Instant Gnocchi [vegan]

P1200343

It was somewhere in that indistinct and malleable stretch of the early nineties before the internet became accessible, let alone entrenched, and before every minute was documented – somewhere in that time, I sat down brimming with cheerful anticipation for the latest episode of Full House only to be confronted with a hideous replacement show – Mountain Dew on The Edge – a show whose title is opaque to the point of meaninglessness and yet is somehow entirely and nakedly threatening to be about sports. (To my disgust, it really was about sports.) It was on that sombre day I learned that TV shows have seasons that end, and they don’t just spit out new episodes forever, and you can’t rely on anything or anyone in this cold world but yourself, kid. It was somewhere in that same era that I once again faced disappointment when I turned on the television expecting a brand new episode of a particular sitcom and was met, instead, with a clip show, that budget-saving device TV shows lean on occasionally by cobbling together an episode from previously filmed segments – and I had no media literacy or access to Wikipedia or the TV Tropes website to understand what was happening or why I felt so let down. Who can you trust, if not your TV in the nineties?

P1200338

Today’s recipe is, I apologetically acknowledge, something of a clip show, taking components familiar to long-term readers of both this blog and my Patreon – although hopefully it’s a clip show in the mildly superior vein of The Simpsons “All Singing, All Dancing” episode which had the grace to grant us the timeless Paint Your Wagon parody before getting into the replays. Just as Homer takes comfort in the presence of Lee Marvin – “he’s always drunk and violent!” – we can take comfort in knowing my recipes are always good, even if you’ve seen them before. And I’m currently in week three (I think?) of a Level 4 lockdown without any promised end date in sight, so I hope you can allow me a short rest on these comfortable laurels.

I wouldn’t be repeating this recipe, first seen here in 2017, if it wasn’t for good reason – this gnocchi is literally instant, using mashed potato flakes instead of peeled, boiled, and mashed potatoes. Whether you’re in lockdown, or you’re depressed, or you don’t have actual potatoes, or the thought of peeling potatoes and waiting for water to boil and then waiting for said potatoes to cook till tender makes you want to sob – whatever’s going on, this gnocchi can be yours in fifteen minutes from start to finish, even quicker if you’re feeling sprightly. (If this sounds like a glib recommendation, please know that I have made this gnocchi in every last one of these states and am speaking from experience.) This recipe is even faster than it was the first time around since I’ve dispensed with the time-consuming fork-rolling step – no great sacrifice and it makes the gnocchi look like tiny little pillows, a benignly pleasing notion.

Obviously – and perhaps this is what I should be really apologetic for – this is not the traditional Italian way of making gnocchi, and I imagine it’s not just the Italians who would get het up at putting instant mashed potato flakes front and centre of a recipe. But these instant mashed potato flakes are singularly useful to have around – they’re cheap, they last forever, they really are instant, and they’re a lifesaver square meal during times when you don’t know how your next actual square meal is going to fit into your bank account. They also make truly delicious gnocchi – light, puffy, golden-crisp and genuinely quite elegant – a dish that feels like a treat at any time, but especially in the middle of lockdown.

P1200342

Instant Gnocchi

This gnocchi is not traditional – taking a huge shortcut with instant potato flakes – but it is very fast and very delicious, and that counts for something. Recipe, proudly, by myself.

  • 3/4 cup instant mashed potato flakes
  • 3/4 cup just-boiled water
  • a generous pinch of salt
  • 1 and 1/4 cups flour, and perhaps a little more
  • olive oil, for frying

1: Mix the mashed potato flakes, water, and salt together in a bowl – which will turn the flakes, suddenly, into something resembling mashed potato – then stir in the flour, switching to your hands (a little carefully, since it’ll still be hot from the boiling water) to briefly knead/push it into a ball of soft, pliant dough. If it’s too sticky, add a little more flour, if it’s too floury, add more water.

2: Using your hands, roll portions of the dough into long snakes, and cut off pieces at 1-inch intervals, continuing with all the remaining dough till you have a pile of 1-inch pieces of dough, looking like tiny pillows. Obviously, you don’t have to measure with a ruler here. Just cut the stuff up.

3: You can cook the gnocchi in boiling salted water at this point – for a couple of minutes until they start floating on the surface – but what I prefer is to just tumble them into a hot frying pan with a couple spoonfuls of olive oil, place a lid on for a minute or so to sort of steam-fry them, and then remove the lid and turn them over so they get brown and crisp. I realise my lengthy description makes it look like this is the harder method; it’s much easier and, I think, significantly more delicious.

Serves two, modestly, or one, very generously.

Notes:

To make the also-fairly-instant sauce that goes with the gnocchi in the photos – which is adapted from a recipe of Nigella Lawson’s in her Forever Summer book – take a whole lemon, slice off the ends, the zest and most of the pith, chop the remaining flesh into pieces and throw it into a food processor along with some of the zest (flicking out any seeds that you see with the tip of your knife) and a very large bunch of parsley, process this into a lemony-green gunge, then add a pinch of sugar, a tablespoon of mushroom soy sauce, and at least three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and process again. Pour over your cooked gnocchi. If you have the energy and means, a few finely chopped garlic cloves and a piece of bread roughly chopped into large crumbs fried in olive oil is an excellent topping for all this.

Also feel free to refer to my original version of this recipe, which is served with a fantastically good mixture of fried Brussels sprouts, rosemary and pine nuts and which – as you can see by the similar-but-different quantities in the recipe – will hopefully reassure you that this gnocchi method is very forgiving and hard to get wrong. So many times I’ve made this I accidentally add the flour in with the mashed potato and boiling water and it still turns out quite edible.

