Sticky Shiitake Yuba with Creamy Double Corn Polenta

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

Anyway, the recipe!

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

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

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

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

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Sticky Shiitake Yuba with Creamy Double Corn Polenta

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

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

Polenta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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music lately:

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

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

Next time: Ice cream!

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

start spreading the news, I’m leaving today

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It is tough out there at the moment, you know? I mean it’s always tough out there – it’s slightly reassuring but mostly terrifying to consider the fact that not a single year has gone by without something awful happening – but specifically, the burning Amazon rainforest is really making my brain glitch and my already-mounting anxiety about environmental stuff and the fragility of what time we have within that environmental stuff, ramp up significantly. To get a grip on it, this piece in The Guardian outlines clearly and calmly what’s going on and gives some ways to help – although the forests’ fate appears largely in the hands of like, three tyrannical despots and a handful of abysmally slow-moving world leaders as opposed to one individual not using a plastic bag one time. Which is not to discount the power of that plastic bag. I grant you, it’s a drop in a bucket of water that’s coming to a boil. But still. Do what you can, anything good: plant a lil native tree, write to whichever politician seems most likely to actually read your email, donate to a local shelter or women’s refuge, contribute to the kaupapa of Ihumātao, smile at a dog, ask someone how they feel and then listen to what they say.

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I recently ordered Rachel Ama’s cookbook Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats as a baseless reward to myself, the warranting of which I assume will become apparent eventually. I mean, someone’s gotta self-indulge me! I was spurred on by a recommendation of Nigella Lawson’s on instagram – Lawson and I already have a kind of jump/how high relationship as far as her opinion and me heeding her opinion goes, but I figured that a vegan recommendation from someone so wholeheartedly meaty held particular weight. Turns out Nigella and I were both correct! This book is wonderful – not least because Ama also has listed songs in it that she listens to while making the food – it’s full of the kind of food I want to eat, and I can’t wait to cook my way through it. I decided to break it in by making something swift and chill, this Chive Tofu Spread, which takes a bare minute to come together and tastes fantastically delicious.

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Rachel Ama’s Chive Tofu Spread

A recipe from the cookbook Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats

  • 40g raw cashew nuts (about 1/3 cup)
  • 280g extra firm tofu
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (the refined, flavourless type is best here)
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon garlic granules or powder
  • a handful of fresh chives, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cover the cashew nuts with water and leave to soak for about two hours, then drain.

Drain the tofu and gently press down on it with a paper towel to try remove as much of the moisture as possible. Blend everything except for the chives in a food processor – although I used a stick/immersion blender to make it extra creamy, because I wasn’t sure that I trusted the food processor. Fold in the chives, and serve.

Can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for about three days.

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You might potentially not be immediately drawn to the notion of a bowl of cold blended tofu, but this is so much greater than the sum of its bits: creamily smooth, with a flavour almost approaching soft goat’s cheese, plus a pleasing sour-cream-and-chives vibe from, obviously, the chives. The tofu gives it body and tang and the cashews and coconut oil give it lushness, and I confidently urge you to try making it for yourself. I threw it together earlier this afternoon and it’s already gone: on toast, as you can see above, in vegetable wraps, and the rest taken care of spread on crackers. I would happily double or even triple this quantity in future, and am imagining it spooned into baked potatoes, spread on bagels, stirred through pasta salad, with different herbs like basil and mint; dill and parsley; rosemary and roasted garlic, thyme and roasted garlic; back to chives again but with roasted garlic.

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I want to make it super clear that by talking about both the Amazon and this recipe, I’m not trying to be flippant or imply that cooking makes everything better – although cooking is great – I just tend to think about twelve different thoughts in tandem at any given time and these are but two of them: 1) yikes, the environment and 2) wow, this recipe is great.

If you, like me, are an eager consumer of dips and spreads, I thoroughly recommend these other recipes that I’ve written about hitherto in the last six months alone: Caramelised Onion Butter; Olive Tapenade; Muhammara; Roast Cauliflower Miso Butter, and Butternut Dip.

And if you, like, me, enjoy my writing, you have the option of channeling this enjoyment by supporting me directly on Patreon. A dollar a month gets you an exclusive blog post, two dollars a month gets you that plus further exclusive monthly content and access to everything I’ve already written this year. It’s easy and it’s appreciated!

title from: New York, New York, specifically the smoky, downbeat Cat Power cover. Frank Sinatra’s bombastic original is great, just the kind of song you’d want sung about you if you were a city, but it was the closing time song for a bar I used to go to like four years ago and I’m only just managing to dis-associate it from that “now what, oh no it’s tomorrow” feeling. 

music lately:

Cripple Creek, by Buffy Sainte-Marie, a sweetly exuberant song where she accompanies herself with the water-droplet sounds of the mouth bow. I definitely recommend you watch this video of her performing it on Sesame Street, it’s just gorgeous, and a reminder of her ground-breaking presence on that show. She was the first person to breastfeed on television!

Cheree, by Suicide. You know those songs that you can feel changing you molecule by molecule, note by note? This stunningly fizzy song is somehow wildly exhilarating yet slow moving, like an iron-rich Berocca dissolving in a glass of water.

Next time: I’m still keen to try making my own seitan and am no closer to finding a definitive recipe so please, seitan hive come through!

soy un perdador

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Over on my Frasier food blog I talk about tropes a lot – a trope is, loosely, a recurring theme or motif – and I feel like I’ve hit a vegan trope with this week’s recipe: tofu. Let us face it, there’s no food more generically symbolising the vegan life as a whole than tofu, (perhaps other than lentils) the implication being that in its meatless blandness it represents not only all that you are missing out on and have left behind but also the miserable and sepia-flavoured journey ahead that you’ve chosen. (There are those who say “how do you know someone is a vegan? Because they’ll tell you at any opportunity” and there are those who say that people pre-emptively berating vegans outweighs any levels of militance from the vegan camp, and then there’s me, and I say guess what: everyone has the capacity to be really annoying.)

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Rest assured, no one is forcing anyone to eat tofu. You can quite happily live your entire life without touching the stuff. I myself actually really like the taste of it – which is admittedly fortunate – and always have. It’s often said of tofu that peoples’ main mistake is not giving it enough flavour – but like, why would you want to make anything that doesn’t have flavour to it? If you cook something blandly, it’s going to be bland. A plainly-cooked chicken breast has no liveliness, it is at best tantamount to a dry flannel.

Anyway, if you are going to consume tofu, you might consider doing so in the form of this week’s recipe, since it’s monumentally delicious. I actually had the idea for the sauce first and worked backwards from there to fill in the blanks for how I could use it (other than just drinking the sauce in its entirety, I suppose) but it all worked so well that both the tofu and the sauce are the double-billing stars of the show.

