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

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

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

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

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

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Oat Butter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes around 325ml. Consume within a week.

Notes:

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

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Pecan Cookie Granola Butter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roasted Plum Harissa [Vegan]

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We’re still squarely in Plumtown. Last time it was the Five-Spice Plum Ice Cream, this time it’s Roasted Plum Harissa, an idea inspired by Nigella Lawson’s apricot harissa from her latest book, Cook, Eat, Repeat, which I joyfully received for Christmas. This book is exactly what I needed – not a cookbook as you’d expect it, but just an unhurried and welcome tidal wave of Nigella meditating with gentle persistence on food and its place in our lives. It’s honestly near-hypnotic.

Cook, Eat, Repeat, is the first post-COVID cookbook I’ve read – more specifically, it’s clear that the pandemic affected the course of the book, as Nigella talks about changing a chapter on dinner parties and offers several means of reducing recipes down to a single serve. It’s not as simple as merely, breezily, omitting content however. When she says, in the Christmas chapter – a time of year she has made very much her province in all its elaborateness – that as long as she had her children around the table that year she could “eat gruel and be happy” – when she says “we shall not be eating in isolation forever,” – well! Let’s just say the cookbook got stained with tears before it did with cooking ingredients. (I mean, it took me precisely one recipe to stain the book with ingredients, and as you can probably guess the contents of this harissa are also living on, pagebound.) I sometimes feel weird and ungracious barrelling on with blogging as though everyone reading this is in the same, relatively calm position I’m in – I also can’t rule out New Zealand unexpectedly entering another lockdown at any minute. Nigella, as per usual, is excellent at articulating not just the food, but every emotion and motivation and expectation and context around the food – and there is just so much to articulate!

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Anyway, the harissa. Nigella acknowledges that apricots aren’t traditionally used in this Tunisian chilli paste, and as for plums, well, they’re really not supposed to be there. But I couldn’t stop thinking about them together with the chillies and spices – possibly from the power of suggestion as opposed to culinary genius as we just had so many plums around – but either way, this harissa is lush, and for that, at least, I comfortably give myself credit. That plummy taste – you know, garnets soaked in pinot noir, something like that – plus their sourness, softened by the heat of the grill, is tremendous with the blistered chillis and all those whole spices – licorice-y caraway, smoky paprika, earthy cumin, and ginger-lemony cardamom and coriander. The combination of heat and spice, plus the sweetness, saltiness, and the richness of the olive oil, is incredibly compelling – you’ll taste it to see if it’s balanced and find your spoon returning again and again to the bowl without even realising it.

This harissa is immensely versatile – first of all, you can just use it wherever you might otherwise have applied some kind of chilli. It’s wonderful alongside tomato – the acid of the plums and the depth of the spices making the blandest, cheapest canned tomatoes come alive – and I’ve used it already in a tomato-based pasta sauce and a sort of patatas bravas-type dish with great results. It also works to punch up more mellow foods – for example, it would be delicious alongside or inside hummus, and in Cook, Eat, Repeat, Nigella uses her apricot harissa in a roasted cauliflower recipe – I’m sure I’ll be following her lead before long. For all of harissa’s versatility, we’re likely to move through most of it just from me swiping spoonfuls from the jar every time I pass through the kitchen, in fact, I’ve half a mind to spread it on my toast.

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Roasted Plum Harissa

Spicy, sour-sweet, extremely compelling. Recipe based closely on the Apricot Harissa from Nigella Lawson’s wonderful book, Cook, Eat, Repeat.

  • 6 ripe, firm plums
  • 3 large red chillis
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • seeds from 4 cardamom pods
  • one teaspoon ground turmeric (or 15g fresh, peeled and roughly chopped)
  • 25g fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar (or regular sugar)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, extra
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1: Turn your oven to the grill (broil) function at 220C/425F. Slice the plums in half, discarding the stones, and place the fruit cut side up along with the chillis in a small shallow roasting dish. Pour over the two tablespoons of olive oil, turning the plums and chilli over and back again with your hands to make sure they’re all oil-slicked. Grill for about ten minutes, or until the chillis are wrinkled and darkened in places. The plums should still be holding their shape but look a little collapsed.

