Vegan Chocolate-Dipped Shortbread

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Getting used to something and being enthusiastic about it are two different things, but the absence of hatred is a start – of course, I’m talking about margarine, which I’ve resigned myself to using in various cooked and baked goods to the point where it’s done without thinking, and certainly without self-flagellation. I’ve been vegan for long enough now that I no longer appreciate the concept of consuming large quantities of dairy – that milk is none of my business! – but…it would be nice if margarine companies at least tried to emulate butter’s undeniably good flavour. Humans are capable of untold scientific endeavour, where’s that energy in margarine? I understand there are great vegan butters out there – and by “out there” I mean selected pockets of America – but here in New Zealand it’s margarine or nothing, and, well, I refuse to have nothing, so the margarine has to work for me.

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In the case of shortbread, where butter is the main event, the star, the biscuit’s reason for getting up in the morning – you’d be forgiven for assuming that a margarine-based recipe would be a failure, tinged with that tongue-lingering nastiness that only strong flavours can mask. First of all, you have to find the margarine that’s least vexatious, the most tolerable – for me, that’s Olivani (not Nuttelex, as I initially assumed when embarking on this highly-committed whim). Second of all, you have to believe me when I say – and I’m genuinely astonished by it – that this shortbread doesn’t taste like margarine. It doesn’t! It tastes softly buttery and mildly sweet and very reassuringly shortbready. It does, however, lack that final convincing push of flavour that butter enjoys; hence the helping hand offered by the regionally unorthodox yet highly recommended chocolate dip over half of each shortbread.

As well as bringing the obvious to the table – delicious chocolate flavour! – the firm shell of chocolate, especially when fridge-cold, has this fantastic contrasting bite compared to the fine-grained shortbread below, which melts in your mouth like sand disappearing into seawater. You can leave these plain if you don’t have any chocolate or you’re severely disapproving of any variation on this traditionally Scottish biscuit, but if you’re up for it this chocolate step comes highly, if not strenuously, endorsed.

@hungryandfrozen

vegan chocolate dipped shortbread 🍫 recipe @ hungryandfrozen.com 🤠 #vegan #chocolate #veganbaking #recipe #nzfood #foodblogger #fyp #plantbased

♬ Working for the Knife – Mitski

I had intended for these to be adorable chocolate-dipped stars, but I realised moments before starting the recipe that I had lost my star-shaped cutter somewhere in the fifty million times I moved house in the last five years; all I could find was a set of Christmas-themed cookie cutters which curiously did not include a star but did have a vague and formless shape that I could only assume was Santa with his sack upon his back or perhaps a slightly wonky and unsure-of-foot partridge. My aesthetic loss is absolutely your gain – this method is significantly easier and faster, scored and baked all at once in a tin then prised apart into rustic rectangular fingers.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, we’re in the frenzied grips of my mother’s lockdown project where we celebrate a different country that one of us has been to each day, in alphabetical order; I will definitely be making the Fijian Tarkari and the Česnečka from the Czech Republic again; my attempt at a vegan haggis is probably best kept a memory not to be relived. These shortbreads, however, will definitely be back.

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Vegan Chocolate-Dipped Shortbread

This vegan shortbread is simple, delicious, and made all the more palatable with a dunk in some melted chocolate. I swear to you, the recipe really is straightforward and super easy – I just couldn’t work out how to explain any elements of it in a succinct manner.
Recipe by myself.

  • 200g vegan butter/margarine (I used – and recommend – Olivani)
  • 90g icing sugar
  • 300g flour
  • 3 tablespoons custard powder
  • 150g dark chocolate

1: Beat the butter and icing sugar together in a large mixing bowl until light and creamy – which should only take a minute or two – then tip in the flour and cornflour and carefully stir it all together (I say carefully because it’s very easy to shunt large clouds of flour everywhere at this point). Push the dough together into a ball with your hands, then cover the bowl with a clean tea towel or lid and put it in the fridge for about twenty minutes.

