Coconut Chilli Tofu Noodles [Vegan]

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In my last blog post, I talked about how a lot of my dinner recipes don’t end up on here for various photogenically-challenged reasons. Well, here’s one for you – if you will excuse the hasty phone-snapped photos, with the mise-en-scene being me ferrying my bowl of noodles about the house searching for a corner or recess where they might appear inviting. That’s how delicious this recipe is, I just have to share it with you even though the photos aren’t the greatest. (Although, we’ve already dealt with photos worse than this, if more stylistically confident.)

And to be fair, even if the photos were more thought-out, this is still a very pale and unlikely looking dish of warmed through tofu and rice noodles, with that layer of coriander doing some very heavy lifting, visually. I promise you, it’s more seasoned than it looks, and it’s so good. This recipe, a version of which initially ended up in my 2013 cookbook, gives you everything: it’s practically instant, it’s carbonara-level creamy and soft and saucy, and it’s superbly comforting. And while there is definitely chilli present, it’s sedated and dispersed by the coconut cream.

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That being said, there’s nothing stopping you from adding more and more gochujang (Korean chilli paste) to the recipe – this is comfort food with the ability to bite you back, if that’s what you need. And I’m certainly not going to leap out from the third draw down and protest if you want to add less chilli, but I’d at least urge you to start small and see how you go, rather than leave it out altogether, at which point this would become a dish I couldn’t recommend in good conscience. The gochujang adds heat, yes, but in a way that reminds you of life’s bracing potential rather than the metallic clank of your imminent mortality.

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Coconut Chilli Tofu Noodles

These near-instant vegan noodles are so comforting and creamy but also as spicy as you want or need it to be. Recipe by myself. Serves 2.

  • 1 x 200g (or thereabouts) package wide rice noodles
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 garlic cloves (or a hefty dash of garlic powder)
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil (eg rice bran)
  • 300-400g extra firm tofu
  • 2-3 tablespoons gochujang, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons Maggi seasoning sauce, or soy sauce
  • a squeeze of lime juice (I sometimes use vinegar if I don’t have any lime)
  • 1 x 400ml can full-fat coconut cream
  • large dash of ground white pepper
  • a dash of sesame oil and a handful of fresh coriander, to serve

1: Peel and finely slice the onion and finely chop the garlic. Place the noodles in a heatproof bowl, cover with water from a just-boiled jug, pushing them under the surface of the water with a utensil of some kind, and set aside to soften. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium-sized saucepan and fry the onions and garlic in it for a minute or two, until they’re softened and starting to colour.

2: While this is happening, take a moment to dice the tofu into good-sized cubes of about 2cm. Please don’t stop to measure. Stir the gochujang into the onions, then add the tofu and give it another stir. Then add the Maggi sauce, the lime juice, the coconut cream, and the white pepper. Quarter-fill the empty coconut cream can with tap water, swirl it around, and tip it into the pan as well. Bring to a robust simmer, and stir till the tofu is heated through, which should only take a minute or two.

3: Drain the noodles, add them to the pan, stir everything all together, taste to see if it wants more chilli or seasoning, then remove from the heat and carefully divide between two bowls.

Shake over a few droplets of sesame oil and roughly tear the coriander leaves, blanketing each bowl of noodles with them.

Notes:

  • I used to just make this with sriracha or, if I had one to hand, a chopped red chilli. The Korean fermented chilli paste gochujang is now my favourite and recommended method of adding chilli to these noodles. It’s just got so much flavour and depth and intensity. I got mine from an Asian supermarket, I think Countdown stocks it too. It does pack a lot of heat on its own which seems to chill out in this recipe, but if you’re really not sure of your tolerance just start with a small teaspoon of it, then augment after the noodles are added if necessary.
  • You can definitely use coconut milk instead of coconut cream, I just tend to exclusively use coconut cream because you get maximum flavour and texture for your buck. Either way: full fat.
  • I guess you could use something other than wide rice noodles. But I wouldn’t want to! They work so perfectly here.
    If you want to make this more soupy and saucy you can simply add more water, I’d maybe throw in a stock cube as well.
  • I use Maggi sauce in everything and strenuously recommend that you find some if you aren’t all over it already. You won’t be sorry.
  • Finally, if you can find vegan oyster sauce, add a splash along with the Maggi or soy sauce.

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music lately:

Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’ by Damon Daunno and Mary Testa from the 2019 Broadway revival of Oklahoma! which, without changing a word of the book or score, made this familiar classic into something new altogether, and I wish so much that I’d had a chance to see it live. This version of the opening song gives it this incredibly compelling mournful-yet-sexy bluegrass vibe, and I can’t stop listening to it. I also recommend Ali Stroker’s brash, unapologetic, and Tony Award-winning take on I Cain’t Say No, worth listening to for the way she roars the word “chaps” if nothing else.

Nine Million Rainy Days by The Jesus and Mary Chain. While it’s not my favourite song of theirs, it perfectly represents one of my favourite genres of music, which is “gloomy yet exhilarating”. And that line “and all my time in hell was spent with you” is better than anything I’ll ever write. (My favourite of theirs? The exhilarating-yet-exhilarating Head On, of course.)