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The golden crust on the tofu is made from a glorious mixture of coconut, sunflower seeds and breadcrumbs – light, nutty, buttery, crunchy, with anything that doesn’t stick to the tofu toasted in the oven and scattered over your salad leaves. I’m all about contrast in texture and the intensely crisp exterior giving way to bouncingly tender interior is marvellous. And the sauce! How it shines! Wasabi has this particular, sharp, mustardy, sinus-scritching heat to it, which is balanced perfectly against the cool hit of mint, the sour, fresh lime, and the richness of the oil. All of which is then further tied together by the power of an entire bulb of garlic, roasted into mellow sweetness. The resolute mildness of the tofu is the ideal backdrop for all this action, but this sauce would be wonderful on pretty much anything, I imagine. If you don’t have wasabi or can’t find it then horseradish or indeed mustard would surely be a fine substitute, since all three are part of the same family.

Coconut-Crusted Tofu with Wasabi, Mint and Roasted Garlic Sauce

A recipe by myself

1 block of firm or extra firm tofu
2 tablespoons shredded coconut
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs (leave them out to make this gluten-free and up the coconut and sunflower seeds)
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon of cornflour
salad leaves, to serve

Wasabi, Mint and Roasted Garlic Sauce

1 bulb garlic
2 teaspoons wasabi paste, or add more to taste
3 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
4 mint leaves
A pinch each of salt and pepper
Set your oven to 180C/350F.

Slice the very base off the garlic bulb – the knotty bit holding it all together – and wrap the garlic itself loosely in tinfoil and roast it for twenty minutes in a small dish that you’ve drizzled the two tablespoons of olive oil into.

While this is happening, slice the tofu in half horizontally so that you’ve got two flatter rectangles, and either reserve one of them for later or add some more coconut and sunflower seeds to your coating and make two.

Blitz the coconut and sunflower seeds in a blender till they resemble breadcrumbs, and tip into a small bowl. Stir in the panko breadcrumbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

In another small bowl, mix the cornflour with a tablespoon of cold water.

Spoon some of the cornflour mixture over the tofu and then sit it, cornflour-spooned side down, in the bowl of coconut breadcrumbs. Spoon more cornflour mixture over the side facing you and turn it over. Continue spooning more cornflour over and pressing more breadcrumbs into it so it’s as thickly coated as possible.

Remove the roasting dish from the oven and carefully lift the coated tofu into it, sitting it beside the garlic. Return to the oven for another ten minutes. Reserve any remaining breadcrumb mixture.

Once the ten minutes is up, turn the tofu over and remove the garlic. Put the tofu back in for another five to ten minutes.

Unwrap the garlic and carefully – it will be hot as hell – squeeze the garlic cloves from their paper casings into a small blender or food processor. Add the remaining sauce ingredients and blend it into a lime green sauce.

At this point – you’re almost there – remove the tofu to a serving plate, sitting it on a bed of salad leaves or kale or something and tip any remaining breadcrumbs into the roasting dish. Put the dish back into the oven for a minute or two until the breadcrumb mixture starts to brown and the scatter them over the salad, then pour over as much of the sauce as you want. Finally, eat.

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So my usual plan is to send these blog posts out on a Sunday night to all the email subscribers (and sign up here if you want this to be you) but instead on Sunday gone I was too hyped up watching the Khabib vs McGregor fight before work to write (reacting to my livestream cutting in and out alone provided ample adrenaline) and then after work I accidentally got on the go from having several birthday shots given to me (not my birthday, I might add, I was merely collateral damage.) Not drunk, but precisely enough consumed to immediately and heavily fall asleep when I got home instead of diligently writing as planned.

I don’t know if it was my addle-headedness either just in general or post-shots but no matter how hard I revised, this recipe came out sounding monstrously complicated. It’s literally just sticking some stuff in an oven and then sticking some stuff into other stuff and then sticking that in an oven and blending yet further stuff but trying to explain it was oddly difficult; should you have glanced over the recipe and felt a quickening in your heart at how many steps are involved rest assured it’s just 1000% me talking myself into a corner. This is easy as. And so cheerfully resigned to a life of tofu am I, that the next day I made myself some tofu scramble, for the express purpose of (a) writing about it on my next Frasier food blog post and (b) eating. For, you see, the only thing I’m even more cheerfully resigned to is a life of self-promotion.

title from: Loser, by Beck. This is one of those songs where it’s like wow, he really just…wrote those lyrics down….didn’t he…but then that recurring guitar lick is so good and the chorus so singalong-friendly that I’m like you know what, who cares, sing on about rabbits shaving their legs or whatever, sweet Beck. Also because I’m always worried that people won’t get the joke – on account of I often need stuff explained to me – tofu is…made of soy…hence this title.

music lately:

Edwin Starr, 25 Miles He’s better known for the song War but I maintain that the “ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah” bit in this song is honestly one of the greatest contributions ever bestowed upon the musical canon.

Fiona Apple, Hot Knife. “If I’m butter then he’s a hot knife” is such a perfect and simple metaphor to build this light, chatty and intoxicating song around.

Alice Coltrane, Om Rama. This song just drops you head-first into it and keeps it frenetically high-paced until the middle section where it dramatically changes tempo and gets all woozy and dreamy and just when you start to relax it speeds up again. I love this song so much.

Next time: GUESS WHAT, next time you read this my blog will have officially turned eleven years old, I don’t know quite what to cook to acknowledge this level of momentousness and indeed, welcome any thoughts and feelings you might have.

soy un perdador

tofu is made of soy, and soy is Spanish for I AM, as in “I am being so deep right now.”  

Right, well I intended for this blog post to be about the meal I cooked on Valentine’s Day, but what transpired was this: I had an elaborate dinner planned, then my reason for the season came down with a brutal case of tonsilitis, and then I mysteriously also ended up with a sore throat myself, and so postponed said elaborate dinner to instead make us the world’s most nourishing broth which I then took terrible photos of, so the whole thing was a flop, really. (That is, it was a very pleasant evening, mutual ailments aside, and the soup was also very pleasant, it was a flop only in terms of being bloggable. Let me be clear lest I sound more obnoxious than usual!)

With that option unavailable to write about, it took me a while to get my act together, but to paraphrase Beyonce the god, I woke up like this: craving tofu. And so I made myself this rather incredibly good tofu and cucumber salad for lunch today and now here we are!

those flowers were just sitting there on the table when I walked in but nevertheless I’m gonna assert that coordinating your flowers to your lunch is a clear sign of success in life

I know tofu gets regularly maligned for being flavourless or unfun or the epitome of dull vegetarian eating, but in the words of Harvey Danger, if you’re bored then you’re boring. Let the record state that I think tofu is amazing. Fresh, chilled tofu is an actual joy, all cashew-mild and milky of flavour with a softly firm (yes, both those things) protein-rich texture and the world’s most absorbent surface for whatever flavour you should choose to throw at it. Also deep-fried tofu is a revelation, but so is everything – I mean, probably even deep-fried socks would be palatable, so that’s not necessarily an impressive fact.

This recipe mostly came out of my head, although it’s inspired by a bunch of different things I’ve had at restaurants over the years. It’s so cold and crisp and refreshing and even though the dressing is all salty and oily and sour, somehow the cool juicy cucumber and dense cubes of tofu keep everything very mellow and calm. Both sesame and miso paste have this mysterious, magical savoury taste which help spruce up the ingredients that frankly do need some sprucing, and it’s all just very satisfying and nourishing and good. You could leave out the spring onion (by the way I think they’re called green onions in America, for my readers in that neck of the woods) but the flavour is so gentle and a million miles removed from actual raw onion.

tofu, cucumber and spring onion salad with sesame miso dressing

a recipe by myself. I know using olive oil in the dressing is a bit out of place with the rest of the ingredients but it’s all I had and honestly it tasted amazing so…yeah. 

