tomatoes and fried mint (vegan)

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Prevailing modern wisdom suggests the best way to cook is by taking the highest-quality seasonal ingredients and doing as little as possible to them. Which is fine, admirable, whatever, but I would go one further and propose that the best thing to do with these seasonal ingredients is to fry them. How better to show your respect to anything than by dousing it in hot fat? Especially if, like the Spanish inquisition, the frying is unexpected! We’ve all heated up a tomato. Have you ever tasted fried mint?

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We’re blessed with several containers of glowing-ripe tomatoes from the garden, which magically refill as soon as they’re emptied, and I kept thinking about these tomatoes with fried mint, about how the leaves would go crisp and crunchy and the oil they’d sizzled in would become infused with their heady scent. It’s very possible, highly likely in fact, that I read about fried mint somewhere and internalised the idea – but it appeared in my head out of nowhere, compellingly, and I had a feeling it would be spectacular. That feeling was confirmed. I hesitated before including this recipe on here – I say recipe, it’s more of a vaguely-realised suggestion, a bullet point in the notes app of your phone at best, but it tasted incredible and it’s been forever since I’ve posted savoury, and as the late, sorely missed Anthony Bourdain said in Kitchen Confidential, “Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.” (For some reason I always misremember that book as being called Secrets and Knives, in fact, I was convinced one of his publications had that title; if there’s a doctor in the house I’d love to know if “constantly getting kneecapped by the Mandela effect” is something I can get a pill for.)

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With a recipe so simple as to be almost nonexistent you need good tomatoes, sweet and pendulous, the kind to make your eyes fly open as you bite into them, perhaps followed by an exclamation of “hell’s bells!” I wouldn’t really recommend making this in the shrivelled dead of winter, but right now is that hemispheric sweet spot where we in New Zealand have the last glorious crops of tomatoes coming through while countries up north are starting to post “hot girl summer” captions thus implying tomatoes are moving back into season.

But what about the fried mint? You’d think, freshly chopped and stirred into tomatoes, it couldn’t be improved upon, but this is exquisite – the leaves grow translucent and as shatteringly crisp as filo pastry, their cool heat deepened and made more savoury, more lush. The leaves and their seasoned oil coat the tomatoes with a glossy slick of darkly fresh flavour – it’s sensational, it’s captivating.

Also – and I’m truly not going to do this every time – I made a little tiktok video to go with this. 

@hungryandfrozen

recipe for ya: tomatoes + fried mint 🍅 super simple and lush 🍃go to hungryandfrozen.com for more 🤠 #vegan #recipe #recipes #foodblog #summer #fyp

♬ Cheree – Suicide

This recipe, as I said, is really, really simple, and I just ate it alongside a short length of baguette – but as with anything tomato-based, it’s amenable to variety. Stir it through hot pasta for an instant sauce, pile it onto couscous and scatter with toasted seeds, add leaves and turn it into a salad, the usual ideas. You could also apply the fried mint and its oil elsewhere – for some reason I’m thinking ice cream, but obviously couscous and so on would benefit – but as it is, the red-and-green symphony (my final hyperbolic adjective I promise) of this recipe is perfect unadorned, eaten standing up in the kitchen because it’s so delicious you’ve forgotten to sit down.

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Tomatoes and Fried Mint

There’s hardly anything to this little salad – but it’s incredibly delicious – so here it is. Recipe by myself.

  • 1-2 handfuls ripe cherry tomatoes, depending on how much you want
  • 1 handful fresh mint leaves (roughly 15 leaves?)
  • 2 tablespoons rice bran oil or something similarly neutral like grapeseed or sunflower
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon malt vinegar, optional

1: Halve your tomatoes and place them in a bowl. If they need it, wash the mint leaves and pat them dry with a clean tea towel.

2: Heat the rice bran oil in a large saucepan and once it’s hot, throw in the mint leaves and cook them for a bare minute or so, stirring a little to coat them in the sizzling oil. Try to keep the leaves more or less in a single layer. I lifted a mint leaf from the pan and crumbled it in my fingers, its brittle, crisp texture was how I knew they were done. I don’t expect you to have the same cavalier attitude towards naked heat, but basically, these should be ready somewhere between thirty seconds and a minute in. Turn off the heat.

3: Spoon the mint leaves and their oil over the tomatoes. Add the extra olive oil and salt to taste. Stir. I also like to add a little ground white pepper, I can’t help it, I love the stuff. If you want to add the vinegar, here’s a good time – I like it both with and without, which I appreciate is not helpful for your decision-making.

Serves 1, possibly more, depending on how you’re using it. Don’t forget to drink the minty tomato juice which pools at the base of the bowl.

Notes:

  • If you don’t have access to a mint plant – and why should you – get one of those mini potted ones from the fresh herb section of the supermarket – the sort which are always overpriced and die almost instantly – and rip off every single leaf.
  • In case you’re wondering why there’s two oils, rice bran oil is better for frying, the dash of extra virgin olive oil at the end is for flavour, and not suited to high heat. I free-pour both and encourage you to do the same.

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music lately:

Blank Generation, by Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Is this the best song in the world? No, that’s Roadrunner by Modern Lovers. But also: yes it is. My methodology is watertight.

Bad Religion, Frank Ocean. This song is nearly ten years old (?!!) and yet it’s still too powerful! Like, imagine listening to this while walking down the street to buy toothpaste. There’s those opening church organs and those devastating, late-in-the-piece drums and that sudden falsetto howl, and suddenly you’re sobbing into a courier van, dental hygiene forgotten. Absolute folly.

