forever green, I know she’s here

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Wednesday was so momentous in a way that I’m not sure I can accurately convey other than to hope that as you’re reading this you’re trying to understand what it means to me: I met Nigella Lawson. I was always into food in an opportunistic way but it was seeing her TV show in 2001 that showed me for the first time that food could be a cause of real happiness for not just the eater but also the cook. Without a doubt I would not have started food blogging if not for her, I probably would not have achieved much of anything in fact. If you’ve been reading this blog for even a minute you’ll already know this, but again, it’s just so big for me! This has got magnitude! It needs big mise-en-scène!

How it came together, and I still can scarcely believe that it did, was that Nigella has been on a tour where she will sit in front of an audience and be cushily interviewed and receive questions (not, as I kept accidentally calling it, “in concert”) and Mum and Dad (it was Dad’s idea) displayed the most absolute incredible parenting skills in getting me a ticket to her Wellington date for Christmas.

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Ever since I was a child I’ve always been comfortably and righteously convinced that whatever I’m obsessed with, there is none more so than I in possession of said obsession, and I am afraid to say that I was in this same frame of mind when I sat in the audience, selfishly feeling that my very presence there was so tightly packed with intensity that there should be a secondary audience watching me being in the audience in a Marina Ambracoviç-esque performance art piece. I’m not afraid to admit that I genuinely started crying when Nigella Lawson walked out on stage, before she’d even said a word. And once she did, she was – of course – wonderful. So generous, so clever, so good at making the least of the questions appear to inspire these witty and expansive answers, so warm and lovely and confident and just everything a person could hope for in someone so long idolised.

A couple of days ago I took a plate of food to a potluck dinner at a friend’s house and we spent much of the night staring off their thirteenth-floor balcony, beholding the Super Blood Wolf Moon scooting across the night sky. Now, I love the moon (I have no less than three tattoos of the moon on me and at one point was like “I hope the moon is impressed by this” and didn’t even stop to qualify that I was being humorous or whatever because honestly I think was being sincere) and without wanting to sound like a dick it genuinely felt quite momentous to be in its presence on this night, the moon so swollen and golden and we so relatively insignificant.

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I had this same feeling in the presence of Nigella Lawson, like I was somehow gaining power and energy from her, and while it was probably a combination of hype and restless energy and also lack of sleep – does it make sense to you though? Do you ever see someone and suddenly think “I could achieve anything I want, I need never stand for anything less than what I deserve, and what I deserve is good things, and I could kick a hole in the sky?” If not, have you ever tried standing in front of Nigella Lawson? Is it a coincidence that I saw her in the same week that I saw the Super Blood Wolf Moon? Do coincidences even exist? Will I ever sleep? (I should’ve probably mentioned this sooner but, I wrote this in middle of the night so please bear with me, or continue to at this point.)

Just in case I threaten to float away like a vainglorious novelty balloon, I share with you the following photo which cracks me up but at the time was just seconds away from ruining everything: so, when you line up to get your book signed by Nigella Lawson (as you can see below, that I did), there was a guy standing there to take your phone so he could photograph the moment. But the guy in charge of this important yet straightforward job, somehow thought that the person standing in front of me was my friend, and started to take a photo on their phone. And I was like no, wait, here is my phone, but also don’t you dare distract me from my brief moment with Nigella Lawson don’t you understand my entire life has been mere prelude to this point you actual imbecile – but I didn’t say any of this verbally, not wanting to cause a scene, instead, as you can see below, it was just kind of written on my face instead.

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A beautiful moment.

Luckily I managed to put my own phone in his hands and captured a more sanguine shot of Nigella Lawson and I talking, and for all this talk of being charged with power I was honestly so overwhelmed by being face to face with her that all I managed to do was murmur “you’ll never know how much you mean to me” which to her credit, probably from years and years and years of this sort of carry-on, she received cheerfully, before being hustled away from her glowing, tide-pulling presence.

I brought this week’s recipe with me to the aforementioned potluck dinner; the green beans are but a delicious conduit and the sauce is the real point of the exercise here: you could use said sauce on noodles (udon, I reckon), you could pour it over roast vegetables, you could employ it as a dip, you could mix it with rice, you could use it in a potato salad – but before we get too carried away with its potential, what actually is it? Well, it’s a sauce, that’s green, hence the name Green Sauce. I initially considered it to be both a coriander and peanut pesto and a green satay sauce but also surmised quickly that that would be simultaneously wildly insulting to both Italian and Malaysian cuisine. So: Green Sauce. It does hinge entirely upon your feelings towards coriander, admittedly – I love the stuff, its fragrance somehow earthy yet citrussy at the same time with so much grassy flavour from the stalks. Blitzed into a puree with nutty (of course) peanuts; plenty of rich olive oil, and the caramelly saltiness of miso, this makes for a compellingly punchy and near-instant sauce.

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Green Beans in Green Sauce

a recipe by myself

Green Sauce

  • leaves and stalks from one of those supermarket coriander plants, or from a large bunch of coriander
  • half a cup, ish, baby spinach leaves
  • 1 cup unsalted peanuts
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (though be prepared to add more)
  • 1 heaped teaspoon white miso paste
  • 1 heaped teaspoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice (or lemon if you don’t have lime)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup or similar
  • 1 tablespoon cold water
  • Plenty of salt and pepper to taste

To serve

  • 2 cups frozen shelled edamame beans
  • 1 cup long green beans, topped and tailed and halved

Place all the sauce ingredients in a blender and blitz till it forms a thick green paste. Add a little extra olive oil or water (or both) and blend again if it needs to be more liquid. Taste and see if it needs more salt or lime juice.

Steam the edamame and green beans (I put them in a colander balanced on some chopsticks over a pan of boiling water but in fact feel free to simply simmer them in the water itself) – and don’t worry about defrosting the edamame. Once the beans are lightly tender, remove from the heat and run briefly under cold water, allowing them to drain thoroughly.

