The Annual HungryandFrozen Edible Gift Recipe Round-Up 

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To egregiously paraphrase Dickens, though I’m sure he’s quite used to it by this point: you there! What day is it? Why it’s my annual edible gift recipe round up! 

In case this doesn’t make any sense, let me explain: each December I gather a list of recipes from my prior blog posts here on hungryandfrozen.com which I believe would make ideal edible gifts, in case you want some kind of prompting in that direction, despite having the entire internet already at your disposal. It’s a self-serving action, yes, but 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. I’ve kept a lot of the text in this post the same as last year’s as there’s only so many ways you can launch into this thing, and appreciate your understanding.

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This time last year I was naively hopeful that once 2021 drew to a close COVID-19 would be behind us but instead, it’s managed to get on top of us in new and innovatively terrifying ways. Just last week, after a quarter of the year spent in lockdown, I was (somewhat dramatically) not sure if Christmas would be happening at all, even now it feels like a bit of a mirage and I’m somehow overthinking it yet entirely unprepared at the same time. All of this is no reason not to cook though, if that’s what you like doing. 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 (perhaps also with a note reassuring of your vaccination status if they’re a stranger that you’re giving something to). But even just you, alone, are reason enough to bake a cake.

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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, spices, peanut butter, curry pastes, hot sauce, olives, a complicated shape of pasta – even just food you know someone eats a lot of. They love beans? Get them beans! 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.

I realise to heaps of people Christmas is – quite reasonably – just 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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Anyway, let’s get 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 years.

Two caveats: some of these recipes are from absolute years ago, as will happen when you have a fourteen-year-old food blog, 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 that 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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The Annual HungryandFrozen Edible Gift Recipe Round-Up 

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, looks like you’ve gone to arduous levels of effort, and makes 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.

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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. I’ve made the first three (four, technically, since the Christmas Stars and Hundreds and Thousands Biscuits are basically the same) cookie recipes in this list a LOT this year and recommend them the most enthusiastically out of the biscuits on offer.

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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. Note: unless you can find overproof vodka, the passionfruit and mandarin liqueurs won’t be ready in time for Christmas; either give the intended receiver an IOU, or save it for their birthday – or next Christmas.

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music lately:

Turkey Lurkey Time from the 1969 Tony Awards performance of the musical Promises, Promises. If you’ve been here a while you’ll know that I have a small tradition where I wait till December and then watch this extremely grainy video of a very goofy song being performed and CRY. (Here I need to really emphasise that this is absolutely not a song you’re supposed to cry at.) It’s Donna McKechnie’s rubber spine, it’s the diagonal thing they do at the end, it’s the anticipation, it’s Christmas, it’s everything.

Fun Lovin’ Criminals, by The Fun Lovin’ Criminals. Why am I consistently drawn to rap rock? Because it’s fun and great, that’s why!! (When does rap rock become nu metal? Not here, but I’m very happy on either side of course.)

The Only Heartbreaker, by Mitski. Anxious and beautiful and synthy! I don’t know what it is about synths, specifically, that makes me all “this song sounds like it has already existed. How can this be a new song” and here I am again saying that this song sounds like you already know it. I don’t mean that it sounds derivative of anything – I mean that it sounds like it was your favourite song from a long time ago and you’ve only just heard it again for the first time in forever. I guess the obvious answer is that synths sound like they’re from the eighties and it tricks my brain into thinking I’ve already heard it but I think it’s something more in the neon yearning quality of synths themselves? Anyway, I love it!

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

Vegan Christmas Star Cookies

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My friend Harriet recently tweeted suggesting that Christmas be moved to every four years, like the Olympics, and as is usually the case with her opinions, I simply have to agree. I say this as someone who loves so much about Christmas – little brings me more joy than the scent of pine, a smooth jazz interpretation of a classic carol, experiencing some customary hustle and bustle, watching holiday episodes of TV shows, cracking open the seasonal text Nigella Christmas, and vibing near some baubles. Even so! It does seem to come around a little more often than usual these days, right? And all the things I like about it most are anticipative in nature – love Christmas Eve, routinely struggle to keep my head above water on Christmas Day itself – and what’s more anticipational than shifting the goalpost further away? And while we’re changing the fabric of western society, why not move Southern Hemisphere Christmas to July, in the middle of winter, where it belongs? Christmas in summer feels so gauche, trying to think about roast potatoes and fruitcake while also not being sure where the humidity starts and your violent sweating ends is no way to live!

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Unfathomably, no one’s put me in charge of anything yet, so till then we have to work with what we’ve got, and what we’ve got is Christmas rapidly approaching like a fleet of sturdy, purposeful reindeer. And so with it goes the food. Real hungryandfrozen-heads will note that this recipe is literally the same as the biscuits I blogged about a few weeks ago, just a different shape and colour with some spices added, to which I say: that’s right! Recycling is chic! And surely you’re used to me doing it by now! For what it’s worth, my improved method of icing the cookies by dunking them directly into the bowl of frosting will save you absolute minutes, and they really do taste different with all the warm and friendly spices added – cinnamon, the spice of the season, plus ginger and a little clove, a batch of these in the oven will have your house smelling like a scented candle which smells like a batch of cookies baking, and I’m convinced it’s neurologically impossible to be around this much cinnamon and not feel the slightest bit merry and bright, even if you’re not sure why.