A Boy Like That/I Have A Love by Chita Rivera and Carol Lawrence from the Original Broadway Cast recording of West Side Story. I’m always listening to Sondheim but since it was his birthday the other day I decided to listen to everything he’s done in chronological order, and twelve hours later I’d made it to…1957. Anyway – the film version of West Side Story is unsurprisingly what everyone thinks of first, but the original is also glorious – I love Chita’s throaty, knowing voice against Carol’s clear soprano, and those harmonies at the end are just stunning.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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Oat Butter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes around 325ml. Consume within a week.

Notes:

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

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Pecan Cookie Granola Butter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thai Yellow Curry Mac’n’Cheese

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A lot to unpack here – despite the title of this recipe there is demonstrably neither macaroni nor cheese involved, and as for the wayward cross-cultural Thai-Italian fusion, perhaps the less said the better. But this is a food blog, so unfortunately for us all, I legally have to say more.

That being said – because we’re sliding headfirst into Christmas and because I am significantly sucrose-dizzy from eating large amounts of the mixture while making my Christmas Cake and Raspberry Rainbow Slab before settling down to write this – I will keep to the point: this is perhaps the best mac’n’cheese I’ve ever made. I’ve had numerous stabs at making THE vegan mac’n’cheese and they’ve all been great – usually involving cashews and pureed roasted carrots and nutritional yeast – and they’re still excellent recipes which I’m happy to call my own! This specific recipe just happens to be at the charming crossroads of tasting fantastic, while involving barely any effort (and not a single blender.)

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This is a recipe I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time – based simply on some stove-side musing, while using Thai yellow curry paste in its intended form. It occurred to me, while tasting the curry sauce I was stirring and simultaneously stealing small spoonfuls of the curry paste from the jar to eat – that its savoury, salty fulsomeness might be surprisingly wonderful and slightly cheese sauce-adjacent draped over pasta.

I figured this concept might also require what we in the business call a soft-launch – by which I mean, I made it just for me and my brother on a night when my parents were out. It was all I had hoped for and more: the pasta and creamy roux provided a smooth tranquil background to the mellow heat and heady mix of spices in the curry paste, somehow – corroborated by my brother – quite bewitchingly cheese sauce-like – and yet also its own unique creation. What I’m trying to say is, this definitely tastes like yellow curry paste and pasta, and that is a very good thing, and yet it doesn’t taste incongruous. It’s so good, even though its main ingredients weren’t originally intended to be bedfellows – just so good! Besides, 2020 has made strange bedfellows of us all, and this mac’n’cheese is precisely the sort of comforting and easy tuck you want at this destabilisingly intense and hyper-emotional time of year – or indeed – any time.

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Thai Yellow Curry Mac’nCheese

So simple, so delicious, maybe the best vegan mac’ncheese I’ve ever made? A recipe by myself. 

  • 200g macaroni or small pasta shape of your choice (I only had casarecce for some reason hence the photos)
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons refined (flavourless) coconut oil (plus extra for the breadcrumbs)
  • 2-3 heaped tablespoons Thai yellow curry paste
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup soy milk

1: Bring a pan of water to the boil, add plenty of salt, and cook the pasta until it’s, you know, cooked.

2: Meanwhile, toast the breadcrumbs in an extra tablespoon or so of coconut oil in a saucepan over a medium heat until they are lightly golden brown. Transfer them to a dish and cover to keep warm until required.

3: In the same pan, melt the coconut oil and stir in the curry paste, heating it through for a minute or so. Add the flour and stir for another minute or so, by which point it should be a very thick, orange-coloured doughy roux.

4: Add the soymilk, a little at a time, stirring it into the roux the entire time to prevent lumps – it may help to switch to a whisk at this point – and continue stirring constantly over a medium heat until the sauce is thick and, well, saucy. Add about a quarter cup of the pasta water to the sauce and continue stirring. Once it looks thick enough to coat, pleasingly, the pasta, remove it from the heat. If it gets too thick, however, just stir in some more milk or pasta cooking water. Stir in the nutmeg, and then taste to see if it needs any more seasoning – you may, quite justifiably, wish to add more curry paste, which I encourage you to do.

5: Drain the pasta, stir it into the sauce, and sprinkle the toasted breadcrumbs over the surface.

Serves 2 as a main.

Notes:
  • I know you’re going to use whatever oil you have in the cupboard and that is absolutely fine but I’ve only tried this with refined coconut oil and its particular buttery flavour is quite specific!! However I’m sure unrefined coconut oil or olive oil would be great instead if that’s what you’ve got.
  • All the Thai yellow curry paste I’ve found has been vegan, but definitely check the ingredients just in case.
  • You may be tempted to skip the nutmeg, to which I say: no. Don’t.

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music lately:

LA WEED, by Allison Stone from her latest album of the same name. A long-awaited new release from Stone brings the year to a close in a slightly more bearable way – I love the title track and just everything from this album, it sort of sounds like Elastica if they were slowed down and then sped up again but only slightly?

Supervixens, by AR Kane, I know I talked about this song last week but the truth is I just have not stopped listening to it! And nor should you! Can you honestly tell me that whatever else you’re doing right now is more important than this?

Lonely Train by Judy Henske. Equally at home in folk as she was doing torch songs, this is more the former and showcases her jaw-dropping rich howl of a voice as it surges over an urgent, steam-powered guitar rhythm.

Next time: 2021, baby.

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 for as little as one or two dollars. Merry Christmas!

