forty cloves of garlic with potatoes and artichoke hearts

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There’s a fine line between gallows humour and insensitivity, so you’ll just have to trust me that I had this recipe working over in my brain well before the prevalence of coronavirus and the ensuing cancelled events and social distancing. But for what it’s worth: this recipe really does have forty cloves of garlic in it, and garlic is powerfully good for your immune system, and if you’re self-isolating for the safety of the public already you might as well marinade yourself in its divisive pungency.

As someone who’s essentially been in quarantine for the past year anyway (by which I mean – I moved from Wellington to a tiny rural village to live with my parents) not much is changing for me. The routine shutting down or cancellation of everything, in the erstwhile meaning of the word, is pretty overwhelming – Disneyland! The NBA! Tom Hanks! But it’s becoming clear that it’s all for the greater good and there’s no fighting it. I’m definitely feeling anxiety – firstly for people actually contracting the virus, and secondly for everyone whose roles so dearly depend, minute-to-minute, on human contact – such as bartending, the job that used to occupy my every waking moment. Like, I can’t express how difficult-to-nonexistent paid sick leave is in hospitality roles, so if you are out and about I recommend tipping as generously as you can muster since those people are probably especially nervous with few options other than to show up for work and hope for the best. I mean, I would hope you don’t need me to tell you to be nice to anyone in customer service but! Experience would suggest there are numerous people out there who haven’t quite reached this conclusion.

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Roast chicken with forty cloves of garlic is a Provençal-via-American classic from which I’ve quite obviously removed the chicken to make the garlic the star – which is always was, rather in the manner of the curtain pulling aside behind Lina Lamont to reveal Kathy Selden doing all the work in Singin’ In The Rain. To bolster the garlic and to echo the French countryside cuisine vibes I’ve added cubes of potato and artichoke hearts, all of which cook together in a roasting dish to create something spectacular, unpretentiously sumptuous and incredibly delicious. To say nothing of the lack of effort involved: just place it into the oven and wait, hungrily.

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The artichokes offer briny contrast, a little luxury, and a certain gentle fibrousness, and potatoes are just obviously delicious. The garlic cloves, partially braised and partially roasted, grow soft and creamy and buttery and caramelised in their thin casings, and astonishingly mellow considering how much of it there is. The point is to leave them unpeeled so they cook this way, also I couldn’t possibly ask you to undertake the task of actually peeling forty cloves. It means some interaction is involved with your dinner, and there’s no getting around it: you either have to extract the garlic with your teeth, or neatly spit the emptied husks out onto the plate, or swallow them. I freely admit I spat the husks out and then went back to idly chew on them again to access any possible remaining garlic flavour: whether this suggests an upside or a horrifying inculpation of prolonged solitude, is up to you, and I won’t judge you for your reaction.

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This is just so delicious and I am delighted with both it and myself – and as if this recipe weren’t giving me enough already it also looks gorgeous, in a Rococo landscape painting kind of way.

Given that the prevailing advice is to stay in as much as possible, and given that I like to be useful, I’ve compiled a list of some recipes I’ve written about before that are either from the pantry, freezer, or store cupboard, with minimal shopping required for fresh ingredients.

Recipes from or Near the Store Cupboard

What else can I say? Wash your hands thoroughly, check in on people you know who might need help, be patient…and eat garlic.

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Forty Cloves of Garlic with Potatoes and Artichoke Hearts

A recipe by myself

  • 3 garlic bulbs
  • 2 large floury potatoes (eg Agria) clean but not peeled
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 can artichoke hearts (400g or 15oz or thereabouts)
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine or white vermouth
  • Several sprigs of fresh thyme and oregano – around 1 1/2 tablespoons each/a small handful
  • salt and pepper to taste

Note: If you don’t have wine or don’t wish to use it, a couple spoons of brine from the artichokes works well instead. If you can only get hold of one of the herbs feel free to proceed, but they really do need to be fresh. Finally, tough old garlic with green shoots coming out of it won’t work well here – look for unblemished bulbs threaded with pink or purple.

1: Set your oven to 190C/375F.

2: Separate the garlic bulbs into cloves – three bulbs should get you about forty, it’s up to you whether or not you want to be precise or not about the numbers. Chop the potatoes into chunks of roughly 1 inch and scatter them with the garlic cloves into a roasting dish.

3: Drizzle the olive oil over the potatoes and garlic and then place the dish in the oven and roast for fifteen minutes.

4: Chop the artichoke hearts into quarters – they may fall apart a little, this is fine. Remove the dish from the oven and scatter the artichoke hearts over the garlic and potatoes, along with the wine and the oregano and thyme.