2: While this is happening, set your oven to 160C/320F and line a 28x18cm baking dish/brownie tin with a sheet of baking paper. Remove the chilled dough from the fridge and press it out evenly into the tin – you can lay another sheet of baking paper over the top and gently press down on it to make it more even, removing it before baking of course. Jab the dough several times with a fork, which helps steam escape and makes it rise neatly; and then use a knife to score it twice horizontally and vertically several times, so you have about 24 similarly-sized rectangles. Apologies if this description doesn’t make much sense – basically you’re just scoring the dough as if you were preparing to slice it up, which makes it easier to slice once it’s actually out of the oven.

3: Bake the shortbread dough for 35 minutes – checking often – or until it’s lightly golden and the surface is firm. Remove the cooked shortbread out of the dish by lifting the edges of the sheet of baking paper. Use a knife to slice through the lines you scored earlier, then carefully ferry each individual shortbread to a cooling rack.

4: Once the shortbreads have cooled, melt the chocolate however you normally do it (I used a small glass bowl and 20-second bursts in the microwave, but if you put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and then rest that bowl on a pan of simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl doesn’t touch the water, that works too). Carefully dip each shortbread halfway – so half of it is coated in chocolate and half of it remains bare – and sit them on a tray lined with baking paper, then refrigerate till set. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Makes around 24.

Notes:

  • If you don’t have custard powder or are simply disinclined to use it, replace it with the same amount of cornflour (or cornstarch for the Americans) and add a generous splash of vanilla extract.
  • In my experience, Olivani is the best-behaved and most mellow-flavoured margarine – better than Nuttelex for sure – but you use whatever you’re comfortable with.

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music lately:

Minority by Green Day – I don’t know what it is about them but whenever I’m like “I’m a fan of Green Day” I say it in this reverent yet apologetic voice like I’m revealing some great shuddering truth about myself (it’s very similar to the voice I use when I own up that I’m a bigtime show tunes kind of guy.) Anyway, I’ve always been very fond of this song and its jauntiness and year-2000-ness and the impenetrable Mairzy Doats quality to the lyrics. I’m especially fond of this live version at Milton Keynes in 2005, since I was in that very audience.

Working For The Knife, by Mitski – new Mitski! New Mitski music in 2021! I feel like Ebenezer Scrooge throwing open his windows on Christmas Day. This is very important! Also, I was super nervous, and put off listening to it in case it wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped, and then got anxious in case I was somehow letting Mitski down, or in case people were like “oho, a fair-weather fan, are we” but of course none of those things happened (or was going to happen) and as soon as she sang “I cry at the start of every movie/I guess ’cause I wish I was making things too” I knew she was BACK.

Hello Dad…I’m In Jail by Was (Not Was). Like the Sideshow Bob stepping on a rake scene in The Simpsons – truly the opposite of diminishing returns.

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

Chilli Oil Beans [vegan]

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For all that the instant and the fast and the promise of the fifteen-minute feast in seven ingredients or fewer have had a persistent hold on food writing directed at all people from around the age where they’re able to operate a toaster unsupervised; there is joy to be found in the circuitous route, in taking your time, in being present and looking your food in the eye (metaphorically, speaking as a vegan) and saying “I see you”.

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This is – you could say – a circuitous route to describe a recipe that is actually pretty instant, but I wanted to set the scene in case you glance over these Chilli Oil Beans and think “why would I do this when I could just open a jar of Lao Gan Ma chilli in oil instead?” Well, first of all, that would be a valid and delightful decision and I’m not going to talk you out of it! My recipe merely involves spooning sizzling hot oil from a pan into a bowl of aromatics, and this gentle yet decisive incubation process creates a stunningly fragrant and rich spice-jewelled condiment, absolutely lush stuff, and sheer magic against the creamy mellowness of the beans.