Vegan Kale, Pecan, and Fried Carrot Salad

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

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

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

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

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

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Kale, Pecan and Fried Carrot Salad

A recipe by myself. Serves 4 as a side.

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

Mustard Tomato Broth (or, Anti-Anxiety Broth)

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As someone with vast, abundant, storied, unceasingly and almost impressively regenerative experience with anxiety, I find myself – perhaps surprisingly – more mentally soothed by high-intensity noise. Loud, beat-driven music, aggressive ambient frequencies, moderately humorous mid-century patter songs.

This mustard tomato broth is like that. But in broth form. This is noisy food. When you eat this mustard tomato broth, all you can sense is its ingredients, and not your spiralling thoughts. I’m not saying I’m anxious right now, but even at my most serene my brain still sounds like someone is tap-dancing to Scotland the Brave while brandishing a chainsaw (as I often say, I only wish I were exaggerating for comic effect) and yet – I was notably silenced by my own lunch.

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The main source of shock-value here is a brisk spoonful of sinus-punting mustard powder. There’s balance though, it’s not mere distraction, otherwise I might as well simply direct you to snort the powder instead of cooking with it. You get sweetness and rich salinity from the tomato, briefly steeped in salt to draw out its liquid, effectively making you a small quantity of highly-flavoured stock. There’s lemongrass – if you have it – or a strip of citrus peel, to lend the broth an air of zesty optimism, and spring onion for its obvious savoury backdrop.

You can add extra bits to your broth, of course. I would’ve used chilli flakes but a mouse broke into our cupboard and ate them, so I used chilli sauce instead – only a drop, because there’s enough going on already without being wilfully obtuse. A dash of sesame oil would probably be lovely, you could also try this with horseradish instead of mustard if you can get hold of it. Though the tomato and salt has to sit around for a while, the remainder of the recipe requires the briefest of heating and stirring – and just like that, you have an outwardly tranquil and inwardly rambunctious snack.

I was tempted to call it Anti-Anxiety Broth on its own, but would like to hope the bulk of you can enjoy my recipe removed from that particular context, on top of which I don’t want to saddle it with expectations. Besides, the most relevant attribute is: it’s delicious.

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Mustard Tomato Broth, or, Anti-Anxiety Broth

A recipe by myself.

  • 1 medium-sized tomato (or a handful of cherry tomatoes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 spring onion, finely sliced (white part only)
  • 1 stalk lemongrass cut into short lengths, or a wide strip of lemon or lime zest
  • 250ml/1 cup water
  • chilli flakes or chilli sauce, to taste

1: Dice the tomato quite finely, removing the green stalk, and place in a small bowl or cup and sprinkle over the salt. Leave to sit on the bench for half an hour to an hour.

2: Transfer the entire contents of the dish – tomato, salt, drawn-out liquid – into a small pan. Stir in the mustard powder, then add the sliced onion, lemongrass stalks, and the water. Bring the liquid to the boil, stirring as you do, and remove from the heat as soon as it reaches this point.

3: Stir in chilli, to taste, and then tip everything into a small bowl.

Serves 1.

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music lately:

Cokane in my Brain by Dillinger. This is so charming and breezy and garrulous. “A knife a fork, a bottle and a cork, that’s the way we spell New York.”

Nag Nag Nag by Cabaret Voltaire, wonderfully sparkly and energetic yet droning and miserable, a true winning formula for capturing the attention of my ears.

King of the Wild Frontier, Adam and the Ants. When those drums come in! I have a real thing for any song that sounds this urgent, even if the urgency itself is lost on me. Back to the drums, if big noise is also your thing I highly recommend this incredible recording of The Drummers of Burundi from 1987, it was their sound which directly influenced – or was nicked by – bands like Adam and the Ants.

Next time: still working on that ice cream.

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

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.

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.

and now all that remains is the remains of a perfect double act

Literally anyone whose had even the most passing and cursory of interactions with me will be unsurprised by the knowledge that I actively resist, with every particle of my being, planning anything in advance, and for some reason take it as almost a personal slight when I’m required to make any stabs at organisation, folding up dramatically like a pop-up tent in reverse. I don’t know why, I would like to blame it on any number of things that my brain does interestingly which I think I justifiably could, but it’s possibly also just that I’ve allowed myself to become this infuriating? I do suspect that five years of bartending and thus only knowing my roster like the day before I had to actually work has had its place in solidifying this way of being, but I really could try harder. With all this in mind, it was with some major group wrangling that I managed to put in place a date to host the book group that I’ve been a part of since it began in 2010, and then some further wrangling to get me to book flights to and from Wellington so I could actually be there for it. (My friend Charlotte was like, “umm…..have you….booked your flights yet…just a thought…” and I was like “UGH it’s ages away I must lie down now from the exhaustion of being quizzed so mercilessly” but then I looked at the time and it was less than a week away so I just did it and it turns out the effort of doing the task was actually not as bad as the effort of resisting the task? Wild?) So I made it back to Wellington on Saturday at 4pm, and book group happened on Sunday at 2pm, and despite knowing since back in May that it was happening, I did not think about what food to provide for everyone until…Sunday at 9am.

Fortunately, I’m very adept at one thing and one thing only: being very adept at many things. And one of those things is coming up with recipe ideas in a great hurry. I was somehow not terribly stressed by this, probably because food is one of the few things that is not stressful for me, and because though I could’ve planned something sooner, I knew that I would instinctively be able to deliver something at the last minute. As you can see from the photo above, a lot of the heavy lifting was done by store-bought crunchy things, but right on cue, two ideas for dips descended upon my brain at once. The first concept was for roasted butternut mashed into tahini, and the second, slightly more avant-garde concept, was roasted cauliflower blitzed to a puree with miso paste. They were excellent. And because I liked them both so much, you’re getting both the recipes.