5: Return the dish to the oven for another twenty to thirty minutes, until the potatoes are completely tender. At this point you can either serve it as is, or turn the grill on for five to ten minutes to crisp the potatoes up a little, which is what I did.

With bread and a salad this would happily serve two, but also you should know I very, very easily ate the entire thing on my own.

music lately:

Dry The Rain, The Beta Band. It’s not only the line about choking on a vitamin that makes it timely, this song has that warm, hopeful, lazy-yet-momentous sound that makes it feel for real like everything will be okay.

My Man by Barbra Streisand, from the musical Funny Girl – if you only ever listen to one Barbra song, this should be it – and please, indulge me by making this it, since I’m going to presume most people reading this aren’t listening to a whole ton of Barbra to begin with. My Man starts off as a tearful murmur and then without warning it skyrockets, and then keeps going up and up and up to outer-space levels of huge. It’s emotional and intense and glorious, the kind of song where where you want to lie down while listening to it but require an auxiliary lie-down afterwards to recover from how immense it is.

Next time: I made some syrup from the pineapple sage plant in the garden, I suspect it will work well with gin and can’t wait to be proven right.

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. If nothing else, I have dozens and dozens of book and film reviews on there should your solitude require inspiration.

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

 

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

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

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

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Roasted Asparagus and Almond Butter Skordalia

A recipe by myself. Serves 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

music lately:

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

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

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

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

oh, these sour times

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There’s no dramatic reason for me missing last week’s post, I was literally just really tired and kept being too tired to do anything, and that’s all there is to it. It’s not the kind of tiredness that feels sickness-related, but then it’s also possible that my show-must-go-on hospo work ethic plus my show-must-go-on hospo work hours have completely raised my bar of what sickness looks like far beyond normal. For a minute I was like…is this depression again? But surely not! I’ve been pretty on top of that whole hornets nest for a while now? In this economy, who can honestly tell.

I decided to give myself a hall pass for my lost week because, well, I can’t get it back so I might as well move forward. This week’s recipe is tangentially inspired by a Nigella Lawson recipe – and if anyone’s going to get me up and at it again, it’s she – for something she called Salt and Vinegar Potatoes. I acknowledge that her recipe looks completely delicious, but also, hers and mine ended up completely different in execution. I thought it would be cool to simmer potatoes in heavily vinegared water then roast them a high heat and just like, see what happened as a result. What happened was: they were SO delicious.

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Now obviously you have got to have a taste for salt and vinegar potato chips in the first place, if you don’t then this recipe is not going to change your mind since it so beautifully imitates the flavour of their packaged provenance. As for me, ever since I was a kid I always loved their intense sour-salty flavour, the way they flay the skin from the inside of your mouth like sandpaper and burn your lips. A snack that maims. I have a vague childhood memory of being at a birthday party and alternating handfuls of salt and vinegar chips with handfuls of gumdrops, their gelatinous sugariness providing a neutralising agent in the same way that you might have a cold beer with a dish laden with hot chilli. (I also remember, possibly from the same party, possibly not, thinking it was a good idea to put lollies in my glass of lemonade, showing an early predilection for being either a culinary maverick or a horrifying concern, your stance may vary. There’s no fever dream like a sugar-fuelled child’s birthday, I tell you.)

So anyway, now we’ve established that salt and vinegar as a combination is not something that one sits on a fence about, let me continue insisting on how good this recipe tastes. The potatoes are sliced super thin to ensure maximum surface area for absorption, and I used a combination of apple cider vinegar – softer, mellower – and white vinegar – aggressive, face-dissolving, sour as hell – to simmer them in. Because of all the liquid they absorb the potatoes won’t get super super crisp in the oven, but with a high enough heat they’ll catch and brown while staying lusciously tender underneath. I guess you don’t have to use red potatoes but I like the way they straddle the waxy/floury cellular axis and the colour of the skin just looks good, okay? The finished result is so oddly compulsive – but then I find anything sour and salty to be this way – and you just want more, more, to the point where I don’t really know how many this recipe would feed: I ate the lot in two sittings, but if you’re serving it with other stuff as a side I guess it could cover four people. If in doubt, just add more potatoes.

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Salt and Vinegar Red Potato Gratin

A recipe by myself

  • 5 good-sized red potatoes
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • salt, lots of, preferably sea salt or similar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • fresh thyme, to serve

Slice the potatoes into rounds, as thinly as you can muster.

Place the potatoes in a saucepan with both the vinegars and then add enough water so they’re just covered. Simmer for 20 minutes, partially covered, until the potato slices are tender. If the liquid starts evaporating too much just add some more water, and give the slices a stir every now and then to make sure they don’t stick to the base and burn.