The road to this recipe was many-pronged – first, I was struggling to find kimchi online during lockdown, so I ended up ordering gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes) to make my own, and the bag that arrived was roughly the size of my head, so I had a significant quantity leftover. Second, several TikTok videos involving chilli oil entered my peripheral vision (including this one by Chef Priyanka and this one by TiffyCooks) and the notion of pouring hot oil over spices really stuck with me – and I know I keep bringing up TikTok but I’ve been in lockdown since mid-August, I live in the middle of nowhere and I’m 90% unemployed, so my reference points are going to be fairly narrow and repetitive, and that’s a personal guarantee! Besides which, TikTok can be a brilliant culinary resource, especially in the case of these creators. Finally, I’d been thinking about this chilli oil and how it would be wonderful stirred through beans or lentils – the dense, grainy legumes and the crunch of chopped nuts and quick-toasted whole spices and the crackle of hot chilli all together – and so, here we are.

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(every now and then I break my personal rule of never photographing food with ingredients scattered impractically hither and yon; but it’s my understanding that people like this kind of photography and the algorithm is a vengeful god who must be appeased with occasional sacrifices)

Whether or not you’re in lockdown this is just the kind of food that makes you feel free and glorious both in the making and the eating – and despite my opening paragraph, I really must reiterate how straightforward it is. Although I presume you know how to deal with a bowl of beans, this can be more than just a snack in and of itself. It would be excellent piled onto rice or stirred through pasta – short, I reckon, like orecchiette or ditalini – or wrapped in something burrito-adjacent; that being said I just kept sneaking more and more spoonfuls of it while standing up at the bench taking photos until there remained nothing more to photograph but the bowl and the spoon and a thin film of red-flecked oil. And of course, the oil itself can be used on literally anything! Even if I didn’t have a bag of gochugaru the size of my head to work through – a blessing, rather than a hardship! – I would definitely be making this again soon.

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Chilli Oil Beans

Fast, simple, delicious. So simple and delicious that I completely forgot to add fresh ginger and garlic and it still tasted amazing? Please consider adding a few chopped garlic cloves and sliced coins of fresh ginger; please don’t consider leaving out the aniseed flavourings, they’re important! Recipe by myself.

  • 1 spring onion, finely sliced
  • a small handful of chives, snipped (around two tablespoons, it really doesn’t matter)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1-2 teaspoons gochugaru or regular chilli flakes (adjust to your tastes, of course)
  • a hearty shake of ground white pepper
  • 2 generous tablespoons rice bran oil or similarly neutral oil
  • 1/4 cup cashews, roughly chopped
  • 1 x 400g tin cannellini beans
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • dash sesame oil

1: Place everything up to and including the white pepper into a small, heatproof mixing bowl. Heat up the rice bran oil in a small saucepan until you can dip a wooden spoon into it and tiny bubbles start to gather – at this point, remove the pan from the heat and tip the oil into the bowl of spices. Add the cashews and let it sit for a minute.

2: Rinse the beans – and if you want them heated, you can take this opportunity to warm them through in the same pan that you heated the oil in. if you’re happy with room temperature beans, then hooray, one less dish to wash. Carefully remove the cinnamon stick and star anise from the mixing bowl, then tip in the beans and stir to coat them in the spiced oil. Stir in the soy sauce – adding more if you like – and a dash of sesame oil.

Serves 1, but depending on its application, (eg served on rice or stirred into pasta) this could serve more. If you are not a dolt like me and remember to include ginger and garlic I would leave the garlic in but fish out the bits of ginger. Obviously, you can use lentils, chickpeas, borlotti beans, anything you like, and you’re more than welcome to cook them from scratch rather than using canned. 

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music lately:

Spaceman by Babylon Zoo, I don’t know who greenlit this chaos but good for them, I still remember hearing it on the radio for the first time in 1996 and it felt like I was flying in a dream, the kind of song that makes a small-town youngster look out the window and say damn, this is living.

Caught Up In The Rapture by Anita Baker. Smooth, stunning, and it bears repeating: so smooth, so stunning!

