sometimes I think you’re just too good for me, every day is Christmas, every night is New Year’s Eve

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With last week’s post being absolutely enormous I thought I’d make this one fairly low-key, calm, brief. But then I watched classic Christmas film Die Hard for the first time ever and it’s really hard to not feel seasonally hyped up after that, right? So instead I decided to do the absolute opposite and give you something high-key, vast, yet still fairly calming in its own way: my annual round-up of recipes from this blog that I think would be worth considering if you’re wanting to do the home-made edible Christmas present thing. Whether or not Christmas is something you acknowledge, be it for religious reasons, self-preservation reasons, or something else entirely, there’s no denying that it’s going to literally happen this very month and besides, you could use this list at any time of year that you have a person for whom a gift is required. I for one think there’s nothing more delightful than the tangible and consumable result of a person’s concentrated time and effort as a gift, not to mention the joy of stomping on the delicate, exposed foot of capitalism by DIY-ing it yourself. (That said – and look, no one is out here defending capitalism, don’t worry – I’d also like to throw my voice to the chorus urging you to consider shopping local/small/ethical/indigenous/gay/generally independent this season.)

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THE HUNGRY AND FROZEN MODERATELY INDISPUTABLE LIST OF EDIBLE GIFT RECIPE IDEAS FOR LIFE, NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS

Caveat 1: Because this goes so far back through the archives, the majority of which I spent neck-deep in butter, well, there’s going to be some butter. I’ve marked accordingly whether a recipe is vegan, also gluten free if applicable – I see you!
Caveat 2: Because this goes so far back through the archives the continuity/life details on display in any given post might be kind of jarring and this is what happens when you write about many details of your life for eleven years! But if we can handle our TV characters like, changing haircuts and so on throughout the course of a series, so can we handle such things here.
Caveat 3: (And just know that I couldn’t help but hear “O CAVEAT THREE-EE-EE” in a superloud, third-time-round, “O come let us adore him” vibe in my head) I moved my blog over to WordPress halfway through this year and all the formatting completely fritzed out, so just know, every single individual blog post that I’ve linked to here that does have, y’know, line breaks, has had its individual html edited by me, and I haven’t quite managed to catch them all yet. This caveat is more of a weird flex, but.

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Category 1: Things in Jars

Too easy! Jars make everything look pulled together and clever, whether it’s the unsinkable salted caramel sauce or some pickled-into-submission vegetable. To ease any anxieties – which you admittedly might not have even considered having, but that’s why I’m here –  on the part of both giver and receiver, I advise including a gift tag with some recommendations of how to use the stuff within the jar ( and “consume in one go in bed” is entirely viable here.)

Subsection A: Saucy Stuff

Subsection B: Stuff stuff

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Category 2: Baked Goods

As easy or as hard as you like, whether it’s some cookies in a takeout container with a ribbon around it (and honestly: those takeout containers – you know the ones – are always useful to have around so it’s not a cop-out) or whether you go full out, make someone an enormous Christmas Cake and find a tastefully yet jaw-droppingly stunning plate to serve it on and make that part of the gift too. To maximise on tis-the-season seasonality I recommend embarking on all baking projects late at night with some kind of liqueur by your side, it just feels right.

 

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Category 3: No-bake Novelty!

This is (a) lots of taxing recreations of candy you can get for like forty cents at the corner dairy, (b) lots of stuffing existing products into other existing products and (c) nevertheless the most fun category.

And one more for luck:

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Almond Butter Toffee

a recipe by myself

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 heaped tablespoons crunchy almond butter
  • 250g dark chocolate
  • sea salt

Line a baking tray or tin with a large piece of baking paper.