Meanwhile, heat your oven to 200C/400F.

Drain the potato slices and arrange them (as you can see I did it fairly haphazardly, mostly because the slices were super hot to the touch) in an oven-safe dish; drizzle with the olive oil and scatter over plenty of salt.

Bake for fifteen to twenty minutes on a rack positioned fairly close to the top of the oven – basically keep the potatoes in there until you’re satisfied with the level of browned and crispness of the exposed edges. This will all depend on your oven, your opinion, and your patience. Sprinkle over some fresh thyme to serve and…serve.

Don’t even try to hold back on the salt: the wall of sourness from the vinegar needs to be countered somehow. The thyme isn’t just window-dressing, but it’s obviously not the most important aspect, it does lend a gentle fragrant herbal richness to the whole affair.

The only other thing to keep in mind is that this really makes your house smell like the inside of a bag of chips for the rest of the day so make sure your scented candle budget is prioritised this week and keep as many windows open as you can. Eating this is worth having your tender olfactory bits attacked by airborne vinegar particles though: it’s just that delicious.

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I hate that feeling of being in overdraft but with one’s own energy; in lieu of any external factors in my life changing (give or take the occasional kombucha or smoothie upon which I place enormous pressure to solve everything that has been and all that shall ever be) I can only hope to level up. I guess not being super hung up for too long for missing a week of blogging is its own kind of levelling up! And anyway, here I am, full of vim and vinegar, (heavy on the vinegar, working on the vim.)

If you want further potato times; may I suggest some further reading in the form of recipes for Potato Dominoes, Mashed Potato, or with a little more effort, Potato Pizza. These happen to just be great blog posts to read even if you ignore the recipe completely, I was pleased to note.

title from: Sour Times, by Portishead. So silky and noir-ish.

music lately:

River Deep, Mountain High, by Tina Turner. I’m kind of obsessed with that Phil Spector Wall of Sound sound, there’s something so emotive yet calculated about it (quite literally in this hugely incredible song: Turner was reportedly made to do take after take after take for hours before Spector was satisfied.)

Patterns, by Suse Millemann. My friend sent this to me thinking I might like it, and…I do! It’s very understated yet lovely.

Stoned and Starving, by Parquet Courts. I love these guys and they’re coming to Laneway next year and SO IS MITSKI but do I have the energy for a festival? They’re of that genre where you’re like ah, this album from 1982 is fantastic wait what they’re like my age brilliant what am I doing with my life.

Next time: I had a dream about chilli corn relish and then it turns out Nigella – that minx! – has a recipe for something very similar so I’m probably going to try to make that.

PS: If you wish to receive these blog posts every Sunday-ish in your inbox, days ahead of the general public, then consider signing up here. On the other hand, reading it on here is not without its exclusive content, for example: I’m actually eating salt and vinegar chips while posting this and am wondering if it is the food writing equivalent of method acting; I’m also drinking black coffee alongside it and they’re a strangely beguiling flavour pairing? Better sign up AND read it here as well, just in case, is my staunch advice.

oh i wish i had a pizza and a bottle of wine

There’s this movie called Wet Hot America Summer, released in the summer of 2001 to very little attention or acclaim. It’s become notable in the ensuing years for how immensely high profile most of the ensemble cast has gone on to become (Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks) and the deliciousness of seeing them in their career infancy. People also finally started to appreciate how stupidly funny it is, and it gathered a lot of steam in a cult-hit kind of way. Anyway, I really love it and it’s one of those movies where whatever is happening in your life, it feels like nothing bad can happen when you’re watching it. I have similar feelings about the One Direction movie.

There’s also this bit in the movie where one of the characters tells the girl that he has a crush on, “I’ve really grown up a lot since before dinner when we last talked”. Due to my live-life-ten-seconds-at-a-time haphazardly whimsical and exhausting persona I have always related to this moment since I first encountered it, but I am like, really feeling it currently.

 actual footage of me actual footage of me

As I said in my last blog post, I’ve started on some new medication for my anxiety and whatnot. It’s been a trip. My doctor was all, there might be some weird side effects, and I was all, ma’am, respectfully, my whole LIFE is a side effect, I’m just keen to try something new. There’s some massively positive stuff, the most of which is that I’m now so UNNERVINGLY calm in comparison to the spiky, nervous tumbleweed of buzzing wires and thorny branches and barbed wire that I was hitherto rolling along in the guise of. I mean, I’m still me, that can’t be helped, but I feel much more able to process information quietly, make decisions, and anticipate things without a constant sound of wasps in my ears and sirens in my stomach.  I feel more able to stand my ground whereas previously I would’ve just panicked. It’s not perfect, but it’s really something observing myself being this person. So yeah, I’ve really grown up a lot since before dinner when we last talked.