Tip the beans into a serving bowl, stir through the sauce, and that’s it really. Garnish with a few extra peanuts or reserved coriander leaves if you wish.

As discussed it has plenty of applications but the way I used it – with a double-billing of edamame and long green beans – is delicious, not only do you get the pleasing dovetailing of colour, but the bright, buttery soft crunch of the beans against the fulsomeness of the sauce is wonderful.

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So long in the making, so important.

title from: Velouria by Pixies, not my favourite of theirs but! What a lovely song.

music lately:

I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms by Modern Lovers. Title says it all, really.

The Angel of Death by Hank Williams, its calming waltz time signature belied by the lyrics’ gentle yet sinister persistence.

The Look, by Roxette, a song that is deeply silly and that I also find intoxicating. I remember first hearing it when I was really young and something in the minor key progression and harmonies in the chorus made me feel almost queasy but in a very good way? You know how music does that to you sometimes? (I can’t quite put my finger on why, other than maybe the minor key just genuinely messes with me, but like, for example, Shampain by Marina and the Diamonds has a similar buzz for me.)

Next time: two cocktails!

PS as I mentioned in my last post I have started a Patreon page where you can have the distinct honour of supporting this blog in as small or as large a capacity as you feel like and in return I will create even more content just for you and you’ll be genuinely helping me get by!

New Mexico ain’t bad Lord, and the people there, they treat you kind

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Despite having lived a substantial quantity of my life before social media ever wrapped its tentacles around me in a way that felt like love, no one could deny that I’ve thrown myself quite whole-heartedly into it since. Nevertheless I was like, how do I explain the premise of this week’s recipe? Inspired by a tweet I saw? That wasn’t even directed at me? But I guess it’s pretty simple, really, because social media is EVERYWHERE. When I went home for Christmas Mum and Dad were talking about a local Facebook group that is like Craigslist, community noticeboard, judge-jury-and-executioner and then some all in one that started off as a simple meme page. And I was like yeah, there’s one of those where I live but it’s the reverse, initially for students to offload their Psych 101 textbooks and now it’s kind of a Wellington meme page YET also the only conduit I could or indeed would fathom of for like, getting rid of a mattress. And I’m pretty sure every town has one now!

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I count myself lucky to follow so many people on Twitter who seem genuinely incredible, most of them women, and who will so casually drop the kind of powerful or powerfully hilarious tweets that entire teams of television writers would weep hot tears of jealousy over. And while Minka, the person who wrote the tweet that inspired this week’s recipe, is 100% in this category, the tweet itself was highly innocuous. It was December 4th, it was Minka tweeting to someone else the simple words “IMAGINE VEGAN CARNE ADOVADA” – that’s all! I’ll be honest, I was not feeling particularly wonderful that day and definitely not feeling imaginative. But the tweet stuck in my head, to the point where I would literally hear it as if it were a song’s lyric, and at last I decided to actually, well, imagine it. Am I saying Minka’s tweet cured my depression? I’m not not saying it?

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Vegan Carne Adovada

a recipe by myself but inspired directly by this recipe of J.Kenji López-Alt and this recipe from I Am New Mexico.

  • 4 dried ancho or poblano chiles (I used 5 large dried Anaheim chiles as this was alas all I could find), seeds and stems removed
  • 4 whole chipotle chiles, canned in adobo (I used the La Morena brand)
  • Zest and juice of a large orange
  • 5 prunes
  • 3 cups vegetable stock (by which I mean, use your preferred stock powder to make this) plus 1 cup extra
  • 1 heaped tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or similar
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 can of jackfruit in brine
  • 1/2 cup of flour or cornflour (use the latter to make this gluten-free)
  • plenty of olive oil, for frying
  • 1 large onion, peeled and roughly diced
  • 6 large garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or date syrup
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Plenty of salt and pepper to taste
  • Warmed tortillas, coriander, rice, to serve

Step 1: The Sauce

Heat up the dried chiles in a large frying pan, till they are aromatic but not smoking. Add the prunes, the zest and juice of the orange, the canned chipotles (don’t rinse them), the vinegar, the nutritional yeast and three cups of the vegetable stock, and bring to the boil. Let it bubble away for ten minutes, and then remove from the heat. Carefully blitz the lot in a blender to form a thick red sauce, and then transfer this to a large mixing bowl. You might find it easier to scoop out all the solids and blend them with a small quantity of the liquid before adding the rest, either way just be careful about blending hot stuff. Stir in the cumin, oregano, maple syrup, bay leaves, and a good pinch of salt and pepper, and set aside.

Step 2: The Stuff in the Sauce

Wash and dry the saucepan and heat up about three tablespoons of olive oil in it. Trim off the stem and then cut the eggplant into rough cubes and chunks, and fry them in the hot oil till dark golden brown on all sides. Tip them into the bowl of red chile sauce and return the pan to the heat.

Now, gently fry the onion and garlic in the same pan, perhaps adding some more oil if it needs it, stirring occasionally and allowing it to soften and turn golden.

While this is happening, thoroughly drain the can of jackfruit and using your hands, pull the pieces of jackfruit into smaller segments. Don’t throw away any seeds or whatever, it’s all good stuff.

Transfer the onion and garlic into the bowl of red chile sauce with the eggplant and get on to frying the jackfruit. You want to heat up another few tablespoons of olive oil in the same pan, and dip each piece of jackfruit into the flour before throwing it into the pan. Your aim here is to leave the jackfruit for long enough that it caramelises and turns golden on all sides – this will take some patience and the flour will go a bit scungy in the oil but it’s worth it for the end result. When the jackfruit pieces are golden brown and the fibrous edges look good and crisp, throw the whole lot, including whatever flour-oil gunk is in the pan – into the bowl of red chile sauce.