100g firm tofu
half a cucumber
one spring onion
one tablespoon rice vinegar
one tablespoon soy sauce
one or two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
two heaped teaspoons white miso paste
a pinch of caster sugar
one tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Make sure your tofu and cucumber are well-chilled. Dice them both into small squares, about 1.5cm but, y’know, this is not a time for measurement accuracy. Just something smallish and squareish. Finely slice the spring onion, reserving some of the green for garnish.

In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, soy, olive oil, miso, and most of the sesame seeds until it comes together as a smooth dressing. Tip in the tofu, cucumber, and spring onion, stir to cover, then transfer to whatever bowl you’re going to be eating it from (if it’s a different bowl, that is) and garnish with the remaining sesame seeds and green spring onion slices. 

this serves one, but if you can’t work out how to increase it to feed more then…actually I cannot judge, my maths is hopeless, but seriously, it’s pretty easy to increase the properties to feed more people here.  

my new flat is a bit cute, yeah?

The other thing to note about tofu is that it’s aggressively filling. So even though this salad may not look like much, it is indeed…much. We’ve just ticked over into March here so it’s officially autumn, but Wellington is so whimsically changeable as far as weather goes and today I’m disgustingly overheated so this was a perfect meal for the temperature my body is currently burdened with, however I feel like this salad would be perfect any time alongside roast chicken and rice; to take to some kind of potluck thing, or with noodles that you’ve maybe also sprinkled with soy sauce and sesame oil. On its own though: a perfect little meal. 
I just realised this is pretty much my first blog post that include photos of my new flat, which is fitting, since I moved in just under a month ago and yet still am not entirely unpacked. I’ve decided to see the glass half full and congratulate myself on being amazing at progressing very slowly and being incredibly disorganised. My new room is so dreamy though, and will only get dreamier as I firmly take myself by the hand and make myself continue to tidy it up and unpack fully. 
fairy light grotto (they’re solar powered so hopefully I get to actually enjoy them, oh Wellington weather you’re easy to poke fun at! But really. I hope I get to enjoy them.)

make up n stuff nook! Also there’s nothing like the haunted eyes of Judy Garland greeting you as you wake up, if that’s wrong I don’t want to be right.

But really, it’s now March 2015, holy wow. From February last year to February last month it was basically nonstop turbulent difficult times, and even though I’m very much in this quagmire of “what the heck am I doing with my writing and am I making my own opportunities and why won’t endless flailing about wanting to write another cookbook afford me the ability to do just that” I am also feeling rather cloyingly serene and delightful about many things in life right, so watch out. Ya girl is quite happy. I mean, look how rapturous I’m getting about tofu.
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title from: Beck’s shufflingly and charmingly dour song Loser. Check me out, making truly awful Spanish puns all over the place. Obvs Beyonce shoulda won that Grammy but this is a damn nice song and the opening guitar riffs are truly excellent. Nice work, Beck. 
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music lately: 
Let Me Be Him, Hot Chip. The chorus (or whatever it is, this song just kind of drifts) is so uplifting and pretty and dreamy and full of “Oh-ohhh” bits and it’s just a lovely, lovely thing to listen to. Definite mood upswing stuff.
Eternal Flame, Joan As Policewoman. I’ve loved this song for years and years but have been listening to it over and over lately, it flickers like a candle and swoons and sways and the lyrics are so, so excellent. I love how soft and whispery and then deep and rich her voice goes. Oh yeah and also this is not a cover of the Bangles song which was later covered by Atomic Kitten, they just share a title, ya know?
The Killing Moon, Echo and the Bunnymen. Love a bit of tremolo, I do. 
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next time: I’ve made two batches of this Nigella coffee ice cream but I keep eating it all before I can take photos of it. If this trajectory is anything to go by though, there will probably be at least one more outing of the recipe in my near future so maybe that’s what I’ll blog about next! 

"your wife is sighing, crying, and your olive tree is dying"

“Oh jeeez Tim, you’ve got a huge bit of sleep in your eye. Don’t let it fall in the cornmeal, I won’t be able to find it.” And other such romantic truisms of our time. As I say every year, I don’t dig Valentine’s Day (val-meh-ntines?) partly as a “whatever” to corporate pushers of expensive heteronormative cards and presents, but also as a fist bump of solidarity to the Dolly magazine reading full o’ sighs younger me. Waitangi Day is a much more important date to circle on the calendar for me. 
However, should you want to impress someone in a woo-ing manner, say it with tofu! If they reply with “NONE OF THAT EXOTIC FOREIGN RABBIT FOOD MUCK FOR ME”, then they’ll be really surprised and impressed with the deliciousness of this and they’ve handily let you know how small-minded they are so you don’t have to hang out with them anymore. If they’re a nice person who’s either “I love tofu!” or “huh, tofu, haven’t tried that before but this sounds nice” then you’re good to go. A further option: I just made this for myself, and it was wonderful. Indubitably! 

Would I ever shut up about the price of dairy in this country? Not till its price ceases to make me wince like lemon juice swiftly applied to a papercut. With this in mind, I recently got this strange idea – what if I could make tofu taste like haloumi? They’re the same shape, for a start. I was trying to analyze exactly what flavour haloumi is closest to, and settled upon black olives. Think about it. Oily, salty, intense…Then it turned out so delicious I decided to just call it what it is. Tofu pride!

Black Olive Marinated Fried Tofu Salad


Recipe by me.


1 block of firm tofu (250g-ish)
1/2 cup black olives, stones in
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 big cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 heaped tablespoon fine cornmeal 
1 tablespoon sherry
1 big handful green beans
1 big handful clean spinach leaves


Sometimes I suggest substitutions but please don’t undermine your own tastebuds by getting those pre-sliced olives – they’re so gross and vinegary and bland. Olives with the stones in them are a bit more work, but the oily fullness of flavour will reward you tenfold. Also, if you don’t have sherry, try sake, Marsala, or a little white wine. 


Squeeze the stones out of the olives (seriously, just squeezing them is the easiest way) and mash the olive flesh with a fork in a bowl with the oil and garlic cloves. Slice the tofu into cubes and mix with the olives – pour over a little more olive oil if it looks like it needs it. Leave it while you slice the ends off the beans and simmer them in a pan of water. Once you’ve got that sorted, add the cornmeal to the olive mixture and stir it round so every bit of tofu has some grains clinging to it.


Heat a frying pan up, and lift out all the tofu cubes (sorry, also fiddly) and drop them in it. Fry over a decent heat on all sides, till excellently crisp. Tip into a bowl. By this time the beans’ll be where you need them to be – drain and add them to the tofu. Roughly slice the spinach and add that to the bowl. Finally, heat up the frying pan again, tip in the remaining marinade, including all the squashed olives, add the sherry and fry for about ten seconds. Mix into the tofu and serve! 

