Sushi Rice with Chilli Oil Nuts [vegan]

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This is quite obviously a gently reworked version of my Chilli Oil Beans recipe but we’re seventy days into lockdown and my concept of “my life” in general has been reduced to much the same level of control and robustness as the plight of the titular corpse in The Trouble With Harry, and my brain cells and general morale have all given up and lain on the floor howling, so you’ll forgive me for lacking flair. But! To say this does an unnecessary disservice to this recipe for Sushi Rice with Chilli Oil Nuts, which is wonderful and would be so in any context – even this one. (And here’s my disclaimer that I’m immensely pro-lockdown and pro-vaccination, I’m just massively frustrated and exhausted by our current frustrating and exhausting situation.) While this recipe’s origins are clear it also was tangentially inspired by one of my go-to struggle meals in Wellington when I was funnelling all my earnings into the particular unearned rent prices that city boasts, usually eaten in the dark at 4 or 5am after a shift – a hefty pile of toasted sunflower seeds mixed with olive oil, salt, and ground white pepper.

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The chilli oil already tasted amazing in its original format, but when I tutu’d with the proportions to make it more nut-forward (and I apologise for how weird that phrase looks on the page) as if the nuts were in fact replacing the beans as opposed to simply adding texture – well, it became even more delicious somehow. I had to march myself out of the kitchen to stop myself from eating all the waiting chilli oil nuts spoonful by spoonful as the rice cooked – and I realise this sounds like standard-issue blogger exaggeration but if there’s one thing you need to know about me it’s that I literally never exaggerate! And why would I exaggerate about food when it tastes good enough to simply describe it as it is?

The balance of flavours in these chilli oil nuts is quite exquisite – the jovial heat of the gochugaru, the aromatic fennel and star anise, the allium savoury vibes from the chives and garlic, the soft oil-pastel crunch and sweetness of the cashews and walnuts and the half-hearted yet welcome kick from the ground white pepper. You might think that all this, the sticky sushi rice and the taste detonation of kimchi would be enough, that you don’t need the richness of avocado along with the oil and the cashews and so on, but! Somehow even in these trying times an avocado still feels like a little treat, a surprise, like, surely it’s going to be a good day if there’s an avocado involved. Don’t leave out the avocado. That being said rice and the chilli oil nuts on their own would still be a great meal – and it can just be regular rice, not sushi rice.

In lieu of anything else going right, there’s one thing you can rely on to soothe and offer a brief, sanguine feeling of sanity: a perfectly composed bowl of rice.

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Sushi Rice with Chilli Oil Nuts

A very simple and utterly delicious solo meal (it is genuinely simple, the recipe just looks long because I like to talk!) – and despite its simplicity it also feels like you’ve really Done Something. Recipe by myself, with thanks to JustOneCookbook for their highly detailed instructions on how to cook sushi rice on the stove top, which I used as a reference.

  • 3/4 cup (or one rice cooker cup) sushi rice
  • 1/3 cup cashews
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons gochugaru (or whatever chilli flakes you’ve got)
  • 2 tablespoons snipped chives (I did not actually measure this and nor should you)
  • 1 fat garlic clove
  • hearty shake of salt and ground white pepper
  • 3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as rice bran
  • a tablespoon or so of sushi vinegar, if you have it, or a splash of apple cider vinegar and caster sugar mixed
  • together with a little salt
  • Kimchi and sliced avocado, to serve

1: Place your rice into a medium-sized saucepan and partially fill the pan with cold water. Briskly rinse the rice, swishing it around with your fingers and tilting the pan to drain the water out, without letting the water sit too much between rinsing. Repeat twice more. Once this is done, fill the cup measure you used for the rice with water and add it to the pan, and then repeat – perhaps placing your finger on top of the rice and checking that the water reaches your first knuckle, which means you’ve got the correct quantity of water – and then place the lid on top and set it aside for 30 minutes.