Bad side effects are some morning sluggishness and some nighttime head-spins, but in the middle I’m afforded at least a few hours of intense, clear-eyed activity. Which is how, on Monday morning, I found myself making this entire damn pizza from scratch and then eating it within the space of an hour and a half.

I’ve had potato pizza on my culinary to-do list after having it at brunch at Loretta with a friend a while back; theirs had darkly beautiful purple potato slices and I could only find, at best, red-skinned potatoes, but no harm done. On a whim I decided to use fresh yeast instead of the usual instant dried stuff, and I’m a fan! Having not tried this particular recipe, which I made up on the spot, with anything other than fresh yeast, I couldn’t tell you precisely how it’s different to the dried kind but you should know that it’s very little effort, requires barely any kneading or rising time and tastes magical.

Potatoes on pizza is a classic Italian combination, and there’s nothing quite so comforting as carb on carb. The dough is tender and puffy, the potatoes are sliced so thin that they’re almost translucent and so they crisp up quickly under the oven’s heat. I draped slices of nutty, sweet Emmentaler over the pizza, but you could definitely use Gruyere if you can stomach the price. A schmeer of rich, creamy mascarpone with mustard, chilli, and cider vinegar spikes the bland calmness of the other ingredients and the resiny pungency of thyme is just, I don’t know, I really love thyme and like putting it on everything.

Scared though you may be of tackling any kind of yeasted dough from scratch, this one comes together with a few brief stirs, prods, and a rise time so fast you don’t even have to have a TV show cued up to watch while you wait. I suppose there’s more olive oil in it than you might normally expect but I feel that it adds to the soft, puffy texture and the flavour. Plus, you make enough dough for some pizza now, and some pizza for future-you. Planning for the future? ME? Whomst even am I?

 yoink yoink

potato pizza

a recipe by myself

dough:

  • one heaped teaspoon fresh yeast
  • one tablespoon golden syrup (or honey, or maple syrup) 
  • 500ml (two cups) lukewarm water
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) olive oil
  • six cups high grade/strong/bread flour
  • two teaspoons sea salt

the on top stuff:

  • one medium red potato
  • 150g mascarpone
  • one tablespoon chilli oil
  • one teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • one teaspoon dijon, english, or similar mustard
  • 150g emmentaler, thinly sliced
  • fresh thyme leaves

Set your oven to 250C/480F and put an oven tray (or if you have it, a pizza stone) in to heat up. 

Place the yeast, golden syrup and warm water in a large bowl and leave it for fifteen minutes till it’s a little frothy on top. Tip in the salt, oil, and flour, and stir together till it forms a rough, sticky dough. Give it a really quick knead, adding just a little extra flour if you need to, till it’s a smoothish coherent ball. Cover with a tea towel and leave it for fifteen minutes till it’s puffy. 

While this is happening, mix the mascarpone, mustard, chilli oil, and cider vinegar in a small bowl. Use a vegetable peeler to make thin, thin slices out of the potato. You won’t need the whole thing, but just throw the remaining potato in with the pizza as it’s cooking and then eat it or something. Sit the potato slices in a bowl of cold water. This will bring out some of the starches and make it roast quicker. 

Cut the dough in half and place the remaining dough in an airtight container in the fridge to use another time. Place the dough on either a nonstick silicon baking mat or a sheet of baking paper and using your hands, gently push the dough out into a rough rectangle shape. If it seems like it won’t stretch as far as you want, let it rest for a few minutes and continue to shape it. 

Spread the mascarpone across the pizza base. Drain the potato slices and pat them dry with a clean tea towel. Layer the potato and cheese over the mascarpone and finally sprinkle with a little more sea salt. Leave to sit for ten minutes. 

Carefully lift the baking sheet or piece of paper and place it on the hot oven tray or pizza stone. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown and the edges are crisp. Scatter with thyme leaves before eating. 

Pizza is so unfathomable, in that if you cut this rectangle into eight large squares then you could give that to eight people, but you could also QUITE comfortably eat at least half of this yourself and then reheat the other half later, or share it between two people but still be kind of hungry? It’s this strange loaves-and-fishes alchemy that I’ll never understand. Unsurprisingly though, I was in the half-now-for-me, half-now-for-later category of consumers. However you slice it, this pizza is stupidly delicious.

If you’re on a DIY dough buzz, may I suggest some further reading from my archives, such as no-knead Challah, Fougasse Bread, or Nigella’s Maple Walnut Bread.