Step 3: Marinating, cooking, actually eating

Cover the bowl of red chile sauce and refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight. When you’re ready to cook it, set your oven to 150C/300F and transfer the carne adovada into a baking dish. Give it a taste to see if it wants any more salt or anything. Use the extra cup of vegetable stock (or honestly just tap water is fine by this point) to sluice around the bowl that you’ve been marinating everything in, to catch any remaining sauce, and tip this over the contents of the roasting dish.

Bake for around an hour, or until everything looks rich and saucy and a little caramelised from the oven’s heat. Serve however you like – heated up tortillas, coriander, and rice is a good start.

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Without exaggeration, I honestly think this is one of the greatest recipes I’ve ever tasted and were it not for Minka’s tweet I’d have missed this opportunity completely. I’ve never been to New Mexico (where the dish originates) and am by no means familiar with New Mexico cuisine; I had in fact only hirtherto heard of Carne Adovada via Minka’s other tweets about it. With this in mind, I strenuously emphasise, that while I created the recipe that you see above, it is completely and directly based on the recipes that I linked to – one quite complex, one very simple – and I’m just a culinary tourist from a far-away land, rather than any kind of expert in this particular field. Nevertheless, allow me to respectfully explain myself.

In order to emulate the pork that is normally used in Carne Adovada (and I know carne means meat but I’m not about to do something gross like calling the recipe “car-nay”) I went for a double-pronged approach: darkly fried cubes of eggplant, oily and melting and rich; and then jackfruit, coated in flour and fried till golden and crisp: this provides that mild sweetness and, for want of better words, meaty fibrousness. Jackfruit is (a) a revelation and (b) really inexpensive and pretty easy to find these days, however on its own it felt a little un-luscious, hence the pairing. Both of these were marinated overnight in a ketchup-thick sauce made hot with papery, blood-dark dried chiles and smoky little canned chipotles and aromatic with cumin and oregano. I used prunes to sweeten the sauce because it’s what I had and I also felt they had a kind of meatiness to them, but you do what suits – one of the recipes I referenced used raisins, while the other recipe didn’t include any sweetening agent at all.

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The final slow bake in the oven makes the sauce so, well, saucy, and it’s all smoky and hot in this complex-yet-straightforward way and the eggplant and jackfruit melt and pull apart in your mouth and it’s all full-bodied and lush and while there’s a few steps involved it’s unbelievably rewarding and almost meditative to prepare each part of it. Now, when I try to make an existing recipe vegan my aim is more to evoke the abundance that meat or animal products provides rather than “this tastes like meat”, but…it doesn’t not taste meaty, you know? By which I mean I think this would and should be happily received by absolutely anyone. Thank you, Minka!

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Speaking of social media and providing spectacular content for free; this seems as good a time as any to tell you that I’ve started a Patreon page for my writing. Patreon allows you to be a modern day Patron of the Arts, magnanimously bestowing your literal money upon those of us who create in return for (a) a certain glow that I can merely assume only comes from having money and (b) the promise of exclusive content for your trouble. There is no sense of obligation or expectation placed upon any of you individually, it’s just sheer opportunism – like, if I can get money off someone then I might as well get money off someone, you know? And it’s a whole lot easier to be inspired, by tweets or otherwise, when you can comfortably pay rent. So, I entreat you to consider joining this exclusive band of money-havers, but if you don’t I’m not going to like, stop blogging, I would however like to stop talking about money just one time.

title from: White Freight Liner Blues, by Townes Van Zandt, whose despondence is to my ears like electrolytes are to, well, wherever they go – the blood?

music lately:

Last Week in HTx by Megan Thee Stallion, look her up!! She has so many good tracks but I love the way the “bitch I’m from Texas” line in the hook anchors everything in this song.

Thursday Girl, by Mitski, this song literally ruins me and YET I’ve also made a playlist on Spotify that only has this song on it and no one has stopped me, so. I’m obsessed with the nineties singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant buzz on the fourth refrain of “tell me no” in the chorus.

Venus in Furs, Velvet Underground. So throbbing and hypnotic! I’ll never forget the look on my boss’s face when I was playing it really loudly at the tiny German bakery that I worked at in 2006 and they walked in and without saying a word turned it off and then left and got in their car and drove away.

Dues, by Ronee Blakley, from the amazing Robert Altman film Nashville. Blakley performed this in the film as her character Barbara Jean but she actually wrote it herself in real life, and while several of the songs from the film are meant to be satirical of the country genre, this is just a beautiful and achy waltz and very, very real.

Next time: possibly a cocktail but also it’s been too long since I’ve made ice cream, right?

i am the new year, i’m the way home

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Well well well, if it isn’t 2019, waltzing in bang on time. To start the year off with perhaps unearned but nevertheless ebullient ebullience I have two recipes for you, one via my mother and one via my father.

But first: I have a suspicion about the momentousness of the New Year that I also carry for weddings – everyone’s all, “we’ve got to have the time of our life! It’s New Year’s Eve! The party of the year! New Year New Me! This year will be different!” But where is that energy on like, March 3rd? Where is that energy every time someone complains about Monday looming unwelcomely on the horizon? Why are we so pressed about this one particular day that we otherwise would regard with indifference at best? That’s right, the New Year is but another calendar day. (How, if you’re wondering, this relates to weddings is: at said weddings we are all “love’s purest incarnation stands before us! I can’t believe these two love each other! I’ve never experienced anything like this! Not since the last wedding I attended!” And then two years down the line, if we see the same couple doing their groceries or whatever, well, what then of the flower petals and glad tidings? Why do we not cry and do poetry readings right there in the cat food aisle? How is it that their love is super interesting on the day of the wedding and then super mundane for the foreseeable future?)