It is wildly good. The olives have this soft, mellow intensity and a rich saltiness, which absorbs quickly into the tofu’s usefully porous surface. The cornmeal is subtly sweet yet unsubtly crunchy, and the flavour from the sherry hitting the hot pan is basically indescribably good, but generally adds to the whole savoury, buttery, lusciousness of it all. The juicy crunch of the beans are improved by a slick of oily marinade, and the spinach is…present. And makes the salad go further. Thanks spinach!

I am proud of my brain. It did right by me with this. And I can tell you it’s very, very good the next day too. Tofu doesn’t always last so well once it has seen the light of day, but if anything, this got even nicer. It almost tastes like cold fried chicken. Indubitably! (I like that word.)

The weekend was a full and busy one, where the hobnobbing was non-stopping. Caught up with my wise and awesome aunty who has been living in Australia for years, plus her son (my cousin) and his son (my cousin…twice removed…any Downton Abbey watchers know the correct term for this?) We played Settlers of Catan with Krendan and I surprised myself by loving it, and surprised no-one by yelling “the hunter has become the hunter” every time I picked up a card or ate a Cheezel or whatever. Went to Jo‘s not once but twice, for a party of great delightfulness and an afternoon of delightful greatness, where she introduced Tim and myself to the awesomeness of Veronica Mars. We visited our dear friend Ange at her tiny, tidy flat which is really close to ours (so we can be the Kimmie Gibbler to her Tannerino!) We also went to superlovely cafe Arthur’s with Kim and Brendan (Krendan!) and met up with Perth-based blogger Emma of Lick My Cupcakes, whose blog I just love. Her and her man were really sweet and I love that her photos of Wellington show the city in different way how I usually see it. Finally, Tim and I reflected upon Waitangi Day, shook our heads sadly at a few people and nodded them agree-antly with other, and watched some more of Season 2 of Twin Peaks. SO CREEPY. So important. “Mares eat oats and does eat oats…”
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Title via: All For The Best, a song from just one in a very long list of musicals with which I’m well obsessed: Godspell. I learned a tap dance to this song once, but muscle memory didn’t see fit to hold on to that one. Even if musicals aren’t your thing, a young Victor Garber was surprisingly babein‘ as Jesus.
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Music lately: 

Ten seconds in, all I could think was ‘this is a bit weak and makes no sense’ but as it goes on it becomes an intoxicatingly catchy song and I love it, indubitably. M.I.A Bad Girls.

Eclipsed only in catchy goodness by Kei Konei Ra by Ahomairangi. They’re young, they’re talented, they’ll make you want to press repeat over and over on this song.
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Next time: Aforementioned aunty got me some ceramic pastry weights for baking blind. If that makes no sense at all: it has to do with making pie. PIE! So I might do that. Or it might be something slightly simpler but still cake-tatious. 

hot like fire…take you higher

Given that the spiciest thing I was fed as a kid was Chinese takeaways….and considering chili can burn your face off like flaming magma…and also taking into account that the normalisation of ready-made Thai curry pastes and the like happened well after my formative years…it’s unsurprising that it’s only in the last few years that I’ve got into hot spicy food.

Spooning chillies! Is what I thought when I uploaded this photo to the computer. That third one’s really getting into it. Giving the middle one a right old affectionate nuzzle.

Now, it’s got to the point where I near-on crave chilli – the tingly burn it brings to the corners of my mouth and the back of my throat, the fresh, almost lemony flavour of its crisp flesh. With this big talk I’m surprised I wasn’t crawling into the frame of the photo myself to spoon those chilies. What can I say. I’m a spicy convert. My latest chilli venture was to make Nahm Jim from a page I’d ripped out of a magazine – I didn’t write down what the magazine was or who the recipe author was, but I do have a photo:

Anonymous, smiling “guest chef”: thank you.

What is Nahm Jim? A flavour-ly balanced Thai sauce or dressing, which in this recipe harnesses the bright, colourful flavours of red chilli, coriander and lime, and rides them like a capable mule into the salty intensity of fish sauce and caramel fudge sweetness of palm sugar. It all becomes quite the drinkable finished product, which you can pour over things, mix into things, or use it like I did, to marinate things.

Red Chilli Nahm Jim

  • 1 1/2 long red chillies, seeds removed, finely chopped (I used 3)
  • 1 small red chilli, finely chopped (I didn’t use one)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 4cm coriander stem with root attached, well washed and finely chopped (note: I just used the stem)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons palm sugar (note: I ate so much palm sugar, it’s delicious)
  • Juice from about five limes 

Using a mortar and pestle, bash the chili, garlic, coriander and 1 tsp salt to a paste. This really didn’t happen for me, it was more just bashed up stuff, but it still worked. Use a food processor or just chop everything superfine by hand if you don’t have the equipment. Work in the palm sugar, then add the fish sauce and lime juice. Check the flavour balance, add more of something if necessary and refrigerate in an airtight container.

Hot Chilli Tips:

So a chili’s heat depends a lot on its size and colour. Big = mild, and red is milder than green, and therefore if you’re just getting into it, use the biggest red ones you can find, make sure all the heat-packing seeds are scraped out of its lengthy belly, and don’t whatever you do touch your face after dealing with them. I rubbed my nose after chopping up these ones and it was burning away for ages. It was a cold night, so it actually worked in my favour, but in the eyes is not so fun. That said, I wussed out of using the small chilli and upped the big chilli quantity – the sauce was gorgeous, don’t get me wrong – but in the end it wasn’t quite hot enough, so more fool me.

Who just puts noodles on the table? This fool.

I had a very appealing idea for marinating chicken in a mixture of this Nahm Jim and coconut milk, but a look at our bank balance meant it wasn’t really a chicken-buying kind of week. Instead I turned to that full-of-potential and megacheap foodstuff that is tofu, to make Coconut Nahm Jim Tofu and Rice Noodles.

My method went like so: slice up one block of firm tofu as you please (I chopped it into pretty diamond shapes which really just look like crooked squares, defeating the purpose completely) and place it in a small container (like a leftover plastic takeout one) and spoon over about half of your Nahm Jim. Or indeed any chilli sauce you like and have handy. Leave for as long as possible – I marinated mine for over 24 hours, on recommendation of Ally – and then about an hour before you cook it, like say when you come home from work, tip in half a can of coconut milk and let it marinate further. Heat up a little oil in a frying pan, spoon the tofu out of the container and into the pan, and let it sizzle away. I like my tofu to be either crunchily crisp, or super tender, and think this recipe suits it being on the tender side, but you do as you please. The residual coconut milk will bubble up and evaporate, and it’ll smell amazing. Remove from heat when you’re satisfied with the tofu’s level of cooked-ness. Meanwhile cook up some rice noodles, drain them, tip in any leftover marinade from the container, a little more coconut milk from the rest in the can, and some salt. Serve drizzled with sesame oil, the remaining Nahm Jim, coriander and sesame seeds.