The butternut dip takes inspiration from hummus with granular tahini giving it body and ground cumin giving it earthy depth. The texture is creamy and soft and the flavour is mild yet rich at the same time, with nutty sweetness from both the butternut and the tahini. You could definitely use a regular pumpkin but I personally love butternuts, they are so much easier to slice into and they seem to roast up quicker as well, with less of that stringy fibrousness that a big pumpkin can sometimes unwelcomely yield. You could happily consider making this with orange kūmara instead though. If you can’t find sumac, which is a red powder with a fantastically astringent lemon-sour bite, just stir in some lemon or lime zest instead. If you’re stuck for finding tahini I would use almond butter instead, but to be fair almond butter is probably about as obscure as tahini depending on where you’re situated. Peanut butter would work in a pinch, but it will absolutely taste like peanut butter.

The roasted cauliflower miso butter completely delighted me, in that the finished result exactly matched the picture of how it would taste in my brain. Roasted cauliflower has an intense buttery, toasty nuttiness and miso paste has this dense mellow saltiness and together when blasted through the food processor into a softly whipped puree they taste incredible, with an unfolding depth of flavour in each mouthful. I use the term “butter” in the title fairly loosely, it just seemed more evocative than the word “dip” and it has echoes of the caramelised onion butter than I made for my birthday dinner. It was just so delicious. Both of these dips are very easily made simultaneously, if you have a roasting dish big enough to load both the vegetables in side-by-side, but if you’re only choosing one to make, you could certainly consider doubling the ingredients – which as you’ll see, is not hard – and having plenty with which to do your culinary bidding. Either of these would be excellent stirred through pasta, spread lavishly in a sandwich, as the filling in a baked pastry case and topped with something, in a baked potato, or, obviously, just as the dips that I invented them to be.

Butternut Dip

A recipe by myself

  • 1/2 a medium sized butternut pumpkin (also known as butternut squash)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • 1 teaspoon salt, to taste

Set your oven to 220C/450F. Slice the skin off the butternut and then chop the flesh into cubes of about 1 inch in size. Place in a roasting dish and drizzle with two tablespoons of the olive oil. Roast for about 20 minutes, or until the butternut is very tender.

Mix the tahini with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a bowl, then add the butternut, a couple of cubes at a time, stirring thoroughly to mash the roast butternut into the tahini, giving you a smooth, creamy puree. Continue mashing and stirring the roast butternut into the mixture until it’s all combined, then stir in the cumin, sumac, and salt. Taste to see if you think it needs any further seasoning, then transfer to a serving bowl. I sprinkled over some pumpkin seeds because I thought it was cute to do so but they are obviously extremely optional.

Roast Cauliflower Miso Butter

A recipe by myself

  • 1/2 a head of cauliflower, sliced roughly into small pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 heaped teaspoon white miso paste

Set your oven to 220C/450F. Place the cauliflower pieces in a roasting dish and drizzle with the olive oil. Roast for about 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is very tender and becoming golden brown in places. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool a little.

Transfer the cauliflower into the bowl of a food processor, and pour/spatula any remaining olive oil from the roasting dish in with it, along with the miso paste. Blitz thoroughly, stopping to spatula down the sides as needed, until it has formed a creamy puree with no solid pieces of cauliflower left in it. Taste to see if it needs any more miso, although I found this amount to be perfect. Transfer into a serving bowl. I sprinkled over some walnuts to make it look like more effort had been expended but this is entirely optional. Walnuts are delicious though! If you have a high-speed blender this will be super velvety, but a regular food processor will still work just fine, it might just take a little longer.

As well as this I made some olive and almond puff pastry pinwheels and did a rejigging of my chocolate caramel rice bubble slice with almond butter instead of the more boisterous peanut butter, and we had a lovely afternoon discussing the book and our lives in that order. (The book in question, by the way, was Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, and it is brilliant.)

It has been extremely lovely to see my dear friends again, including my roommate Ghost, although he was initially unconvinced by the notion of resuming his regular modelling gig. (In case there are any doubts please be assured that he has the range, as his Instagram account will attest.)

But as soon as I was like “the food up here is not for you” he suddenly became interested and attentive again, a process that I have nothing but respect for since that’s largely how I operate as well (in case you thought there was any kind of upper limit on my ability to be infuriating.)

title from: I Can’t Do It Alone from the Broadway musical Chicago. The most well-known version nowadays is the film adaptation with Catherine Zeta-Jones desperately imploring Renee Zellweger through the medium of dance, but while there’s no filmed footage of it I love the zany orchestration of the original cast recording with the legendary Chita Rivera.

music lately:

I Can’t Say No, by Ali Stroker, as performed at the 2019 Tony Awards from the revival production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma. This is a musical that I’ve never felt particularly drawn to, but Stroker has immense chemistry and presence and she just throws her voice so far into the back row and is so utterly compelling in this song that could quite easily be annoying in the wrong hands. She’s not only the first performer on Broadway who uses a wheelchair, she’s now the first Tony Award winner to do so. Hopefully this paves the way for more diversity onstage at that level.

The End of The World, by Sharon Van Etten. This is a cover of the 1962 tearjerker by Skeeter Davis and it’s one of my favourite songs and I love Van Etten’s voice so I’m very happy about this combination. The production feels very gentle and timeless, it doesn’t do anything revolutionary with it but then it doesn’t have to, the song itself is strong enough.