THAT SAID! Any nudge in the direction of reflection and self-improvement is not the entire worst, and if you can use the turning of the year as motivation to do literally anything slightly better then well done, you. Indeed, as I shall demonstrate, I myself am not above such nudging! Despite my strong yet wilfully simplistic feelings about weddings, I am not anti-New Years sentiment at all. It’s just, something I have learned in this rich and storied life of mine is that every day can be a fresh start, a tiny new year, and relentless self-pressure once a year is not, in fact, the same as clear-headed motivation.

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With all that in mind I have some cautious yet hope-filled intentions for the year, about which I’m just going to see what happens but also, y’know, put in some effort, and they are as follows: I’d like to save money so I can go somewhere, perhaps on holiday, as befits an adult of my age yet eludes me entirely; I like the idea of getting kind of jacked upper arms; I wish to resume knitting again but for real; I intend to maintain a bullet journal and use it to help me in turn maintain healthy choices (it’s working so far, I’ve already cleaned my teeth every single day this year); I’d simply love, come December, to look back on the year and not regret any time wasted although that’s obviously fairly abstract and difficult to control, but most specifically and above all: I will prioritise my writing this year. I spent a lot of 2018 feeling paralysed by various factors but in 2019 I want to create more recipes, plan a cookbook, pitch more things, do fiction or fiction-ish writing, work out if I’m any good at poetry, I’m sure I am, get literally anyone to read my excellent Frasier food blog, make this blog absolutely shine, embark on projects with confidence and just really sincerely believe in myself and to not let any bad mood or sad mood or person or rejection or fear or tiredness stop me from that. (When I went home for Christmas, Mum was like “when your lease ends in February you could always just move back here and pretend it’s a writers retreat” and I was like “honestly, you know, that like, for real, could like, you know?”)

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Speaking of, going home for Christmas was the inspiration for the double-feature of recipes that you get today! First of all, on Christmas Eve while I was drinking port and enthusiastically re-watching The Crown with Dad, Mum whipped up this batch of immensely wholesome crackers held together only with goodwill and the gluey properties of chia seeds. It’s a recipe she absorbed, chia-like, from her best friend Vivienne (hence the name: Viv’s Crackers) and I honestly could not get enough of them. Because they’re comprised entirely of seeds, cooked long and slow, there’s this incredible toasty crunch yet utter lightness to them, and they’re just fantastically addictive as well as undoubtedly putting a shine on your coat with each one consumed. Mum and Viv drove me up to the airport on the day I flew back to Wellington to go to work and I pressed them for the recipe and their response was pretty vague – it’s just one of those recipes where you squint at the mixing bowl and make choices in the moment, the sort of thing that Aunt Daisy with all her instinctive wisdom and lively brevity would cook if she were around today. What I’ve written above is a kind of amalgam of what they told me, and obviously you can add many other things – Mum’s batch had cashews and pistachios in it, and Viv recommends adding a little chilli to the mixture. Either way, you’re only minimal effort and admittedly several hours’ slow baking away from nutty, softly crunchy deliciousness.

The Pkhali, which is a Georgian spinach and walnut dip, comes from a recipe in a cookbook that I got from Dad for Christmas, called Eat Your Greens. Thanks Dad! I adapted the recipe a little to suit my own tastes but it’s pretty close to what’s in the book, and what you end up with is this intensely leafy, herbal mixture, nubbly with walnuts and fragrant with spices, with juicy sour crunchy bursts of light-catching pomegranate seeds scattered over. Upon initial tasting it was a little worrisomely spinachy and spinachy alone, but after it sat in the fridge for a while it mellowed and developed and was in fact extremely compulsive stuff. Far be it from me to say what you can and can’t do to a Georgian recipe but I imagine you can play around with the components of this somewhat, based on what you have to hand. The spices all worked beautifully though and I wouldn’t personally change a thing, and the difference between the taste of the mixture before and after I added the citrus was astonishing – I know we’re all watching Salt Fat Acid Heat on Netflix but like, it really livened it up immensely. I find that packaged pomegranate seeds tend to taste a little like nail-polish remover, so if you can’t get a real pomegranate to deseed, I would consider perhaps some lemon or lime zest over the top or maybe some chopped up cherry tomatoes? Anything that makes you be all “damn, that’s fresh.”

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Viv’s Crackers

  • 1/3 cup chia seeds
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/3 cup flaxseeds
  • a pinch of ground cumin (optional)
  • sea salt

Set your oven to 130C/260F and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Place the chia seeds in a mixing bowl and cover, by about a centimetre, with water. Use a spatula to scrape any seeds that have scooted up the side of the bowl to make sure as much of the chia is submerged as possible. Set the bowl aside for ten or so minutes until the chia seeds have absorbed most of the water and the mixture is all gluey and almost gelatinous.

Stir in the sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseeds, which should transform it into a thickly seeded paste. Add a splash more water if it seems not paste-y enough, and add more seeds if it seems to need that instead. Tip this unlikely looking mixture onto the baking tray and using your spatula or the back of a spoon, press it down evenly to a thickness of about just under a centimetre. It doesn’t matter what shape you make, as you’re just going to break it all up into pieces anyway, but a uniform thickness is pretty important. Sprinkle with sea salt and the cumin.

Bake for 1 – 2 hours – I know it’s vague, but it all depends on your oven and the curve of the earth and so on. It’s ready when the mixture is dry all the way into the centre and underneath when you lift it up, and the edges are raised slightly. If you can’t seem to be able to get the centre to dry out after an hour or so, try carefully flipping it over (it should be solid enough to do so at this point, by which I mean, I did it) so that the underside gets more heat.