Till next time…I guess this is growing up.

title from: this surfy punky bratty band (I LOVE surfy punky bratty bands) called Girls, and their song Lust for Life. 

music lately:

SO another weird side effect of the medication is that I’m feeling music on a hellaciously deep level, like I was listening to Meadowlark as sung by Liz Calloway the other day while walking down the street and nearly threw up and fell over sideways from the intensity of it all. I’ve always had the proclivity to y’know, cry at songs and feel like they were written for me and me alone, but this is next level.

I’ve been hitting the Les Mis pretty hard and folks, I’ve never felt more pumped for 1800s Frenchy War Stuff in my life. To pluck but one example from the air, literally every time I watch this clip from the 2014 Tony awards I genuinely cry and get full body shivers (particularly at the revoltingly beautiful face of Ramin Karimloo and Kyle Scatliffe’s monumental voice and Will Swenson’s appealingly nasal Javert) and I’ve been watching it a LOT.

Also been seriously feeling the Meat Puppets lately. Lake of Fire, famously covered by Nirvana, is so sludgy and about to topple over with its own heaviness, but then you’ve got like, Up On The Sun or Aurora Borealis which are just really, really nice grunge.

next time: IT’S DECEMBER! What? Whomst? How? That’s all I have to say about THAT. 

she don’t use butter, and she don’t use cheese

That’s right, it’s another classic “Laura is tired and braindead and has been too busy with work to do a blog post” blog post! But because I’ve got like an hour until I start my next shift I’m going to dispense with the usual self-disapproval posturing and crack on with the post itself, as I’m determined to not let yet another day of October go by without me getting anything done on here. Besides, though work has occupied all my spare time lately, it’s also work stuff that gave me the content for the following recipes, so like, when one door closes you fall out a window or however the saying goes. 

 make it till you fake it

make it till you fake it

Ya girl is majorly into her sustainability these days. Let’s face it, the world is absolutely completely garbage currently and attempting to recycle like, one small thing a week is my tiny way of doing some good and reducing my impact on this crumbling trash earth. As a bartender it pains me how much stuff we throw out – straws, plastic bottles, fruit offcuts – but also when it gets to 3.30am and you just want to go to bed (or to the next bar that’s open slightly later than yours) you don’t necessarily have the energy to suddenly start seventeen different craft projects. So I’m doing little things here and there. One of my more successful missions was taking all the soaked almonds I’d used to make orgeat (almond syrup) and turning them into vegan feta. Last time I took them home I made this almond brittle that I blogged about a few weeks back, but feta has a more practical application, let’s face it. 

There is some work involved here – some soaking, some straining, some waiting, but you end up with a vast tray of rather wonderfully delicious feta-like stuff – creamy, slightly crumbly, tangy, basically everything you could want from something without dairy in it that’s trying its best to convince you that it is what it’s not. On top of that I can only but speculate wildly at how good it is for you to be eating this much condensed almond, they’re absolutely stacked with vitamins and minerals and will give you a glossy coat and supple fetlocks, or something.  

The recipe below is pretty closely modelled on this one here, and there’s nothing stopping you clicking through to their site and following their clear and useful instructions and ignoring my extremely general and vague ones. 

vegan almond feta

a general recipe inspired directly by this one. 

  • blanched almonds
  • olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • garlic cloves
  • sea salt

Cover your almonds in water overnight, or for at least six hours. Keep them refrigerated while you’re doing this. 

Drain the almonds (retain the water if you have any particular purpose for it) and blitz said almonds, in batches if you need to, in a blender with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic cloves, water, and a generous pinch of sea salt, till it forms a smooth, thick mixture. As far as quantities go, for every, say, cup of almonds, you want to add a tablespoon of olive oil, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and half a cup of water. Use your instincts though and add more of anything as you go if you feel you need it. 

The next bit requires some creativity. You want to take this thick white almond mixture and pour it into a cheesecloth lined sieve, and then place that sieve over a bowl of some sort and leave it overnight so that the excess liquid in the almond mixture can slowly drip out. 

After this – you’re so close – press the drained almost-feta into a baking paper lined baking dish and put it in an oven that you’ve set to 160C/325F for about 30 minutes until it’s firm and a little golden on top. Allow it to cool, and you’ve got yourself a ton of vegan cheese. 