Ode to the Wind, by 1960s Texas garage band Danny and the Counts. It’s melancholy and gorgeous and it’s a literal crime that their music isn’t more widely available on Spotify!!

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 and 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 and cheese I’ve ever made. I’ve had numerous stabs at making THE vegan mac and 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 and 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 and Cheese

So simple, so delicious, maybe the best vegan mac and cheese 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!

24 Hour Party Seitan

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“One Christmas,” wrote Dylan Thomas in A Child’s Christmas in Wales, “was so much like another…I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.” It’s that sudden, concentrated repetition which defines the season – the same songs, the same pine tree smell, everything squashing into one red and green fever dream until it’s over, and we put it away for another eleven months. It’s much the same with food – even Nigella Lawson, with every new cookbook she releases, still returns to that one brined turkey recipe every Christmas Day. If you’re vegan, however, there’s a decent chance you’re more amenable to trying new things at this time of resolutely clinging to old things, which is why, eleven days in to December of 2020, I confidently suggest my 24 Hour Party Seitan as your perfect new Christmas Day recipe. I’ve made seitan many, many times before, but this one is easily its ultimate iteration – I certainly wouldn’t suggest anything less for such an occasion.

Despite all this talk of Christmas I’ve given it the seitan a more secular title in case you (a) don’t do Christmas or (b) want to make this at any other time, because it is absolutely worthy of being wheeled out year-round. (I also just thought this name was kind of crack up.) Unfortunately I couldn’t resist taking photos festooned with the apricot-coloured eighties Mardi Gras beads from our decorations and the tree lights glowing in the background. The “24 Hour” part is quite literal – you rest the seitan overnight in the fridge – but this is entirely in its, and your, favour. First of all, it means you can just pull it from the fridge and briefly sear it on Christmas Day – or whenever you want to eat it – meaning minimal on-the-day toil for you. Resting it also significantly improves the flavour, and I assume, being largely made of gluten, it must do something for the texture as well.

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(I actually initially intended this to be sixty hour seitan, imagining that the prolonged relaxation period would do wonderful things for the gluten. And so I rested the dough overnight three times – after kneading, after cooking, and after searing. Unfortunately the dough relaxed so hard that it was essentially sedated, positively tranquillised, and had a texture akin to partially solidified PVA glue. And yeah, I contritely ate it all before returning to the drawing board. Excess: sure! Wastefulness: no!)

Seitan is, more or less, a meat substitute made from gluten flour, which is, contrary to how it sounds, extremely high in protein. The gluten flour, when combined with some kind of lengthener – in our case, pureed cannellini beans – kneaded, and steamed or simmered, forms a chewy, dense, flavour-absorbing mass, with the kind of toothy bite and texture one might associate with the memory of meat. The longer I continue with this vegan thing, the less necessary it seems to describe food with its proximity to meat, but I realise it’s helpful to know what you’re getting into. Ultimately, to me, seitan is seitan: an ideal main ingredient and when done well, incredibly delicious. And although you could make various risottos or pastas or just eat the roast vegetables on Christmas Day, it’s sometimes nice to have something on offer which matches what everyone else is eating.

The size of the recipe may appear needlessly fiddly but it’s mostly because I like to really explain every step to make sure you’re okay with it, as opposed to the method itself actually being arduous. When you break it down, it’s just three steps: making the dough, steaming it, and then giving it a final caramelising sear. I’ve included finely shredded jackfruit to add even more fibrous texture, plus a proprietary, specific blend of spices and flavourings to make it taste the way it does: savoury, herby, perfectly salty, rich, pinging with umami, with a crisped, chewy crust. It looks fabulously celebratory sitting on a plate strewn with rosemary ready for carving – a Christmas offering you can be proud to call your own. I would strongly suggest a sauce alongside this – basil pesto, aioli with horseradish stirred in, cranberry sauce, mint sauce or, of course, plenty of gravy, would all be ideal. Even just wholegrain mustard would be excellent. And I can’t even tell you how good the leftovers taste, cold, the next day.

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24 Hour Party Seitan

The very best seitan I’ve ever made, ready for Christmas Day dinner or any time you need to impress someone.

  • 1 x 400g can jackfruit in brine
  • 1 x 400g can cannellini beans
  • 1 vegan chicken stock cube (I use and heartily recommend the Massel brand)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon dried celery (or, a dash of celery salt)
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup/tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon Maggi seasoning/liquid aminos or soy sauce (Maggi is preferable)
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup, maple syrup or treacle
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 and 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

To serve:

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • a pinch of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper

1: Drain the jackfruit. Remove any of the seeds (I just ate them.) Finely shred, with your fingers, the feathery softer parts of the jackfruit, and finely slice the more firm parts lengthwise. Set aside.