2: While the rice is waiting, get started on the chilli oil nuts. Roughly chop the cashews and walnuts and tip them into a small heatproof bowl. Add the star anise, fennel seeds, gochugaru or whichever chilli flakes you’re using, and the chives, then grate in the garlic clove (or slice it finely, up to you) and shake in the salt and pepper.

3: Heat the oil in a small saucepan until it seems hot – you can check by sticking the tip of a handle of a wooden spoon into it, and if small bubbles cling to the surface, it’s ready – and then carefully pour this hot oil into the bowl of nuts and spices. It’ll sizzle and bubble but it should settle down quickly. Set aside.

4: Place the pan of rice over a high heat, until the water comes to the boil (a pan with a see-through lid is obviously ideal here) and as soon as it does, turn the heat as low as it’ll go and cook for ten to twelve minutes. Then, remove it from the heat – with the lid still on – and let it sit for ten minutes. It’s best to not remove the lid at all during this entire proceeding but every time I’ve cooked sushi rice I’ve very quickly lifted the lid to swipe a small spoonful to test for done-ness and nothing bad has ever happened – make sure you’re quick about it, though.

5: Use a rice paddle or spoon to carefully stir the sushi vinegar (or ACV/sugar mixture) through the rice. Spoon your desired quantity of rice into a serving bowl, top with sliced avocado and kimchi, and then spoon over the chilli oil nuts.

Serves 1, but this makes enough rice for two – if you’re making this for two you could probably get away with just adding half as much of the chilli oil ingredients again rather than doubling it but I, personally, would want more.

Also – I especially like cashews here, but you can obviously use other nuts and/or seeds – peanuts, pecans, pistachios and pumpkin seeds would be great in particular. And if you really, really aren’t into fennel-y/aniseed-y flavours then leave out the fennel and star anise but for what it’s worth, liquorice is one of the few sweets I cannot face – it is the personal enemy of my palate – and yet I love the hint of it here. It’s not overpowering at all, and just adds a little ping of complexity.

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music lately:

Rave On by Buddy Holly, maybe it’s because I have only left the house twice in the last seventy days and both times was to get vaccinated but this song, my god! There’s something so wildly subversive lurking beneath its vaguely square surface – if not hiding in plain sight – every now and then you get hit by a wave, for just a second, of what it must’ve been like to hear a song for the first time, and as soon as he sings “we-he-he-he-hell” that wave crashes down upon me.

Venus In Furs by the Velvet Underground, this is definitely more of the subversion hiding in plain sight variety of song, from the moment it drops you headfirst into the molten hot wax of those opening violins to the laugh in Lou Reed’s voice on “bleed for me”. This is probably my favourite VU song – not an easy selection, nor a necessary one, really – and I was charmed to hear it right at the start of Todd Hayne’s elegant new documentary about the band.

I’d Love To Fall Asleep by Muriel Smith – you know what, considering this was sung in the post-Hayes-code era of films showing married couples in separate beds, this song is kind of subversive in its own way, too. Smith’s contralto is gorgeous and rich and the fuzzy crackle of the vinyl this song is playing on only adds to the comfort.

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!

Chilli Oil Beans [vegan]

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For all that the instant and the fast and the promise of the fifteen-minute feast in seven ingredients or fewer have had a persistent hold on food writing directed at all people from around the age where they’re able to operate a toaster unsupervised; there is joy to be found in the circuitous route, in taking your time, in being present and looking your food in the eye (metaphorically, speaking as a vegan) and saying “I see you”.

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This is – you could say – a circuitous route to describe a recipe that is actually pretty instant, but I wanted to set the scene in case you glance over these Chilli Oil Beans and think “why would I do this when I could just open a jar of Lao Gan Ma chilli in oil instead?” Well, first of all, that would be a valid and delightful decision and I’m not going to talk you out of it! My recipe merely involves spooning sizzling hot oil from a pan into a bowl of aromatics, and this gentle yet decisive incubation process creates a stunningly fragrant and rich spice-jewelled condiment, absolutely lush stuff, and sheer magic against the creamy mellowness of the beans.