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Something about the particular combination of blue, white, and gold is monumentally pleasing to me – the colours feel very old-fashioned, like a dress that Lena Horne or Lana Turner might have worn, or like a mid-century tree ornament. Of course, you don’t have to make these star-shaped, nor do they need to be blue, nor do you need to track down specialty sprinkles. Any colour icing, any shape, any decoration, they’ll still taste excellent. This recipe is pretty easy – one bowl, quickly mixed, the dough behaves beautifully under the rolling pin and the finished biscuits are quite durable. If you’re looking for something to either laden your table with or to wrap up and give as a present, these cookies are an easy choice.

And you don’t even have to make these for any kind of Christmas-related reason! This is a cookie for all seasons. The sweetness of cinnamon, the calm-yet-almost-reckless nature of the blue food colouring – not to mention, the pure deliciousness – is welcome any time of year.

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Vegan Christmas Star Cookies

A seasonal variation on my hundreds and thousands biscuits, these cinnamon-spiced one-bowl vegan cookies are SO easy, and – if you choose to keep my blue icing with its night-sky scattering of white and gold – really quite beautiful. Most importantly, whichever shape or decoration you choose, these cookies are delicious. And for a more visual guide to the recipe below, see my tiktok. Recipe by myself. 

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2-3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup rice bran oil, or other neutral vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup treacle, golden syrup, or molasses
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup soy milk, oat milk, or similar

Icing:

  • 2 and 3/4 cups icing sugar
  • A few drops blue food colouring
  • White and gold sprinkles – about 80g

1: In a large bowl, mix the three cups of flour, the teaspoon of baking powder and baking soda, the pinch of salt and the quarter cup of sugar. It’s important to mix the dry ingredients together first to prevent any baking soda lumps – I also tend to sieve in the baking powder and baking soda to help with this.

2: Add in the two teaspoons of cinnamon, or three if you like, the teaspoon of ginger and the 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves. While these cookies can withstand a lot of cinnamon, I wouldn’t increase the ground cloves any more than this, unless you’re very certain of your preferences. Stir to combine, then make a well/excavate a little hole in the flour mixture with your spoon, and pour in the half cup oil, then the half cup of treacle – doing it in this order means the syrup will slide right out of the measuring cup – and the smaller quantity of milk. Stir everything together till it forms a rough, crumbly dough. If it’s too crumbly, add a little more milk. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for twenty minutes.

3: Meanwhile, set your oven to 190C/375F, and line a cookie sheet/flat baking tray with a large piece of baking paper. I find the dough to be pretty well-behaved and easy to roll out on a flat surface lined with baking paper, but depending on your capacity for doing dishes/the humidity levels etc you may wish to roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper. Either way, only roll out a smallish portion of the dough at a time so the rest can stay chilled in the fridge.

4: Cut star shapes (or, obviously, whichever shape you’d like using whatever cookie cutters you have) and transfer the stars to your baking paper-lined tray, continuing until your tray is pretty full. These cookies don’t really spread, so you can have them fairly close together on the tray. Bake the cookies for eight minutes (on the dot!) and shift them to a cooling tray while you continue rolling out, cutting, and baking the remaining cookie dough.

5: Once the cookies have cooled, place the 2 and 3/4 cups icing sugar in a mixing bowl, along with about 2 tablespoons of water and either a couple of drops or dots of your food colouring. Whether you’re using liquid colouring or gel colouring, I find a toothpick inserted into the bottle then stabbed into the icing sugar to be the safest way of colouring the icing. You can always add more colour, but it’s very hard to take it back! Keep adding water, a small spoonful at a time, and stirring until you have a thick but pliant frosting. You can, if you like, just spread the icing straight onto the cookies, but I currently like to dip the cookies into the icing, then use a flat-sided knife to scrape off any excess – doing it this way is much quicker and less messy. Keep the layer of icing fairly thin, so it sets easily without dripping off, and place each iced cookie back onto the paper-lined baking tray (you may need to line another one to fit all the iced cookies on.)

6: Once you’ve iced five cookies, use a teaspoon to drop a little of the sprinkles over one side of the cookies, as you can see in the pictures. Continue, every five cookies – for me this was the ideal interval, because the icing wasn’t so wet that the sprinkles fell off, but it hadn’t firmed up too much yet either. Once the icing is completely firm and dry – I sat my cookies in front of a fan because it’s so humid here – store them in the fridge in an airtight container.

Makes about 34-ish cookies? Maybe more? If I may be frank with you I completely forgot to count them after they were baked, besides which the quantity of cookies all depends on the size and shape of your own cookie cutter anyway, but nonetheless, I apologise for not being able to offer specifics.

Note: I ordered my sprinkles online from a place called Sweet Pea Parties, they stock a charming range of decorating tools and ingredients and I happily recommend them.

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music lately:

Do You Love Me Now by The Breeders. I’ve listened to this song so many times that it feels like a meditation, it seems so much longer than its mere three minutes and yet there is never enough of it.

Return by Emma Ruth Rundle. It’s new, and it’s otherworldly beautiful, and that’s it really.