Lazy Line Painter Jane by Belle and Sebastian. When I was a child I read and re-read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and loved it so much and yet somehow I knew that it was all that I would want to read from C.S Lewis and that anything else by him would be left wanting because it wasn’t the one book I wanted it to be, and I feel much the same about Belle and Sebastian: this is the one song of theirs that I wish to hear, but I want to hear it like, five thousand times in a row. It has such an incredible build, starting with this Phil Spector-ish muffled beat that chugs along like an old washing machine as they swap lyrics back and forth between the vocalists, then they come together in this gorgeous transposed harmony, and then just when you think you know all there is to know about this song it breaks into a wordless canter and feels like it’s getting faster and faster even though it’s not and it’s so exhilarating and you never want it to end and I’m practically hyperventilating just writing about it.

Next time: I’m back at Kate and Jason’s until well into next week so, while I’m not sure what I’m going to make, you can definitely expect to see some more Ghost paw-modelling for me.

PS: as you probably know I have a Patreon account where you can directly support me and my writing. Even at the humble level that I’m at now, being on Patreon has had an immensely positive effect on me and allowed me to support myself a tiny bit which allows me to write more and more and more. If you want to be part of this and to receive exclusive content written just for my Patreon patrons, it’s very, very, very easy to be involved.

I won’t remember your birthday, I won’t remember your name, just keep talking to me I’m not listening

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Something that I realised one second after I was told it by someone else, is that in most of life’s arenas my brain will melt down when faced with a task before I’ve even been told what the task is; then should I actually undertake the task (for example, getting on a bus to an appointment) I would often end up doing it wrong (getting on the wrong bus, going to the wrong place) and be afflicted with such brain-paralysis that I would not be able to work out a way to solve it, and worse, the only thing I’d feel capable of is messaging the group chat to drag them down with me on my panicked spiral about something entirely preventable. In all arenas of life! Except in the kitchen.

Like last week’s ice cream atrocity triad: not only was I diplomatically, breezily able to keep going in the face of persistent failure, but I also didn’t see it as a morally-weighted type thing that reflected upon me personally, I was all, I know I’m a good cook, regardless of this garbage. Whereas I still feel a quaking within my nether organs when I have to get on a bus to go like, honestly, anywhere.

(It was Kate that pointed this out to me after I’d been trying to use the oven in her and Jason’s kitchen, the heat/function markings of which are all rubbed off, and instead of lying on the floor and crying I just googled the oven model and found a picture of what the un-rubbed function and heat dials looked like and proceeded accordingly. Upon reflection I was like yeah, that was off-brandingly level-headed of me.)

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With that in mind it was simply no big deal to cook dinner for twelve people last week in honour of my birthday (which was on Wednesday the 17th, in case there’s the slightest bit of unclarity over what my star sign is) and somehow I just instinctively knew which order to make everything in and when to take everything out of the fridge and what could be dovetailed and how to make everything appear on the table at once and how to fix one tricky situation without it having a domino effect on the rest of the food (food can smell fear.) (It just can!)

The menu was as follows:

  • Viv’s Crackers (Make these! They’re so good!)
  • Olive Tapenade (recipe below)
  • Lentil Dip (It’s like. Hummus but with brown lentils and sumac. I just made it up as I went along.)
  • Muhammara (recipe below)
  • Pesto (I just made this up but used my mum’s trick of adding some tahini to it which makes it wonderfully rich, you almost wouldn’t know it was vegan)
  • Caramelised Onion Butter (recipe below)
  • Dukkah (from a recipe of mine from 2018 but I used cashews instead of walnuts)
  • Zucchini, Walnut and Thyme Salad (from Ottolenghi’s book Simple)
  • Marinated Mushrooms (my own recipe from 2012)
  • Cauliflower Tabbouleh (also from Simple)
  • Broccoli Slaw with Wasabi Lime Dressing (I made this up but it’s pretty much exactly how it sounds)
  • Rice Paper Rolls with Peanut Dipping sauce (made them up but again, pretty standard)
  • Roasted Butternut and Parsnip with Cardamom Seeds (I made this up but the title is pretty self-explanatory)
  • Couscous with Fried Eggplants, Olives, Sunflower and Pumpkin Seeds (I made this up but it’s just one of those couscous things where you stir lots of bits into it, you know what I mean?)
  • Blackened Corn and Rice Salad with Pecans, Almonds, and Nasturtium Leaves (based loosely on a recipe of mine from 2012, I added pecans and Chinese Five-Spice and nasturtium leaves from the garden and so on)
  • Fried Zucchini Orzo with Pine Nuts, Mint, Spinach, and Kale (This is just something I made up but it’s definitely based on some Ottolenghi recipe)

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For precisely one minute I was worried I hadn’t made enough and for one wavering semiquaver I was like “what if it’s all bad, just real bad food” but then I laughed at both notions and carried on blithely like I was neurotypically non-avolitional. Nothing actually went wrong but there was definitely plenty of calm yet sudden improvisation required, like when there was no bulgur wheat in the entire suburb of Newtown or when half the vegetables I originally planned for were out of season (it seems the only thing confidently in season in April is meat.)