Place the sugar, water, and cream of tartar in a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil over a medium heat, without stirring at all. Let it continue to bubble away for five to ten minutes, until it just starts to turn golden – even though it’s boring for a while, don’t walk away or lose focus or it WILL burn, it just will – and as a pale gold cast creeps across the bubbling sugar, at this point immediately remove it from the heat. I hate to be harsh but if the sugar has turned a dark golden brown this means it’s caramelised too far and will taste harshly bitter and burnt; better to start over with more sugar and water than to try to forge ahead, I promise (I speak from much experience.)  Stir in the almond butter, and, working quickly and carefully, tip the lot onto the sheet of baking paper, coaxing it around with a spatula if need be to make it an even shape/thickness. Sprinkle over a good pinch of sea salt. Allow to set and get completely cool, then break it into pieces. 

Melt the chocolate however you prefer – short bursts in the microwave does it for me – and dip each piece of toffee in the chocolate before returning to the baking paper lined tray to set again. Sprinkle over more sea salt if you wish. Store refrigerated in an airtight container.

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This stuff tastes not entirely unlike those magical Daim bars (or Dime bars as they’re known in the UK) with a buttery, snappish crunch that is somehow sweet enough to taunt the teeth with impending fissures and yet mellow and balanced enough for you to eat an alarming quantity without giving it a second thought. As is or chocolate-dipped: novelty perfection. (And especially delicious if kept in the freezer, for some reason.)

I guess humans make traditions to give us something to cling on to in a harsh world, something that marks the passage of time other than the time itself, and making this list has become something of a tradition for me so it’s nice to visit it again, even as my eyeballs throb from all that painstaking hyperlinking. Even if you don’t make a single thing on the list – and you’re under absolutey no obligation to – the fact that you’re reading this far means you’re part of my tradition too. Sentimental, yes! But as I said: I watched Die Hard for the first time, so, you understand.

title from: Sade, The Sweetest Taboo. The sultriness! Ma’am!

music lately:

The Pure and the Damned, Oneohtrix Point Never ft Iggy Pop: “Someday I swear we’re gonna go to a place where we can do everything we want to, and we can pet the crocodiles.”

Turkey Lurkey Time, from the 1969 Tony Awards performance from the musical Promises, Promises. Another tradition! Every year on December 1st and not a moment sooner I rewatch this and every year I am breathtaken anew! Michael Bennett’s audacious choreography that cares not for your chiropractic bill! Donna McKechnie (in the red dress), triple threat, rubber-legged, spinal chord cracking like a whip! The lyrics which are SO STUPID! The final minute which every time makes tears spring to my eyes at the sheer magnitude of it!

Whack World, the album by rapper Tierra Whack. Every one of her songs is precisely one minute long (which is just perfect for me) with its own precise personality. I particularly love Black Nails and F**k Off.

Next time: less REALLY will be more, I promise. 

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.

daylight, see the dew on the sunflower

I admit, I held some concerns that this recipe was a little insubstantial, especially after the (a) pomp and (b) circumstance of the last blog post’s layer cake, but in a long long work week this felt, and was, manageable. On top of which, as I reasoned with myself: people always need dip. A pile of various crunch-adjacent foods and a bowl of something pliant into which to plunge them is 100% an ideal meal for me, there’s just something so abundant and yet casual, organised yet constraint-free about it.

And in case you were worried that it was all going to be too effortless, be assured that there are no less than two time-consuming steps involved in this, firstly the soaking of the sunflower seeds and then the roasting of the garlic. But nothing is required of you while both these things are happening!

I found this recipe while scooting around online and as you can see, if you click through, my recipe here is quite directly influenced by it. I made some distinct changes though based on interest and availability: the two main ones being I toasted the sunflower seeds before soaking to intensify their flavour, and because I couldn’t find the required black garlic I used regular stuff instead. Naturally I was all, “I feel like this calls for an entire bulb of garlic” – I’m at the point where my perception of garlic has shifted so much that I’m probably going to start treating bulbs of garlic as though they’re individual cloves, but we’ll cross that pungent bridge when we come to it. Honestly though once you roast the hell out of garlic like I did here the flavour is so sweetly mellow, if anything I wanted more of it but appreciate that it would be somewhat ridiculous.