Disappear by INXS – look, if you’re still within a strict lockdown level I don’t entirely recommend listening to this, it’s too exciting and too powerful. Cruelly, it’s on my mind – but then, it always is, lockdown or not.

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

Vegan Hokey Pokey Ice Cream

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Hokey Pokey is what you might call an iconic ice cream flavour here in Aotearoa, and its beauty lies in its simplicity and that texture – crunch against cold creaminess – and I’ve done my best to honour it and the collective sentimental memories of our tastebuds here in my homemade version. I won’t pretend that you can’t taste the coconut cream, but that’s the vegan life for you – and it’s hardly a bad thing! Coconut is delicious! If anything, its mellow beachiness only serves to enhance the hauntingly sweet depths of the caramelised sugar.

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This should all be easy enough to write about – childhood reminiscing, recreating familiar foods in vegan form, yada yada yada, but I had to make the honeycomb thrice – threefold! – before I got it right and now I find myself losing valuable writing hours burrowing into lyrics websites looking for a stanza from a Limp Bizkit song that I can use as an allegory – is it that I really like Limp Bizkit (yes) or is it that I read the new Sally Rooney novel and I’m subconsciously bucking its high-minded walls of academic epistolography (possibly? how self-aware) or is it just some garden-variety ADHD hyperfocus on the wrong thing (let’s face it, probably) or is it that I’m five weeks into waiting out a lockdown, a lockdown that’s obviously the correct thing to do for the greater good and no real hardship to myself, but as such my imagination is growing wearier and wearier from over-use yet under-use simultaneously – yes, possibly that, too – but in fact, I think it’s really just that I’m still recovering from making three batches of honeycomb.

@hungryandfrozen

Vegan Hokey Pokey Ice Cream 🥲 I burnt so much honeycomb don’t let this flop besties #icecream #hokeypokey #vegan #nzfood #lockdownkitchen #nzlockdown

♬ Don’t Let Go (Love) – En Vogue

Every time I burnt that sugar it felt like part of my soul cauterised and fell off with it; but don’t let my rivers of hissing sugar and propensity for dramatics put you off: I suffered so that you don’t have to, and with a little patience this is genuinely quite straightforward, and you earn your heavenly reward in the form of a creamy tub of velvety-smooth ice cream with melting yet crunchy honeycomb and toffee dappled throughout. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend making this if you’re hungover or feeling fragile, or if you have small children rushing about, or indeed, if you are a small child yourself. This requires concentration (which is why it’s barely surprising I burnt the first two batches of sugar) and confidence, because you’re taking your boiling hot melted sugar and quickly, decisively, parting it two ways – into a sheet of clear, golden toffee (which will provide the requisite crunch that one seeks in all hokey pokey ice cream experiences) and into a billowing mushroom cloud of honeycomb (which slowly fades into the ice cream providing pockets of dissolving caramel.)

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Somewhere between frantically warning you of the dangers of handling hot sugar and reassuring you that there’s actually nothing to this, is my most important point: this vegan hokey pokey ice cream tastes SO GOOD, and as soon as you have that first mouthful you’ll not only be flush with nostalgia-flavoured serotonin you’ll also be absolutely reeling from the weight of your own competence – the most elusive flavour of all – and you’ll know it was all worth it (and maybe you’ll even hear Limp Bizkit singing this could be the one, I know I did.)

PS: if you really want to make life difficult for yourself, why not put on a double feature with my homemade vegan Jelly Tip ice cream recipe while you’re at it. Feel free to replace the vanilla ice cream mixture of that recipe with the coconut cream/coconut condensed milk of this recipe – for my money, it’s the superior method.

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Vegan Hokey Pokey Ice Cream

Lush, velvety vanilla ice cream with crunchy and melting honeycomb, the taste of your childhood and the promise of a brighter future, all at once. This takes some patience – specifically the double-sugar honeycomb and toffee aspect – and I recommend you read the recipe fully before embarking, although it’s a lot easier than the length of this makes it look – but obviously I wouldn’t lead you down this rocky path without good reason (that reason being: this ice cream is so delicious.) As always, my homemade ice cream recipes are and will forever be no-churn. Recipe by myself.