Fast Car by Tracy Chapman. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t like this song when I first heard it on the radio in early 1990-something but sometimes songs just find you when they’re supposed to and now I am penitently and enthusiastically making up for lost time! (I hear what you’re saying – wasn’t I like, seven in the early 90s? Yes, and that’s no excuse for bad taste in music!)

Losing My Mind, from the musical Follies, specifically Liza Minnelli’s all-neon 1989 version. I’m still getting to grips with the death of Sondheim and staying immersed in his music and you wouldn’t necessarily think that one of his most delicate and poignant songs would work when smashed together with every last available synth, a four four beat, and the Pet Shop Boys’ production, but really, is there any place more poignant than the dancefloor? Somehow this – and a lot of it is to do with Liza’s gutsy voice and fully committed performance – is every bit as fragile as any acoustic version.

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

Vegan Hundreds and Thousands Biscuits [or, vegan cut-out cookies]

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“The enemy is the inner me“, said Nick Miller, eyes widened in recognition, in s2e7 of the TV show New Girl. “To thine own self be true”, wrote Shakespeare in Hamlet. Somewhere between these two cultural landmarks, I stand, acknowledging but not self-deprecating about the fact that despite my modestly well-travelled palate and my published cookbook and my food writing indiction and that time I was invited to two degustations in one week, the food expression I spiritually connect with, yearn for, and constantly seek to recreate most…is pink icing with hundreds and thousands sprinkles.

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I mean, I never claimed to be sophisticated – nor could I, you can practically hear the audience laughing uproariously at this notion – but it’s hard to explain my love of this combination. Experienced in the wild, the icing is at best artificially flavoured with fake raspberry but is usually just a vague, generic sugar paste, and speaking of vague, the sprinkles offer absolutely nothing taste-wise and barely anything texture-wise once they’ve softened into the frosting bed clinging them to the baked good beneath. But together? Somehow – transcendent! Immediate happiness! Is it mere nostalgia? My rambunctious undisciplined inner child? A shallow and superficial prioritisation of aesthetics?

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Well, whatever it is, pink icing and sprinkles is still cute, and no amount of psychoanalysis can take that away. And while this recipe is a kind of vegan recreation of the rainbow-studded Hundreds and Thousands biscuits that I grew up dazzled by, it’s also – for those of you not so preternaturally wedded to the aesthetic as me – a useful and reliable vegan cut-out cookie recipe for any occasion or frosting direction, limited only by your collection of cookie cutters. Christmas is the obvious one – in which case I might add some cinnamon and ginger to the dough – but any day of the week could, indeed, should, be cheered by a novelty-shaped, garishly iced biscuit.

@hungryandfrozen

vegan hundreds and thousands cookies • perfect cut out cookies for Xmas etc! recipe at hungryandfrozen.com #recipetok #vegan #cookies #fyp #nz #nzfood

♬ Taking a Chance on Love – Alma Cogan

And it’s not just about looks. These biscuits are delicious – of course! – I would never lead you up an ambiguous path – with the golden syrup offering a bordering-on-gingerbread intenseness, despite not a lick of ginger being present, and a softly dense texture. Fake raspberry flavouring is, to me, the white truffle of the bottled essences, instantly sending you to a time when fifty cents could get you the world at the corner bakery, and contained in the thin layer of simple frosting – just icing sugar and water, set to a firm, smooth surface – it provides a kind of off-kilter yet entirely welcome contrast to the more traditional-tasting biscuit beneath. The cookie dough itself is well-behaved – a little stirring brings it together, and it rolls and re-rolls obligingly, so long as you keep it chilled.

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We’re 74 days into lockdown now (and yes, I’m going to bring it up every time because there’s nothing else to bring up!) and, I don’t want to overstate their abilities or anything, but looking at these biscuits, like a pixelated rainbow scattered across a pink skyline, makes me feel at least momentarily peaceful – to say nothing of the pure joy I feel upon eating them.

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Vegan Hundreds and Thousands Biscuits [or, vegan cut-out cookies]

A versatile, easy, and delicious vegan cut-out cookie – make it pink with rainbow sprinkles or use whichever cutters and colours you like. The simple sugar-and-water icing sets firm like royal icing without any of the hassle. As always, the recipe is very simple, I just don’t know how to write short succinct instructions. Recipe by myself.

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup neutral oil, eg rice bran
  • 1/2 cup golden syrup (see notes)
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup soy milk, oat milk, or similar

1: Place the flour in a mixing bowl and sieve in the baking powder and baking soda. Add the sugar and salt, then stir to combine.

2: Make a well in the centre and pour in the oil, followed by the golden syrup (going in this order means the syrup should slide cleanly out of the oiled cup measure) and the milk, adding the smaller quantity at first in case you don’t need it all. Stir, and then push together with your hands, to form a ball of dough that is cohesive without being sticky. If it’s too dry and clumpy, add some more milk, if it’s too sticky, add a little more flour. Cover the bowl and place it in the fridge for ten minutes, and turn the oven to 190C/375F.

3: Roll out your dough on a sheet of baking paper – you can use another sheet of baking paper between the dough and the rolling pin if you like but this dough is very well-behaved and shouldn’t stick to the roller. To help with this, it’s best to roll out the dough in small portions, so the remaining dough can stay chilled in the fridge. Cut out shapes using your chosen cookie cutter, and use a spatula or lifter-prodder type kitchen implement to transfer them to a baking paper-lined cookie tray/baking sheet.