2: Drain, but don’t rinse the cannellini beans, and place them in a small mixing bowl along with the vegan stock cube and water. Puree until completely smooth using a stick blender. Alternatively, you can puree this in a blender or a high speed food processor, making sure you keep blending until it’s very smooth with no visible beans left. Stir in the celery, ketchup, Maggi seasoning, and golden syrup, and the shredded/finely chopped jackfruit. It’s important that you add the jackfruit at this point, rather than after the liquid has been added to the gluten, otherwise it will be incredibly difficult to mix it together.

3: In a larger mixing bowl (sorry about the extra dishes here) combine the rosemary, sage, vital wheat gluten and nutritional yeast. Tip in the bean and jackfruit mixture and carefully stir it together to form a ball, then briefly knead it, just until it is firm and springy and quite dry to the touch, and strings of gluten form when you break off a piece of the dough. If it’s a little damp and sticky still, sprinkle over a couple of tablespoons extra of the wheat gluten. It will look (and smell) very unlikely at this point, but bear with me.

4: Place a rack inside a steamer snugly fitted on top of a pan of water. If you don’t have a steamer basket, you could try to engineer one by placing a round metal cake rack inside a metal colander and finding a lid which will fit snugly on top of that. A large bamboo steamer will also work perfectly. Press the seitan dough into a vaguely pleasing shape about an inch or so thick (making sure it can fit inside the steamer.) Cut a piece of baking paper to about the same size as the seitan, lay the baking paper on the steamer rack, and the seitan on top of the paper, and top with the steamer lid. Let the water in the pan underneath come to the boil, and once it is – you’ll be able to hear it and see the steam forming on the underside of the lid – let it steam for a full half hour, without turning. Leave the seitan to cool in the steamer, then place in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight.

5: About half an hour before you plan to cook it, take the seitan out of the fridge. Heat up about a tablespoon of oil in a heavy pan and fry the seitan for five minutes on each side, turning carefully with the help of tongs and a flipper.

6: While it’s on its second side, mix the olive oil, rosemary, thyme, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Press about half into the exposed side of the seitan, carefully turn it over, and cook for another minute or so. Repeat on the newly exposed side with the remaining breadcrumb mixture. Some of it will fall off, which absolutely doesn’t matter. Transfer to a serving plate, and serve while hot.

Makes around 10-12 thick slices. Store any leftovers in the fridge and reheat in a hot pan as necessary.

Notes:

  • You can make this up to three days ahead, but I wouldn’t start it any later than Christmas Eve.
  • Vital Wheat Gluten, sometimes labelled Wheat Gluten or Gluten Flour, should be available from most supermarkets, though if you’re near a Bin Inn I found it there in larger quantities for much cheaper than the supermarket.
  • Some seitan recipes – including ones that I’ve written – call for simmering the seitan submerged in water rather than steaming it. I find the steaming here is better for the texture and flavour, and you don’t have to worry about the bits of jackfruit falling out. Unless it’s absolutely impossible to steam it, I would advise against simmering this particular recipe.
  • This seitan can be used for pretty much anything once it’s steamed – you can stir-fry it, eat it cold, glaze it with various sauces, etc. Sometimes I make a glaze to brush on before searing – usually involving Maggi seasoning, oil, sugar, and Chinese Five-Spice powder.
  • Don’t skip the step where you take it out of the fridge before searing – letting it come closer to room temperature means you can thoroughly brown it on both sides without worrying that the centre will still be ice cold.

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music lately:

I Enjoy Being A Girl, by Pat Suzuki, from the 1958 Broadway show Flower Drum Song. Unfortunately she wasn’t cast in the later film adaptation – instead the role went to Nancy Kwan who, while very beautiful, had the singing parts dubbed by another singer. Nonetheless, Suzuki’s rendition remains the definitive one, and her voice is incredible – easily enormous, so expressive, with that delicious growl.

Get Up Off Your Knees, by Ethel Waters. There’s something so reassuring yet sexy about her voice, and she had a number of songs from this era (the late 1920s) which were fantastically strident and sexy like this song about a trifling lover (and some songs which were near-outrightly raunchy, in the case of Do What You Did Last Night.)

Sweetness and Light by Lush. Fizzy, feathery, swoony, delicious, listening to this makes exciting things feel possible again.

Next time: Okay so I did make butter out of oats but it also might be time for my annual edible Christmas present round-up.

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

Sticky Shiitake Yuba with Creamy Double Corn Polenta

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

Anyway, the recipe!

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

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

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

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

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Sticky Shiitake Yuba with Creamy Double Corn Polenta

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

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

Polenta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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music lately:

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

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

Next time: Ice cream!

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

Spaghetti with Horseradish Butter [Vegan]

I took some time out from blogging over the past fortnight because it didn’t sit right with me to do normal updates as though an enormous uprising wasn’t happening in America in response to police brutality, murder, and systemic oppression of Black people. That uprising is so enormous – so powerful – that there was nothing else worth knowing about. Frankly, I didn’t want to hear my own voice. I’ve been donating to bail funds, signing petitions and doing a lot of reading, and – in order of their usefulness – I encourage anyone and everyone to do the same and to reflect hard if reflection is needed, and if you want any recommendations or thoughts just ask me! There are parallels between the failures of America and the failures of our own police force in New Zealand and the specificity of the Black Lives Matter cause to America doesn’t mean we’re removed from its impact. This is not a definitive statement on what’s going on or what the best response is – but just as much as I needed to shut up for a while, now I need to not, you know?