I love tofu heaps and this may or may not convince you to also, but it’s a pretty simple dinner that looks and tastes good. Not to mention, doesn’t cost a whole lot. Tofu is so cheap and ridiculously filling, making it a pal to our bank balance. The Nahm Jim and coconut really soaks into its spongy surface during its marinading stage, and the sugars in both elements smell gorgeous when they hit the hot pan and start caramelising. While it’s perfect straight from the hot element, if you let it sit for a while the slippery rice noodles absorb the coconut milk and become even more luscious and silky-textured. Mint would be a nice substitute for coriander if you’ve got it – nothing like a bit of green sprinklage to make a plate of food look more professional. Oh, and you could feel free to spoon the uncooked tofu into a salad or something straight from the marinade – it tastes amazing as is.

Introducing The List:

I’m a very determined and ambitious person. Not that I’m used to things going my way. I am in fact extremely used to things going decidedly not my way. But in order to help me help myself to get more things going my way (if that makes sense) I’ve made a big to-do list, inspired by three friends, all outstanding in the field of excellence (Jo, Kim and Kate) who have all previously created their own.

It’s all very well and good to be determined and ambitious, but it’s very very well and good to write stuff down so I don’t forget things, and so I can be accountable to my own brain, which flings around ideas like a pinball machine. I’ve already started writing it (and you can read my list here) and I’ve got till the end of Sunday to finalise it, and from there, till June 30 2012 to complete the tasks. I’m looking for some more things to add to it, so feel free to make suggestions (I’m talking kinda broad thematic things, not like, say, “Oi Peter Gallagher, resolve to pluck your eyebrows!” because that’s just not helpful.) Yes, I’m pretty serious when I say “get a book deal”, I don’t want this to sound like the tagline to a Justin Bieber movie but I dream bigtime big and I think I can make all these things happen, if I work at it. If I could keep our room tidy for a month though, that would honestly (I can’t emphasise my hopelessness) be almost as much of an achievement. And now that it’s written down on this list, I am going to make it happen. Hopefully. Wait, no! DEFINITELY. What would Leslie Knope Do? Is what I’ll remind myself when things look uncertain.

Oh yeah, and Snacks the Goldfish is now nearly two weeks into her new life with us and thriving. I like to amuse her/annoy Tim by singing at her whenever I get home from work and walk in the room. I can tell you with certainty that yelling “who let the dogs out!” and then pointing expectantly will not elicit a response of “who, who, who, who” from either Snacks or Tim.

Title via: the always sadly-late Aaliyah, shortlived R’n’B perfection, with Hot Like Fire.

Music lately:

Who do you love? I love Bo Diddley, you blazer of trails and creater of amazing guitar rhythms.

Nature Boy, Nat King Cole. We found a record of his at the Waiuku Bookfair that turned out to be the same one my grandparents on my dad’s side used to blast all the time. Nice to be able to remember them while listening to his beautiful, restrained singing.

Next time: I still have that poached pear sorbet idea under my skull, but there’s no way that can happen until we eat more of the existing ice cream…

 

since folks here to an absurd degree seem fixated on your verdigris

After a brief survey of four people (one of which was myself) I’d like to make the sweeping generalisation that Brussels sprouts are a bit like Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West: green, and misunderstood. So misunderstood. None of us could remember ever eating them in our childhood, but there was definitely the feeling that it was not a vegetable to welcome with open arms. Yes, plenty of people here in New Zealand must’ve eaten them, overboiled and sulphuric balls of punishment on the dinnerplate, but I can only hypothesise, or whatever comes at this stage of a scientific study, that pop culture has influenced a lot of my suspicion. Same reason I made my own earrings out of shells and beads and then wore them, sincerely. The Baby Sitters Club. I’m not saying that series of books is everyone’s reason for disliking on impact the Brussels Sprout, but I’m pretty sure it’s my reason. (Not that I can, admittedly, name a specific example, but I know it’s there.)

Anyway, I saw this recipe in Plenty, my Yotam Ottolenghi cookbook, called “Brussels Sprouts and Tofu”. And I thought, oh really? A plucky move, pitting two generally disliked ingredients against each other in one dish and working to stop the competition between them to see which can make the eater unhappy first. Now I love tofu, but this is not a sexy recipe title. Yet its bold simplicity appealed to me, as did the fact that brussels sprouts were very, very cheap at the vege market.
And if anyone knows how to de-misunderstand brussels sprouts, it’s Yotam Ottolenghi. He who pairs eggs with yoghurt and chilli and garlic with more garlic.
Interestingly the ingredients are very simple – the three main givers of flavour are chilli, sesame oil and soy sauce. For me, what seems important is the cooking methods: for the sprouts, you fry them till they’re browned and scorched in places. For the tofu, you marinate it while you’re getting everything else ready, then fry it up till the marinade is caramelised. You could probably do this to any kind of food and it would taste good, but here the ingredients really open up, come alive, I want to say snuggle into the flavour but that feels wrong…anyway, the sprouts become crunchy and juicy, their peppery flavour amplified by the smoky scorching. The tofu is salty and dense, with a crisp edge, its mildness subverted by the chilli.
This isn’t just ‘not bad…for Brussels sprouts and tofu’, any food would hope to taste this good! I served it on soba noodles, but it would be great on rice or alongside something else, or just as is. If tofu is nay your thing, the sprouts on their own would also make a fantastic side dish to a bigger meal. Seriously, I had to stop myself eating them all before returning them to the saucepan with the tofu. They’re good. At last.
Brussels Sprouts and Tofu

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. There are mushrooms in the original recipe but as Tim’s unfortunately not a fan I thought it’d be a bit harsh to leave them in along with everything else.

2 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sesame oil (I reduced this to 1…sesame oil is expensive!)
1 teaspoon rice vinegar (I didn’t have any, used balsamic vinegar, worked a treat)
1 tablespoon maple syrup (I only had golden syrup, likewise was great)
150g firm tofu
500g Brussel sprouts
Mint, coriander, sesame seeds and (optional) toasted pumpkin seeds to serve

Whisk together the chilli sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar and syrup, then chop the tofu into cubes and add them to the bowl. Set aside while you get on with the next step.

Trim the bases off the brussel sprouts and remove any flappy excess leaves. This’ll probably take a while. I slightly misunderstood the instructions on how to slice them but I don’t think it matters – Ottolenghi requests thick slices from top to bottom but I just sliced them roughly into quarters.


Heat about 2 tablespoons plain oil in a pan, and once it’s properly hot, add half the sprouts and a little salt. It’s good to turn them round so that a flat surface is touching the bottom of the pan, but it’s no biggie. Leave them for a couple of minutes – don’t stir them if you can help it, but they won’t take long to cook through. When the sides touching the pan are a deep brown, set them aside and repeat with the rest of the sprouts. Remove them all from the pan, and carefully – using tongs is good – transfer the pieces of tofu from the bowl of marinade to a single layer in the hot pan. The marinade may splutter and sizzle a little at this point. Reduce the heat, cook the tofu for about two minutes a side till caramelised and crisp.