P1200345

music lately:

Take Me To The Other Side by Spacemen 3. Psychedelic and messy and delicious.

Here Comes The Hotstepper by Ini Kamoze. The way this used to fill the dancefloor with reliability at the school disco, a time that feels as distant and improbable as when I last occupied a dancefloor as an adult, to be honest.

Biology by Girls Aloud – this song is always on my mind anyway but after band member Sarah Harding died at age 39 on September 5 it’s been on my mind, well, even harder. Say what you will about Girls Aloud but when they were good they were incredible – their only peers of that jewel-tone cocktail dress era in terms of boundary-pushing yet utterly manufactured pop were the Sugababes (with producer Xenomania in the middle of that Venn diagram). Biology asks, what if a song was all choruses, featured adequate dancing, and was the best thing you’ve ever heard? (And my heart is about as heavy as it can get with the loss of actor Michael K Williams today; no more bad news like this, I beg.)

Losing My Mind, from Sondheim’s musical Follies, performed here by the late Marin Mazzie – oh, since we’re already crying – “you said you loved me – or were you just being kind?”

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Chilli Corn Macaroni [vegan]

P1200326

I’m not sure there’s a pasta shape in the world where the mere mention of its name immediately evokes and suggests its partner ingredient the way macaroni does with cheese. Yes, there’s spaghetti and its frequent dance partner bolognese. But spaghetti has broad-spectrum versatility, it’s culinarily non-monogamous, whereas – other than perhaps those spooky mid-century salads – what else would you do with macaroni but serve it as mac and cheese?

I say this to point out that while my recipe for Chilli Corn Macaroni isn’t supposed to be a vegan mac and cheese dupe, it still relies on the muscle memory of your taste buds to recognise the similar vibe – bright yellow, crunchy topping, creamy sauce, comfort food. In my earlier days of being vegan, I was more dedicated to coming up with sauces that could emulate and replace the macaroni cheese I’d grown up with, but the longer I stick with it the more I find myself making recipes that owe something to the blueprint but aren’t trying so hard, which – I think – makes them all the more interesting and delicious. I’m talking specifically about my Thai Yellow Curry Mac’n’Cheese or the Triple Pickle Macaroni that I made for my birthday last year; and now I’m adding this Chilli Corn Macaroni to the canon.

P1200325

And yes, you could make this sauce for linguine or bucatini or something more elegant but it fits best with the homely and unassuming macaroni elbow (or other small shape if that’s all you have) and till the day comes where a decent and affordable vegan cheese appears on New Zealand supermarket shelves – not crayon-waxy, not stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth gluey, but proper and sharp and able to melt into bubbling pools of golden promise – till that day comes, I’ll stick with these recipes.

That being said – would this taste amazing with non-vegan cheese melted on top? Probably! I’m not going to haunt your descendants from beyond the grave if you decide to do it.

Fortunately for the rest of us, this macaroni tastes excellent as is. The corn is pureed into sunshine-coloured velvet and becomes wonderfully buttery and sweet – if yellow had a flavour, this would surely be it. This sauce owes something to the Corn Butter Risotto recipe that I made a few years ago, but it’s significantly simpler to make – though nothing’s stopping you from straining this sauce through a sieve as well I imagine no one has the energy for that right now. While this is comfort food, it’s not entirely coddling you – the hit of chilli ties it all together, which is hardly a surprise when chilli and corn pair so well in numerous other established recipes. The garlic crumbs on top are my usual way of providing added texture and flavour in these circumstances, and rather than thinking of them as a cheese substitute, they are delicious, and indeed, necessary in their own right. In case this sounds like too much effort, rest assured that you don’t have to wash the blender or the pan between making the crumbs and the sauce – beyond that I can’t help you, but I certainly won’t judge you.

P1200331

Chilli Corn Macaroni

As long as you have some kind of blender this couldn’t be easier – or more comforting – just creamy, buttery pasta evocative of mac’n’cheese without actually trying to be it, blanketed in crunchy garlic crumbs. Recipe by myself.

  • 200g macaroni elbows
  • 2 pieces of bread (any kind is fine, although I’d lean towards white bread)
  • 2 fat garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 x 400g can of whole corn kernels
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce (I used mushroom soy sauce)
  • a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha or chilli sauce of your choice
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal (optional)
  • a splash of pickle brine (optional, but very good)
  • salt and white pepper, to taste

1: First, bring a pan of water to the boil, generously salt it, then tip in the macaroni elbows and cook them for about twelve minutes or until tender.

2: While this is going on, toast the two slices of bread in the toaster – just to dry them out a little – then tear them into chunks and place in a blender or food processor with the garlic cloves and thyme leaves, and pulse till they form breadcrumbs. Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry these garlicky breadcrumbs till golden and a little crunchy – bearing in mind that they’ll crunch up more upon sitting – then remove them to a bowl and set aside. This makes a decent quantity of breadcrumbs, perhaps more than you really need, but naturally, I’ve allowed extra for you to swipe while making everything else.

3: In the same blender – no need to wash – puree the drained corn kernels along with the mustard, soy sauce, nutmeg, and sriracha along with about 1/2 a cup of water (I just eyeball the quantity from the tap into the empty tin of corn, swirl it around, and pour it in). A high-speed blender works best here to really puree the corn into velvety mush, a regular food processor may struggle to achieve the right texture, or at least, you’ll be blending it for a lot longer. Also, it goes without saying (but I’m saying it just in case) that you can add more or less chilli to suit your taste.