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This recipe for spaghetti with horseradish butter was domiciled in my brain for a long time – actual months – before I had the opportunity to make it. Despite being mostly at home during the various levels of lockdown I was never quite alone, and this was a recipe I knew I had to make alone – in case it was terrible, so no one else would be marred by the experience – or in case it was incredible, so I could selfishly yet serenely enjoy its abundance all to myself. Happily, it was the latter. Quite incredible.

Horseradish belongs to a particularly brusque family which includes wasabi, mustard, cabbage, broccoli and radishes, so even if you’ve never tried it this should give you some clue as to its flavour – clean, grassy, and more sinus-exfoliating than Buckley’s Canadiol expectorant, if consumed in large quantities. There’s a delicacy to horseradish though, a sort of gauzy pepperiness which cuts through richness in an elegant way, thus making it perfect for this simple buttery pasta. That being said, this sauce would be equally delicious made with wasabi or mustard instead.

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The butter is quickly made in a blender – based on this recipe I blogged about last year – and it’s fulsome and creamy and, well, buttery, or at least as close as my tastebuds can recall butter to be from the times before I was vegan. Any sharpness from the horseradish is mellowed out by the flood of richness from the coconut oil, but then any overwhelming richness from said oil is tempered with just enough harshness from the horseradish.

The quantity of butter this recipe makes could absolutely be sufficient for two people’s worth of spaghetti – perhaps even three – although I wouldn’t want to make that call personally. Much as I love it, I understand horseradish can be a somewhat divisive flavour – so perhaps it’s for the greater good if you make this just for yourself, too.

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Spaghetti with Horseradish Butter

A recipe by myself.

  • 2 tablespoons almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 1/4 teaspoon vinegar (I used malt, cider or red wine would be good too)
  • 1 heaped tablespoon grated horseradish, from a jar
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • 100g spaghetti or dried pasta of your choice
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh parsley, for garnish

1: Either in a high-speed blender or using a stick blender in a small bowl, blitz the almond milk, ground almonds, vinegar and horseradish. You can also add a pinch of turmeric for colour if you like. It might feel a bit ineffectual blending such a small quantity of liquid but it will come together when you add the oil.

2: Add the oil and salt and blend thoroughly for about thirty seconds or until the mixture is thick and smoothly pureed. If you are using a stick blender, drizzle it in slowly as you’re blending, but if you’re using an actual blender just chuck it all in. Taste to see if it needs more salt, and refrigerate while you make the pasta.

3: Bring a large pan of water to the boil (or: boil the kettle and then tip that into your pan, which is much faster) and salt generously. Once the water is boiling, tip in the pasta and cook for ten to twelve minutes or until tender.

4: Drain the pasta, retaining about 2 tablespoons of the cooking water. Stir in as much of the horseradish butter as you like – I used the whole lot – along with a little of the cooking water, the starchiness of which will cohere with the butter to form a delicate sauce.

5: Serve, sprinkled with the parsley. Serves 1.

Notes: You can use refined or unrefined coconut oil successfully here – unrefined will give a slight coconut flavour, but I guess we’re used to that by now. You could try making this with a different plant milk but almond’s neutral (dare I say nonexistent) flavour works best here – if that’s not available I would go for rice milk instead.

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music lately:

Efuge Efuge, by Stelios Kazantzidis. As they say in the youtube comments, The Wire season two brought me here, and this song is so enigmatic – especially that mournful yet body-motivating chorus.

Germ Free Adolescents by X Ray Spex. Ugh I love this song, the way Poly Styrene’s voice cracks and then soars, it’s so grim yet so uplifting, like a – I don’t know, all I can think of is watching an albatross fly over the setting sun but then it swoops down and kicks you in the face and then flies off again and you’re like, “you know what, that belligerent albatross probably had their reasons,” because it’s so beautiful.

King of the World, by Billy Porter from the off-Broadway musical Songs for a New World. Porter was part of the original cast but due to a contractual conflict he didn’t appear on the cast recording – fortunately he recorded a version of this glorious song for his 2005 live album At the Corner of Broadway and Soul. Even in audio form you can feel his acting – but the singing! In that final chorus! When he inverts the melody and throws it towards the sky! Like a non-belligerent albatross!

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.

Pesto Seitan

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Even a minute looking at this recipe for seitan would completely put me off as it appears a mile long and every inch of it arduous, and there’s no real way to convince you it’s quite straightforward other than attempting to distract by waving lots of lengthy adjectives about. Frankly, I’ve not seen a single seitan recipe which doesn’t make the entire process seem like a gigantic pain in the skull and I doubt mine is doing anything to mitigate this – but it really, honestly, is a lot easier to put together than it is to read about.