4: Re-roll and cut until you have enough biscuits to fill the tray, return any unused dough to the fridge and bake the cookies for precisely eight minutes, positioned in the middle of the oven, if you want them soft-ish and chewy, and precisely ten minutes – no more! – if you want them crisp and snappish. As someone who frequently loses track of time and forgets what they’re doing in the middle of doing it, you understand that I don’t give you these instructions lightly.

5: Remove the cookies to a cooling tray and then continue rolling, cutting, and baking the remaining dough until it’s all finished. Allow the cookies to cool completely before icing.

Icing

  • 2 and 3/4 cups icing sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon raspberry flavour/essence
  • a few drops pink food colouring
  • hundreds and thousands sprinkles

6: Stir the water into the icing sugar a little at a time – bearing in mind that the raspberry essence will add extra liquid – I found two tablespoons + one teaspoon of water gave me a thick but spreadable icing. Add the raspberry flavouring, then use a toothpick to transfer dots of pink food colouring from the bottle into the bowl of icing, stirring and adding more until it’s the right pink for you. (I mean, you can just pour the food colouring into the icing but that way is fraught with danger.)

7: Spread the icing in a thin layer on each cooled biscuit with a flat-sided knife, dipping the blade in water if need be to help smooth it – and then sprinkle the biscuits with the hundreds and thousands. Allow to cool until the icing has firmed then store the biscuits in an airtight container in the fridge.

Makes – depending on the size of your cutter and how much cookie dough you eat – around 40 biscuits.

Notes:

  • If you’re in America and can’t get golden syrup then it’s my understanding that light corn syrup is the usual substitute – I wouldn’t use maple (too thin) or agave (too sweet) but if you can find golden syrup or treacle somewhere then stock up because it’s a singularly delicious and useful ingredient.
  • If you’re making these cookies for a non pink-rainbow-sprinkle context then I would still add a half-teaspoon flavoured essence in place of the raspberry – perhaps vanilla, or almond, depending on your audience and the occasion. Also bear in mind that using more flavouring or food colouring may require extra icing sugar to get the texture/thickness right.

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music lately:

Bluer Than Blue by Lil Hardin Armstrong; an accomplished composer, jazz musician, and singer, she was also the wife and collaborator of Louis Armstrong for several years. I’m so glad recordings like this one – where she sings her own composition in 1937 – exist.

The Man That Got Away by Judy Garland from her iconic Carnegie Hall concert – we listened to this album last night and it’s just – I can hardly even speak about it! The applause alone makes me cry!

Blue Banisters by Lana Del Rey – while not as instantly arresting as, say, Mariners Apartment Complex, this song lingers and haunts you in slow motion and it was stupid of me to imagine it wouldn’t affect me!

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

Vegan Chocolate-Dipped Shortbread

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Getting used to something and being enthusiastic about it are two different things, but the absence of hatred is a start – of course, I’m talking about margarine, which I’ve resigned myself to using in various cooked and baked goods to the point where it’s done without thinking, and certainly without self-flagellation. I’ve been vegan for long enough now that I no longer appreciate the concept of consuming large quantities of dairy – that milk is none of my business! – but…it would be nice if margarine companies at least tried to emulate butter’s undeniably good flavour. Humans are capable of untold scientific endeavour, where’s that energy in margarine? I understand there are great vegan butters out there – and by “out there” I mean selected pockets of America – but here in New Zealand it’s margarine or nothing, and, well, I refuse to have nothing, so the margarine has to work for me.

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In the case of shortbread, where butter is the main event, the star, the biscuit’s reason for getting up in the morning – you’d be forgiven for assuming that a margarine-based recipe would be a failure, tinged with that tongue-lingering nastiness that only strong flavours can mask. First of all, you have to find the margarine that’s least vexatious, the most tolerable – for me, that’s Olivani (not Nuttelex, as I initially assumed when embarking on this highly-committed whim). Second of all, you have to believe me when I say – and I’m genuinely astonished by it – that this shortbread doesn’t taste like margarine. It doesn’t! It tastes softly buttery and mildly sweet and very reassuringly shortbready. It does, however, lack that final convincing push of flavour that butter enjoys; hence the helping hand offered by the regionally unorthodox yet highly recommended chocolate dip over half of each shortbread.

As well as bringing the obvious to the table – delicious chocolate flavour! – the firm shell of chocolate, especially when fridge-cold, has this fantastic contrasting bite compared to the fine-grained shortbread below, which melts in your mouth like sand disappearing into seawater. You can leave these plain if you don’t have any chocolate or you’re severely disapproving of any variation on this traditionally Scottish biscuit, but if you’re up for it this chocolate step comes highly, if not strenuously, endorsed.

@hungryandfrozen

vegan chocolate dipped shortbread 🍫 recipe @ hungryandfrozen.com 🤠 #vegan #chocolate #veganbaking #recipe #nzfood #foodblogger #fyp #plantbased

♬ Working for the Knife – Mitski

I had intended for these to be adorable chocolate-dipped stars, but I realised moments before starting the recipe that I had lost my star-shaped cutter somewhere in the fifty million times I moved house in the last five years; all I could find was a set of Christmas-themed cookie cutters which curiously did not include a star but did have a vague and formless shape that I could only assume was Santa with his sack upon his back or perhaps a slightly wonky and unsure-of-foot partridge. My aesthetic loss is absolutely your gain – this method is significantly easier and faster, scored and baked all at once in a tin then prised apart into rustic rectangular fingers.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, we’re in the frenzied grips of my mother’s lockdown project where we celebrate a different country that one of us has been to each day, in alphabetical order; I will definitely be making the Fijian Tarkari and the Česnečka from the Czech Republic again; my attempt at a vegan haggis is probably best kept a memory not to be relived. These shortbreads, however, will definitely be back.