The road to this recipe was many-pronged – first, I was struggling to find kimchi online during lockdown, so I ended up ordering gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes) to make my own, and the bag that arrived was roughly the size of my head, so I had a significant quantity leftover. Second, several TikTok videos involving chilli oil entered my peripheral vision (including this one by Chef Priyanka and this one by TiffyCooks) and the notion of pouring hot oil over spices really stuck with me – and I know I keep bringing up TikTok but I’ve been in lockdown since mid-August, I live in the middle of nowhere and I’m 90% unemployed, so my reference points are going to be fairly narrow and repetitive, and that’s a personal guarantee! Besides which, TikTok can be a brilliant culinary resource, especially in the case of these creators. Finally, I’d been thinking about this chilli oil and how it would be wonderful stirred through beans or lentils – the dense, grainy legumes and the crunch of chopped nuts and quick-toasted whole spices and the crackle of hot chilli all together – and so, here we are.

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(every now and then I break my personal rule of never photographing food with ingredients scattered impractically hither and yon; but it’s my understanding that people like this kind of photography and the algorithm is a vengeful god who must be appeased with occasional sacrifices)

Whether or not you’re in lockdown this is just the kind of food that makes you feel free and glorious both in the making and the eating – and despite my opening paragraph, I really must reiterate how straightforward it is. Although I presume you know how to deal with a bowl of beans, this can be more than just a snack in and of itself. It would be excellent piled onto rice or stirred through pasta – short, I reckon, like orecchiette or ditalini – or wrapped in something burrito-adjacent; that being said I just kept sneaking more and more spoonfuls of it while standing up at the bench taking photos until there remained nothing more to photograph but the bowl and the spoon and a thin film of red-flecked oil. And of course, the oil itself can be used on literally anything! Even if I didn’t have a bag of gochugaru the size of my head to work through – a blessing, rather than a hardship! – I would definitely be making this again soon.

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Chilli Oil Beans

Fast, simple, delicious. So simple and delicious that I completely forgot to add fresh ginger and garlic and it still tasted amazing? Please consider adding a few chopped garlic cloves and sliced coins of fresh ginger; please don’t consider leaving out the aniseed flavourings, they’re important! Recipe by myself.

  • 1 spring onion, finely sliced
  • a small handful of chives, snipped (around two tablespoons, it really doesn’t matter)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1-2 teaspoons gochugaru or regular chilli flakes (adjust to your tastes, of course)
  • a hearty shake of ground white pepper
  • 2 generous tablespoons rice bran oil or similarly neutral oil
  • 1/4 cup cashews, roughly chopped
  • 1 x 400g tin cannellini beans
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • dash sesame oil

1: Place everything up to and including the white pepper into a small, heatproof mixing bowl. Heat up the rice bran oil in a small saucepan until you can dip a wooden spoon into it and tiny bubbles start to gather – at this point, remove the pan from the heat and tip the oil into the bowl of spices. Add the cashews and let it sit for a minute.

2: Rinse the beans – and if you want them heated, you can take this opportunity to warm them through in the same pan that you heated the oil in. if you’re happy with room temperature beans, then hooray, one less dish to wash. Carefully remove the cinnamon stick and star anise from the mixing bowl, then tip in the beans and stir to coat them in the spiced oil. Stir in the soy sauce – adding more if you like – and a dash of sesame oil.

Serves 1, but depending on its application, (eg served on rice or stirred into pasta) this could serve more. If you are not a dolt like me and remember to include ginger and garlic I would leave the garlic in but fish out the bits of ginger. Obviously, you can use lentils, chickpeas, borlotti beans, anything you like, and you’re more than welcome to cook them from scratch rather than using canned. 

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music lately:

Spaceman by Babylon Zoo, I don’t know who greenlit this chaos but good for them, I still remember hearing it on the radio for the first time in 1996 and it felt like I was flying in a dream, the kind of song that makes a small-town youngster look out the window and say damn, this is living.