As far as I can tell there’s no streamlining the three main steps – mixing the dough, simmering the dough, then actually cooking it as you intended – but once you have your head around these steps you can face the process with exuberance in your heart. When I first made this I just used gluten flour and water, with no added protein in the form of cannellini beans, and it was fine, but very springy – the pureed beans give the seitan a more relaxed texture, and they also make your gluten flour go further since it’s weirdly expensive here at $9 a package. You may rightfully be suspicious at how there’s very little seasoning in the seitan itself, but I’ve found it’s easier to get the flavour in during the marinading process than it is at the start, where the gluten flour muffles every effort at making it taste like anything other than hard bouncy flour.

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You can of course dial back my recipe by leaving out the pesto element – this was part of my birthday dinner last month (and you can also see the Triple Pickle Macaroni in the photos) and pesto remains as thrilling to me now as it did back in 2003 when I first learned of its existence. If you’re not making it a la pesto, then I would enthusiastically suggest adding lots of chopped fresh rosemary and thyme to the marinade, their resiny robust fragrance is an ideal pairing with the seitan.

It’s not that seitan tastes like meat, it doesn’t. As soon as I start trying to describe it – firm, chewy, slightly fibrous – we get back into off-putting territory, but there really is something amazing about its texture. The gluten gives a mild flavour, slightly nutty and rich, a foolproof backdrop for whatever flavour you wish to have cling to. Basically: it tastes of culinary potential. Once marinated in a salt-fat-acid-heat mixture, then fried vigorously till crisp-edged and caramelised, with the rubble of hand-chopped pesto stirred through – it becomes particularly luxurious and opulent. It reminded me of the canned mock duck which I used to consume at great length and which, in lockdown, I lamentably haven’t been able to get hold of – this is, perhaps, the highest praise I can offer. Therefore, truly worth the hassle. That being said, if you are, unlike me, able to get hold of the Wu Chung canned mock duck? Put your feet up and ignore everything I’ve just said, because dinner is served.

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Pesto Seitan

A recipe by myself.

Seitan

  • 1 x 400g tin cannellini beans
  • 1 and 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten, also sold as gluten flour (the brand I used was Lotus Gluten Flour which I found at my small local New World)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 vegan chicken stock cube (or whatever flavour you want)

Marinade

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 heaped teaspoon Marmite or 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper or a dash of chilli sauce

Pesto Sauce

  • 2 large handfuls fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 2 heaped tablespoons tahini
  • zest and juice of a lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (though you may wish to add more)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • salt, to taste

Step One: Mix and Simmer the Seitan

1: Blend the drained cannellini beans in a food processor until smooth. You can mash them with a fork if need be, but it’s a lot harder to mix into the flour if not completely pureed. Transfer to a bowl and add the gluten flour, 1/2 a cup of water and half the stock cube, stirring briefly till it forms a solid ball – this won’t take very long, and only add more water if there’s too much flour remaining. Knead it for a minute – pushing away and pulling back with your palms and knuckles – it should feel quite dense and solid.

2: Cut the ball into four even pieces (the size and quantity isn’t that important, it’s just to make it easier to simmer.) Place the seitan and remaining half a stock cube in a large pan and cover with water by a couple inches. Bring the water to the boil, and then simmer for about fifteen to twenty minutes, stirring often. The seitan will swell up alarmingly, which is why you need to keep an eye on it, but it will deflate once the water is drained.

3: Thoroughly drain the seitan – I put it in a colander and then press down with the pan I’ve just cooked it in – and set aside till you’re ready to cook dinner. I quite like to leave it overnight in the fridge, it seems to improve the flavour and texture, but I also very, very, very rarely think that far ahead, so don’t worry too much. It helps, once the seitan has cooled, to squeeze it out a bit over a sink – but don’t stress too much, any remaining water will evaporate in the hot saucepan.

Step Two: Make the Marinade and Sauce

1: About half an hour before you want to cook dinner, mix together the marinade ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Slice the thoroughly drained seitan into small pieces and stir into the marinade, and leave at room temperature for about half an hour.

2: To make the pesto sauce, chop the basil, pine nuts and walnuts finely – doing it in small batches with a large knife is most effective – and mix together in a small bowl with the remaining pesto ingredients. It’s fine if some pine nuts are left whole or larger pieces of walnuts remain. This won’t look like pesto from a jar – it’s supposed to be more rough and textural. Taste to see if it needs more of anything.

Step Three: Fry, Stir and Serve

1: Heat a large frying pan and fry the marinated seitan pieces over a high heat, turning occasionally with tongs, until browned and a little crisp in places. Tip in the remaining marinade and stir for a minute or two.

2: Remove from the heat and stir in the pesto until everything is thoroughly coated.

3: Serve immediately.