Allow to cool completely, then break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

Pkhali (Georgian Spinach and Walnut Dip)

Adapted from a recipe from Eat Your Greens by Pete Evans

  • 1 large bunch of young spinach leaves or 2 bags of baby spinach leaves
  • a handful of coriander leaves, stalks attached is fine
  • a handful of parsley, stalks attached is also fine
  • 80g walnuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper or chilli powder
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice (or lemon juice)
  • sea salt and pepper, lots, to taste
  • pomegranate seeds, to serve

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. While this is happening, thoroughly wash your spinach (if it’s from a supermarket packet you should be fine but the fresh stuff in bunches is full of crevices for dirt to hide in) and then throw it into the pan of water, along with the coriander and parsley, for thirty seconds. Then, remove it from the heat, drain it, and run it under lots of cold water. Put all these wet leaves into a food processor and blend into a thoroughly chopped grassy mulch, then scrape into a bowl and set aside. You’re going to be putting it back in though, so you don’t have to like clean the processor or anything.

Now place the walnuts, garlic, spices, vinegar, lime juice, olive oil, and a decent amount of salt and pepper into the processor and give it a few good blitzes, so that the walnuts are moderately obliterated but not rendered into nut butter or anything. Tip the spinach and herb mixture back in and pulse to combine the lot, then spatula – with some effort this time – the whole lot into a serving bowl. Taste to see if it needs more salt – and it probably will – and consider adding another good drizzle of olive oil. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, which will allow the flavours to develop, and sprinkle generously with freshly shucked pomegranate seeds when you’re ready to serve.

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On January 1st I had a picnic with my two best friends Kim and Kate and we revelled in the glorious nothing-to-do-ness of it all. There’s something quite beautiful about the first day of the year, not knowing what’s up ahead, none of the events that will inevitably tarnish your view of the year have happened yet, all your intentions sing of potential and not of cowardice or time lost or avoidance, it’s like a safe little bubble. We ate these crackers and this dip and some other treats and talked each other up and it was really lovely. (New Years Eve itself I was just working, by the way, which is fine with me as it neatly solves any anxiety about what to do in order to have the time of one’s life, but I also managed cunningly to sign off at midnight and so did what anyone in my shoes – by which I mean me – might do: I danced for three hours. And then got my leg sliced by the contents of the glass bin which I’m choosing magnanimously to not see as a bad sign or anything.)

So, happy new year everyone! This is, I say with all the unearned ebullience of someone who has only yet experienced two and a half days’ worth of it: definitely our year.

title from: New Year by The Breeders. Dreamy yet purposeful, just like me.

music lately:

Clubbed to Death by Rob Dougan, notably used on the Matrix soundtrack. It just really feels like something important is about to happen when you listen to it!

Your Dog, by Soccer Mommy. Starts deceptively low-key and breezily meandering and then the lyrics are just like…wow.

Whilst I have listened to the song a squillion times I hadn’t actually seen the video for Mitski’s frantically lonely song Nobody and though I can guarantee every person has already said this, may I just say – it’s so Bjork-y! (By which I guess I mean, it’s so Michele Gondry-y!) In a wonderful way!

Next time: I made some “cheese” sauce with roasted carrots and other stuff and plan to turn it into mac and cheese at some point, however the weather is SO HOT at the moment that I might have to postpone that in order to favour something colder.

PS if you wish, you can sign up here to receive a version of these blog posts sent to your inbox before anyone else gets to read them, but like, I’m just going to put them up here anyway so you’re in no danger of missing anything if you don’t. Just an option!

don’t have a cow, man

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I’m warning you right now, this blog post is long as HELL due to the fact that I was tinkering around with ideas for Christmas Dinner recipes and somehow ended up making three recipes at once in an absolute fugue state of proficiency and perspicacity: Brined and Roasted Whole Cauliflower with Pesto Glaze; Roasted Whole Pumpkin with Herb and Onion Stuffing, and Eggplant Roulade, AND Mushroom, Walnut and Red Wine Gravy. It’s suddenly less than a month till Christmas and whether or not you observe the holiday in an official capacity there’s no denying that this time of year calls for an excess of abundance and an abundance of excess so I was like why not just … write about this all this at once. So whether you’re the kind to settle in with a glass of port to scrutinise this from top to bottom or you’re already flexing your scrolling finger (or indeed, whichever body part you use to scroll downwards through large swathes of text), here we go.

I’m not one to not boast, but I just want the record to state that I made every single one of the below recipes all at once in just under two and a half hours. Why? You know and I know, because I bring it up a lot, because it happens a lot: I’m quite all or nothing. At times an inert snake lying in bed unable to finish, well, even this sentence; at times I’m like “Uh I wrote an entire violin symphony in twelve minutes” (to everything, turn turn, there is a season, turn turn) and while the presence of Ritalin in my life has helped to both enable activity on the inert-snake days and to moderate the high energy hyper-focus, that’s still just how I am. And I guess this week’s blog is precisely an example of that hyperfocus in action: I had all these ideas for recipes that might be cool for Christmas dinner, or indeed, any celebratory food-eating time, and I just put my head down and made the whole lot at once without really thinking through what I was doing and suddenly two and a half hours later there was an enormous meal just sitting there. (This is how I know I’ve made personal growth/consumed some Ritalin though: I actually wrote down the recipes as I was making them. Yes, this is what counts as personal growth for me.)

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Somewhat hilariously, none of the friends that I messaged to come help me eat it were available, leaving me alone at the table with this massive feast and wondering ruefully whether perhaps you really cannot, in fact, win friends with salad. I’m not saying I like, threw it all in the bin or anything, I had a delicious plateful of everything and have been eating leftovers gleefully ever since, but what I am saying is that you’ll just have to take my word for it that these recipes are good.

My aim for these recipes was to create a sense of lavishness, intense deliciousness and layers of texture and flavour, so that there was no sense of being without, that you would feel and indeed taste the effort and care taken. I wanted food that was somehow inherently Christmassy – which is a little weird, I grant you, because in New Zealand Christmas falls in the middle of summer but so many people still have a very traditional English style full roast meal. By which I mean, even though we’re all sweating uncomfortably, the food is resolutely winter wonderland because that’s just how it is. So that’s what I was going for.