Caught Up In The Rapture by Anita Baker. Smooth, stunning, and it bears repeating: so smooth, so stunning!

Disappear by INXS – look, if you’re still within a strict lockdown level I don’t entirely recommend listening to this, it’s too exciting and too powerful. Cruelly, it’s on my mind – but then, it always is, lockdown or not.

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 Gochujang Bokkeum

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I’ve been vegan for about three years now, and comfortably so, but I’m only human and despite my claims, it is not just white chocolate that makes me occasionally question my every last firmly-held conviction. It’s Folu’s Unsnackable newsletter, it’s the memory of a filet o’fish – not that I think it would be hard to make a vegan dupe but a recipe for those pillow-tender steamed buns as yet eludes me – and it’s all the Korean food creators that I follow on TikTok. This recipe for gochujang bokkeum – a fried gochujang sauce with onions and beef – by Johnny Kyung-Hwo Sheldrick algorithmed its way onto my phone, and it looked so delicious, and I was sure I could make it vegan easily enough without squandering the vibe of the original recipe. (More so than the person who commented “is it vegan” to which Johnny gamely and politely replied, “without the beef it is”, such is the state of critical thinking these days.)

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Far be it from me to suggest that the food of a cuisine that isn’t mine needs me to meddle in it but as it stands, I don’t eat beef but I wanted to eat this. I’m delighted with my variation and I’m delighted that I found the original recipes that inspired it; I wouldn’t have come up with this without them. Rather than use a fake meat as a replacement I decided a rubbly mixture of blended up peanuts and sun-dried tomatoes would be ideal, and they were – the peanuts give texture, protein and nutty mildness; the sun-dried tomatoes add concentrated, near-meaty dark red savoury flavour and stickiness.

So far this gochujang bokkeum has been delicious on cold noodles, on hot noodles, and mixed into stir-fried vegetables with fake chicken; I know in my near future there’ll be a big spoonful of this on a bowl of rice with fried mushrooms, and I feel like it would work beautifully with a creamy texture as well – like these coconut chilli tofu noodles.

@hungryandfrozen

vegan gochujang bokkeum 🌶 SO DELICIOUS thanks @johnnykyunghwo for the inspiration🌶 #vegankorean #recipe #gochujang #veganrecipes #foodblogger #fyp

♬ Rumble – Link Wray & His Ray Men

All the peanuts and tomatoes spread that chilli heat out a little, but eating this is still a vigorous experience, and the gochujang, a Korean fermented chilli paste, is definitely pretty fiery. But it’s not only hot. It’s got these shadowy layers of flavour and depth and, as Nigella Lawson said in her book Kitchen, an “almost liquorice intensity”, a description that dances in my mind whenever I eat it. Besides, heat tolerance is a moving target and the only way to get used to it is to eat more. I don’t consider myself even close to being able to handle a lot of chilli heat and yet I keep sneaking spoonfuls of this; after a while your tastebuds do adjust – eventually you’ll be spooning it onto your breakfast cereal.

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Vegan Gochujang Bokkeum

This Korean fried chilli sauce is seriously delicious and versatile. I’ve replaced the usual meat with peanuts and sun-dried tomatoes, but the star ingredient is, of course, gochujang, a Korean fermented chilli paste. My vegan version is both inspired by and based on this recipe at Racheerachh Eats and this TikTok by Johnny Kyung-Hwo Sheldrick.

  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 and 1/2 cups raw peanuts
  • 10 sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used rice bran)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mushroom soy sauce (or regular soy sauce)
  • 1/2 cup gochujang
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1: Finely dice the onion and roughly chop the garlic. Place the peanuts and tomatoes in a food processor and blend them into a chunky paste; the peanuts should be in small pieces but not in any danger of turning into peanut butter.

2: Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan and gently fry the onions and garlic till they’re softened. Spatula in your peanut and tomato mixture and fry for another five minutes, stirring often – don’t expect it to brown or change appearance considerably – then stir in the sugar and soy sauce and keep stirring till the sugar has melted into everything.