It’s funny, the psychology of cooking for increasing quantities of people. Supposing I was like, okay, everyone’s getting roast beef and potatoes and salad, you’d be like yeah, three things per person, that’s a normal reasonable meal, all you need to do is make those three things. But the MINUTE you start thinking you’ll have a cosy, low-key, unstructured banquet where everyone just helps themselves to what’s on the table, you suddenly have to provide SO MANY COMPONENTS. Three bowls of salad is NOTHING. But then conversely, the more food there is, the LESS people eat. So a bowl of couscous stuff that normally would in no way stretch to twelve, will not only serve everyone when it’s part of a big table of food, but you’ll also inexplicably have leftovers for a week.

In The Wire, Bunk tells Kima that the one thing you need at a crime scene is “soft eyes…if you’ve got soft eyes you can see the whole thing.” I don’t even know how I came up with the menu in relation to the number of people, it wasn’t based on any actual calculation, I was just like, I’m at one with the food, looking at my proposed menu list with soft eyes, and I’ll just know when I’ve planned enough. And I did! Would I suggest this as advice for anyone else hosting a dinner party? Probably not. Would I suggest watching The Wire? Sure!

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The three recipes I’ve provided for you today were from the dips and sauces – my idea was to have, as well as big bowls of things, just a ton of stuff that could be stirred in to make everything even more interesting. The first recipe, Caramelised Onion Butter, was something I thought up, but let’s be clear: it’s just caramelised onions that have been put in the blender. Nevertheless they were immensely delicious, with that bordering-on-frustratingly slow cooking process slowly breaking down the onions and making them sweet and mellow and lush and somehow even more so once pureed into a creamy mush. Make it and have it on hand to stir into soups, stews, anything that needs an absolute fistful of flavour. The muhammara was something that I adapted from Ottolenghi, not because I thought I could do better than him but because capsicums are ferociously expensive at the moment and so I reduced the quantity a little and subbed in some tomato paste. I think it worked, and the finished result, this rambunctiously flavoured smoky spicy sauce, all nubbly from the walnuts and rich from the roasting process, is highly gorgeous. And as with the caramelised onion butter, I imagine it would be useful to have on hand to embiggen any other food you’ve made. Finally the olive tapenade, which I decided to rakishly make with prunes to boost its dark richness, is so fast to make – have it with bread, stir it through pasta, eat it with a spoon, whatever. If you’re uncertain about the prunes then maybe try blending them in one at a time to see how you go but their robustness complements the equally strident olives and rosemary and the sweetness gives depth rather than unbridled prune-ishness. All three of these recipes are so easy to make (although there’s nothing easy about how much chopping onions makes me cry) I’m sorry, however, that they all involve a food processor. I’m afraid that’s just how it goes when you’re vegan: you give up meat, you inexplicably start blending everything, no almond left unpulverised.

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Caramelised Onion Butter

A recipe by myself

  • 6 large brown onions
  • olive oil (regular, not extra virgin)
  • salt (ideally sea salt or other non-iodised salt)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons soft brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Peel and slice the onions, in half and then into fine-ish half-circles. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil over a low heat in a large saucepan and tip the onions in. Sprinkle over a pinch of salt. Let the onions fry, stirring fairly often, letting them soften and soften and become lightly golden. This is not like frying onions normally, you don’t want them to catch and become brown, the idea is to just slowly, slowly, melt them down. It will seem at first like they’re never going to cook and collapse but they will! It just takes about twenty solid minutes.

Once the onions have really softened and turned into a golden tangle, tip in the brown sugar and the balsamic vinegar, turn the heat up to medium, and cook for another five or so minutes. This is the point where caramelisation is ideal so don’t stir them too much, and that way the sugar can really do its thing.

At this point, remove from the heat and allow to cool, tasting for more salt if it needs it. Spatula the onions into the bowl of a food processor and drizzle in another two tablespoons of olive oil. Blitz into a thick, creamy mush. If you use a high-speed blender it will become even more creamy but the chunkier texture from the food processor’s blades is also entirely desirable. Decant to a bowl and refrigerate. It’s best closer to room temperature so take it out of the fridge a while before you need it.

Muhamarra

Adapted slightly from a recipe in Ottolenghi’s book Simple

  • 4 red capsicums (peppers)
  • 6 fat cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for roasting the capsicum)
  • 50g walnuts
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) tomato paste
  • 3/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • a pinch of chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt, to taste

Set your oven to 220C/450F. Half the capsicums and remove the cores, stems and seeds. Place them cut side down in a roasting dish along with the peeled garlic cloves and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Place in the oven for 20 or so minutes, until the garlic cloves are golden brown and the capsicums are soft and their skin is starting to blacken a little.

Allow the capsicums and garlic to cool a little, then throw them into a food processor along with the remaining ingredients. Try to spatula/pour any oil and roasting juices from the pan into the processor as well. And just to clarify, “the rest of the ingredients” includes the two tablespoons of olive oil. Blitz to form a rough puree, taste for anything it might need – probably more salt – and then spatula it into a serving bowl or an airtight container and refrigerate till needed. Again, best at room temperature or gently warmed, so take it out of the fridge well before you need it.

Olive Tapenade

A recipe by myself

  • 250g (or so) black pitted olives
  • 4 prunes
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil (extra virgin is good, but whatever you’ve got)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon capers (rinsed if salt-packed)
  • a small pinch of cayenne or chilli pepper
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Place everything in a food processor and blitz to form a thick, rough-textured paste. You may need to spatula down the sides a couple of times and then blitz again. Taste to see if it needs more of anything then spatula into a serving bowl or an airtight container, and as with all these recipes, it’s best at room temperature. Just get the cheapest pitted black olives you can find – they’re getting blasted together with all these other ingredients and you don’t want to be dicking around de-stoning them. On the other hand if you do buy proper olives make sure you get more to account for the weight of the stones.