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1: Brined and Roasted Whole Cauliflower with Pesto Glaze

A recipe by myself, but inspired by the title of this one on Food52.

  • 1 whole cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Brine:

  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half/into bits
  • 1 inch or so slice of fresh ginger (or 1 teaspoon ground ginger)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced in half (no need to peel)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

Pesto:

  • The leaves from 1 of those supermarket basil plants (roughly two cups loosely packed basil leaves)
  • 1 cup loosely packed rocket leaves
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice (can be from a bottle)
  • Plenty of salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup water, optional

Remove the leaves from the cauliflower and trim off as much of the stem as you can manage, so that the cauliflower is able to sit on its haunches, so to speak, without anything protruding from the base.

Place all the brine ingredients in a large mixing bowl, fill partway with cold water, and give it a stir just to dissolve the maple syrup and salt somewhat. Sit the cauliflower in this and top with water till the cauliflower is more or less submerged. Cover – either with plastic wrap or simply by sitting a plate on top – and set aside away from any heat for an hour, although if it’s like an hour and fifteen minutes because you forgot or something came up that’s honestly fine.

Get on with the pesto while the cauliflower is brining – throw all the ingredients into a food processor and blitz to form a rough green paste. Add a little water to loosen it up a bit, it can absorb it without making it watery. Taste for salt, pepper, or more lime juice, and set aside.

Set your oven to 200C/400F and get an oven dish ready. Once the oven is hot and the brining time is up, remove the cauliflower from the brine, shaking off any bits that have stuck to it, and place it in the roasting dish. Drizzle with the two tablespoons of olive oil and roast, uncovered, for about 40 minutes, or until it’s evenly golden on the surface. At this point, spoon some of the pesto over the cauliflower, using a pastry brush to spread it down over the florets, and return to the oven for another ten minutes. Serve with the remaining pesto in a dish beside for those who (rightly) want more.

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2: Roasted Whole Pumpkin with Herb and Onion Stuffing

A recipe by myself

  • 1 good-sized buttercup pumpkin (roughly 900g I guess? But I personally relate more to “good sized” than weight for accuracy)
  • 1 can white beans, often sold as haricot beans
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 small ciabatta or similarly hearty bread roll
  • 1 tablespoon English Mustard or wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  • Plenty of salt and pepper, to taste

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Cut the ciabatta in half and sit it in the oven while it’s heating up for about five minutes, the aim being to lightly toast it and dry it out (just don’t forget that it’s there.)

Using a small, sharp knife, make incisions in a circular fashion around the stem of the pumpkin so you can wiggle it out and reveal the insides. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon – set aside to roast them if you like but this level of sustainability was unfortunately too much for me, and I simply binned them. (This might be a good time to check on the state of your ciabatta in the oven.)

Dice the onion and gently fry it in the olive oil till it’s softened and golden. Add the pumpkin seeds and give them a stir for a minute just to toast them a little, then set the pan aside off the heat.

Drain the can of beans and roughly mash them with a fork, it doesn’t matter if some are left whole. Roughly slice the ciabatta into small cubes and add this to the mashed beans along with the thyme, rosemary, mustard, maple syrup, cider vinegar, nutmeg, plenty of salt and pepper, and the onion/pumpkin seed mixture.

Carefully spoon all of this into the waiting and emptied pumpkin, pushing down with the spoon to fill every crevice and cavity. Place the stem on top like a lid. Sit the pumpkin on a large piece of tinfoil and bring the tinfoil up the sides of the pumpkin so it’s mostly wrapped but with the stem still exposed (did I explain this right?) and then sit this in a roasting dish. Roast for an hour and a half or until a knife can easily pierce through the side of the pumpkin, thus meaning the inside is good and tender. Serve by cutting the pumpkin into large wedges.

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3: Eggplant Roulade

A recipe by myself

  • 2 sheets flaky puff pastry (check the ingredients to make sure they’re dairy free, if this is of concern)
  • 1 large eggplant
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 1 cup bulghur wheat
  • 70g walnuts
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • plenty of salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons almond butter

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Place the bulghur wheat in a large bowl and pour over water from a just-boiled kettle to cover it by about 1cm. Cover with plastic wrap or similar and set aside for about ten minutes for it to absorb.

Meanwhile, slice the eggplant as thinly as you can lengthwise. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large saucepan and fry the eggplant slices a few at a time on both sides till softened and browned, adding more olive oil as you (inevitably) need it. Set aside.

Fluff the cooked bulghur wheat with a fork and stir in the walnuts, cranberries, rosemary, cumin, cinnamon, and plenty of salt and pepper.

Set the two sheets of pastry side by side with one inch overlap on a large piece of baking paper, and press down where they overlap to kind of glue them together into one large piece of pastry. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the almond butter over the pastry – soften it with a little olive oil if you need to. Place the eggplant slices on top of this in one layer starting from the left side, with the long side of the eggplant parallel to the long side of the pastry – I had six slices of eggplant so there was two sets of three laid horizontally, if that makes sense. If it doesn’t, let me know and I’ll try to explain further. Now take the bulghur wheat and spoon it in a thick column on top of the eggplant, roughly an inch in from the short side on the left. Carefully but confidently roll the pastry from the short side over the bulghur wheat and continue rolling, sushi-like, till you have a fat cylinder of pastry coiled around the eggplant and bulghur. Tuck the edges down and pinch them together, and carefully place the pastry into a baking dish. Make a couple of slashes in the top with a sharp knife and brush the surface with olive oil, then bake for 30 – 40 minutes until the pastry is puffy and golden brown. Serve in thick slices.