3: Add the gochujang to the pan and continue to fry and stir for another couple of minutes, it will be a fantastic dark red shade and quite thick. Remove from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and sesame seeds, and transfer to an airtight container or clean jar. Store in the fridge.

Makes around 2 cups.

  • Gochujang is more readily available in chain supermarkets these days but since most of my favourite ingredients come from Asian supermarkets anyway I tend to just get it there; either way, I’m afraid to say I go for the one labelled “mild”.

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music lately:

Mijn Droom [I Dreamed a Dream] by Pia Douwes from the 1991 original Dutch production of Les Miserables. I love finding the people in non-English speaking countries who are the go-to for theatre roles (like German powerhouse Willemijn Verkaik) and though I’ve heard of Pia Douwes I’ve never investigated her singing before, it was after watching a TikTok by BroadwayBob that I simply had to. She has this gutsy yet vulnerable voice that is made for the stage; I also highly recommend her Sally Bowles in the Dutch language Cabaret, it is, as you can imagine, quite powerful.

Legend of a Cowgirl by Imani Coppola, it’s the most 1997 sound imaginable and yet still so fresh and arresting and irrepressible and she should’ve been a megastar off the back of it.

It Hurts Me Too by Karen Dalton, one of those songs and voices that just makes you tearful the second you hear it. Good crying, not crying-crying, but after a while who can even tell!

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!

Rhubarb, Raspberry, and Cardamom Jam [vegan]

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I never feel more normal than when I’m quietly, as if by automatism, trying out a recipe that appeared in my head. “Normal” has twofold meaning here, in that I feel most calmly myself when I’m dithering away in the kitchen, and also I imagine this must be what it feels like for other people when they achieve everyday tasks the moment they arise. Tasks like using the phone to make an innocuous appointment, or tidying a living space, or, more broadly, maintaining one liveable salary instead of corralling a skittish herd of seventeen different tiny one-off payments every month.

Not that any such notions troubled me when I blissfully – with head empty, no thoughts, only preserves – made this Rhubarb, Raspberry, and Cardamom Jam on Saturday morning five minutes after the idea appeared to me. It was only once the jar lids popped under the pressure of the heat rising from the boiled fruit that things got existential, and it hasn’t quite left me, but at least I have delicious jam to eat.

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If you don’t regard yourself as the jam-making type, this could be the recipe for you. It’s small-batch, meaning you don’t have the stress of committing to vats and vats of jam; (although this was purely informed by the amount of rhubarb in the garden and raspberries in the freezer; had I more fruit, I would’ve made more jam.) It’s soft-set – almost like a compote, as much ready to be spooned over ice cream or yoghurt as it is gunning for your next piece of toast – so you don’t have to concern yourself with whether it’s gelling adequately. And it’s a startling and glamorous shade of hot pink which surely is a point in its favour – when it comes down to it, I myself am barely the jam-making type but I remain easily swayed by aesthetics, if anything I’m constantly on the eager look-out for an aesthetic to be swayed by.

This is probably important too: the jam is sweet, but balanced stridently by the sour wince of rhubarb. The raspberries also pack significant tang for their buck, and there’s a further squeeze of lemon juice, partly for added pectin, partly to make the sugar really earn its place. Cardamom has a lemony, gingery, musky flavour and even in its small quantity, it makes these qualities felt and lends an air of elegance to the otherwise fairly brassy jam. I mean brassy as in vibe, not flavour, in case you were suddenly worried about encountering ‘notes of door handle’ or something. This recipe makes enough for two medium jars with a little leftover to be spread immediately on toast – what is that, if not an achievement of the highest order?

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Rhubarb, Raspberry, and Cardamom Jam

This soft-set small-batch jam is easy to make, delicious, and a charming shade of bright pink. Makes around 400-500ml – I filled two medium-sized jars and ate the rest spread on toast. Recipe by myself.