Now that you’ve got all this damn stuff, what are you going to do with it? Why, anything you like! I first had it, as photographed above, simply crumbled in a bowl, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with smoked paprika, rosemary, salt and pepper. I roasted potatoes and sprinkled the feta over for the last ten minutes in the oven. I also, as you can see from the picture at the top of this post, did the following recipe with it, which was honestly pretty wonderful. Obviously you can also extremely make this with regular feta, either way, please accept this extra recipe as a peace offering to make up for my lack of, well, literally anything lately. 

potato wrapped roasted red chilis stuffed with vegan feta

  • three large red chilis
  • 100g vegan feta (or, again, regular feta) 
  • one garlic clove, chopped
  • one tablespoon dijon mustard
  • one small floury potato
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • olive oil

Set your oven to 220C/450F, generously drizzle a roasting tray with olive oil and pop it in to heat up while you get on with everything else. Slice an incision along the length of the chilis, using your finger to prise it open gently, and pull out as many of the seeds and membranes as you can. Giving the insides of the chilis a quick rinse in cold water helps with this process. 

Mix together the feta, garlic, and mustard in a small bowl and pack as much as you can into the now empty chilis till they’re nicely bulging. 

Carefully, using a peeler, create long ribbons of potato by peeling around and around the potato for as long as you can without breaking said ribbon of peel. Once you have three, wrap them carefully around the stuffed chillis, tucking the ends underneath. The starch in the potato should act as a kind of glue to keep it in place but it really doesn’t matter if it slides around a bit.

Gently place the stuffed, wrapped chilis onto the hot oven tray and roast for about 20 minutes or until the potato is crisp and the chilis are softened and slightly blistered. Turn them over and roast for another five or ten minutes, then remove from the oven and sprinkle over salt and pepper. 

This recipe is admittedly fiddly but it looks fairly spectacular and tasted wonderful – the kettle-chip crispness of the potato against the soft, sweetly hot chili and the creamy salty feta. You want to eat them as soon as possible so that the potato stays crisp, but having wolfed one down several hours later there is a certain charm to a soggy room temperature stuffed chilli as well, however unappealing that might sound. 

My other forays into reducing, reusing and recycling have had mixed results – I made a fantastically tasty fermented Mexican drink called Tepache out of leftover pineapple skins and cores, and some intensely bland cordial out of fruit offcuts. It’s fun though. Really the only hard part is, as I said, not locking myself into seventeen million different projects at the end of a long night – eg, picking my battles – and not getting the Captain Planet song stuck in my head interminably.  

title from: the lovely and weird song She Don’t Use Jelly by the Flaming Lips. 

music lately: 

MF Doom, Fenugreek. This song makes me SO happy. 

Intro by The XX. This song is extremely calming and some clever wag made an hours long loop of it on YouTube, which is amazing, because the only bad thing about the song is when it comes to an end and you’re like damn it there goes my calm vibe! 

next time: My blog turns TEN ACTUAL YEARS OLD this month which is somewhat unreal to me but I want to do something celebratory about it – maybe an enormous cake? I don’t know. 

we’re gift-wrapped kitty cats

I’ve talked a whole lot on here about how unskilled I am at sleeping. In a pink hardback baby book charting my first few months of existence, there’s a passage in my mother’s neat handwriting that tells – from my freshly birthed point of view – about how “I seem to require less sleep than everyone else” and “have already cried a lifetime’s worth of tears”. How completely prescient! Not that I have a ruthlessly raging case of colic as an excuse these days!

As I’ve also recounted here, my ADHD superpowers (having good ideas, absolutely sucking at every other aspect of life) came into play one night when I had trouble sleeping, and blessed me with this concept: what if I took thinly peeled slices of potato and wrapped them around other food and then roasted it so that the potato went all crisp and golden? (Thus neatly encapsulating three of the overarching themes of this blog: I never sleep, I was a small jerk of a child, with great mental health issues comes tiny, tiny kickbacks in the field of creativity.)

I figured this simply had to work, and wanted to try it with the new season’s asparagus. Being extremely pre-payday I had pretty much no money in my bank account, but after fossicking like a tenacious raccoon in all my pockets and the dark corners of my tote bag, I found enough coins to go down to the Cuba Street Fruit Mart. I purchased 1 (one) potato, and a handful of green beans, since asparagus isn’t actually out yet, handed over my pile of carefully counted out twenty cent coins, and went home to make my sleepless dreams a reality.

Guys, this was like...unreal. SO delicious. I could not be more enraptured with myself. Getting on a roll with achieving satisfactory lengths of peeled potato strips takes some work, but any extra bits can be roasted alongside the beans to be snacked upon leisurely (I recommend one of those peelers that’s kind of V shaped as opposed to a regular one.) What you end up with is slightly scorched beans, the oven’s heat giving them a kind of caramelised nutty juiciness (which is the worst thing I’ve ever written) encased in, essentially, a big kettle chip. The fried golden crunchiness of the potato against the beans is superb. I smashed some basil leaves into rock salt with a pestle and mortar just to point up the green taste of the beans, but just regular sea salt with chopped up basil or just salt on its own would be absolutely fine.