  • 1 x 320g tin sweetened condensed coconut milk
  • 2 x 400g tins full-fat coconut cream, refrigerated overnight
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 generous tablespoon golden syrup
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • a pinch of salt, or to taste

1: First, the ice cream mixture. If you forget to put the coconut cream in the fridge the night before, at least try to get it cold for a few hours. Scoop the chilled, thick coconut cream from the top of the tins into a bowl (reserving the remaining coconut water for now) and using either electric beaters or a whisk and some energy, beat the coconut cream until thick and whipped looking. Pour in the sweetened condensed milk and beat everything again on high speed (or with your whisk) to thoroughly combine, then pour in the remaining coconut water from the tins and the vanilla and beat again. Apologies for how convoluted this sounds! You’re essentially just mixing your coconut products together and doing it this way ensures a creamy texture later on.

2: Pour this coconut mixture into a 1.5 litre capacity container, fix on the lid, and pop it in the fridge to let the flavour develop/mellow out while you make the honeycomb and toffee.

3: Now for the sugar. Before you do anything else, find two roasting trays or shallow, lipped baking trays and line them both with a large sheet of baking paper, and also measure the baking soda into a small cup or bowl so it’s ready to go when the sugar is melted. Place the sugar and golden syrup into a heavy saucepan and slowly melt it over a low heat, stirring constantly, until it’s gone from sugar to a gritty paste almost resembling peanut butter, to a melted puddle of caramel that’s starting to simmer around the edges. I feel the need to tell you that this is unbelievably hot so please pay attention and don’t – as if by automatism – lick the spoon.

4: Once it’s melted and just starting to simmer, remove the pan from the heat and quickly ladle a small quantity of the molten sugar – about 3 tablespoons to 1/4 cup but for goodness sake don’t try to measure it – onto one of the waiting paper-lined roasting trays.

5: Tip the baking soda into the remaining sugar syrup in the saucepan and stir it in briskly – the mixture will turn pale and billow spookily yet intriguingly upwards – once it starts doing this, carefully scrape as much as possible of your pale honeycomb onto the second paper-lined roasting tray. Now – pick up the first tray, confidently but respectfully, and tilt it gently from side to side to let the toffee spread out. You can try to do this with the honeycomb as well, but once that stuff is in place it doesn’t really like to move. Let both trays cool completely – this may not take very long or it might take about an hour, it all kind of depends on the weather and the vibe of the thing etc.

6: Use a wooden spoon or other implement of your choice to bash the cooled honeycomb and toffee – a very gratifying exercise after all that frantic activity earlier – breaking them up into small pieces. You can draw the four corners of the paper together and scrunch the honeycomb around to break it up further, I don’t recommend doing this with the toffee however, as it’ll stick together. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over your honeycomb and toffee crumbs (I find the saltiness works best distributed this way rather than directly in the ice cream mixture but, to be honest, it’s up to you, just put some salt somewhere at some point.) Remove your ice cream mixture from the fridge, tip in the honeycomb and toffee pieces, stir gently, and then place the container in the freezer for about six hours or overnight.

As with most homemade ice creams, this benefits from sitting around on the. bench for five to ten minutes to soften up a little before serving. Makes around 1.25 litres, give or take.

Notes:

  • The brand of sweetened condensed coconut milk you’ll probably be using – since it’s the only one I’ve ever seen on the shelf – is called Nature’s Charm, if it’s not in the regular canned milk section it’ll probably be in that weird dark corner where the supermarkets shunt all the vegan stuff.
  • The coconut cream needs to be full fat and it needs to be coconut cream and ideally there shouldn’t be water listed on the ingredients. For some reason the best, most consistent brand I’ve found for ice cream has been Pam’s.
  • If you use caster sugar the caramel stage will probably happen a lot quicker, in fact, I really should’ve used it, but since I’m already being difficult asking you to find sweetened condensed coconut milk I didn’t also want you to have to go out of your way to buy non-regular sugar.