Substitution notes: instead of cannellini beans you can use chickpeas or firm tofu – about 150g to 200g, pressed with a paper towel to remove excess liquid, whatever you use just blend it in the same way. Stock cubes can be replaced with soy sauce, or just use more Marmite; use tomato puree or even tomato ketchup/sauce instead of paste. You can add different herbs and spices to the marinade – chopped fresh rosemary goes really well here – and you can use different oil, maple syrup or golden syrup instead of sugar, and any time I mention garlic cloves you can totally use the stuff from a jar. I would, however, make a concerted effort to get hold of some celery salt – it adds something specific and irreplaceable in my opinion! You can increase the quantity of pine nuts in the pesto if you’re feeling rich; and you can add spinach or parsley to the basil.

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music lately:

Savage Remix, by Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé. Imagine having Beyoncé featuring on your track before you even release your debut album? It makes sense though and I love this for Megan, she’s so enormously talented and fun and if the song wasn’t already the quarantine soundtrack with the ubiquitous accompanying Tik-Tok dance challenge (which I admit, I learned, but did not broadcast) this fresh take has thoroughly invigorated my love of it. I realise what I’ve just written feels extremely 2020, but – here we undeniably are.

Big Iron, by Marty Robbins from his Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs album which is so instantly calming yet stirring it’s like being full-body dunked in a bowl of noodle soup.

Tainted Love, Gloria Jones, this is kind of like Rumble by Link Wray in that you listen to it and it’s like does anything else go as hard as this? Why do we bother to continue making music when this exists? Why doesn’t every song have that dun-dun beat in it (as in, “sometimes I feel I’ve got to – dun-dun – run away”) imagine how much better Mozart would be if his Eine Kleine Nachtmusik had the Tainted Love dun-dun after his opening bars?

Next time: I’m in the mood to make 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.

a low-key handful of recipes: mushroom stroganoff, gumbo-esque stew, mince on toast, chocolate pear pudding

We’re about three weeks into lockdown here in NZ but for me it’s been a full month since I’ve left the house – even to go outside at all. I had romantic notions of reading and knitting in the yard but every time you open a window wasps and mice and flies pour in and though it gives the vibe of living in a Southern Gothic novel it’s also massively off-putting. I generally regard the outdoors with suspicion anyway so I guess this is simply the universe reinforcing my assessment of it.

If you’re reading this I certainly hope things are as close to your current working definition of “okay” as possible. I personally cannot complain too much (and yet!) but I do find myself increasingly quick to irritation as a result of all this repetition. People trying to be funny online annoy me, people trying to be heartfelt annoy me, if you say something inane, that’s annoying, if you say something deep, that’s super annoying, if you mention hanging out with your partner, it’s plumbing the very teeth-eroding depths of intolerable. Oh, don’t worry, I find literally everything I say and do annoying too – and then comes the guilt at being so grumpy at everyone, guilt for not being a fountain of perky positivity – even though I’ve always been irritated by fountains of perky positivity whether or not there was a pandemic closing in on us. Then, just as it feels like my skin is going to fall off from sheer, resentful aggravation – I stand up and do some form of cardio exercise. And afterwards, even if I only exerted myself for ten minutes, and if I’m honest it’s seldom more than ten minutes – afterwards I’ll feel benign, positively magnanimous. Everyone is excused, everyone is clearly doing their best in these trying circumstances!

And then I get annoyed at the exercise, for being so maddeningly effective. Why can’t I get my endorphins from sitting down?

As you can see this blog post is a little different from usual; despite having all the time in the world I have a lot less focus – and I didn’t have an abundance to begin with – and while I’ve been cooking food I haven’t exactly been making specific recipes. I was about to give up on the notion of writing this altogether to sit and stew in my own pinging, directionless ire, when I realised I could still talk about what I’d cooked, and perhaps, collectively, it might be of some use. Each recipe is, as you can see, open to tinkering with – indeed, each one of them was the result of me meandering about, hoping what I was cooking would meet the image in my mind. The stroganoff is rich and creamy and lush (and don’t skip the cayenne, it might be that there is very little going on in my life but for days after I couldn’t stop thinking about how perfectly a pinprick of pepper brought the whole stroganoff to life.) The gumbo-esque stew was inspired by a Bryant Terry recipe, in that I looked at it and then ignored pretty much everything he suggested, but I would absolutely not have had this incredible dinner without him as a starting point. Mince on toast is pretty self-explanatory but I am keen to champion Chinese Five-Spice to anyone who will listen; and the pudding is even more self-explanatory: pudding is nice.

You may notice I haven’t mentioned garlic at all in any of the savoury recipes: it’s not that none was used – quite the opposite – but I also assume you each have highly specific opinions on what constitutes a suitable quantity and so I’m going to trust you to follow your instincts there. And once again – I really do hope you’re all okay, whatever okay is!