(I also appreciate that it’s wantonly wasteful to turn an oven on for half an hour just for one lone garlic bulb, indeed, with guilt in my heart I also made a loaf of Irish Soda Bread to bake at the same time. It turned out to be absolutely disgusting somehow, completely inedible and I had to remorsefully throw the entire thing in the bin, with the best of intentions creating even more waste. Lesson learned: blameless garlic deserves to take up space.)

This dip (I cannot bring myself to call it hummus as per the recipe it’s based on since it doesn’t contain chickpeas but I grant you: the texture is similar) is just wonderful, buttery and fulsome with an intense nuttiness, with the earthy cumin and sharp lime keeping it from being too formless. Using sunflower seeds as the base was a bit of a revelation for me – they give gorgeous creamy texture and substance and incredible flavour, and delightfully, they cost hardly anything. I happily and willingly ate a whole plateful of vegetables simply because I had this dip to drag them through: against the sweetness of carrots the lime and cumin really sang, while the richness of the olive oil was a magnificent pairing with the surprisingly buttery baby turnips.

Toasted Sunflower Seed and Garlic Dip

A recipe inspired by this one

  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 whole garlic bulb
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (I only had black tahini leftover from this salted caramel ice cream recipe hence the murky colour of the finished dip btw)
  • salt and ground pepper, to taste

Toast the sunflower seeds in a dry saucepan (that is, no oil in it or anything) over a medium heat, stirring and keeping an eye on them till they’re all more or less lightly browned. Tip them into a bowl or small jug, cover with water and refrigerate for around six hours, or overnight if that’s easier.

At this point, set your oven to 180C/350F, wrap the garlic bulb loosely in tinfoil and pop it in the oven for about half an hour.

Now it can all come together: Drain the sunflower seeds and tip them into a high speed blender (or a regular food processor, the finished result won’t be quite as smooth though.) Remove the garlic from the tinfoil and carefully disrobe each clove from its papery casing and add them to the blender. The garlic will (obviously) be very hot, but the softened cloves should pop out easily enough. Add the cumin, oil, lime juice, tahini, and plenty of salt and pepper, and blitz the lot together till it has become a smooth, slightly nubbly paste.

Add a little fresh water to thin it if need be, and taste for whether it needs anything more – whether it needs the sharpness of more lime, a little extra body from the oil, depth from the cumin or the old fashioned helping hand of more salt and pepper. Spatula into a bowl or container and refrigerate till you need it, and festoon with mint leaves, more olive oil, and sesame seeds (or of course: more sunflower seeds) to serve, if you wish.

And finally, its salinity helped replenish my depleted vital electrolytes after watching the remake of A Star Is Born, that monumentally melodramatic movie that I consumed with predictable breathlessness. I have many thoughts about it which I wrote and then deleted (on the one hand, there’s a lot of “I see you, Brunette Girl” as a trope, on the other hand, at last: a movie where Bradley Cooper is handsome) and literally whenever I even think about the bit in the trailer where Lady Gaga walks towards the mic and starts howling I get tearful and frantic like a fretful infant, but I also can’t stop rewatching the trailer just so I can see that bit again.

If you agree, enthusiastically, with my claim that people always need dip, then may I also recommend the following recipes on here: Tarator (somehow basically just bread and water but also incredible) pomegranate-laden Hummus, or lush Cambodian Wedding Day Dip.

title from: Memory, the ubiquitous torch song from the musical Cats. For me there is but one person who I acknowledge in the role of Grizabella, and that is the late Laurie Beechman. I thought I’d heard this song so many times that its power was entirely diluted but her singing it makes me cry every time including right now. The emphatic h’s that she throws in at the start of words (“all alone h-with h-my memory”); the gentle vibrato rumbling on “enter innnnnn”; the slight youthful creak to her voice that’s just so appealing, (reminiscent of Glynis Johns or perhaps even Alma Cogan); the way she belts so hard while looking like she’s barely getting started yet and you’re looking around like where did that voice come from? Just watch her.

music lately:

The Sacred Harp Singers, Soar Away. Yeah, I don’t know, I’ve just been listening to a lot of this particular kind of old-timey church music. This one though: a stern and ominous banger, I have played it back easily 100 times in the last week without exaggeration. There are stirring enough versions of modern sacred harp groups performing it on youtube but to my ears, the definitive rendition (on spotify only unfortunately) is this, a decades-old recording which has a kind of shouty, nasal, rough-and-ready vibe that renders modern interpretations too soft and polished and frankly unfearsome.