  • 400g rhubarb (trimmed weight) cleaned and trimmed
  • 125g raspberries (roughly one cup – I used frozen)
  • 1 lemon
  • 200g sugar
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1: Cut the rhubarb into 1-inch pieces and place them in a bowl with the raspberries. Use a vegetable peeler to remove as many viable strips of peel as you can from the lemon, and add this to the bowl, then cut the lemon in half and squeeze its juice into the bowl.

2: Tip the sugar into the bowl and stir it into the fruit. Press against the two cardamom pods with the flat side of a knife or the base of a jar until they’ve just split, and add them to the bowl too. Cover the bowl and leave it to sit on the bench for about an hour, by which point some of the sugar should have dissolved and drawn out the juice from the fruit.

3: While this is happening, why take the opportunity to sterilise your jars? Place the lids in a small bowl and cover them with boiling water, and place your clean jars into a cold oven, turn it to 100C/200F, and heat them for about fifteen minutes. The jars need to be hot when the jam goes in, so leave this step till towards the end of the steeping time.

4: Scrape every last bit of fruit and sugar and newly-formed syrup from the bowl into a saucepan.  Bring to the boil, stirring regularly, and then lower the heat slightly and let it simmer briskly – still stirring frequently, as keeping it moving will stop it sticking to the pan and burning – for another seven to ten minutes until the fruit has completely collapsed and the mixture has thickened and reduced. Remove the cardamom pods and lemon peel with a pair of tongs, or live dangerously and leave them in (I forgot about them until they were already in the jar but it’s all in how you frame it.)

5: Either using a jam funnel or a spoon and a careful hand, transfer the jam into the hot, sterilised jars (I don’t know if you need me to tell you this, but if you place the hot jars on a wooden board they’re much less likely to break than if you place them on a cold bench) and place the lids on right away, fishing them out of their bowl of water with a pair of tongs and protecting your hands with an oven mitt or tea towel (again, I don’t know if you need me to tell you this, but I know the one time I relax and let the information remain implicit, someone will get hurt and I will feel responsible!)

Keep the jam in the fridge once opened.

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music lately:

Map Ref. 41°N 93°W by Wire. If a title is going to be that annoying to type out it better be a good song; fortunately this very much is.

So Little Time by Micki Grant, from the 1972 musical revue Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope – the first Broadway show directed by a Black woman (Vinnette Caroll) and to have its music and lyrics written by a Black woman (Grant.) This song has such a warm, poignant vibe – like it could be the theme tune to a TV show that you’d watch when you were sick and didn’t go into school and got to doze on the couch all day.

Ruby by Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté from their 2010 album Ali and Toumani, but I’ve linked the whole thing so you can just swim right into its beauty – if you want music that’ll make you feel safe, yet important, yet inspired, yet also like you’re drifting gently to sleep under a weighted blanket, then, by all means, click through.

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!

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.

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.

Triple Pickle Macaroni

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A birthday in lockdown is no great hardship compared to the breadth of suffering and distress worldwide resulting from COVID-19. I also can’t pretend to be winsomely diffident, it took some getting used to – but it was only a very small adversity. There were many positives: I received a lot of love online – and truly, there’s no greater gift than online displays of affection. Would I rather have an elaborate present, or a nice instagram story about how much someone loves me? That’s so unchallenging a question it’s practically rhetorical. (But the answer is the latter, in case I wasn’t clear.) I also got to make dinner for my family, and since making dinner is a pastime I anticipate with irrational vigilance, it was like another gift to me.

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On the menu was pesto seitan, a salad with the final precious avocado for the foreseeable future, and something I call Triple Pickle Macaroni, since, well, that’s what it is. Like all good recipes this idea appeared in my head all at once, fully formed, and all I had to do was make it. I was going to call it a Mac and Cheese because it’s certainly evocative of that wonderful dish, but there’s no actual cheese involved and something in the sheer inelegance of the title Triple Pickle Macaroni cheered me hugely. Now, no matter how defined the image of a recipe is in your mind, the tangible result doesn’t always match up. Fortunately for me, my family, my birthday, and ultimately you: it was so delicious.