I feel like this would make an ideal starter for a dinner party, or you could make heaps and serve them with drinks. I guess they could also act as a fancy side for some kind of larger dish. They’re also vegan AF which is like, nice!

potato-wrapped green beans with basil salt

a recipe by myself

  • one floury potato
  • a handful of green beans
  • olive oil
  • one teaspoon of rock salt (or sea salt flakes)
  • three basil leaves

Set your oven to about as high as it will go – this is usually around 240C/480F. Pour some olive oil into a shallow roasting tray – the shallower the tray, the less oil you need to use, but whatever – so that it’s generously slicked. This is not a time to hold back. Place the tray in the oven so the oil heats up while you get on with preparing the ingredients themselves. 

Peel the skin from the potato (keep it to make vegetable stock or something if you’re virtuous) and then carefully peel long strips of potato from it. I found it easier to go lengthwise, and it took a few goes, but it gets easier, and any scraps can be thrown in with the beans and roasted till crisp for a delightful snack, so no harm done. Wrap the beans, in little bundles of three, with a long strip of potato (as per the picture) and sit them with the tail end tucked underneath. Generally potatoes have their own natural glueyness so you don’t have to worry about them unravelling wildly and flying about the room like a pulled out tape measure.

Place them carefully in the tray of hot oil, and roast for roughly twenty minutes, turning halfway through. However, you mostly want to go by eye here – when the beans look scorched and the potato wrapping is getting golden is when you want to turn them. At this point, add any other peelings and scraps of the remaining potato to the tray – seriously, they’ll turn into kettle chips and taste amazing, plus what else are you going to do with that remaining potato? 

In a pestle and mortar, bash the salt and basil leaves till they form a deeply green dust. If you don’t have this implement, just roughly chop the basil and sprinkle it and some salt over the finished beans. 

Remove the wrapped beans to a plate when you’re quite satisfied with their done-ness, sprinkle over some salt, and eat em. The remaining scraps are particularly good with some smoked paprika and the remaining basil salt.  

I roasted strips and scraps of the remaining potato and then sprinkled them with the remaining basil salt and some smoked paprika which was also ravishingly good. From one potato, sprang forth so much joy. I’m keen as to try this potato wrapped method on other foods – the asparagus of my initial intentions, halloumi, already-roasted beetroot, big red chiles stuffed with feta, maybe some kind of beef…thing…and I was even like, could I wrap potato in potato? Would that work? Am I the greatest genius whomst ever lived?

Well, no: another insomnia-idea was that I thought it’d be cool to roast pears stuffed with chocolate and then dip them in cake batter and bake them, so that they’d be encased in a layer of cake. The cake batter slid off and I ended up with two pears stuck in a large biscuit, which still tasted essentially fine, but was not something I’d recreate in a massive hurry. You can’t win em all, most of the time you can’t even win anything and in fact end up losing dramatically, so I’m quite content with this progression of events.

Back to the lack of sleep thing, before you all start a letter-writing campaign of great concern to your local government about my wellbeing or something, it’s not like I’m not working on it, and I do have naps during the day. I have a prescription for these amazing sleeping pills, I just keep forgetting to go get it filled out. I’ve got all the meditation and rain sounds in the world on YouTube, magnesium tablets, chamomile tea, yoga, you name it. Actually nothing makes me want to drop into a stupor like a gigantic meal of carbohydrates, so maybe potatoes are the way forward. Whether I’m sleepless and thinking about them or sleeping because of them: they are so good.

 any colour you like

any colour you like

A callback for the fans; in my last post I went on a rose-coloured rant about Millennial Pink, and I decided to make a cocktail embodying the colour as well. Plantation Barbados 2000 rum, Peychaud’s bitters, Aperol, thyme bitters, sugar and cream, makes for an alluringly-hued and impressively tasty drink. Just in case you thought I was anything less than totally exhaustingly all-or-nothing.

Finally, if you like Things With Potatoes, you might consider reading some of my other blog posts, including recipes for Halloumi and Hash Brown Potatoes; Potato Dominoes; or a Fried Potato Toastie.

title from: one of the greatest pop songs of all time, Love Machine by Girls Aloud. Also worth listening to is the ebullient Arctic Monkeys cover.

music lately:

Old mate Chelsea Jade released a woozily sweet video for her stonkingly good tune Ride or Cry. Yay!

City and Colour, Northern Wind. Feeeeheeeeelings.