Remove the pan from the heat and immediately throw in the rest of the marinade, plus the sprouts. You’re supposed to garnish it with coriander, but I had none, and only a tiny bit of mint – so in the interest of visual interest, I toasted some pumpkin seeds and scattered them across – pretty and delicious.
By the way, my parents got a kitten. A tiny, tiny, outrageously cute kitten who they’ve named Poppy. Looook at her with her enormous blue eyes and tiny tail. As you may remember, the recently late Rupert left my parents a one-cat family, and the remaining cat Roger isn’t as impressed by newcomer Poppy as everyone else seems to be. Look, is it morally dubious that I’m suddenly filled with motivation to plan a trip home? I’m narrowing my eyes suspiciously even as I type the question; I think the answer’s yes…but Poppy’s so cute that I can’t feel that bad about it.
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Title via: The aforementioned misunderstood character Elphaba, as played by the amazing Idina Menzel in the musical Wicked, singing The Wizard and I. Sigh.
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Music lately:
Karaoke, by the Good Fun – it is both good, and fun. I heard this song a long time ago but this official recording has scrubbed it up well. Like the Brussel sprouts recipe, this can rest on its own laurels…it isn’t just ‘not bad, for young guys.’

Marvin Gaye, How Sweet It Is. It’s always a good time.
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Next time: I found an amazing recipe for black sesame brownies, but I’m not entiiiirely happy with how they turned out – may have to re-try and then report back.

every time I eat vegetables it makes me think of you

While I completely welcome, luxuriate in, and devote a lot of time to generating the puddings and soups and casseroles that Winter brings…sometimes it’s nice to interrupt all that, suspend the stodge-production and create something altogether more Spring-like and vegetable-focussed.
Although these are essentially just small pies, their unusual, sesame-studded pastry is light and crisp, and their filling has soft, caramelised vegetables contending with salty, fragrant miso. And I managed to make them while feeling physically dilapidated by a cold, which makes me think that they’re not that fiddly to make, either. (I’ve still got this cough, by the way, but I think as far as the battle goes I’m now winning.)
I found the recipe in the latest CLEO magazine (who, I should add, have been very good to me over the last year or so, if you see my “Attention” tab up the top there) and it’s by a clever lady called Janella Purcell who has a cookbook called Eating For The Seasons. Which, judging by this one excellent recipe, is probably a really good book. Despite what looks like Mistral font used on the cover.
The pastry is gluten-free, which is fun, especially if you can’t eat gluten yourself. I’m pretty sure that these are also vegan, so if you’re wondering what it is that’s even holding them together…read on.

Roast Vegetable Sesame Tarts

Adapted from a recipe by Janella Purcell, found in the July issue of CLEO magazine.

Pastry:

1 1/2 cups brown rice flour, or spelt flour, or whatever flour you’ve got really – even regular flour (which, I hope I don’t have to spell out to you, will mean these are no longer gluten-free)
1/2 cup sesame seeds, toasted if you have the energy (I didn’t)
2 tablespoons olive, rice bran or avocado oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce or Tamari sauce
3/4 cup boiling water

Combine the flour and sesame seeds in a bowl. Tip in the oils, the water, and the soy sauce and mix together. Knead well till it forms a soft ball, then rest for 30 minutes while you get on with everything else.

Filling:

Olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
1 cup pumpkin or kumara (I used kumara) diced or thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, sliced
1 tablespoon white miso paste
Toasted seeds to garnish – pumpkin, sunflower, or just more sesame seeds if you like. Pine nuts or almonds would be nice too, but seeds are less expensive and just as delicious.

Heat the olive oil in a pan and slowly cook the onions till caramelised. While this is happening, roast the vegetables on a tray at 200 C/400 F for about 20 minutes.

Once your onions are cooked, but while your veges are still roasting, roll out the pastry fairly thinly and use a cookie cutter or similar (I used one of those ramekins that you might make creme brulee in) to stamp out circles of pastry. It’s a little different to the usual – quite springy and playdough-y, and you’ll need to re-roll it a couple of times. Just bear with it though, it will work. Fit your circles of pastry into a greased and floured/silicon muffin tray, not worrying if you get folds of pastry, it’s all good if it looks a bit ramshackle – and bake them, as is, for 15 minutes.

Once the cases are out of the oven, dab a tiny bit of miso paste on the inside of each, then top with your roast vegetables and a sprinkling of toasted seeds. They should remove easily from the muffin tray – and then eat!

Makes 12.

Note – I made the following changes:

– Halved the recipe (so you can easily double what’s above)
– Used spelt flour instead of brown rice flour, as that’s what I had
– You’re supposed to use all sesame oil in the pastry but as it’s expensive and precious I cut it back and replaced some with other oil, but you do as you like
– I only had black sesame seeds, but it’s all good
– Used soy sauce instead of Tamari as that’s what I had
– Changed the vegetables a little – the original recipe didn’t have fennel and had pumkin instead of kumara
– I think that’s it. One other thing to note is that different flours absorb water at a different rate so don’t be afraid to add more flour if your pastry dough is a sticky mess, or more liquid if it’s not coming together. Just a little at a time though.
So as you can see I adapted this recipe quite a bit, and I think you could continue to do so yourself. Once you’ve got the pastry cases sorted, it’s really all a matter of what’s in your fridge.
For example, the following could be delicious…
– Roast capsicums and tomatoes, with toasted chopped almonds and a little orange zest
– Sliced leeks, softened and caramelised in a pan, with feta
– Roast mushrooms with thyme, then chop them up, fill the tarts and top with pumpkin seeds
– Roasted zucchini with capers
– Raw grated beetroot, coriander leaves and toasted walnuts
– Slices of avocado and raw zucchini, topped with mint…
– Mince and cheese! Yay. Or, like, slow-braised beef ragu and parmesan.
I’m also thinking about removing the soy sauce from the pastry, using a plain oil, and filling the cooked cases with sweet things instead, like berries, or chocolate mousse, or – best of all – nuts and caramel sauce. And beyond that, I’m also wondering if you could just roll out the pastry and stamp out and bake awesome crackers from it.
But all those imaginary tarts aside, how did the actual ones that I made taste?
Amazing.
So delicious. The pastry is all nutty and biscuity, and just a tiny bit salty – a very addictive combination. I personally am glad I added the fennel, its aniseedy freshness and quick-to-caramelise, oniony structure was quite lush against the sweeter softer kumara. And they taste really, really good cold as well, to the point where I was wishing I hadn’t halved the original recipe. Twelve mini tarts between Tim and myself just wasn’t enough.

Hooray for pie!

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Title via: The Ramones, and the song really is called Every Time I Eat Vegetables I Think Of You. I love them (the Ramones, but also vegetables.)
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Music lately:
Ella Fitzgerald, When I Get Low I Get High. I think partly because of its compelling Puttin’ On The Ritz style fast swing, Fitzgerald’s gorgeous voice, and partly the fact that it’s just so short, is why I would’ve listened to this song roughly a squillion times over the last week or two.
Matthew and Son by Cat Stevens, I’ve said it before but I love this song so much that it’s always worth repeating: oh my gosh I love this song so much. The video (if you click through) is also quite incredible. His shoulder-pumping dance, the strangely bland and unaffected expressions on the young people’s faces, the bit around 1.55 where he stares down into the camera while singing *fans self*
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Next time: Billy Crudup’s Grandma’s Chocolate Fudge Pie. It’s wild.

honey to the bee that’s you for me

Note: As mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve been nominated for a Wellingtonista award, and while it’s seriously exciting and happiness-inducing to be amongst some distinctly high-profile nominees, it’s also quite nice to be voted for, so I can hype myself up into thinking I might win. As well as myself, you can also vote for other Wellington-related things you like, or nothing at all – the only compulsory fields are your name and email address. What I’m trying to say is that if you do vote (here here here) it’d be really great and I’d appreciate it heaps and heaps.