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The pickled elements I refer to are sauerkraut, gherkins and pickled apples, each of which tangle into the creamy sauce and provide tangy, biting contrast. With all the sharp-sweet-saltiness going on it almost tastes like there is cheese involved, and in fact – well, I’m only human – I concede it would probably taste particularly great with actual cheese added. Naturally, referring here to vegan cheese – if you can find one which doesn’t go unsettlingly waxy when melted then feel free to plough ahead and stir it in. Should you eat cheese made out of dairy I’m not going to hold it against you if you put it in this recipe, nor would I assume you’d care what I think about this decision, but you know I’m obliged to mention our terrible expensive vegan cheese first. Should you have no cheese of any sort to hand, fear not: the Triple Pickle Macaroni is wonderful on its own. Rich, robustly hearty, tasting of lurid kitschy yesteryear and the punctilious present all at once, dense enough to make you sleepy but strewn with enough vinegary bursts of texture to wake you back up again.

In my last blog post I talked about the overwhelming, impenetrable irritability that has grown like a haunted forest around my brain in lockdown. If I may be frank, after some reflection I’m not entirely convinced it’s me being disagreeable – I think people really are just becoming more annoying. I am, however, doing my best to remain sanguine. Turning 34 was not at all what I thought it would be, but it was, all told, a rather happy little birthday, and I’m immensely grateful to everyone who helped make it so.

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Triple Pickle Macaroni

A recipe by myself.

  • 1 x 500g package macaroni elbows
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Marmite or half a stock cube
  • 2 cups oat milk or whatever you have
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 cup sauerkraut
  • 1/4 cup chopped gherkins (or as they’re sometimes simply known: pickles)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pickled apples
  • salt and pepper to taste, plus a little paprika to sprinkle over

Note: I don’t assume you have pickled apples to hand – you can use pretty much anything else you think would work, whether it’s pickled onions, beans, zucchini, whatever. Or just more sauerkraut and gherkins.

1: Cook the macaroni in a large pan of boiling, well-salted water for about eleven minutes or until it’s tender.

2: Meanwhile, stir the coconut oil, olive oil, flour and Marmite together in another pan over a medium heat, continuing to stir for about five minutes or until it’s somewhat thickened. Slowly add the oat milk, continuing to stir the whole time. Let it simmer away over a low heat, stirring often. It should be fairly thick and saucy but still plausibly able to coat a whole lot of pasta at this point, add more milk if it gets too thick. 

3: Stir in the nutmeg, nutritional yeast, and all the pickled ingredients. I’ve suggested 1/4 cup of each as a starting point but you can absolutely add more, indeed, I encourage it.

4: By this point your pasta should be cooked. Drain the macaroni, reserving about 1/2 a cup of the cooking water, which you then add to the simmering sauce. Taste the sauce to see if it needs more of anything, then stir through the drained macaroni. Serve sprinkled with a dusting of paprika.

This makes a LOT, and will serve four people very generously with plenty of leftovers, and probably up to eight people as a side. 

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music lately:

I Want You To Love Me, by Fiona Apple. The only thing better than public displays of love on my birthday is Fiona Apple releasing a brand new album. This is the first song on Fetch The Bolt Cutters and it arrives with a clatter of piano keys and Apple’s throaty voice and her lyrics which have the emotional effect of being suddenly kicked behind the knees: Whenever you want to begin, begin/We don’t have to go back to where we’ve been/I am the woman who wants you to win/and I’ve been waiting, waiting for you to love me.

Simon Zealotes, from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, covered by Ledisi. Very specifically, I’ve been listening to the stretch between 2:12 and 3:09 over and over where she sounds especially incredible, and I strongly encourage you to do the same, I wish the whole song consisted of this bit.