4: Heat the same pan that you cooked the breadcrumbs in – again, no need to clean it – and spatula the corn mixture into the hot pan, along with the cornmeal and pickle brine if you’re using them. The cornmeal helps to thicken it but it’s quite fine without; if you don’t have any just add a small splash of starchy pasta cooking water, the pickle brine is pretty self-explanatory flavour-wise but you could always use a little red wine vinegar instead. Stir over a high heat, letting this bright yellow mixture bubble away and thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste, and then – since the pasta should be cooked by this point – take off the heat and stir in the drained macaroni. Divide between two bowls and top each bowl with a generous quantity of garlic breadcrumbs.

Serves 2. You could get away with putting 300g of macaroni in this, but add a little extra pasta cooking water to the sauce as you stir it. Any more pasta than that and I’d add an extra can of corn (and instead of doubling the seasoning, you could consider instead throwing a vegan chicken stock cube into the blender with the second can of corn.)

P1200332

music lately:

Can You Get To That by Funkadelic. If the colour yellow had a sound it would be this song!

Evel Knievel by Lilys, it’s a big crunchy distorted beeping stop-start mess of a song but it’s just the kind of thing I want to listen to. For something more straightforwardly pleasant I recommend the delightfully effervescent Ginger – the opening song to Evel Knievel‘s closer on their 1994 album A Brief History of Amazing Letdowns.

Candy Store from the off-Broadway musical Heathers (based on the film, Heathers) performed by Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alice Lee and Elle McLemore; I listened to this cast recording and thought it was fine but then I couldn’t get this song out of my head so here we are – between that glam-rock stomp of a drum beat and the stunning harmonies it’s just very, very catchy! There’s also this one small part of the song Big Fun from the same musical which is forcibly lodged in my head and I can’t get it out, but to prevent you being similarly afflicted I won’t tell you which part.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Lentil, Radish, Avocado and Fried Potato Salad

IMG_0859

The one area in my life where I have a confident surplus of initiative is cooking – when nothing makes sense and the increasingly burdensome administrative tasks involved in being an adult are gleefully multiplying like the broomsticks in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I can still invent a recipe or be delighted by a hypothetical combination of flavours. July has been a taxing month and these reliable instincts fell somewhat dormant, but I was jolted back to life by seeing this Lentil Salad TikTok by food writer Bettina Makalintal – suddenly I felt excited again because making this recipe was in my near future. And besides, I gain as much joy from outside inspiration as I do from coming up with my own ideas (okay, maybe it’s more of a self-satisfied forty/sixty split), and it takes initiative to recognise someone else’s initiative, right? (As you can see, I may lack initiative, but at least I’m constantly worrying about it!)

Lentils and tofu are usually first under the bus when non-vegans discuss vegan food but as I always say, this is an issue with cooking ability, not the meal itself. Unseasoned, poorly cooked food is gross whether the protein source grew in the ground or walked the earth. You have to give the lentils some flavour and texture to cling onto otherwise they’re left stranded and bland. This superb salad – it does right by the lentil.

IMG_0829

My recipe takes key elements of Bettina’s salad – the lentils, obviously, the peppery pink crunch of the radishes and plenty of lemon – along with my own added extras. There’s resiny thyme leaves, a diced avocado since I had one kicking about and it’s impossible to be sad when there’s an avocado involved, a generous quantity of mushroom soy sauce because it’s my current obsession, toasted pine nuts with garlic because to me pine nuts are just so classy – which I realise makes me sound more Kath Day-Knight than Old Money but I know where I’d rather be – and golden cubes of crisply-fried potato. The latter concept was inspired both by Nigella Lawson’s fried potato croutons in her Caesar Salad and a recipe by Rachel Ama for lentils with crispy new potatoes. It truly takes a village to make a salad!

This lentil salad is so delicious – leaving no adjective behind, it’s a perfect balance of oily, salty, sweet, earthy, peppery, crunchy, creamy, and tender. And it’s pretty, too, something the lentil doesn’t always get to boast – not since Elphaba and Galinda has pink looked so good with green. As is the nature of this kind of recipe you can add or subtract ingredients to your heart’s content, and despite being wedded to the classy pine nut, next time I’d definitely make this with the fried walnuts in Bettina’s recipe for a more pronounced crunch. There’s also lime juice or cherry tomatoes and basil to consider, or fried leeks, or olives, or rosemary, or pecans – the amicable lentil can handle it all. I’m slowly working on a newsletter where I plan to review various fake meats (the slow part is because CMS makes my head cave in on itself) but I enjoyed being reminded of the stalwart legume and its merits. It’s rather shamefully been years since I blogged a lentil recipe, and this salad will keep them on my mind from now on.

IMG_0870

Lentil, Radish, Avocado and Fried Potato Salad

A simple but lush vegan lentil salad, ideal for lunch or dinner in its entirety but also very bring-a-plate friendly. It looks like there’s a lot of steps, but you’re really just mixing a bunch of stuff together, and ingredients are pretty loose, quantity-wise – feel free to add or subtract depending on your taste and needs. Recipe by myself, inspired by this salad by Bettina Makalintal.

  • 1 and 1/2 cups dried brown lentils
  • 8 small radishes, trimmed
  • 1 spring onion
  • 2 lemons
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for frying
  • 2 tablespoons mushroom soy sauce (or Maggi, or light soy sauce)
  • a generous pinch of white pepper, or to taste
  • 1 large floury potato
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 ripe but firm avocado
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

1: Rinse the lentils in cold water, then place in a bowl and cover with cold water and leave them to sit for an hour. You don’t actually need to soak them but it reduces the cooking time and I think there are some health benefits to it in terms of mineral absorption but don’t take my word for it.