I recently got sent some honey – two jars – from the astute folk at Airborne. I was caught off-guard when they contacted me, am not sure where I stand on “accepting then blogging about free stuff” because it hasn’t really happened till now. Some people are hardline about this, refusing to accept anything, and I suspect I’d want to avoid it too – this is my blog and I’ll talk about what I want when I want – but damnit, I liked the idea of free honey and was 99% sure it would taste good and not compromise some kind of policy I haven’t even got the kind of clout to be developing in the first place. To find out more about Airborne, by the way, their “Why Choose Us” page is a reassuring read – these people treat their bees and their honey well.
So, two jars arrived – a large jar of thick, creamy Kamahi and a smaller jar of liquid, clear Tawari. And, thought I, here’s the chance to try all those recipes with lots of honey in them! But for some reason I either couldn’t find anything, or the stuff I could find, I was all “eh” about, so I decided to just make up my own stuff instead. (That said, Mum, if get the time could you please email me the recipe for those honey buns we used to make? From that handwritten recipe book I think?) (Edit: Thanks heaps Mum!)
At the vege market down the road there’s this amazingly good tofu at $4 for a large block, scored into four ‘fillets’ as I call them. However no matter how much I try, I can never quite finish it before it starts to go all orange and creepy. There’s only so much dense, filling firm tofu I can get through in a couple of days. On top of that we somehow ended up with three heads of brocolli, because I forgot that we had it and then bought some more. I hate wasting food but I’m also very forgetful, so this just sometimes happens. This following recipe however takes some neglected brocolli, some teacher’s pet asparagus, and some tofu that was somewhat past its best (not at the ‘unsafe’ stage or anything, just not looking so happy to see me when I opened the fridge) and turns it into a feast.
Honey Miso Roast Vegetables

I used a square of firm tofu, a head of broccoli, and a handful of asparagus. Use what you have – the veges need to be able to withstand some roasting. Cauliflower and kumara would be pretty perfect here too.

Whisk together:
  • 2 teaspoons white miso paste

  • 1 tablespoon clear honey (I used Airbourne’s Tawari)

  • 1 teaspoon (or more) sambal oelek or other red chilli paste

  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

  • 1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard

Set your oven to 200 C. Chop your vegetables and tofu into fairly similar sized smallish pieces. lay the chopped vegetables on a baking-paper lined tray and spoon over the miso-honey mixture. You could also pour the mixture into a big bowl and toss the veges through it, but I couldn’t be bothered with the extra dishes. Roast for about 20 minutes or until everything looks burnished and cooked through. Eat over rice or noodles or just as is.
Don’t be alarmed by the dark, miso-toffee bits that appear (strangely delicious too, I couldn’t help peeling it off the baking paper and eating it) as whatever clings to the vegetables and tofu will taste incredible – sticky, savoury and full of complex, fragrant flavour. The tightly clenched branches of brocolli stretch out under the heat and become deliciously crisp, while their stems remain juicy and tender. The flavour of the asparagus intensifies under the caramelly, hot honey and the tofu becomes…totally passable.
Obviously with honey some kind of pudding or baking attempt is only right. It was relatively recently that I learned about frangipane, a buttery, almondy mix for filling pies and tarts and so on. I had an idea that honey could be a good exchange for the sugar. So I did it.
Honey, Almond and Dried Apricot Tart

1 square of bought puff pastry (I guess you should try and get good quality all-butter stuff. The ingredients on my Edmond’s ready-rolled sheets said “butter” but I have heard terrifying rumours of some awful sounding substance called “baker’s margarine”.)
1 egg
2 tablespoons creamy honey – I used Airborne’s Kamahi
Heaped 1/3 cup ground almonds
40g butter, melted
About 20 soft dried apricots

Set your oven to 220 C, and place the square of pastry onto a baking paper-lined tray. Lightly score a 1cm border around the edge with a sharp knife (don’t cut right through). Once in the oven, this will puff up and look really pretty.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and the honey. Stir in the ground almonds and melted butter. This will make enough for the tart plus a generous amount for you to taste (it’s delicious!) Spoon carefully over the centre of the pastry, spreading a thin layer across to meet the edge of the margin you’ve scored (as per the picture.) Carefully pull or slice the apricots in half or – if you’ve got lots of apricots, just leave them whole – and arrange on top of the pastry. Paint a little melted butter or egg yolk round the margin if you like. Bake for about 15-20 minutes – as long as you can leave it in without burning.
The first time I made it, I was doing the dishes and forgot to check on the oven. All the sugars in the honey and apricots couldn’t take being ignored, and the tart was a blackened mess (did this stop us eating it? Erm, no). It was late at night, the kitchen was covered in frangipane-smeared implements (myself included), and the ingredients aren’t the cheapest, so I may have yelled “I’m never doing the dishes again! It’s a sign! I hate everything!” Or something to that effect.
The second time I made this tart earlier in the evening and with new enthusiasm, I watched it like I was judging gymnastics at the Olympics – focussed, scrutineering, coldly assessing for any stepping outside the lines. I can’t have eaten nearly enough delicious frangipane mixture though because there was too much on the pastry – it billowed up and spilled over. I quickly turned the oven off to halt the frangipane pilgrimage to the edge of the oven tray, but this meant that the centre of the pastry sheet didn’t have time to get light and flaky. It wasn’t uncooked, just sadly damp, floppy and uncrisp.

While this was happening Tim was watching footage of the Pike River chief executive Peter Whittall, who can’t have slept in the past week, showing a map of where the 29 miners were thought to be, deep in the stomach of the earth. The projector cast shadows across Whittall’s face, and I looked at the tart and thought “oh well”. So we ate it, and it was fine – delicious in fact, with what I considered a bonus breadth of cakey frangipane to pull off the tray contemplatively. Yes, the underside needed longer in the heat, but the soft dried apricots were warmed to an heady, jammy perfumedness, while the fruity, creamy Kamahi honey somehow amplified the fresh, Christmassy flavour of the often dull ground almonds.