Mushroom Stroganoff

Slice enough button mushrooms for however many people you’re serving. If you don’t know how many mushrooms to serve people, just slice up every mushroom you have – they shrink in the pan and if you have leftovers, so be it. Fry a chopped onion in plenty of olive oil till softened, then add the mushrooms and continue stirring till they’ve collapsed and browned. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, one heaped teaspoon paprika, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and a spoonful of whatever mustard you have, along with two tablespoons of flour. Add a splash of whatever wine you’re drinking, if you have it – red or white, doesn’t matter. After stirring this around for a minute or two, slowly pour in coconut milk (or almond milk/soy milk/whatever) continuing to stir as you pour, and then let it simmer away, stirring, until as thickened yet saucy as you want it to be. Feel free to add more coconut milk and make it really saucy, and if you only have a little milk to hand you can top it up with water. I am going to assume at some point you’ve added salt and pepper. Taste to see if it needs more of anything, then serve over rice or mashed potatoes with chopped parsley. Of course you can use portobello mushrooms or fancy mushrooms or a mix but, button mushrooms will do the trick just fine.

Gumbo-esque Stew

I say Gumbo-esque because this lacks the requisite filé powder (though if you have it, go ahead) and other signposts of a classic gumbo. It tastes magnificent though, and it’s even better the next day. Roughly chop a generous handful of greens per person: spinach, kale, silverbeet, cabbage, whatever you have. It’ll shrink down in the pan, so don’t hold back. Finely chop a large onion, one or two sticks of celery, and a green capsicum (bell pepper for the Americans.) Heat four tablespoons olive oil and half a cup of flour together in a large pan, stirring over a medium heat for at least ten minutes, or until the flour is a rich golden brown colour. Then add the onion/celery/capsicum mixture and cook until the vegetables are a little softened. Add two teaspoons paprika, a good pinch of cayenne, a teaspoon of sugar (or maple syrup or molasses or whatever) and then slowly stir in about four cups of strongly seasoned stock/broth (I like vegan beef stock here for the flavour), followed by a drained can of black beans (or whatever beans you like, and you can add more beans to feed more people) as well as any extra chopped vegetables you want – carrots, kumara, etc. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly, then add the greens. Simmer for about 20-40 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more of anything (including stock) until it’s the taste and texture you want. If you have some good vegan sausages, chop them up and add them to the simmering pot too. And if you have a bay leaf, now would be the time to throw that in. Once it’s done simmering, stir in plenty of fresh thyme leaves and a splash of any vinegar you have before serving over rice or simply as is.

Mince on Toast

I mean like: cook mince and put it on toast, but also: fry an onion and a few chopped button mushrooms, add your vegan mince, stir to let it cook through, then tip in a quarter to half a jar of tomato relish and a good teaspoon of Marmite, add a splash of water/red wine and let simmer. A pinch of Chinese Five-Spice always makes everything delicious. If you don’t have vegan mince to hand, a mixture of fried mushrooms, chopped walnuts and chopped sun-dried tomatoes is really good.

Chocolate Pear Pudding

This is based on a recipe of Nigella Lawson’s, which I made vegan and more chocolatey. If you have fresh actual pears – which we did, and which was what prompted the making of this – then slice them up and arrange them in the baking dish and pop them in the oven as it heats up while you make the batter. Otherwise, as is more likely the case, simply drain two tins of pears and arrange over the base of a baking dish. Melt 1/3 cup coconut oil (though you could use margarine) and stir in 1 cup sugar, 1 and 1/2 cups flour, 4 tablespoons cocoa, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds mixed with 4 tablespoons of water (mix the flaxseed and water first and leave it to sit while you mix everything else.) Finally, stir in around 3/4 cup soy milk or whatever milk you have, until the texture is thick yet softly spreadable. Chop up about 50g-75g dark chocolate and sprinkle it over the pears, then spoon the batter over the top, smoothing it evenly with a knife or the back of a spoon. It will only just cover the pears, so try not to eat too much while you’re making it. Bake for about thirty minutes at 180C/350F. Serve as is, or with cold coconut milk or ice cream.

music lately:

Lungs, by Townes Van Zandt, from his Live at the Old Quarter album. That final line, “we’ll tell the world we tried,” I just!

Yon Ferrets Return, Neko Case. Possibly the most fiercely joyful song ever written about the ferret, and #14 in another playlist I made for Tenderly, this time about the less-celebrated members of the animal kingdom.

I’m Going Home, from the 36th Annual Sacred Harp Convention. Turns out you can get your endorphins sitting down: listening to this – and I recommend headphones – is even more rewarding than cardio. I mean, everything’s more rewarding than cardio to me, but this really does approach similar levels of busting through the hardened plaque built up around one’s brain.

Next time: photos, I promise! It’s my birthday tomorrow (the 17th) so I’m aiming to cook something cool for dinner and will report back here. I mean, there’s not much else I can do for a birthday in lockdown, but fortunately cooking dinner is pretty much all I ever want to do anyway.