2: Drain any water from the soaked lentils and tip them into a large saucepan with enough fresh water to generously cover (about the length of your index finger when prodded into the pan.) Bring the water to the boil then lower the heat and simmer the beans until they’re tender – this shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes. Keeping the heat low prevents the lentils from breaking apart and turning mushy, I was only semi-successful in achieving this but it still tasted fine. Strain the lentils, rinsing briefly in cold water to take some of the heat off, and set aside in a mixing bowl.

3: Cut the radishes into quarters and finely slice the spring onion. Make the dressing by zesting and juicing the lemon and mixing this in a small bowl with the mushroom soy sauce, olive oil and black pepper.

4: Scrub the potato clean if need be and dice it into small cubes. Heat another tablespoon or two of olive oil in a heavy frying pan and fry the potato cubes until golden and crisp – make sure they’re in one layer and give them about five minutes on the first side without moving them before turning over and cooking for another five minutes.

5: Turn off the heat, remove the potatoes from the pan with a slotted spoon and add them to the lentils. Peel and roughly chop the garlic cloves and add them to the pan with the pine nuts, and stir them in the residual heat until the nuts are lightly golden and toasted. Even though this isn’t happening on direct heat be sure to keep a close eye on it as both pine nuts and garlic burn easily.

6: Finally, tip the radishes and spring onions into the bowl of lentils and potatoes, then scrape in all the pine nuts, garlic, and remaining olive oil from the pan. Dice your avocado and add that to the bowl along with the dressing and the thyme leaves. Gently stir everything together and taste to see if needs more salt, pepper, or lemon.

Best served either immediately or after 24 hours in the fridge, by which point the potatoes will have lost their crispness but the overall flavour will have developed fantastically. If you’re making this ahead of time, either accept your uncrisp potatoes or fry them up at the last minute and stir them in. Finally – this is best at room temperature as opposed to fridge-cold.

Serves 4 generously as a light lunch, or 6-8 as a side dish as part of a larger meal.

IMG_0875

music lately:

Son of Birds by Dip In The Pool. The whole Aurorae album from 1991 is a sublime dreamscape from start to finish and that’s how I’d recommend listening to it, but this track, with its watery beat and film noir horns, is a charming entry point.

Don’t Leave Me by Blackstreet. A classic! The silky harmonies! Was there ever anything as poignant as that DeBarge sample! This song makes me feel like I’m wearing a cable knit sweater and slacks and a floor-length coat and pumps with a square toe and a square heel and I’m on the brink of divorce but in an aspirational, cinematic way!

The One by Limp Bizkit. Oh, I could pretend that watching the Woodstock 99 documentary with my brother is what made me nostalgic but the briefest scan of my timeline shows I’ve been enthusiastically listening to Limp Bizkit of my own volition for a long time. And even though this song is genuinely quite glorious with a similar downwards-diagonal intensity that you’d find in Shout by Tears for Fears or In Like The Rose by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and I honestly love it so much and will play it five times in a row, we all know I’m going to play Limp Bizkit’s critically-reviled cover of Faith five times in a row after that – say what you like but I came of age with this band and none of us can deny the way Fred Durst’s voice soars in the bridge.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Vegan Miso Butter Noodles (two ways)

IMG_9354

Somewhere in the last ten years, two things happened: food blogs became more homogenised – facsimiles of facsimiles which trade strenuous perkiness for any discernible personality. And people on Twitter started complaining about food blogs, usually with the cadence of a joke but an absence of actual humour. “Get to the recipe, Karen”, they say, “I just want to know how to make pancakes, I don’t need to hear your life story. Don’t make me scroll through five paragraphs on your year abroad in the Tuscan hills and how it gave you a new appreciation for the mysteries of olive oil.” Everyone words it as though they’re the first person to be affronted by scrolling through a blog to find the recipe. Even Mindy Kaling tweeted this tired joke, and I know she knows how to be funny! (She since deleted it.)

Spend enough time ploughing in the Discourse Salt Mines and you’ll find insufferable takes on both sides (although anecdotal irritation doesn’t preclude one side from usually being considerably in the right.) For every re-tread of this same snide joke, there are a dozen earnest responses about valuing women’s labour (a valid point) and how bloggers get paid greater ad revenue if their posts are longer, or that Google SEO prioritises particular keywords and structures, or other words that mean nothing to me because my blog doesn’t earn me a cent and it’s too late to reverse-engineer any attention from Google’s finicky SEO.

IMG_9359

Yes, that’s certainly an explanation as to why these rictus-grin food blogs chant the same interchangeable phrases over and over, and my issue with them is that the writing is bad, not that I have to wade through it to get to the recipe – but my question is, why aren’t all the complainers simply reading better food blogs? And why are they so brutishly averse to even a shred of context and back story – who could possibly hate context? Imagine two marshmallows: one is sitting on a plastic plate on the floor in a room dimly lit by a flickering bulb, the second marshmallow is on a china plate on a tablecloth lit by candles with kittens roaming about and a sign saying “this marshmallow is delicious and hand-made using local ingredients” – which marshmallow do you think most people would choose? That’s context, baby! (I realise I accidentally made the first marshmallow sound cool as hell, but hopefully, you get what I was going for.) And even the most unreadable food blog is still providing you with a service, for free, that you could get elsewhere but you didn’t, because they made it easier for you – and I recognise how in their own bizarre bloodless way, these food blogs are as much social history as anything I’ll ever write or any food writer I love will ever come up with. They’re documenting a specific time when the tyranny of SEO flattened –

Okay, I also recognise the irony of kicking off such a blog post with absolutely no sign of the recipe in sight.