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music lately:

Våren by Grieg, sung by Jane Powell and Jeanette MacDonald in the 1948 film Three Daring Daughters – Jane Powell always radiated sheer delightfulness and she was a comfort to me both in her films and in her general existence as one of our last remaining threads from the Golden Age of Hollywood; I would often look up her Wikipedia page just to be cheered by knowing she was still here and was terribly sad to learn of her death today. She’s mostly known for Royal Wedding and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers but this song – where she sings with the legendary 1930s soprano MacDonald – is pure magic.

Meet Me At Our Spot by The Anxiety, the collaboration between Willow Smith and Tyler Cole – the studio recording is amazing but this live version is just…magnificent, it’s so simple and relaxed and yet it hit me like an untethered fridge flying off the back of a truck going 100 miles per hour. Willow’s voice and energy and that chorus is simply everything!

America by Simon and Garfunkel – sometimes their mannered and careful enunciation sets my teeth on edge but this song specifically makes me feel positively unhinged levels of emotion – the eerie humming at the start merging with the tail end of the previous song immediately puts me in a trance, and when they get to the “hitch-hike from Saginaw” part I lose it every time (I actually looked Saginaw up on Wikipedia out of curiosity and started crying while reading facts about its municipalities and average precipitation, that’s how powerful this song is) and if I haven’t started crying by then I absolutely will be on the ground howling and beating the earth with my ineffectual fists by the time they make it to the New Jersey Turnpike.

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

Instant Gnocchi [vegan]

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

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

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

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

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Instant Gnocchi

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

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

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

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

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

Serves two, modestly, or one, very generously.

Notes:

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

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

Chilli Corn Macaroni [vegan]

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

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

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

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

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

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Chilli Corn Macaroni

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

Vegan Lemon Poppyseed Loaf Cake

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Just a simple one, this time. A simple, one-bowl vegan lemon loaf cake that deftly manages to be nothing special and utterly magnificent at the same time, the line that loaf cakes specifically are so good at balancing upon. We’re back in lockdown again, although for me it feels different to the first one in 2020 because we now have the benefit of hindsight. I was genuinely delighted when this lockdown was announced and welcome any extensions to its stay – a response less rigid than this would’ve been considerably more hellish and anxious to endure in both the short and long term.

I wasn’t even going to blog about this loaf cake – as you can probably tell by the very hasty and inelegant photos and lack of accompanying TikTok – it was a variation on an older lemon cake recipe, with some poppy seeds thrown in because I just think they’re neat. It tasted so good though, and was easy to make, and that’s reason enough to share it. And we’re in lockdown, what else am I going to do?

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This cake has a light, springy crumb and enjoys a triple dose of fresh lemon flavour – and there are few things so cleanly optimistic as the scent and flavour of lemon – in the batter, of course, in the icing, and in what I call The Brine, where you pour a mixture of lemon juice and salt over the cake while it’s still hot from the oven. I know that squeezing juice over an oven-hot cake is hardly a new proposition but in these trying times, you have to romanticise what you can – calling it a brine makes me feel like I’ve really Done Something. If you find that insufferable (a reasonable stance!) then absolutely feel free to ignore the name but please don’t ignore the step itself, which adds to the dense citrus presence and provides alluring contrast to the sugar in the icing.

It’s not that my thoughts turn to baking more while we’re in lockdown, since I’m always thinking about baking anyway – but if you’re in the market for something relaxed and delicious, indeed, if you’re simply in the market to think about baking more at all, this loaf cake could be the one.

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Vegan Lemon Poppyseed Loaf Cake

A simple, classic loaf cake mixed quickly in one bowl and positively levitating with lemon flavour. You can use oranges or limes or a mix instead, and of course, leave out the poppy seeds if you don’t have them. The icing is optional but also absolutely not optional – those are your options. Recipe by myself.