2: Remove everything from the oven. Place the chillis in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap or something airtight and more environmentally friendly should you have it, and set aside for a few minutes. This will make it very easy to peel the skin from the chillis – which is the next step – although it doesn’t matter if some skin remains. Discard the green stems from the chilli, and if you want a more mellow harissa you can pull/prise open the chillis and remove the seeds at this point, too. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards and avoid touching your eye area, as any chilli remaining on your fingertips will hurt like hell.

3: Place the deseeded, skinned chilli back in the small bowl along with the plums and any oil from the roasting dish (a spatula is useful here.) Place the caraway, coriander, cumin and cardamom seeds in a small pan and toast them over a low heat for just a minute or two, shaking the pan and stirring them to ensure they don’t burn. Their fragrance should, as Nigella says, waft up to you as they cook – this will let you know it’s time to remove them from the heat. Tip these spices into the bowl of chillis and plums.

4: Add the remaining ingredients to this bowl, and using a stick blender, blitz it to a bright-red, smooth-ish paste. Taste to see if it needs more salt, or maybe a dash more vinegar or sugar – you may also want to add more olive oil. You’ll know when you have the harissa you want.

5: Transfer this mixture to a clean jar, and store in the fridge. It may solidify or separate slightly after a while in the fridge, but a brisk stir will set it right again. I don’t know how long it keeps, to be honest, but I imagine pretty indefinitely.

Makes 250ml/1 cup.

Notes:

  • You can of course use Nigella’s originally stipulated dried apricots (six thereof) instead of plums. She also used 20g large dried chillis, reconstituted in boiling water, and the only reason I didn’t use them was because I absolutely couldn’t find any at my local supermarket. The sugar is also my addition, to balance the sourness of the plums – dried apricots wouldn’t need such sweetening.
  • If you use five or seven plums and four chillis or whatever I doubt it’ll hurt the recipe – you’ll just end up with slightly more or slightly less harissa.
  • If you don’t have sea salt, I would just add whatever salt you have a little at a time until the salinity suits your taste buds.
  • If you don’t have a stick blender, then a regular smallish food processor should do the trick, but maybe bash the spices in a pestle and mortar first or put them through a spice grinder (although if you have such fancy equipment as this you probably have a stick blender.) You could also surely make this whole thing in the pestle and mortar if you’re so inclined.
  • You might notice that the plums are actually grilled, not roasted, but I thought the word roasted sounded better, and then also it cuts out the potential cross-translation into the American word “broil”, which I just think sounds kind of terrible, comparatively. So, roasted it is.

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music lately:

Joy by Apollo 100. You may sneer, but five seconds of listening to this sheer exuberance will have you dancing an eightsome reel before your mind has even had time to process what your body is doing. The hymn Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, upon which this is based, is one I sang with negligible success in my school choir – and which I erroneously believed, until this year, was also sung by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa at the wedding of Princess Diana. The choir teacher told us this, possibly to motivate us to be less visibly tormented by that laborious time signature. The whole time, Dame Kiri actually sang Let The Bright Seraphim. This is exactly like the time I realised, after telling so many people that Rita Moreno was the first person to get an EGOT, that Rita Moreno was not the first person to get an EGOT.

A Depression Glass, by Spahn Ranch. Holds onto some of their earlier “chainsaw being thrown at your head” vibe while sounding extremely 1997 – in fact it sounds like it could have been in the party scene in the film Nowhere by Gregg Araki, which is one of the higher honours I could bestow a song.

Ridin’ For A Fall from the 1943 film Thank Your Lucky Stars, performed by Dennis Morgan and Joan Leslie (although, actually dubbed by voice-for-hire Sally Sweetland.) That “gal with the big blue eyes” line is astonishingly catchy, and although it’s not her singing voice, Ms Leslie’s charisma and good humour is so evident in every frame, I just love it. If I’m honest, I think they could’ve chosen a more relaxed vocal for this number – Ms Sweetland’s soprano is beautiful, but it sounds a little overcooked in this cutesy song. Someone with a more conversational tone, like say, Annette Warren (who provided the singing voices for Ava Gardner and Lucille Ball among others) might’ve been better. Even so, Joan Leslie sells it 100%.

Next time: I’m making cupcakes for my dad and brother’s birthday, I’m assuming they’re going to be delicious and so will share the recipe here.

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.