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Vegan Chocolate-Dipped Shortbread

This vegan shortbread is simple, delicious, and made all the more palatable with a dunk in some melted chocolate. I swear to you, the recipe really is straightforward and super easy – I just couldn’t work out how to explain any elements of it in a succinct manner.
Recipe by myself.

  • 200g vegan butter/margarine (I used – and recommend – Olivani)
  • 90g icing sugar
  • 300g flour
  • 3 tablespoons custard powder
  • 150g dark chocolate

1: Beat the butter and icing sugar together in a large mixing bowl until light and creamy – which should only take a minute or two – then tip in the flour and cornflour and carefully stir it all together (I say carefully because it’s very easy to shunt large clouds of flour everywhere at this point). Push the dough together into a ball with your hands, then cover the bowl with a clean tea towel or lid and put it in the fridge for about twenty minutes.

2: While this is happening, set your oven to 160C/320F and line a 28x18cm baking dish/brownie tin with a sheet of baking paper. Remove the chilled dough from the fridge and press it out evenly into the tin – you can lay another sheet of baking paper over the top and gently press down on it to make it more even, removing it before baking of course. Jab the dough several times with a fork, which helps steam escape and makes it rise neatly; and then use a knife to score it twice horizontally and vertically several times, so you have about 24 similarly-sized rectangles. Apologies if this description doesn’t make much sense – basically you’re just scoring the dough as if you were preparing to slice it up, which makes it easier to slice once it’s actually out of the oven.

3: Bake the shortbread dough for 35 minutes – checking often – or until it’s lightly golden and the surface is firm. Remove the cooked shortbread out of the dish by lifting the edges of the sheet of baking paper. Use a knife to slice through the lines you scored earlier, then carefully ferry each individual shortbread to a cooling rack.

4: Once the shortbreads have cooled, melt the chocolate however you normally do it (I used a small glass bowl and 20-second bursts in the microwave, but if you put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and then rest that bowl on a pan of simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl doesn’t touch the water, that works too). Carefully dip each shortbread halfway – so half of it is coated in chocolate and half of it remains bare – and sit them on a tray lined with baking paper, then refrigerate till set. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Makes around 24.

Notes:

  • If you don’t have custard powder or are simply disinclined to use it, replace it with the same amount of cornflour (or cornstarch for the Americans) and add a generous splash of vanilla extract.
  • In my experience, Olivani is the best-behaved and most mellow-flavoured margarine – better than Nuttelex for sure – but you use whatever you’re comfortable with.

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music lately:

Minority by Green Day – I don’t know what it is about them but whenever I’m like “I’m a fan of Green Day” I say it in this reverent yet apologetic voice like I’m revealing some great shuddering truth about myself (it’s very similar to the voice I use when I own up that I’m a bigtime show tunes kind of guy.) Anyway, I’ve always been very fond of this song and its jauntiness and year-2000-ness and the impenetrable Mairzy Doats quality to the lyrics. I’m especially fond of this live version at Milton Keynes in 2005, since I was in that very audience.

Working For The Knife, by Mitski – new Mitski! New Mitski music in 2021! I feel like Ebenezer Scrooge throwing open his windows on Christmas Day. This is very important! Also, I was super nervous, and put off listening to it in case it wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped, and then got anxious in case I was somehow letting Mitski down, or in case people were like “oho, a fair-weather fan, are we” but of course none of those things happened (or was going to happen) and as soon as she sang “I cry at the start of every movie/I guess ’cause I wish I was making things too” I knew she was BACK.

Hello Dad…I’m In Jail by Was (Not Was). Like the Sideshow Bob stepping on a rake scene in The Simpsons – truly the opposite of diminishing returns.

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

Vegan Chewy Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies

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Brevity is a rare treat round these parts but this week has munted my concentration levels – such as they are – so you’re spared my usual dissertation. The thing is there’s not a lot to say about these cookies anyway – they’re simple, they’re good, and they’ve got oats and chocolate in them.

These are a solid workhorse cookie, a stalwart, neither austere nor gilded, just the sort of thing you want to eat when the hand reaches half past the hour or when you hear water coming to the boil. In her most recent book, the excellent Cook, Eat, Repeat, Nigella Lawson says of a rice dish: “You will not get blown away by this. It won’t be the most electrifying thing you’ve ever eaten. This is not to disparage it…If I felt it weren’t worthy of your time or your table, I wouldn’t include it.” I appreciated her appraising description of the dish. Food-writing can lean all too easily on hyperbole, but when hyperbole is all you have, how can any recipe stand out – or stand up to scrutiny? (I like to claim that I never exaggerate – that my heightened language is simply the precise and appropriate response to whatever I’m describing – but I’m aware it definitely looks like a duck and quacks, hyperbolically, like a duck.)