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Let me tell you, there was no greater birthday present than just sitting there watching everyone I love happily eating food I made. I wasn’t even hungry myself, I just wanted to behold everyone consuming what I’d made for them and now that I’ve said that it sounds a bit psychologically suspicious but I assure you, it’s mostly that if I’ve been cooking all day I’ve definitely been generously tasting everything as I go. For dessert I did a tray of homemade butterfingers, dried fruit and dark chocolate and didn’t click till the next day that I’d completely forgotten about a birthday cake, but the entire night was perfect just as it was: by the time it devolved into an elaborate roasting of me, from the story of how I’d never changed a lightbulb to the story of how I dropped my phone down an eight-story lift shaft and pressed the emergency button because it was an emergency, well, I think it’s truly the most content I’ve been all year.

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The Ghost with the most.

And I’m still eating the leftovers: thirty-three feels good. Thank you to Jason and Charlotte who took photos of the food on their phones and sent them to me because I forgot to get my camera ready or to learn how to take photos at night (yes, I can organise a dinner party, yes, it will be at the expense of ALL OTHER THINGS that I might possibly need my brain for.)

title from: Planet Z from my broadway idol Idina Menzel’s beautiful and occasionally bizarre 1997 debut album Still I Can’t Be Still. This boisterously energetic song is groaning under the weight of its production but it all works somehow, I listen to it and couldn’t imagine how it could possibly sound any other way. I love (and miss) her rough-yet-treacly five-zillion-miles-from-Let-It-Go voice.

music lately:

Kate and Jason and I watched Homecoming by Beyoncé last night and it’s absolutely gobsmackingly astounding viewing. Just trying to get my head around her vision, organisation, talent and monumental discipline, as well as the phenomenal production and execution in the stage show. The precision, the work, the drum line, the horn section, the fact that she was the first black woman to headline Coachella and she went okay, then I’m gonna bring hundreds of black women up there with me. Naturally I’ve got her on the brain now and she obviously has nonstop hits but I especially adore Bow Down/I Been On, which she released online in 2013 and would later rework into ***Flawless for her self-titled album. The first part with its discordant Nintendo-sounding sample is so exciting and sinister and off the wall, she sounds so in charge and has these amazing growls in her voice, and then suddenly it slows down and she’s doing operatic soprano and then she starts rapping and her vocals all chopped and screwed now sound like a man’s deep voice, and it becomes this sludgy, slow-moving salute to her hometown and past and she sounds so great. Because she dropped this in such a low-key way online I was not expecting it to pop up on the setlist of Homecoming but she did it! Honestly, even if you’re not a fan, if you generally appreciate live performance, culture, musicianship, or simply a job well done, watch Homecoming.

Invitation to Love, TB. It takes a minute to warm up but once it gets going it’s an extremely lush track that samples Laura Palmer’s Theme from Twin Peaks – that most lush of tracks – that I had a very lovely time dancing to on Sunday night thanks to TV Disko’s DJ set at the Laundry staff party (what, just because I stop working at a place, I’m no longer staff? That’s not how jobs work.)

Today’s Your Day (Whatchagonedo), Fat Lip feat Chali 2na. Deliciously languid, the sound of sunshine refracting through golden syrup, and that chorus is so good.

Next time: It’s been cold and rainy ever since my birthday so I’m thinking, you know, something cold-and-rain friendly.

PS as always thank you to my Patreon patrons, especially the new folks who joined in a birthday-related gestural fashion. It is by no means too late to still join my Patreon and have me think it’s something to do with my birthday, or to just join it because supporting me and my writing is – or could be – its own reward. Plus you get access to exclusive content from me, which is more literally its own reward.

little mean things we were doing, must have been part of the game, lending a spice to the wooing

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I started this week making some ice cream out of canned chickpeas based on a photo I’d seen on Instagram, and the whole process was kind of disastrous in that way where you start to wonder if your food is trying to tell you something, like, at first I tried pulverising the chickpeas in the food processor but they were still too chunky and granular so then I was like okay no worries I’ll spatula it into another bowl and use the stick blender, you know, the kind of thing you use to liquidise soups, and all that did was fling chickpea puree everywhere, and then I was like wait! There’s a smoothie blender in the house somewhere, one of those ones that will turn any quantity of vegetables into a silky-smooth and more or less potable liquid; at which point I accidentally misread the thrust of the fulcrum on the stick blender resting on the edge of the bowl by which I mean I flung chickpea puree across the kitchen floor, undeterred I spatula’d what was left into the smoothie maker, which finally did produce the absolutely smooth mixture I’d been seeking, uninterrupted by bits, then I made some cookie dough to stir in and added what I thought the rest of the ingredients should be (some oat milk, some golden syrup, some oil) and then put it in the freezer and realised I’d dirtied every single appliance in the kitchen, including the floor, including myself, and I did the responsible thing and burnt the house to the ground, no, I joke, I just cleaned it all up, and then when I went to taste the now-solidified ice cream six hours later I was like My God…it tastes like cold sugary hummus.

Luckily I had another recipe to blog about.

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But like, back to the ice cream for a second, the curious thing is that I couldn’t stop thinking about it and even though I was pretty convinced it was not the one, I nevertheless ended up eating the entire thing (in two sittings, don’t be aghast) in the hopes of working out if it actually tasted good or not, and honestly I’m still not sure? Like it really tasted like cold chickpeas? But then somehow it tasted almost amazing? And I simply could not stop eating it? If anything I admire the ice cream for not handing itself to me on a plate, for making me chase it, but obviously “deliciousness is a subtext that you have to really work to find” is not what most people are looking for in a recipe so I have returned to the drawing board, I just love ice cream SO much and while I’m perfectly content being vegan, I really do miss the absolute ease with which I could make or access ice cream previously.