Windfall Five-Spice Plum Ice Cream (Vegan)

If you live in the rural countryside, there’s a solid chance at any stage of the summer that your mother, an aunty, (perhaps yours) or the neighbour’s dog will confidently stride into your house and lower onto the table a bulging tote bag or empty paint bucket filled with plums. I’ve spoken before of that particular proclivity in regards to receiving lemons, but it very much extends to any and all domesticated fruit. If, like me, you find yourself in possession of a lot of plums and are wondering what to make with them, may I suggest this Windfall Five-Spice Plum ice cream – as pink as pureed lipstick, intensely plummy, tartly acerbic, and extremely delicious. Even if you aren’t blessed with a front-end loader’s worth of plums, they’re in season right now and therefore, I hope, easier to acquire – and this ice cream is absolutely worth a little outlay.

This uses a full thirty plums – which is on its own, a lot, but did not make any visible dent in our large tote bag full of them – and yields you a fun-sized 2.5 litres of ice cream. As with all my ice creams, this is no-churn – no ice cream maker necessary – and although my instructions look violently complicated, there’s not really a whole lot asked of you in the process. There are two components to this – first, the simmered plums, thickened to make a kind of dense, pink custard. Then, the aquafaba, that versatile liquid in your canned chickpeas, which is whipped into a glossy meringue and folded together with the plums. I’ve used aquafaba in many of my other recipes and yet, every time, I’m amazed at its functionality and structural integrity. It’s literally just water that beans were cooked in, it somehow becomes, well, everything.

Because of the high proportion of fruit in this ice cream it has an icy, slightly sorbet-like texture, but with a rich smoothness from the aquafaba and custard powder. The plums have an almost tinfoil-biting sourness, which is kept in check by the sugar and the vanilla, and rounded out by a kick of cinnamon and Chinese five-spice powder – in particular, the star anise component of the five-spice is excellent with the jamminess of the plums.

This recipe also works well – and is just as seasonal – in a strawberry-lemon variation – just replace the plums with two to three punnets of hulled, chopped strawberries, use fresh lemon juice instead of water, reduce the sugar to about 1/2 a cup for the syrup and 1/2 a cup for the aquafaba, and I would definitely add a pinch of citric acid to the cooled syrup too (plus the grated zest of however many lemons you squeezed.) This makes around 1.5 litres of dreamy, creamy strawberry-lemon ice cream. Either way, whichever fruit: delicious, bright pink, ice-cold summer happiness awaits.

Windfall Five-Spice Plum Ice Cream

What to do with a lot of plums? Why, make this extremely delicious, no-churn, vegan ice cream. As per usual, the process is much easier than my over-explaining makes it look; all you’re doing is simmering some plums, whipping some aquafaba, and stirring them together. Recipe by myself.

  • 30 ripe plums
  • 1 and 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup soy milk
  • 1/4 cup custard powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder (or to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup aquafaba (the brine from one standard can of chickpeas)
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1: Have ready two containers – preferably with lids – of a combined capacity of about 2.5 litres, since that’s how much this makes. Roughly chop the plums, removing the stones as you go, and place in a good-sized saucepan with one cup of the sugar (the remaining sugar goes in the aquafaba) and the 1/2 cup of water. Bring this mixture to the boil, stirring often, then lower the heat and let it bubble away at a brisk simmer until the fruit has collapsed, still stirring all the while.

2: Meanwhile, whisk the custard powder into the soy milk, making sure there are no lumps remaining. Once the plums have completely softened, almost dissolving into the syrup as you press against them with your wooden spoon, remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the soy milk mixture. It will immediately turn from a dark scarlet to a more muted pink, but don’t worry, it will somehow get brighter as it freezes. Return the pan to a low heat for just another minute, stirring as you go, to let the custard powder thicken the syrup up somewhat.

3: Remove the pan from the heat for the final time, stir in the cinnamon, five-spice, and vanilla, and set aside to cool a little. I like to stick it in a sink filled about 1/3 high with cold water to hasten the process. Just make sure anyone else in the house is aware of this so they don’t turn on the tap and blast your pan with cold water (which has actually happened to me. I managed to salvage it – and wouldn’t you know, the resulting ice cream was incredible and I have no idea how to recreate it now.)