Wedding Bell Blues, by Laura Nyro. Man, she was just not afraid to be sad and haunting, even, if not especially, in the middle of what sounds deceptively like just a classic sixties-girl-group song.

Will You Smile Again For Me, by …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. It’s very good!

Next time: well, not that damn Irish Soda Bread, that’s for sure.

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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.

you’re lying with your gold chain on, cigar hanging from your lips

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I’ve been pretty committedly vegan for a few months now, but it felt like the one insurmountable hurdle I truly had to surmount was the issue of butter. And that’s because I’ve really made butter my thing over the years. Why, in 2009, when this blog was but two years old, I wrote the following:

“Maybe in years to come, when my blog has changed lives, and gets turned into a beautiful book, and then the movie of the book of the blog changes peoples’ lives (oh wait, that’s Julie and Julia that I’m thinking of, and somewhat more feasibly, I’ll probably slide quietly into further obscurity), and a naive child asks their grandparents what the ultimate blog post that would describe Hungry and Frozen would be, what the very distilled essence of this whole strange business is, the ur-text, the definitive piece of writing, their grandparents might lean down and utter with a wise, earthy croak: The one where she made her own butter.

(the blog post was about me making my own butter.)

I actually did of course, some years later but also some years ago, get my blog turned into a beautiful cookbook (such are my powers of manifestation) although it didn’t quite take the path that I so breathlessly imagined back then. The point is, I was extremely about butter and it’s scary backing down from anything you’ve been vocally definite about, right? When I first started this blog in 2007 the subheading was a quote from Nigella Lawson herself about butter and in all honesty, the very thought of butter alternatives (alright, margarine, the butter alternative that dare not speak its name) made me genuinely quite panicky. Like my reputation – whatever it may have been or currently be – would be utterly tarnished if one single person wasn’t wholly aware of my commitment to butter.

When you are as righteous and strident as I have been about ever so many things, it becomes extremely stressful to change that, because there’s this heavily-weighted sense that people will judge you for subverting the expectations that you’ve built up so thoroughly for them. That you’re letting people down somehow by stepping sideways into slightly newer versions of the person they usually recognise you as.

It’s chilling in every sense of the word (that is, it’s horrifying but also relaxing) that actually people never are thinking about you as much as you think they are; I’m also learning ever so slowly that being low-key instead of super righteous makes for much less stress in the long run, and reminding myself what people expect from me and what I owe people are pretty equally minimal. This is a good thing to remind yourself of, and while it’s easy to just say don’t worry about what people will think of you for your various life choices, just like…on the whole, none of us have to worry as much as we think we do.

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So with ALL this in mind, I handed over New Zealand Dollars in exchange for a butter alternative for the first literal time in my life the other day, and not only did the sky not fall in, not for want of me waiting for it to; the stuff I bought also tasted pretty decent. I do genuinely still believe there’s no better flavour on earth than actual butter but I’m also okay, currently, with just not having it. I suppose in the same way that any commitment you make has its compromises. Nuttelex Buttery is what I went for and it tastes quite similar to Lurpak, that pale European butter that I used to spread on my toast when I lived in England.

And I used it in this recipe (yes finally, the recipe!) comprising cauliflower roasted with miso and mustard, wrapped in sheets of filo pastry, each layer of pastry brushed with a mixture of the melted vegan butter and nutritional yeast. I purchased the former and the latter together and really felt like I’d levelled up in my veganism. If you haven’t had it before, nutritional yeast is this truly magical dust, it makes everything taste intensely savoury and savourily intense. If I were to describe the flavour it would be somewhere between parmesan, Marmite and roasted mushrooms, and it’s absolutely perfect with the cauliflower’s mildness and the papery-thin crispness of the pastry.