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Anyway, this week’s recipe for Chinese Five-Spice panko fried eggplant really does hand it to you on a plate, the subtext is text, it’s straightforwardly delicious and deliciously straightforward. I saw a recipe on Food 52 for something they called Breaded Eggplant Cutlets and decided to make my own version. The main thing that I took from the recipe was the process of leaving the salted eggplant slices to sit for an hour, which is not the sort of time-consuming behaviour I’d normally indulge but it really does have a significant effect, meaning that when you come around to frying the eggplant, the flesh within gets quickly melting and tender while the panko crumb gets golden and crisp. Without the salting, there’s a good chance that the eggplant wouldn’t cook through and you’d end up with cotton-wool polystyrene.

The recipe on Food 52 suggests any number of ways that you can use these slices of eggplant but I chose to have them stuffed into a mustard-smeared supermarket roll with lots of rocket leaves: the sinus-clawing mustard and peppery greens counteract the fabulous oily richness of the eggplant and it’s a perfect lunch, where you’ve put in enough effort for it to feel like you actually care about yourself but it’s not so much effort that you end up crying from exhaustion once it’s done. Chinese Five-Spice powder is one of my favourite ingredients, it’s – usually – comprised of cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel, and Szechuan peppercorns, and has this warm, aromatic intensity to it that goes so well with the mildness of the eggplant. The aquafaba, which is literally just brine from a can of chickpeas, works perfectly as glue for the flour and panko crumbs but obviously if you’re not vegan or whatever you could just use a couple of beaten eggs. Panko crumbs are these really light, crunchy Japanese breadcrumbs, they really add to the crisp texture of the finished product and are pretty easy to find in most supermarkets, but if you can only find regular breadcrumbs it’ll undoubtedly still taste good because, well, everything fried tastes good.

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Chinese Five-Spice Panko Fried Eggplant

Inspired by this recipe from Food52.com

  • 1 eggplant, sliced into circles about 1cm thick
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or other non-iodised salt
  • brine (aquafaba) from one drained can of chickpeas
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 3/4 cup plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese Five-Spice powder
  • 1/3 cup rice brain oil or similar, for frying
  • soft bread rolls, mustard, rocket or similar green leaves, to serve

Firstly, get two pieces of paper towel, and sit the eggplant slices on one of them on a plate. Sprinkle over the salt, lay over the second piece of paper towel, and then place a second plate on top to weigh it down. Leave the eggplant sitting for an hour, then remove the top plate and get rid of the paper towels.

Place the aquafaba in a bowl. Either in two separate bowls, or, as I did, in two piles on the plate that had previously been resting on top of the eggplants, mix the flour and Chinese Five-Spice powder together, and then mix the panko breadcrumbs and nutritional yeast together.

Dunk each piece of eggplant first into the flour, then the aquafaba, then the breadcrumbs, then repeat this process so each piece of eggplant has been twice-dunked in everything. It will be kind of messy and your fingers will get covered in gunk and I’m telling you now: don’t eat it, you’ll be tempted, but just don’t, it’s…not good.

Heat the oil in a good-sized saucepan and fry the coated eggplant slices for a couple of minutes on each side, carefully turning once they’re a deep golden brown colour. Remove to a plate lined with another piece of paper towel, then eat however you like: I chose to spread mustard on some soft white supermarket bread rolls and then stuffed them with the eggplant slices and a handful of rocket leaves.

The amount that this serves depends on how you serve it and how hungry you are, I had two bread rolls with four pieces of eggplant in it for lunch and was pretty content so I guess what I’m saying is definitely scale up if you’re cooking for other people.

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As for the chickpeas that are left from when you drain the can for its brine…just make hummus.

title from: I Surrender, Dear by Bing Crosby. This was one of his very first hits in 1931 and it’s just, you know, some really good rainy day crooner music.

music lately:

The Infinity Room, an album by 36. This is immensely dreamy and swoony, much like the person who recommended it to me. Like, it makes me want to lie down and also get up and dance at the same time.

Old Town Road, by Lil Nas X with Billy Ray Cyrus. Look, this song is everywhere right now and it’s so catchy but in this way where I want to hear all the catchy segments of it at the same time all on top of each other, kind of like when I tried curly fries for the first time and I was suddenly panicky like, I need to cram all the curly fries into my mouth at once in order to truly understand their deliciousness, if I eat them only one at a time it’s too fleeting. It’s hard to imagine now, but curly fries were quite the game-changer. Anyway this song is good as hell and I hope it tops the country charts for a very long time. Yee, and I cannot stress this enough: haw.

Shallow Tears, Light Asylum. It sounds atmospheric yet thrilling, it sounds old yet new, I love those big drums and the singer’s big Depeche Mode-y voice.

Next time: I am actually not done with my canned bean ice cream scheme yet, this heedlessness possibly spurred on by watching a lot of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (“face your fears! run with scissors!”)

PS: a special and heartfelt thank you to my Patreon patrons! I LOVE YOU! If you are not a patron, but you enjoy my writing and want me to be able to do it more, then indeed please consider signing up. A couple of dollars per month from you directly influences my ability to write more and gets you exclusive content in return, like book and film reviews or what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is or a recipe for the best vegan scones.