(There’ll be heaps of bulghur wheat leftover but it’s delicious reheated and drizzled with lots of olive oil the next day, however reduce the quantity if you don’t want leftovers.)

4: Mushroom, Walnut and Red Wine Gravy

A (vague, I admit) recipe by myself

  • 1 onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 7 brown mushrooms (if you have like 9 this is not a problem)
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 70g walnuts
  • A pinch each of ground nutmeg and cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

Roughly chop the onion and garlic. Make sure the mushrooms have any dirt brushed off and roughly chop them as well. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan and fry all of this over a low heat until the onions and mushrooms are softened. Sprinkle over the flour and stir for a couple of minutes, before raising the heat and tipping in the red wine. Stir till the wine is absorbed into the floury oniony mushrooms, then tip in the walnuts, the nutritional yeast, and the cinnamon and nutmeg. Slowly add water – around 250ml/1 cup – and allow it to come to the boil, stirring continuously till it’s looking a little thick. You’re going to be blending this up so all the ingredients will naturally thicken it, so it doesn’t have to be too reduced down. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before blitzing it carefully in a high speed blender. I tipped it straight back into the pan to reheat it, but by all means strain it if you want it to be super smooth. It may need more water added at this point if it’s too thick, but up to you. Finally add the soy sauce to taste, and serve hot over EVERYTHING.

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With all that in mind, let’s assess them individually.

1: The concept of roasting a whole cauliflower is, as I noted, an idea I got from Food52, and the idea of brining it first is something I got from a Nigella turkey recipe. I love the idea of treating a vegetable in the same way that you’d treat meat and while cauliflower is more or less going to look after itself in the oven this does come out sweet and tender with its crisp pesto-crusted exterior. It also looks rather wonderful in the roasting dish because it’s so big and whole. On the other hand, because one must be critical: even with the brining and the pesto, this is still just like, a cauliflower alone on a plate. My verdict: this is delicious but I would want it as well as something else, as opposed to being the only thing, otherwise it’s like “wow cool thanks for my slice of damp vegetable really appreciate this.” You of course personally might be more than satisfied by this! But this is how I feel.

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2: The whole pumpkin looks really cool, somehow splendid yet storybook-adorable at the same time. The stuffing has, somehow, and I mean this in an entirely positive and non-innuendo way: a certain sausagey-ness to it. Something in the way the vinegar and mustard play off the rich thyme and the mashed beans and the texture of the bread, it’s all very cured-smallgoodsy and hearty and traditional tasting. My verdict: I am super pleased with this, however I would recommend leaning further into the luxuriousness by making the pesto anyway to have alongside, and perhaps consider adding some pistachios or something else treat-y to the stuffing so that the vegan in your close proximity feels particularly loved.

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3: The eggplant roulade was my favourite! There’s something about pastry that makes anything feel like an enormous effort was made (which, if you managed to make it through my attempts at instructing how to roll the pastry up, is entirely true) and also tastes of true opulence. Happily, it’s very easy to find ready-rolled sheets of puff pastry at the supermarket which are incidentally vegan because they use baker’s margarine or whatever they call it; and it still somehow tastes exactly like it should, probably because it’s what’s used in all commercially made pies and pastries and so our tastebuds are used to it (depending on how many times you’ve fallen asleep with a half-eaten gas station pie nestled beside you on your pillow, I guess.) The eggplant is rich and fulsome and the cinnamon and cranberries in the bulghur wheat are merrily Christmassy. Again, you could consider adding more to make this more, well, more: pistachios, almonds, that ubiquitous pesto, but as it is this is just wonderful. My verdict: Yes.

4: Gravy is so important and I refuse to miss out! This is pretty straightforward, layering savoury upon savoury upon savoury. My verdict: absolutely necessary.

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Because this is already sprawlingly enormous I’m going to wrap it up but overall I’m delighted with everything and with myself. I mentioned last time that I was sick with something flu-like, I thought it had gone away but then halfway through Friday night at work my voice started to disappear, unfortunately I skipped right over sexy-husky and went straight to useless (whispering “hello…welcome” in a strangled modulation as customers blithely walked by, not hearing a single thing I’d said) and seemed to be regressing back into glum sickness. Fortunately I managed to harness the one burst of high-octane energy that I’ve had all week to hoon through making these recipes; I also managed to update my Frasier food blog (Niles and Daphne, sitting in a Gothic mansion!) and have spent the rest of the time when not at work in bed irritably lacking in voice, which is possibly why I’m luxuriating in talking so much on here. Whether it’s residual sickness or just sheer effort I now feel like I need a nap after writing down all those recipes and you may well too if you’ve managed to read this far: napping is the most seasonally-appropriate activity there is, let’s be honest.

title from: Initially I was going to make it “you don’t win friends with salad” from that Simpsons bit but then I thought the “don’t have a cow, man” Simpsons quote was even funnier, all things considered.

music lately:

Blackberry Molasses, Mista This was one of my favourite songs in 1996 and it’s still super sweet, but I am also so sure that the version we got on the radio was faster than this? Can anyone verify?

Laugh It Off, Chelsea Jade. I actually did 1 (one) other activity this week: I went to see local angel Chelsea Jade live at Meow. Her music is just incredible, floaty and dreamy but pinprick-sharp as well and it was so cool to see her again.

Two Dots on a Map, Russian Futurists. This song is so swoony and expansive and pretty much undeniable Laura-bait. While I’m here may I also recommend their aggressively enthusiastic song Paul Simon.

Next time: less is more, I promise.

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the corn was golden, we lay in it for days

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(It’s not pretty, I grant you, but I was like “maybe a lil bow will distract”)

I had a dream about this corn and chilli relish and then upon reflection realised that it already existed more or less in a recipe from Nigella Lawson’s Christmas cookbook, aptly named Nigella Christmas. All I’ve done to her recipe is halve the quantities, add some red chilli, use date syrup instead of honey (I am kind of on the fence on honey consumption vis a vis veganism but for simplicity decided to not use it here) and used ground cumin instead of celery salt because I didn’t have the latter and felt like the former, while different in flavour, brought some of the same energy.