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I made these filo cigars very much on the fly, one of those recipes that is a reaction to whatever one happens to have on hand as opposed to the result of actual planning. But I was, as is often the case with such recipes, completely delighted with them and ended up eating five out of the six pictured in one go as opposed to having them sitting about for future snacking purposes. The whole thing is an exercise in savouriness – the sharp, salty miso mustard coating the cauliflower, the nuttiness of the sunflower seeds and the, yes, vegan butter, the crunch of the pastry with the aforementioned absolute magic of the nutritional yeast between each fragile layer.

Miso Cauliflower Filo Cigars

A recipe by myself

  • 9 sheets of filo pastry
  • 4 tablespoons vegan butter (or actual butter, or olive oil)
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (Bragg’s is the brand I got)
  • half a head of cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • Black pepper, to taste

Set your oven to 200C/400F.

Chop the cauliflower roughly into small pieces. Place on a baking tray, drizzle with the two tablespoons of olive oil and roast for fifteen minutes or until softened and browned at the edges.

Mix the miso paste, mustard, and black pepper together and spoon or brush it over the cauliflower, and return to the oven for another five minutes. Throw the sunflower seeds over the top at this point as well so they can get toasted by the oven’s heat, if you wish (I, for one, recommend it.)

Melt the butter in a small bowl in the microwave and stir in the nutritional yeast.

Three layers of filo pastry will yield you two cigars, so brush one sheet of pastry with the melted butter/nutritional yeast mix, then lay another sheet of filo on top and brush that with butter, and then finally another sheet. Cut it down the middle so you’ve got two layered rectangles.

Mix the breadcrumbs and dried rosemary in another small bowl (sorry about all the dishes involved.)

Spoon a small quantity of the cauliflower and sunflower seeds into roughly the middle of one of the pastry rectangles, followed by a heaped spoonful of the breadcrumbs. The simplest way to fashion these cigars, I find, is to tuck the sides in over the top of the cauliflower and then roll the whole thing away from yourself so you’ve got a thick parcel. Set aside onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, and repeat with the other rectangle of pastry.

Brush more sets of three sheets of filo with the butter and then cut, fill, and roll into cigars in the same manner. Brush the cigars with any remaining butter and bake for ten to fifteen minutes or until crisp and golden. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and more rosemary if you like. And then eat them.

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You could be as reactionary as I’ve been and make these based on what you have to hand or can easily access – broccoli would surely be just as good as the cauliflower, literally any nut would be fine instead of sunflower seeds, obviously you could use real butter or olive oil instead of a butter alternative, and if you wanted to bulk it out with couscous or bulghur wheat instead of breadcrumbs I suspect it would be fantastic. But as they are, as I made them, these tasted incredibly incredible, and even the one remaining cigar, consumed cold and moderately soggy after work sometime around 5am, was unexpectedly delicious. Maybe even more so.

title from: Off to the Races, by Lana Del Rey. The very distillation of a Lana Del Rey song, to be honest, and I love her for it.

music lately:

INXS, Don’t Change. As far as INXS songs go this one from 1982 is not nearly as well-known as their main hits but it’s so, so good! It has this drive and energy and sounds so ahead of its time, like a song from 2004 written by a band trying to sound like they were from 1982!

Felt, Primitive Painters. This already lovely song is sent into the stratosphere by the presence of Elizabeth Fraser, “the voice of god” – she sounds like cold falling water, like a feather being run across the back of your neck, like a casual angel (to corroborate this, should you have your doubts, may I direct you to where you’ve probably heard her already: Teardrop by Massive Attack.)

Tim Buckley, Song to the Siren. SO sad and pretty, a real exemplary example of this genre. (The genre being, sad and pretty.)

Next time: CAN YOU BELIEVE it’s technically, and worse, literally, October; I’m super excited to eat some asparagus, should I manage to ever not sleep through the Sunday markets, or indeed, Spring itself.

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