coincides with the commencing and ending of my bartending career? Is correlation causation? Are we really saying that eating asparagus is my own personal responsibility along with all my other personal responsibilities now? I can’t keep up!

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Well, whatever the reasons, I’ve got some asparagus today. Unfortunately – and don’t let the sunny look of the photos fool you – it was less of an optimistic spring day and more the sort of horizontal rainy deluge that makes you want to do little more than sit resolutely in a hot bubble bath like a prune soaking in Armagnac. But, you never can tell when personal responsibility is going to hit (infrequently, it would seem) so I ignored the weather and made this decidedly sunny little lunch for myself: roasted asparagus and almond butter skordalia. I went back and forth on whether to call this skordalia when it’s not the traditional recipe, but it’s faithful in intent, for what it’s worth. Skordalia is a garlicky Greek dip that often – but not always! – uses potato and almonds. So does my recipe, just the almond component is pre-pulverised for you.

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Every ingredient plays its part – the potatoes give fluffy, starchy mildness, the vinegar balances and sharpens, the almond butter and olive oil makes it wonderfully rich and smooth, and the garlic makes it garlicky as hell. Together they form this incredibly lush puree that’s perfect for dragging vegetables through or spreading on bread, and it works beautifully with the nutty, grassy flavour of asparagus. If your asparagus is too roasted and floppy to successfully dip, just spoon it over, no harm done. This skordalia keeps well and seems to just get better and better the longer it sits in the fridge: more aromatic, more creamy, more luscious and buttery.

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Roasted Asparagus and Almond Butter Skordalia

A recipe by myself. Serves 1.

  • A handful of fresh asparagus spears (honestly, as many as you want)
  • 2 medium mashing/roasting potatoes
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons almond butter
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine or red wine vinegar
  • plenty of salt, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, to serve

Set your oven to 200C/400F and place your asparagus spears in a roasting dish. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast for about ten minutes, or until they are slightly browned and crisped at the tips.

Peel the potatoes and cook them in a pan of boiling salted water until very tender. If you wish, you can boil the garlic cloves along with the potatoes – this will make their flavour more mellow. Drain thoroughly, retaining about 1/4 cup of the water from the pan.

Whisk together the almond butter, olive oil, potato cooking water, and vinegar. Your options here are to then use a stick/immersion blender to puree the almond butter mixture along with the drained potatoes and peeled garlic cloves. Or, you can use a food processor, or just a fork to mash and then the whisk – it won’t be aerated and velvety, but let’s not rule it out altogether. I used a stick blender, mixing until it was thoroughly pureed. Taste to see if it needs more salt.

Spatula the potato mixture into a serving dish and arrange the asparagus spears on a plate. Sprinkle over the thyme leaves, and serve.

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As if to double down on the whole spring thing, today is also Daylight Savings, not that I actually even noticed because anything before 10am – okay, before noon – feels like 6am to me and it was still pouring with rain either way. But I was delighted when I woke up to find this travel story I wrote for Tenderly about a vegan weekend in Wellington was published, which I sourced and researched during my visit at the start of this surprisingly long month. As with asparagus it’s also been several years since I’ve written a travel story!

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to put a price on that; I invite you to join my Patreon where you can support me directly and access exclusive content written especially just for you.

title from: Tecumseh Valley by Townes Van Zandt, just some classic Townes Van Zandt-y beautiful, mournful poetry. 

music lately:

Landlocked Blues by Bright Eyes, from that perennial hit-making genre of “heartbreaking songs with my name in them.”

Do You Love Me Now, by The Breeders, it’s syrupy and slow-moving but has this dizzying, longing urgency and I just love it so much, especially that come back to me right now refrain.

Shy Guy, Diana King. This song is still so good, like every single particle of it is so joyously catchy and breezily confident. And how great is her pinstripe suit!

Next time: I still have some asparagus left so can really be Present and In The Moment with it and also might still cook something else featuring it to make up for five years of culinary neglect.