IMG_9357

This dichotomy of food blogs and those who consume them is always on my mind and the simplicity of today’s recipe for Miso Butter Noodles was what tied it all together for me and started this rant. Literally, just the simplicity: I was like, I have to reassure the readers that this is simple and they shouldn’t expect too much of it, but also that its minimal ingredients aren’t a mark of success in and of themselves and this is simple because it needs to be – and then I started spiralling – and, well, here we are. I feel like I’ve got more to say about food blogs and the space they take up, and perhaps one day I’ll revisit these opening paragraphs and expand upon them, but for now, I’ll start actually talking about the recipe since you’ve already scrolled this far, and I hear that scrolling is an exhausting task.

In 2013 my cookbook was published by Penguin, when writing the manuscript the recipe for Miso Butter Noodles was perhaps the easiest to commit to paper; it’s definitely the recipe I’ve made most since. In taking this favourite and recreating it to be vegan-friendly I knew I couldn’t just sub in vegan butter – aka margarine – or at least, not until I meet a brand my tastebuds can trust – and while you absolutely could use a homemade vegan butter, I didn’t want to presume such forward-thinking of you. If you’re coming to this recipe, you can make it on the spot using store-cupboard ingredients.

The salty, grainy savoury vibe of miso and the rich oiliness of butter make perfect sense together, and I knew there had to be a way to translate that to a vegan recipe without compromise. The result kind of is a compromise, in that I offer two versions: one simply using almond butter, which coats the noodles pleasingly and matches the depth and body of the miso. The second method – my preferred one – fools a few ingredients into acting like butter – coconut oil for fat, soy milk for protein, and vinegar to coagulate. Heating this together with miso paste makes for a more delicate and subtle yet surprisingly, genuinely buttery sauce, and each fat noodle strand is all the more delicious for it.

This is a very simple recipe and it tastes simple – it’s meant to! Feel free to augment any ingredients to make the balance work for you, and definitely add chilli if you want – I love it with Lao Gan Ma chilli in oil, but sriracha or chilli flakes would be friendly too – or garlic sauce, or soy sauce, or kimchi, or fried tofu, or wilted greens. It started life in the cookbook as the sort of meal you could rustle up for yourself while tired, tipsy, or both, and in the years hence it’s slid into pure comfort food territory – it soothes because it’s easy to make, it soothes because it’s salty and oily. I’m glad to have it back.

(PS: speaking of comfort food and things we’re glad to have back, I finally concluded season 1 of my Frasier food blog; to prepare I rewatched the episode under the most perfect of settings: it was raining, it was Sunday and I didn’t have anywhere to be the next day, and I was eating a bowl of these noodles.)

IMG_9347

Vegan Miso Butter Noodles

A revamp of a favourite comfort food recipe from my 2013 cookbook. I offer two variations depending on your ingredients and effort level – but neither version asks too much of you. As you can see this is an incredibly simple recipe: add anything you like to make it more your own. I can definitely recommend a large spoonful of Lao Gan Ma chilli in oil, but then I would recommend that for literally anything you’re eating. Recipes by myself.

Version 1: Almond Butter

This is the simplest of the two simple recipes – a little stirring and you’re done. Make the sauce in the bowl you intend to eat the noodles from for even faster results.

  • 1 x 200g package udon noodles
  • 2 heaped tablespoons almond butter
  • 1 heaped tablespoon white miso paste
  • chives to serve

1: Place the noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let them sit for five or so minutes until they’ve softened. If you have a preferred way of cooking your noodles then do that instead, this is the slovenly habit I’ve fallen into (in my mind, if the bowl has just had hot water and noodles in it, it only needs a rinse before going back in the drawer…perhaps I’ve said too much but it is what it is.)

2: Whisk the almond butter and miso paste together, using a spoonful or two of the noodle water to loosen it into a smooth paste. Drain the noodles and fold in the miso-almond butter sauce. Taste to see if it needs more miso paste and then snip over your chives with kitchen scissors or finely chop them and sprinkle them over. Serves 1.

Version 2: Quick Emulsion

I need to come up with a more appealing name than “quick emulsion” but that’s what this is – you’re basically tricking these ingredients into acting like butter. Anyway, it’s very fast and gives a more subtle, delicate sauce – of the two, this is my favourite version, but they’re both delicious.

  • 1 x 200g package udon noodles
  • 1/4 cup soy milk
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar of your choice (I used Chinkiang black vinegar)
  • 2 tablespoons refined coconut oil
  • 1 heaped tablespoon miso paste
  • chives, to serve

1: Prepare the udon noodles as above, or to your preference. Meanwhile, place the soy milk, vinegar, coconut oil and miso paste in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until it’s bubbling slightly and all the ingredients have combined to form a cohesive sauce. Drain the noodles and stir them into the sauce, then top with the finely chopped chives. Serves 1.

Note: if you have homemade vegan butter (eg this recipe or this recipe) then you can melt as much of that as you like together with a heaped tablespoon of miso paste and stir that through your noodles for an excellent time. If you have a store-bought vegan butter that you genuinely love and trust, then use that instead, too, and if you live in NZ please tell me the brand name because I want to know what love is!

IMG_9352

music lately:

Looking For Someone by 8 Eyed Spy. The film-noir horns and Lydia Lunch’s voice both have this incredible mix of bombastic yet careless, I love it so much.