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And don’t get me wrong, these cookies are delicious – with an almost custardy vanilla perfume and a modest scattering of chopped dark chocolate throughout their small round bodies. Importantly they’re as relaxing to make as they are to eat and behave beautifully – place a squat ball of dough on the baking dish with confidence that it will not spread, crumble, or cook too fast into an inedible rusk. Says Nigella of her rice dish, “there is just something quiet and lovely about it that seems to still the air around you as you eat.” Much the same could be said of these cookies. They won’t blow your hair back, and they’re not the sort of cookie to go viral, cruelly pulled apart and folded in half for the camera to reveal a dripping, uncooked interior. But they will make your life better in an unobtrusive fashion and sometimes that’s where your energy levels are at.

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Despite several hours of trying, and for reasons I cannot fathom other than everything these past few weeks has actively worked to thwart me, I couldn’t embed the cute TikTok video I made to go with these cookies, but you can view it here (or directly in the app of course.)

Vegan Chewy Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies

Easy, simple everyday vegan cookies, chewy from the oats and scattered with chopped chocolate. I genuinely don’t know how many this makes because I’m always eating the dough as I go, but from experience, if you only eat a modest quantity of dough and use a tablespoon measure to form the cookies, you should get 35. These cookies are loosely based on this recipe at Simple Sweet Vegan which I used as a starting point.

  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup soft vegan butter (eg margarine)
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil, I used rice bran
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 75g-100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped small
  • 2 cups flour

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line two baking trays with baking paper. Mix the chia seeds and water together in a small cup or ramekin and set aside for the chia seeds to swell.

2: Place the butter, oil, and sugars in a mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon till they’re combined and fluffy. Beat in the chia seeds, followed by the cinnamon, vanilla, baking soda and salt – although you’re not going to get a ton of aeration here as you would with eggs I like to mix it energetically for a few minutes as if this were the case, it probably doesn’t have much effect but it feels like you’re doing something worthwhile.

3: Fold in the oats and chocolate pieces, then stir in the flour to form a very thick dough. Roll tablespoons of dough into balls and place on the trays – no need to flatten – about two inches apart. They don’t spread out but I like to give them a little room to breathe. Bake each tray one at a time for fifteen minutes each, transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool before storing them in an airtight container.

Notes:

  • I haven’t tried it but I’m sure you could replace the chia seeds with ground flaxseeds
  • I promise the end result doesn’t taste a thing like margarine, and I am still the hardest boss to beat in this regard.
  • The cinnamon is barely detectable in the finished product and simply adds a sheer backdrop of comforting warmth, absolutely add more if you want it to actually taste of cinnamon.
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music lately:

Dark by Gary Numan. There’s a stretch of time in the late 90s that produced a lot of stupendous industrial music like this, in my head I call it “GreggArakiCore”, music that makes you feel like you’re wearing pleather pants and dancing in a decommissioned asbestos factory, I was only eleven in 1997 which is why my impression of this music is very stupid and surface-level but even a child can hear this and know for sure that it’s the music of people who are living.

New Rose, The Damned. My brother gave me a drum lesson the other day so I could accompany him on guitar, and I was pretty decent, as I should be three generations of drummers deep, and I went back out to the drum kit by myself a few days later and was simply astonished to discover I couldn’t immediately play one of my favourite songs just by staring at the drums and imagining the song in my head. Maybe next time! Anyway, listen to this song – doesn’t it make you want to play the drums? (We did manage a serviceable Just Like Honey played by ear but obviously, that’s pretty entry-level.)

The Story Goes On by Lea Salonga and Liz Callaway – two of the most crystalline, gleaming voices in musical theatre – this was Liz’s song in the 1983 musical Baby and the presence of harmonies with Lea only makes it even more beautiful – the towering, mountainous ending is just glorious and worth sticking around for.

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

Vegan Brown Butter Chocolate Brownies

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Look, everyone’s gonna tell you their vegan chocolate brownie recipe is the best, the one, and you know what? That’s valid. The best need not be a zero-sum game, culinarily speaking, otherwise what’s the point of trying anything new. No, instead it’s a wide couch where we can all sit side by side, happily eating our brownies. So: these are the best vegan chocolate brownies. The one. One of many, that is. But what a one!

Brownies should be the easiest thing to bake – they’re usually one-bowl affairs, you don’t have to worry about them rising or being light-textured like a cake, there’s no faffing about shaping dough, like with cookies, and the presence of chocolate means they’re an instant crowd-pleaser. And yet, we’ve always had a wary relationship – I tend to overcook them into cakey dullness, or overshoot a scientifically crucial ingredient, sending the delicate chemical balance from “fudgy and rich” to “not unlike a peat bog”.

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As it happens, I didn’t get this recipe quite right on the first go. They were somehow too moist and too dry, with a stressful, peanut-butter-esque throat-clogging quality. Sometimes my rejection-sensitive receptors can’t handle this kind of defeat and it’ll send me spiralling with guilt and self-doubt (related: my piece for Tenderly about the heartbreak of recipe failure during lockdown.) I also don’t have all the resources in the world to rigorously test recipes. But we had precisely 100g chocolate left in the house and the first batch was still pleasant enough to eat, so not a total reproachful waste. I cheered myself with the reminder that 99% of the recipes I make up work perfectly the first time, which is pretty extraordinary, slept on it, and woke up knowing exactly how to fix the brownies by adjusting the liquid/flour ratio. It would’ve been nice if these instincts had kicked in a little sooner, but I appreciate them showing up nonetheless.