4: While this is cooling, place the aquafaba in a large mixing bowl and using electric beaters (you can use a whisk if you have the patience and energy though) whip the aquafaba on a low speed until it’s frothy and opaque. Add the apple cider vinegar and continue beating at a higher speed, until it’s really quite frothy and stiff, and the beaters leave visible trails in the mixture as they move through it. Now, start beating at the highest speed while you add the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar a little at a time. Keep beating until the sugar is entirely dissolved – to test, taste a little of the mixture and if you perceive any sugary grit remaining, keep beating.

5: Fold the plum mixture into the pale-white, aerated aquafaba a little at a time, until it’s all mixed together (I find a 1/3 cup measure useful to transfer the plums into the aquafaba bowl.) The aquafaba will lose a little of its volume, but manages to bear the weight of all that fruit impressively well. To ensure it stays as fluffy as possible, make sure you really are folding the fruit in, rather than briskly stirring or whisking. Taste, to see if it wants a bit more five-spice powder, which it may well do.

6: Spatula this dreamy pink mixture between your containers – I recommend something with a lid, to prevent freezer burn – and then pop these containers into the fridge for two to three hours. This improves the flavour and the texture, I don’t know why, but I cannot make ice cream any other way now. After this time, remove the lid, give the mousse-like mixture a brief folding stir to lift up any fruit which has dropped to the bottom of the containers, return the lid, and then freeze your ice cream for at least six hours, undisturbed (that is, you don’t need to stir, process, or churn it at any stage. So both you and the ice cream are undisturbed, really.)

Makes around 2.5 litres depending on the size of your plums, the curve of the earth, etc.

Notes:

  • If your plums are very sweet, you may want to reduce the sugar a little – perhaps 3/4 cup in the syrup and 1/2 a cup in the aquafaba – I would also recommend adding a pinch of citric acid to the cooled syrup
  • Feel free to use cornflour (cornstarch) in lieu of custard powder
  • This is fairly scoop-able straight from the freezer, but it’s a lot easier if it’s had five-ten minutes on the bench first
  • I’ve made ice cream with pretty much every plant milk available and curiously, soy milk has the most unobtrusive flavour here, hence why I’ve specified it

music lately:

Tentpeg by JFA. Probably one of their more accessible numbers, but still as loud and mean as you please.

On A Clear Day, by Robert Goulet. That voice! That relaxed yet opulent voice! The way he swings into the lip-smacking enunciation all, “Awn-uhh cleah day” – the way that listening to this makes it feel, very briefly, like everything is actually wonderful! Goulet’s version is second only to my favourite interpretation of this song, by the tragically late Laurie Beechman – an astonishing and entirely different take, and one I revisit often.

Lucinda, by A Certain Ratio. May I just say, what a staggeringly funky bassline. I really like their unexpected 2020 release, ACR Loco – good news at last – but the older stuff has a slightly more shambolic, menacing quality to it.

Next time: While we’re talking bright pink foods, I made the beetroot and rhubarb soup from Nigella’s new cookbook and it was excellent.

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

The Annual HungryandFrozen Edible Gift Recipe Round-Up

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

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

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

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

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

Also – all these recipes are vegan.

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Category One: Things In Jars

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

Savoury:

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Sweet

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Category Two: Baked Goods

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

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

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

Vegan Raspberry Rainbow Slab

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

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

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

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

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Raspberry Rainbow Slab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note:

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

Vegan Treacle Black Pepper Ripple Ice Cream

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

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

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

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

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Treacle Black Pepper Ripple Ice Cream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

Vegan No-Churn Pineapple-Lemon Gelato

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

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

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

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

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Look at it!

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

No-Churn Pineapple-Lemon Gelato

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes around 800ml.

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

Next time: more pasta?

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

Sticky Shiitake Yuba with Creamy Double Corn Polenta

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

Anyway, the recipe!

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

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

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

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

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Sticky Shiitake Yuba with Creamy Double Corn Polenta

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

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

Polenta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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music lately:

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

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

Next time: Ice cream!

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

Vegan White Chocolate

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

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

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

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

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Vegan White Chocolate

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

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

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

Slice into squares and store in the fridge.

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

Vegan Kale, Pecan, and Fried Carrot Salad

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

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

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

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

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

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Kale, Pecan and Fried Carrot Salad

A recipe by myself. Serves 4 as a side.

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

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