While it may need some tweaking here and there, you can feel free to go ahead and make this recipe. Although, while I ended up with deliciousness I’ve only made this recipe twice and it was somewhat fail-y both times…don’t blame me if you get frangipane all over your oven/walls/hair.
For any international readers, the Pike River mine explosion last Friday caused the disappearance, followed by confirmed death after a second explosion on Wednesday, of 29 miners on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. I was a bit naive and was saying “I hope they’re staying calm” to which people would reply, “if they’re alive”. The sickening sadness that their families, friends, colleagues and community went through, and continue to go through, makes the heart ache. If you read the newspaper (and it’s usually the narrow columns to the left and right of the page that relay the saddest stories in the briefest of paragraphs) you’ll see that tragedy happens everywhere and every day. The scale and public nature of this disaster means it has particular resonance across the country though. With that in mind – with anything in mind really – a burnt or awkward tart is something I can shrug at.
On Thursday morning, the Kamahi honey was spread thickly across hot toast, cut from a loaf of Rewena, the honey slowly filling the pools of butter that gathered in the bread’s crevices. The simplest solution of all, and it was so good. And, at a stretch, a kind of an early prototype version of the above tart. Actually I bet honey and apricot jam on toast (just spontaneously riffing here) would be amazing.
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Title via: YES, quoting Billie Piper’s Honey To The Bee here. It’s strange how, while not one note of the rest of her music appeals to me, I have an intense and unapologetic love for this one song. The swooning rapturousness with which the bizarre lyrics are delivered, the slow-dripping melody, and the late-nineties technological charm of its video make for quite the experience.
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Music lately:
Mariah Carey, Emotions from her album of the same name. Listening to her non-stop brings me no closer to the secret of what makes her so flawless.
The Damned, Eloise. Excellence!
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Next time: most definitely the Chicken Salad Lorraine, plus we’re off to Tiger Translate tonight so there’ll probably be a breathless account of that too.

blaze a blaze galangalangalang

I’ve been feeling sorta dispirited the last couple of months, a bit “mehhhh”, like time is sliding by so fast and I haven’t been able to get a grip on the days and suddenly it’s August and, I don’t know, maybe this strikes a chord or maybe it makes no sense whatsoever.

I think, hypothesizingingly, this could have something to do with the fact that I have made almost no stews or casseroles or soups this winter. Nigella’s Slow Food chapter in that seminal text How To Eat has been unstained with ingredients, there’s been no brisket becoming meltingly soft as it cooks in stock over time, forcing you to wait for it, or kumara simmering with spices and all those other romantic things that you think about when you are, well, hungry and frozen. I guess I’ve just been busier lately, had more going on…anyway I’m trying. I made Nigella’s Beef with Stout and Prunes for the first time in more than a year over the weekend and it was SO good. Luckily in Wellington it’s winter for about 85% of the year anyway so even though it’s nearly September, there’s still plenty of scope for making up for lost time foodwise.
Me: I’m going to make Penang Beef Shin Curry for dinner tonight.
Tim: Woohoo!
Later

Me: I’ve decided to use tofu instead of beef.
Tim: Woohoo..?
Luckily, Tim does like tofu. Actually, I take back that ‘luckily’. It’s not some great magnanimous concession to like tofu, the sort of thing you discuss later with starry eyes (“he doesn’t complain when I cook tofu and he puts the toilet seat down! What a catch!”) It ain’t luck. Tofu just tastes good. At least, when I cook it. Witness: tofu balls!
This not-beef Penang Curry was a recipe I found in an old Cuisine magazine – July 2004 – and while using tofu makes it significantly faster, it still has that involved, pestle-and-mortar, simmer-till-tender vibe going on. The list of ingredients might look a bit stressful, and I guess I’m lucky I live in Wellington where stuff is a bit nearer to my fingertips, but it’s not so bad -suss out your local markets, check out the local Asian Supermarkets, explore your neighbourhood or even the next ‘hood over…or just improvise with what you have. Shallots can become spring onions, dried chillis can be fresh glossy ones, and the gently fragrant galangal of my blog post title could just be plain ginger…but you might want to call it “Penang-ish” curry instead, I guess I should, too considering how much I’ve changed it up already.
Penang Tofu Curry

Adapted from Cuisine, July 2004

Penang Curry Paste

4 long dried chillies, deseeded and soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
Pinch salt
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons chopped coriander root and stalk
1 tablespoon chopped galangal
1 tablespoon chopped lemongrass stalk
A little grated fresh nutmeg
3 tablespoons natural peanuts, boiled for 25 mins, drained and cooled (I have to admit…I didn’t boil them for 25 minutes. Maybe five. And I didn’t let them sit round and cool either.)

Either blitz everything in a food processor, adding the peanuts last and pulsing to a roughly textured mixture, or go hands-on with a pestle and mortar. I did the latter, not because I’m all superior but because sometimes in my backwards mind, bashing away at herbs with a ceramic thingy is easier on my nerves than washing the food processor after using it. Either way, refrigerate until you need it.

2 square ‘fillets’ of fresh, firm tofu, sliced (or as much as you want, really)
1 can coconut milk
2 tablespoons grated palm sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce (I used soy sauce instead – you could too, to make it vegan)
2 cups loosely packed spinach leaves
4 kaffir lime leaves, torn in half
1 small, hot chilli, cut in half
2 tablespoons Thai basil leaves (didn’t have any of this)
5cm fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin batons (I just used more galangal)
1/4 cup coriander leaves

Bring half the coconut milk to the boil in a heavy saucepan. Reduce heat and add the curry paste, stirring as it cooks. Add the palm sugar, the fish sauce, and the tofu slices. Simmer for a few minutes, then stir in the spinach, lime leaves, galangal, chilli and basil. Serve in bowls with the coriander on top, over hot rice. This served two, but all you’d need is more tofu and more coconut milk to feed four.
Soul-restoring stuff – the gentle coconut flavour harshed up by the roundhouse kicky of the chilli, fragrant with the delicately gingery galangal, the incredibly good-smelling lemongrass and lime leaves and the coriander, all of which is absorbed into the fresh, delicious tofu. If you like what you see, maybe try making triple the curry paste, covering it with some oil and refrigerating it for the next time you need some midwinter zing.
Okay, I’d just like to point out that I initially typed “zingage” instead of just ‘zing’, and it didn’t get a little red spellcheck underline…weird. Sitting here typing, I can tell you that “flavour”, “harshed”, and “chilli” all are spelled wrong according to the red lines underneath them, but “zingage”, as in what I imagine to be “possesses zing” is apparently a legit word? Weirdage!
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Title via: M.I.A’s very cool song Galang from her album Arular…gah I love this woman’s music. And also her dancing. Even if you start listening to Galang and feel like this scoop of spluttery, slangy excellence is not your thing, the constant dancing, graphic art, and colourful jackets in her music video are awesome (as is the harmonising towards the end).
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Music lately:

I bought Liz Callaway’s Passage of Time online recently and it took soooo long to arrive, finally landing on my desk last week. Have been thrashing it ever since. Youtube is painfully lacking in Liz Callaway tracks but here’s a recording of her singing Make Someone Happy/Something Wonderful from this album – devastatingly good stuff.

Speaking of devastatingly good, Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night from the album of the same name. I heard a song from this album on the radio over the weekend and it reminded me how much I love this collection of songs. My favourite album of his, hands-down.

Still speaking of devastatingly good, check out the late, wonderful Lena Horne’s take on Rocky Racoon with the musical assistance of Gabor Szabo. Over on our blog 100s and 1000s, Tim and I shared our thoughts on some of the good Beatles covers out there, and Mum commented asking if anyone had every covered Rocky Racoon. Well here it is. And I only wish we’d found it sooner. Cheers Mum!
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Next time: Apart from wanting to slow down and make more old-timey casseroles, I’ve also had the urge to make some cookies but haven’t had the time or energy. When you don’t have the energy for cookies you know it’s time for some stern self-talk. Find the energy, Laura! Make the time!