Harry Styles, Sign of the Times. Feeeeeeeeee *sobs* eeeeeeee *literally throws up* eeelings!

next time: I made pulled jackfruit and I’m effing obsessed with it. 

it’s only comfort, calling late

I wrote this entire blog post last night and then it disappeared somehow, which more or less didn’t bother me since a life of breaking and losing things constantly does nothing if not really prepare you for a life of breaking and losing things constantly. The only unfortunate thing is I can’t exactly recapture the magic since I was writing it in a certain location: on the floor of a friend’s house, by a merrily humming heater, in a dimly lit room, with a beautiful dog wandering around and occasionally booping me. In this deleted blog post I talked about the nature of things that bring comfort – because for me, sitting on the floor in the dark next to a heat source that’s emitting white noise is literal serene heaven – and now that I’m rewriting it, I’m in a completely different place. I don’t know if I can recreate that comfort, but in a way all attempts at comforting yourself is just trying to artificially recreate comfort, yeah? Long story short: back your stuff up and press save often, people.  

Included in the thoughts I put forward was the idea of comfort food, which I write about on here often: in this case, it takes the form of gnocchi, a pasta that’s made from potatoes and therefore gives you carb-on-carb comfort, like sleeping with a thick blanket on top AND an electric blanket underneath at the same time. It’s the middle of winter, we’ve all got sniffles and iron deficiencies and debt, the very least we can do for ourselves is cook something warm and moderately stodgy. Normally gnocchi involves peeling and boiling and draining and mashing potatoes like someone with seven years of spare time and a non-tendency to burst into tears at the slightest provocation, but here I shorten the path from A to Carb by using instant mashed potato flakes, and m8888, they are a revelation. Sacrilegious? Sacrelicious! 

When fried in hot oil you end up with these little pillowy puffs that are golden and gratifyingly crispy on the outside and marshmallow-soft within, like the love child of a roast potato and a bowl of fettuccini. Fried brussels sprouts give sprightly green crunch, rosemary adds sex appeal (possibly highly niche sex appeal: I can’t help that I find the scent of fried or flamed rosemary deeply attractive) and pine nuts are just nice as hell. On top of which I made this for myself after having had literally forty minutes of sleep the previous night, so like, you got this. 

fast fried gnocchi with brussels sprouts, rosemary and pine nuts

a recipe by myself

  • one cup instant mashed potato flakes
  • half a cup (125ml) recently boiled water
  • one cup flour
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • a handful of brussels sprouts (idk, six?), halved lengthwise
  • a sprig of rosemary
  • two tablespoons of pine nuts
  • olive oil

Mix the potato flakes, boiling water, and salt together in a bowl, then stir in the flour and knead it a few times (just push the dough away and then pull it towards you and then push it away again, basically emotionally abuse it) till it forms a smooth-ish ball. Add a splash more water if it’s really not coming together. Roll it out into a square about half an inch thick, then slice horizontally and vertically in parallel lines to form a bunch of small rectangles. Roll the back of a fork over them, to press some indentations in, (sort of rolling them lengthwise as you do it) and then set aside.

Heat a good amount of oil – at least three tablespoons – in a large saucepan, and fry the brussels sprouts, cut side down, till they’re browned. Turn them over for a bit just to heat the other side, then remove them to your serving dish. Add some more oil if need be and then tip in the gnocchi, frying them on both sides till they’re golden and crisped. Remove them to the serving plate, and then finally, strip the sprig of rosemary of its leaves and throw them in the hot oil till they’re sizzling, and then finally briefly toast the pine nuts. Tip all of this on top of the gnocchi and sprouts, and then eat it. 

As someone with hardcore, spine clenching anxiety I’m always trying to keep abreast (ha) of the stuff that (I take back that “ha”, so immature) gives me some semblance of calm and staunches that feeling that the veins in your arms have slithered up your shoulder blades and wrapped themselves around your neck. Obviously nothing in particular is going to cure it, but if rain noises or whatever make me feel 9% calmer then that’s still 9% calmer than I was before. (Also, I retract the retracted “ha”, abreast is a funny word and I stand by it. I stand abreast with it, even.) 

Look for comfort where you can. The world kind of sucks. These gnocchi look like they’re all giving you a supportive fist bump, or at least that’s how it looks to me in the photo at the top of this post. And that’s something. 

 Pavlov's Good Boys

Pavlov’s Good Boys

(Evidence that the tableau I described did happen.)

title from: Placebo, the name of one of my favourite bands and also one of my favourite effects, with their nasal goth hit Every You Every Me. 

music lately: 

Spook the Horses, Footfall. Deliciously heavy. 

Laura Lee Lovely, Hot Blood. I got to meet this absolutely beaut person for real recently after years of us exchanging heart emojis on each others instagram selfies, and she’s just released a dreamy banger of a tune. If you like music that makes you feel happy and sad at the same time, give it a hoon. 

next time: Whatever it is, I’m pressing save VIGOROUSLY the entire time I write it.