The Key The Secret by Urban Cookie Collective, this song is simply pinging with unreal levels of euphoria – when Diane Charlemagne goes from “I’ve got the key, I’ve got the secret” to “I’ve got the key, I’ve got the secret” – that’s the sound of living!

Freedom! ’90 by George Michael. Those piano chords…that bridge…those supermodels…my life would be NOTHING without this song, that’s all there is to it!

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

Vegan Tofu-Fried Tofu

IMG_8446

On Friday I had my first professional driving lesson in at least ten years. People have been trying to teach me to drive one way or another since 2001; people have failed. I could not be car-broken. And in a nation of drivers, where 97% of society and its amenities are inaccessible without a car, this was eventually going to bite me. Learning about things like anxiety and ADHD has certainly helped me understand why I might not have taken smoothly to driving, but it still didn’t make me any more inclined to get behind the wheel. What I wanted was a Matrix-style chip in the back of my neck, uploading the necessary software to turn me into a driver – failing that, some kind of magic-adjacent experience, such as being hit over the head or electrocuting myself or being bitten by a spider. I did not want to do the work! Nor, should I! Why can’t society bend to me, why must we prioritise driving when it’s so dangerous and environmentally terrible and also something I can’t do?

Ten months of avoidance passed after I got my learners license (again) and then I finally booked a lesson. Unlike the other pros, this instructor was kind and patient and had heard of anxiety and didn’t just bark at me to drive into oncoming traffic; after 50 minutes concentrated figure-eighting around the nearby town, making serviceable left turns and even a few right turns, I felt unbelievably powerful and hyperactive, high on the absence of failure, almost too powerful – like, wait, can I drive now? Should I go on a cross-country road trip right now? Probably, right? Just to be safe?

IMG_8445

I bring this up for reasons twofold: firstly, I just wanted to boast that I bravely committed to learning to drive; secondly, if you’ve ever been suspicious of tofu – which I don’t respect but I do understand because we live in a society and tofu has been poorly treated in the public image – then perhaps this recipe could be the kind of successful interaction to finally make you feel like a person who not only enjoys tofu but frantically celebrates it at any opportunity. (I also recommend Bettina Makalintal’s crispy glazed tofu, I will never be without a bag of potato starch ever again.)

The recipe is Tofu-Fried Tofu, and it’s spectacularly good and inspired by Brooks Headley and his Superiority Burger Crispy Fried Tofu Sandwich. Sometimes, no matter how established the person writing the recipe, I just physically can’t follow it, and instead, I have to scan it into my head like a pdf and never read it again but use whatever key components I can remember to make a recipe based on it. Why is this? I think it’s partly the way a lot of recipes are laid out these days, and probably partly something neurological on my part, let’s be honest. The only person I don’t do this with is Nigella Lawson – at least, not as much – and I think it’s because her recipes feel as though they’re so very already in my language – whatever changes I’d make, Nigella has probably already anticipated it.

This is my roundabout way of explaining that I’m not trying to say I’m any better than Brooks Headley but I still had to make my own version inspired by his recipe rather than following it to the letter. There’s no reason why you can’t make his recipe as it’s written, I’m sure it’s amazing, and my recipe doesn’t diverge too wildly anyway. But the recipe I made is also delicious and through some trial and error, it’s exactly where I want it to be. These errors include adding cocoa to the flour mixture (I wanted to want it, but it’s not the one) and leaving the tofu at its from-the-package thickness, making for a genuinely strenuous eating experience where you practically needed a step-ladder to scale the breadth of soy protein on your plate.

These slender triangles of tofu bathe in an aggressive marinade of pickle brine, soy milk, vegan oyster sauce or Maggi, and mustard powder – which when combined is oddly potable if not wildly delicious, I really had to bargain with myself to stop drinking it from the container while the tofu was marinating in it, I wish I were exaggerating for comic effect here but if anything I’m downplaying it. The key to the flour dredge is a ton of Chinese Five-Spice powder and ground white pepper – an inelegant ingredient but one who deserves to shine, in my opinion – and double-dunking to create pockets and crevices of crumbly coating. It’s more of a KFC-esque coating – dense and softly crisp – rather than shatteringly crunchy, especially the longer it sits, and this is obviously not a bad thing.

IMG_8434

Between the tanginess of the pickle brine and mustard and the bumptious yet balanced spices, this is one of the very best things you can do with tofu. It makes sense to tuck it into a burger bun (I spread the base with hummus and topped the tofu with kimchi which was a chaotic but complementary combination) but you could serve these alongside chips or on top of rice. The crucial thing is to leave yourself a few for the next day, I honestly think they taste better cold than they do at any other stage of the proceedings.

[Also – I forgot to mention this last week but I had the joy of appearing on Pip Adam’s Better off Read podcast to discuss the plot devices I employ in my poetry, the way I’m influenced by film auteurs in my fiction writing (does this make me an auteur? Maybe??) and more besides; Pip is one of my very favourite writers and it was such an honour and a thrill to speak with her about writing. It’s just really fun and I thoroughly recommend you listen to it because I’m a great podcast guest and she’s a great host!]

IMG_8467

Tofu-Fried Tofu

This is inspired by Brooks Headley’s recipe, and the more often you make it the less effort it will seem. I can’t tell you how delicious this is cold from the fridge the next day. Makes 12 pieces.