Second time around: the brownies were perfect. Exactly what you want: a shiny, delicately crisp exterior, a fudgy interior that’s melting without being undercooked, and a staunch chocolate flavour. (Thank goodness.) 

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These brownies are particularly special because of the brown butter step – which is to say, I’m emulating the culinary technique of burning butter to develop its flavour by using an unlikely but potent combination of ingredients. Coconut oil for buttery fatness; soy milk for its proteins; and a tiny dash of vinegar and brown sugar to speed things along, cooked down into a foamy emulsion, at which point I added pecans to assist with the nutty flavour you get from traditional browned butter. I realise this may seem unlikely, but bear with me. The result is this caramelised, toasty liquid with a deep, rich, and genuinely buttery intensity. I love eating vegan food but you have to dance a little harder to give your baked goods the same easily-achieved tastes and textures of non-vegan baking. This vegan browned butter offers complexity and sumptuousness, taking the brownies from two dimensional sweetness to three dimensional deliciousness. I imagine the browned butter would be wonderful used elsewhere, including in savoury recipes, but for now it’s the perfect base for the perfect brownies.

Brownies worth persisting through failure for – brownies so good they require a glamour photo shoot.

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Vegan Brown Butter Chocolate Brownies

These vegan chocolate brownies are fudgy and rich with a crisp edge and absolutely delicious. The “brown butter” step is a little extra work but so worth it. Recipe by myself.

  • 1/4 cup refined coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup soy milk
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon extra brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 100g melted dark chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
  • 150ml boiling water
  • 1/2 cup good cocoa powder
  • 125g flour (this is roughly one cup but try to weigh it if you can)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 100g extra dark chocolate, roughly chopped (optional)

1: First, make the browned butter. Place the coconut oil, soy milk, one tablespoon of brown sugar (save the 1/2 cup for later), the apple cider vinegar, and a pinch of salt into a small frying pan and melt together over a medium heat, stirring constantly. It’ll look dodgy, but trust me.

2: Once it starts looking frothy and bubbly, stir in your pecans and continue cooking and stirring till it’s thickened and pale caramel in colour. Remove from the heat and leave to sit for five minutes. While you’re waiting, set your oven to 180C/350F and line a square brownie pan with baking paper.

3: Now to make the brownie batter – spatula your pecan/brown butter into a mixing bowl and stir in the remaining half cup of brown sugar and the white sugar. Pause to have a little taste: oh my gosh. So delicious.

4: Melt the chocolate (I put it in a small bowl and nuked it in short bursts in the microwave, otherwise heat it in a metal/heatproof bowl resting on a pan of water without touching the water) and stir it into the butter-sugar mix. Stir the coffee powder into the boiling water and set aside. Also – 150ml is more or less 2/3 of a cup, or you can measure 150 grams of water on your scales.

5: Sieve the cocoa powder, flour, and baking powder into the bowl, and add half the coffee liquid. Fold it all together and then add the remaining coffee, the vanilla extract, and the extra chopped chocolate (if using) and fold together.

6: Spatula this mixture into your prepared tin and bake for 30 minutes. At this point, turn off the oven and let the brownies sit there for ten minutes (if your oven tends to really hold its heat, open the door, otherwise leave it closed) and then take the brownies from the oven and let them get basically completely cool before you attempt to slice them. And for that, I recommend a sharp serrated knife and a confident but slow hand.

Notes:

  • Don’t leave out the coffee powder! You don’t taste the coffee specifically but it’s important to add depth of flavour. However, if you can’t have caffeine it’s absolutely fine to use decaf powder.
  • I haven’t tried this with anything other than soy milk. Oat milk would probably work, but I have serious doubts about almond milk.
  • The pecans are specifically used to add a nutty, toasty flavour to the browned butter. I wouldn’t use any other nut here, but if you don’t want the pecans in your brownies you could scoop them out of the browned butter with a slotted spoon and save them for another use. It’s important to use them in the butter step itself though. Hope that makes sense!
  • When I say “good cocoa powder” I mean something with 20g or more fat per 100grams. Look in the nutritional information on the package, anything less than 20g per 100g is unfortunately not worth your time or money!
  • The second time I made these I didn’t have enough chocolate to chop up and fold through and honestly? They were amazing without it. So if you only have 100g chocolate to hand you can totally still make these.

Also if you want a visual reference I made a little tiktok video to go with these brownies. 

@hungryandfrozen

vegan brown butter chocolate brownies 🤠🍫 recipe at hungryandfrozen.com #recipe #foodblogger #chocolate #vegan #veganrecipes #cooking #fyp #brownies

♬ Do You Love Me Now – The Breeders

 

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music lately:

I Love How You Love Me by The Paris Sisters. There’s something about that Phil Spector production where it’s so present yet so distant, it’s like that exact feeling in The Wizard Of Oz where Glinda the Good Witch is smiling benevolently but also floating away unhelpfully; while I was listening to this the cat walked across my laptop and in the process changed the playback speed to 0.75 which gave it an instantly surreal, Julee Cruise quality and I think actually sent me into spontaneous sleep paralysis – but in a good way? So proceed with caution, I guess.

Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack, a song which makes me want to cry and levitate? Which can only truly be appreciated while lying down in a darkened room or clinging to the wing of a 747 as it takes off? Once more I say proceed with caution!

Black and White by The dB’s. “Well, I guess I just don’t enjoy you anymore” – what a sentiment for the ages.

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 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.

 

Vegan Lemon Bars

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One hour at a time, one day at a time: ten words so repetitively stuck in my head, I suspect they’ll soon tip from reassuring to cloyingly irritating the longer I spend with myself. Until then, it’s a serviceable mantra for these times – for this literal time in fact, this hour and this day and the next ones to follow. Since I last updated, New Zealand has gone into lockdown – we’re all under house arrest unless in essential services, so on the one hand there’s not much to do other than cook and bake, but on the other hand, ducking out to the supermarket for a specific ingredient is an activity of the past. With all this in mind I might as well to keep writing about food so long as I have the means to, but hopefully with a vibe of low-key non-urgency. Gentle food blogging. I can’t know what’s in your kitchen, and there’s no perfect catch-all recipe that will cover every variable, but on the upside if today’s recipe doesn’t work for you there’s the whole internet out there and surely someone will have used the exact same combination of ingredients you have to make something delicious.

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This being week one of lockdown we’re pretty well stocked from prior supermarket shops, nevertheless I was wary of burning through too many ingredients at once. I also didn’t want to get stuck just staring at the ingredients too nervous to touch them, you know? The specific ingredient that kicked this recipe off was an abundance of lemons fresh from the tree, needing to be used before they turned oxidised and doughy. This recipe for Vegan Lemon Bars uses plenty of lemon juice – though you could of course sub in any citrus you have to hand, or use bottled lemon juice, or you could even try it with pineapple juice or whatever you’ve got in the fridge. Usually I prefer to bake with coconut oil but went with margarine for the base since I figured that was a cheaper and more accessible ingredient, and if you did happen to have a jar of coconut oil you might not want to lose a whole half cup of it in one fell swoop. There’s plenty of lemon zest and juice in the base and I promise the finished result doesn’t actually taste of the margarine. The real magic here comes from the cornflour, turning a liquid filling into a gelatinously firm and sliceable topping, and I realise “gelatinously firm” isn’t the most enticing language, but…it’s true.

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The crisp base against the dense, bouncy topping is texturally pleasing, and the intense hit of lemon tastes and smells of pure optimism. The sight of the finished product alone is immensely cheering with its sunshine yellow colour (aided, admittedly, by a bump of turmeric.) It’s sweet but not overly so, keeps well, and when there’s not a whole lot else going on it’s nice to know this deliciousness is waiting in the fridge to accompany your next cup of tea.

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Vegan Lemon Bars

Adapted pretty liberally from this recipe at Namely Marly.

Base:

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter/margarine
  • lemon zest, from the lemons used for juice
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

Filling

  • 1/2 cup cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup rice milk (or whatever you have)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon essence or a couple drops food-grade lemon oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • a pinch of turmeric, for colour (optional)

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line the base of a standard brownie/baking tin with baking paper. Mix all the base ingredients except for the lemon juice together in a bowl, using the back of a spoon to press the butter into the flour. Add the lemon juice – you may not need it all – and continue to stir until the mixture forms rough crumbs that stick together when pressed.

2: Tip the base mixture into the baking dish and press down firmly with the back of a spoon to form an even layer. Jab it a few times with a fork or sharp knife (this, plus pressing down firmly, helps it to bake evenly without rising) and bake for ten minutes. Once the time is up, remove the dish from the oven and reduce the heat to 160C/320F)

3: In a small saucepan, whisk together the ingredients for the filling, making sure there are no lumps of cornflour trapped in the liquid. Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until it’s significantly thickened to a fairly spreadable, gluey (for want of a better word) paste. It may initially look like it’s thickening all lumpy and uneven, but if you keep stirring it will come together. Remove from the heat immediately at this point and continue stirring for a minute just to stop it catching on the base of the pan, and then spread it evenly over the cooked base in the baking dish.

4: Return it to the oven, now at its lower setting, for fifteen minutes. It may appear to be a little puffy and weird-looking, but it settles down once cooled! Allow it to cool completely and then refrigerate for about two hours before slicing.

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music lately:

Clay Pigeons, John Prine. I talked about this song in a playlist I made for Tenderly back on March 11 (literally a decade ago?) and as I said then, it’s simply one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Something about the world shrinking down to one house is making new music a little harder to take in, hence turning to the warmth of the familiar like this cover of Blaze Foley’s wonderful tune. I read yesterday morning that John Prine is now in critical condition with Covid-19, and my good thoughts, such as they are, are going out to him and his family in the hopes he pulls through.

You Don’t Have to Cry by Emma Ruth Rundle, continuing in the vein of songs I already love, songs that give without asking too much of you: this is glorious, building and swirling to magnitudes while still remaining extremely mellow.

Next time: let’s be honest, probably some kind of baking, I’ll try to make it more minimal than this week’s recipe. Also – I finally updated my Frasier food blog with an amazing curry noodle soup recipe if you want to check that out while you’re waiting. 

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.