This doesn’t come out like the chow chow you might see in the supermarket, it’s not thick and gluey but more like … bits of vegetable submerged in vinegar, neither of which sound massively appealing but my god! This stuff is addictive, I haven’t actually even used it in anything yet but I’ve already finished off an entire jar just by standing at the open fridge, eating it by the spoonful. Fortunately it makes two jars full.

As I said, you could ostensibly just go to the supermarket and buy a jar of this or something similar but there’s something in the act of making a recipe that then goes into a jar, preserving and putting away, which pleases. This is based on – as I’ve said before – both the sheer resourcefulness of it and the fact that you’re investing in your own future existence and, hopefully, happiness.

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(And then I was like okay that’s not working what about a bigger bow)

The finished result isn’t particularly attractive but it tastes incredible – the sweet crunch of corn and capsicum against the bursts of burn from the chilli and the sinus-scritching mustard, the sour-sweet sugary vinegar balanced by all the salt I poured in (this can handle a LOT of salt.) It’s also so easy to make, and indeed, you could totally make a ton more if you go with Nigella’s original proportions.

As for what to do with it other than eat it by the spoonful; I think it would be ideal piled into a baked potato, layered on top of a burger, or stirred into a pile of peppery crunchy rocket and iceberg leaves.

Corn and Chilli Relish

Adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson from her book Nigella Christmas

  • 500g frozen corn kernels, defrosted
  • 1 red capsicum, seeded and finely diced
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 large red chilli, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup/250ml apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup date syrup, agave syrup, rice malt syrup or honey
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 3 teaspoons sea salt (or more to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 teaspoons English mustard (or more to taste)

Have two 300ml glass jars at the ready, and sterilise them if you like, can be bothered.

Mix all the vegetables together in a good-sized bowl. Wash your hands thoroughly and be careful to not touch your eyes after handling the chilli or it’ll sting like hell.

Bring the vinegar, syrup, sugar, cumin, salt, and mustard to the boil in a saucepan and allow to bubble away for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. It might bubble up and look like it’s about to overflow, in which case remove it from the heat and give it a good stir or – my usual trick – drop an ice cube into it.

At this point, pour the syrup over the corn mixture and give it a stir. Carefully divide between the two jars – the easiest way is to spoon the corn out of the syrup into the jars followed by the remaining syrup, which should be completely submerging all the vegetables. Screw the lids on and refrigerate. This tastes better the longer you leave it and will last for around a month in the fridge after opening.

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(And then I was like okay what about a new location)

I’m not sure if this is a confession that’s going to elicit gasps of muffled horror or conspiratorial acknowledgement that I’m not alone in this (as long as it’s not greeted with indifference tbh) but any time a recipe is all “sterilise your jars thoroughly” I’m like “you will be FORTUNATE if I give it a rinse of the most CURSORY nature in soapy LUKEWARM water”, and you have my full permission to do the same. If the jar smells too strongly of what it previously contained (tomato in particular seems to linger) a quick slosh of water and vinegar or lemon juice seems to do the trick.

I was able to go to a bunch of LitCrawl (a local literary festival) events this weekend and left feeling replete with inspiration and goodwill towards all those who shift words from their brain onto some more tangible surface. And I met so many nice people! Some were even like “oh you’re Hungry and Frozen” and I was like yes! These words are sweeter than any writing I’ve heard this entire festival! But, to that end, after seeing him perform his poetry on Friday night I read the entirety of Kaveh Akbar’s book Calling a Wolf A Wolf; it’s very beautiful and he has this incredible way of saying things with a sense of authority where they almost sound idiomatic but you’ve also never heard those words in that order before. Even his titles are blissful – My Kingdom for a Murmur of Fanfare. I recommend it sincerely. Positively frothing with inspiration and spurred on with the lazy insolence of tramadol and having watched a movie (Outlaw King) that I genuinely the entire time thought was the pilot episode of a Game of Thrones style prestige TV show because prestige TV has melted my brain; I myself put pen to paper to write a poem: for rough context, imagine a Game of Thrones style prestige TV situation but…with…pigs. All present found it highly amusing, I assume without verification.

A pig shall rise

There is no older story than this
A cloven hoof pierces the thick mud
A squeal like a crack racing up a mirror
The air smells, sinister and ominous
And like ham
A tail curls, small but purposeful
Narrow eyes and soft ears, gently crushed by a heavy crown
Smear your face in bacon fat and walk forwards into hell
It is better to live free and die at the hoof
Than to never know freedom at all
A pig shall rise

Thanks LitCrawl! (what’s that faint noise in the distance? Is it LitCrawl frantically gesturing that they don’t want to be considered even tangentially responsible for the birth of, or by any means associated with, this new work?)

title from: C’mon Billy by PJ Harvey. So snarly!

music lately:

Tadpoles, Poemme The sound of a petal floating in water, more or less, and so chill you could just scream.

IRM, Charlotte Gainsbourg. The sound of a lightbulb flickering and sputtering, more or less.

I Hate Danger, Bikini Kill. For someone who won’t stop talking I have a very short attention span most of the time and I do enjoy a song that panders to this.

Wedding, Smog. “I’m gonna be so drunk at your wedding.” Hypnotic.

Next time: I’ve been thinking up a bunch of recipes that could potentially sit proudly on the table at Christmas dinner and plan to run them all by you first.

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oh, these sour times

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

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

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

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

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Salt and Vinegar Red Potato Gratin

A recipe by myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

soy un perdador

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

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

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

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

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

A recipe by myself

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

Wasabi, Mint and Roasted Garlic Sauce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

music lately:

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

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

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

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