  • 1 x 300g (or thereabouts) block of tofu, firm or extra-firm
  • 1/3 cup brine from a jar of pickles/gherkins
  • 1/2 cup soy milk (or oat milk – I wouldn’t use anything other than these guys though)
  • 1 tablespoon mustard powder
  • 1 tablespoon vegan oyster sauce, Maggi seasoning sauce, or soy sauce
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons cornflour
  • 5 teaspoons Chinese Five-Spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • a large pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried celery (if you can get hold of it)
  • neutral oil, such as rice bran, for frying

1: If you have the time, freeze the tofu for at least a couple of hours and then allow it to defrost – this does something wonderful to the texture, but if you forgot or can’t be bothered – or just got home and want to eat this as soon as possible – don’t worry, it’ll still taste good with tofu straight from the fridge.

2: Place the pickle brine, soy milk, mustard powder, and vegan oyster sauce in a rectangular container a little larger than your block of tofu and whisk to combine. Drain any liquid from the tofu and slice it across diagonally, so you have four triangles, then sit each triangle on their longest side and slice through them twice with the knife flush with the flat side, so you have three of that same triangle, just a lot thinner/flatter. You’re cutting pages, not wedges. I hope that description makes sense – basically, you want to go from having those four triangles to having three matching sets of those triangles, which you can stack up again back into the original rectangle. If it still doesn’t make sense, watch the TikTok above and you’ll see how I cut it there.

3: Place the tofu into the container of marinade, stacking them up into their original rectangle shape, and leave for a couple of hours (although I’ve made this with only about half an hour of marinating and it still tasted good so once again, if you’re impatient or didn’t plan a single thing, it’ll work out.)

4: In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornflour, Chinese Five-Spice powder, smoked paprika, garlic, pepper, salt, and dried celery if you’re using it.

5: Drop each tofu triangle into the flour mixture, then dunk them back in the pickle marinade, then coat in flour again. This is messy, there’s no way around it, but if you just use one hand it’s at least contained, you know?

6: Pour a thin but definite layer of oil into a large saucepan and once it’s hot – when bubbles form around a spoon or whatever you stick into it – cook the tofu slices for a few minutes on each side, flipping twice. Also, this might sound weird but if you have any leftover flour mixture, stir in a little marinade and fry this dough in the hot oil too as a little cook’s treat. It’s really good and I don’t care!

7: Transfer the cooked tofu to a rack with absorbent paper on it and either use immediately, or you can store them in an airtight container in the fridge and briefly fry on each side to heat through. They’re best either straight from the pan or dead cold from the fridge, but this in-between stage is also very commendable.

Notes: As you can see, there are some aspects of this recipe you can be loose about and some which I think are very important. I’d like to emphasise that you absolutely cannot leave out the Chinese Five-Spice and the pepper has to be white – but if you only have a quarter of a cup of pickle brine left in your jar or if you accidentally pour half a cup, nothing bad is going to happen. Sometimes I add a little pinch of baking powder to the flour mixture, this time I forgot, either way is fine. Also, I realise two cups of flour sounds like a lot, but you end up needing it all to confidently double-dunk the tofu. Finally: I don’t know if you can bake or air fry this and I don’t want to find out! The oil is as important an ingredient as anything else on the list!

IMG_8448

music lately:

For The Love of Ivy by The Gun Club. Rhyming “hell” with “hell” four times in a row? Going loud then quiet then loud? That’s the ticket!

Matthew and Son by Yusuf/Cat Stevens (he goes by both names these days, I checked) this song is disarmingly goofy and has the distinct air of being accompanied by a high school orchestra and it’s nowhere near as cool as any of his other songs so naturally, it’s my favourite thing that he’s ever done. It is what it is!

When Love Goes Wrong, Nothing Goes Right, by Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell from the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, I haven’t seen this film in years but was reminded – on TikTok! – of how charming this number is and how crackling the chemistry is between Monroe and Russell. Their harmonies when the song speeds up a notch – “a man goes out, gets high as a kite” – are glorious. I will absolutely be rewatching this film soon.

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

rum and coke jackfruit

IMG_8025

The notes app on our phones and its contribution to our general existentialism cannot be overstated – it’s our id and ego condensed, an unkempt filing cabinet of shopping lists and auspicious dreams, of half-written poems, funny bits, bullet points, log-in details, recipes, addresses and other arbitrary ephemera.

(If this doesn’t make any sense: the notes app is a function on most smartphones that acts as a notebook for you to jot down literally anything – usually to forget about it immediately – and there’s also a good chance I’ve misused the word “existentialism” here but whatever, it’s the vibe of the thing.)

Because I ricochet from one thought to another like an earnest pinball, and every last one of these thoughts seems terribly meaningful, my notes app is rather busy. And because each note is filed away forevermore until you delete it, I’m always finding stuff I absolutely do not remember writing.

Like this note: “rum and coke jackfruit”.

IMG_8012

I don’t remember writing it – although evidently, I did at some point – but having found it, I decided to make good on this long-ago reminder to myself, and so we have this week’s recipe, based on that promising prompt. Jackfruit is a large fruit present in the cuisine of numerous cultures, including Bangladesh and Sri Lanka for whom it’s the national fruit, and South India and Southeast Asia. Over the last few years, it’s become increasingly common in NZ supermarkets canned in brine, which makes it straightforward to use, and its superb texture – dense, softly fibrous – and sweetly mellow flavour makes it ideal for vegan cooking.

Rum and Coke are both sweet, and somehow spiced without being spicy – and together they plus a few other ingredients create a sticky, saucy coating for the jackfruit under the heat of the oven’s grill. Now, if you were to taste this wearing a blindfold I don’t know if you could confidently name either ingredient, and if I’m very honest the rum is mostly just window-dressing because the come-hither familiarity of the title is cute – but nonetheless, this is monumentally appealing, with the smokiness from the paprika, earthy cumin, and plenty of garlic. And despite the length of the recipe, it’s easy too – a bit of simmering, a bit of scorching in the oven, and it’s all yours, to be draped over rice or tucked into tacos and sandwiches.