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. Also! I wrote a round up of television recommendations if you need them while stuck at home, which anyone can read on my Patreon for free.

forty cloves of garlic with potatoes and artichoke hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recipes from or Near the Store Cupboard

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

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Forty Cloves of Garlic with Potatoes and Artichoke Hearts

A recipe by myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

music lately:

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

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

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

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. If nothing else, I have dozens and dozens of book and film reviews on there should your solitude require inspiration.

vegan penne alla vodka

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The subject of vodka raises ire within me, frankly I turn into a real killjoy when I talk about it. Then I feel bad and overcompensate, which extrapolates into me just yelling “It’s STUPID! And that’s VALID!” while people rapidly vacate the room. I say this with a former bartender’s hubris, and the absolute humility of someone who – on this very blog! – once sincerely referred to a vodka soda as a “sneeringly dry drink.” In my defence, 2009 was a simpler time and being exposed to fewer ideas meant you could garner unearned braggadocio alarmingly easily.

My issue with vodka? Its purpose is to not exist; a vodka soda might as well just be a soda. There is nothing else it can possibly taste like. If you sincerely want to make your juice alcoholic without the burden of experiencing flavour then that’s fine, go right ahead and add vodka, but I don’t understand the appeal of prestige brands – there is bad vodka, there is competent vodka, and beyond that, there’s not a lot to discern them. My one exception is Zubrowka, but that’s because the bison grass flavouring makes it delicious and actually recognisable, as opposed to the base spirit itself.

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However. Where I begrudgingly – no, blatantly! – acknowledge this otherwise dullard spirit coming into its own, is in the Italian-American dish, Penne Alla Vodka. Everything about this recipe is pleasing: its drawly, Appenine-via-the-Baltics title, the simple joy of tomato sauce spliced with cream, and, yes, the vodka, which provides sinewy, vigorous richness. Pouring vodka into your pasta might suggest novelty, but a splash of white wine in a hot pan will improve any sauce, so switch out a far higher ABV in the form of vodka and you’re rewarded with even more intensity.

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My version is vegan, so there’s obviously no cream involved. The richness instead comes from coconut yoghurt – the sort that’s so thick you can genuinely stand your spoon up in it – and a little pasta cooking water. Unlike Penne Alla Vodka, which first emerged – unsurprisingly – in the 1970s, the notion of using the starchy water from your pasta as an emulsifier dates back to the Roman Empire. Don’t leave it out, it somehow thins and silkily thickens the sauce simultaneously. The yoghurt lends tangy luxury, and yeah, you can taste the coconut to a certain extent, but coconut becomes your zero point when you’re vegan for a while. And anyway, its unique mellow sweetness works beautifully with the acidic tomatoes.

More than just the same old pasta with tomatoes you think you know, Penne Alla Vodka has a dishevelled sexiness to it, a dish you could make for someone you’re trying to impress while also doing your best to appear artless and nonchalant. And if you don’t have the titular vodka in your liquor annexe? You can always use instead that most gratifying of flavoured vodkas – gin.

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Vegan Penne Alla Vodka

A recipe by myself.

  • 100g dried penne pasta
  • 4 ripe tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 spring onion
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vodka
  • 2 tablespoons unflavoured coconut yoghurt
  • salt and pepper
  • Olive oil, to fry and serve
  • chopped parsley, to serve

1: Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling, well-salted water. This should take around twelve minutes, give or take.

2: Halve the tomatoes, cut off the green stalky part, and scoop out the seeds. It doesn’t matter if some are left, and you can just eat them if you’re aghast at the wastefulness, I did. Roughly chop the remaining tomato flesh. Finely chop the spring onion and garlic cloves.

3: Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan, and cook the onion, garlic and tomato – all together at once – over a medium heat till the tomato has broken down a little. Add salt and pepper to taste, plus a small pinch of sugar. If you’re using crushed garlic from a jar, leave the sugar out.

4: Add the vodka and let the sauce bubble away on medium for another minute, stirring constantly.

5: Once your pasta is nearly tender and cooked, scoop out two tablespoons of the pasta cooking water and mix it into the coconut yoghurt. Stir this into the tomato sauce, and turn up the heat a little to get it bubbling. Stir until the sauce has thickened, then remove from the heat.

6: Fold the cooked, drained pasta into the sauce. Drizzle with more olive oil if you like, and sprinkle over chopped parsley.

Serves 1. If you want to make this for two I’d double the pasta but you can probably just add half the ingredients – like, another two tomatoes and another tablespoon of vodka.

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music lately:

Brand New Love by Sebadoh. Oh, what a song! You think it’s going to be fast and then it’s slow, you think it’s going to be slow and then it’s GINORMOUS. And I will never ever get over how 53 seconds in it sounds exactly like the Defying Gravity coda, like, Stephen Schwartz should be paying them royalties (seriously, please indulge me, the coda starts at 4:28 in Defying Gravity. It’s also, incidentally, my ringtone, and receiving phone calls makes me anxious, which has now made my relationship with this song super weird, although I guess my relationship with it was demonstrably already kind of weird for a grown woman.)

Wimp, by The Zeros, the A-side to their better-known 1976 song Don’t Push Me Around. It’s a great track, but I prefer Wimp’s sludgy, Stooges-y, fulsome brattiness.

Next time: As you can see from the photo above – a small sample! – we are overrun with tomatoes, so they will probably feature.

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.