Cheree, by Suicide, I love this song so much, it’s kinda creepy and yet makes it feel like the world is full of possibilities all waiting for you to discover them, which is, you must admit, a rare combination to pull off.

Next time: the pesto seitan was also super delicious and I finally am truly at one with seitan, so I might post that recipe.

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. And if dovetailing is something you’re keen on, then there’s truly no better time than at this close proximity to my birthday.

Spaghetti with Olives, Nori, Pine Nuts and Chilli

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

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

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

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

(To be fair, it really is sprightly.)

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Spaghetti with Olives, Nori, Pine Nuts and Chilli

A recipe by myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon.

roasted chickpea butter

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It’s always been like this, but now I’m vegan it’s more sharpened with the contrast turned up; a certain curtain-twitching nosiness regarding le dernier cri, the recipes which are trending across other people’s blogs, and how to make them my business.

The most recent for whom my curtains twitch is something called chickpea butter, which sounds like it’s going to be hummus but is actually more of a peanut butter dupe. I’ve been metaphorically burned by chickpeas before, although my suspicion really lies within, and not directed towards those blameless legumes – I’ll promise myself the moon and still be extremely surprised when a mere can of boiled beans doesn’t have what it takes to deliver this.

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Admittedly, when I first tasted this stuff – roasted chickpeas pulverised in a blender with salt and oil – I thought I’d made another classic chickpea failure. But then I just, like…could not stop eating it. It’s really good. It definitely tastes of roasted chickpeas, which are delicious, so that’s cool. It’s also astonishingly buttery, with this nutty, toasty backdrop of flavour, richer than peanut butter but less likely to superglue to the roof of your mouth. I love it, and as long as you are clear-eyed about what you’re getting into, I think you will too.

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I’m kind of fighting off a cold at the moment, which feels unfair when I lead such a healthy existence – I mean, I make smoothies with parsley in them! It does at least feel as though I’m as healthy as I could possibly be in these trying circumstances and it’s passing me by fairly quickly; nevertheless I acknowledge that I’m a trifle lacklustre today. If you haven’t already looked at it I recommend reading my previous blog post about Penne Alla Vodka where I was positively effervescent with lustre.

Roasted Chickpea Butter

A recipe I adapted from this one at The Kitchn.

  • 1 x 400g tin chickpeas
  • 1/3 cup rice bran oil or similar plain, but good oil
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon water

1: Drain (but don’t rinse) the chickpeas, and spread them out on a baking tray. Bake at 180C/350F for about 20 minutes, shuffling them around halfway through.

2: Allow the chickpeas to cool to something around room temperature, then tip them into a high-speed blender. Blitz several times until they’re broken down into dust.

3: Add the oil, salt, and water, and blend until it forms a thick paste.

4: Taste for salt and then spatula into a clean jar. Keep refrigerated. Makes around 170g.

music lately:

Marry Me A Little by Rosalie Craig from the 2018 West End revival of Company, one of my very, very favourite musicals, and surely one of the most-revived. But every time they revive it, I just want to listen to the original again. This is the first to gender flip the main role to a woman, which I have my feelings about, but I do like this rendition of the Act 1 closer, a fluttering, soaring song that’s heartfelt and cynical at the same time, its title a shorthand for the main character’s whole deal, and beautifully rendered in Craig’s voice.

We’re Still Friends, Donny Hathaway, gentle but heartbreaking. His voice could not have been smoother had it been put through a vegan’s high-speed blender.

Octopus, Syd Barret. This tune from the erstwhile Pink Floyd co-founder has that classic, roll-up-roll-up Sergeant Pepper Englishness to it, so English you half expect Dame Maggie Smith to appear from behind an ornamental shrub delivering a bon mot, but nonetheless there’s a slight frantic note to it, like a ferris wheel going too fast.

Next time: I still haven’t tried making my own seitan!

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon.

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

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

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

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

Rhubarb Vanilla Christmas Fruit Mince

Adapted just slightly from Nigella Lawson’s Feast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

music lately:

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

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

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

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

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