@hungryandfrozen

my best loop yet 🥲 Rum and Coke Jackfruit, recipe @ hungryandfrozen.com 🤠 #recipe #vegan #veganrecipes #jackfruit #foodblogger #cooking #fypシ #fy

♬ Bluebirds Over the Mountain – Richie valens

This sauce mix – by which I mean everything minus the chicken stock and jackfruit – would be excellent coating other star ingredients as well, with its general barbecue-ribs-flame-grill mood – tofu, obviously, or seitan would be great, but I think oyster mushrooms would be even better. I based the method on the pulled jackfruit recipe I made back in 2017 – before I was vegan but tentatively contemplating it – and I enthusiastically recommend you make that one too. It’s true for both recipes: no matter how much jackfruit I cook, I always wish I’d made more – you’d better write “two cans of jackfruit” in your notes app, to be safe.

IMG_8023

Rum and Coke Jackfruit

Sticky, smoky and sweet, this vegan jackfruit is perfect over rice, in tacos, in sandwiches – basically wherever you want something extremely delicious. Recipe by myself.

  • 1 x 500g can jackfruit in brine (300g drained weight)
  • 1 cup vegan chicken stock (eg 1 cup water, 1 stock cube)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
  • a pinch of cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1/2 cup coca-cola
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornflour (cornstarch)

1: Drain the liquid from the can and roughly chop each piece of jackfruit into smaller pieces lengthwise. Don’t worry if there are any seeds – leave them in.

2: Place the jackfruit pieces, the chicken stock, and the unpeeled garlic cloves into a saucepan and simmer for ten minutes. Simmering the garlic cloves like this gives them a more mellow flavour and makes them easy to peel later.

3: While this is happening, turn your oven to 200C/400F, pour the olive oil into a roasting tray, and place it in the oven to heat up.

4: In a small bowl, mix together the mustard, cumin, paprika, sugar, and cinnamon. Stir in the soy sauce, dark rum, coca-cola (it’ll fizz up a little) and the cornflour.

5: After ten minutes, drain the stock from the pan of jackfruit (you can save it for later use, I’m not advocating wastefulness here.) Press down on the garlic cloves to release them from their skins and roughly chop them. Return them to the pan of jackfruit along with the coca-cola/spice mix and stir to combine.

6: Remove the hot roasting dish from the oven. Transfer the jackfruit mixture onto the roasting dish – I recommend using tongs to ferry the jackfruit pieces across before pouring the remaining liquid over rather than just dumping the contents of the pan onto the roasting dish because it will splutter when the liquid hits the hot oil.

7: Place the tray in the oven and leave for twenty minutes. At this point, remove the tray, turn the jackfruit pieces over, switch your oven to the grill/broil function and grill for a further ten minutes, keeping an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t scorch too much. By this point, the liquid should have evaporated and the jackfruit should be burnished brown at the edges.

8: Serve immediately, although you can store it in the fridge and reheat it in a hot pan if need be.

Serves – well that depends on how you serve this. It fed four as part of a rice bowl, but if I was having it with fewer extra bits I wouldn’t want to make this for any more than two people, and one person could eat the lot very easily. Making double would be sensible (in which case I’d only increase the liquids by about half – eg 1/2 cup coca-cola becomes 3/4 cup – but the spices can be fully doubled.)

Notes:

  • If you don’t have rum or don’t wish to use alcohol in the recipe, that’s all good – just add an extra teaspoon of sugar. I wouldn’t make this if I only had white rum in the house, but spiced rum could be interesting.
  • Feel free to add your preferred form of chilli to this recipe – my family’s taste tends towards the mild, but if I was making it just for myself a little gochujang wouldn’t go amiss.
  • I suspect diet Coke or Coke Zero wouldn’t have the same effect here – you need the sugar to make it work.

IMG_8022

music lately:

Pretty Little Angel Eyes by Curtis Lee. I’ve had of late an odd nostalgia for the songs used in my jazz dancing classes in the early nineties – those hard-working cassette tapes dubbed from other tapes by my teacher. This song was one which we danced to, and despite its chirpy lyrics and break-neck pace – I’m not sure it actually has any verses? It’s literally all bridge? – there’s something about that doo-wop sound that makes me feel super melancholy the minute the “woo-ooo-ooo” bit starts. Anyone else?

Overload by Zappacosta, another song on high rotation in my jazz-dancing years – and I’m sorry to sound ancient but WHY don’t songs sound like this anymore? When will people be brave enough to do that? Is it so much to ask?

SpottieOttieDopaliscious by Outkast. Everyone mentions the horns first – and they’re the greatest – but I also harbour deep affection for that “damn, damn, damn James” refrain. This song is seven minutes long and it feels like three – honestly, forty minutes would still leave you feeling bereft the moment it ends.

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

Coconut Chilli Tofu Noodles [Vegan]

IMG_5045

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.

IMG_5034

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.

IMG_5048

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.

IMG_5035

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’n’Cheese

P1200162

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

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

P1200153

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

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

P1200160

Thai Yellow Curry Mac’nCheese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 2 as a main.

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

P1200165

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

P1200123

“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.

P1200125

(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.

P1200128

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.

P1200122

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

IMG_1233

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!

IMG_1236

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!

IMG_1226

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.

IMG_1232

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.

IMG_1228

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.