  • 1 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup rice bran oil (or similar flavourless oil)
  • Juice and zest of 2-3 lemons – enough to give you 1/3 cup juice
  • 1 cup/250ml full-fat coconut cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds

For the brine:

  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the icing:

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
  • 1 tablespoon coconut cream
  • zest and juice of one lemon – enough to give you around 3 tablespoons of juice
  • 1 and 1/2 cups icing sugar (though be prepared to add more)

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a loaf tin with baking paper.

2: Stir the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl – I sieve in the baking soda and baking powder to prevent any lumps – then make a well in the centre and pour in the oil, lemon juice and zest, coconut cream, vanilla and poppy seeds. Fold everything together to form a thick pale batter, spatula it into the loaf tin, and bake for about 40 minutes – depending on your oven – or until the top is firm and springy without any liquidy wobble beneath. Also – shake the can of coconut cream first before opening it, as they tend to separate into thicker cream and watery liquid and you want a good mix of both.

3: For the brine, zest the lemon and set that aside for later use (either throw it into the icing or sprinkle it on top of the finished loaf cake) and then mix the juice of the lemon and the salt together in a small ramekin or measuring cup until the salt has more or less dissolved. Spoon this mixture evenly over the cake while it’s still hot from the oven, and then let the cake cool completely before icing.

4: For the icing, mix everything together in a bowl to form a thick frosting – you may need to add more icing sugar – and refrigerate until required. Spread the icing thickly over the cooled loaf cake and sprinkle over any remaining lemon zest (or just zest another lemon – or you could sprinkle over some more poppy seeds.)

Note: I’ve never made this with anything other than full-fat coconut cream. Logic would suggest you could replace this with any milk – but since I haven’t tried it, I can’t guarantee the cake will then turn out how it should. On the other hand, I used a little coconut cream in the icing since I had it leftover from the open can used for the cake batter; you can definitely just use soy milk etc here instead.

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music lately:

That Life by Unknown Mortal Orchestra. New music by UMO is always good news. When the music video employs dancing muppets, so much the better. I love the way their music goes down but up at the same time, you know?

Kiss Off by Violent Femmes, a shaggy, Modern Lovers-esque exercise in sincerity, the sort of song where every part that comes along makes you say “oh wait THIS is my favourite part”.

No Good Deed sung by Shoshana Bean, from the musical Wicked – in all my years of being a fan of this show I was never particularly occupied with Ms Bean – which is nothing whatsoever to do with her talent! – there are so many portrayals of this role and I only have so many hours in the day. But this rendition of Elphaba’s last big song of the second act – a grainy video from 2005 of a performance on the Martha Stewart show of all things – stopped me in my tracks. The power and control in her voice – the way she can make her voice leap a tall building and then bring it back into the palm of her hand – while still managing to do capital-A Acting – is astonishing. I’ve heard this song a zillion times, this felt like hearing it for the first time again.

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

Vegan Gochujang Bokkeum

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I’ve been vegan for about three years now, and comfortably so, but I’m only human and despite my claims, it is not just white chocolate that makes me occasionally question my every last firmly-held conviction. It’s Folu’s Unsnackable newsletter, it’s the memory of a filet o’fish – not that I think it would be hard to make a vegan dupe but a recipe for those pillow-tender steamed buns as yet eludes me – and it’s all the Korean food creators that I follow on TikTok. This recipe for gochujang bokkeum – a fried gochujang sauce with onions and beef – by Johnny Kyung-Hwo Sheldrick algorithmed its way onto my phone, and it looked so delicious, and I was sure I could make it vegan easily enough without squandering the vibe of the original recipe. (More so than the person who commented “is it vegan” to which Johnny gamely and politely replied, “without the beef it is”, such is the state of critical thinking these days.)

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Far be it from me to suggest that the food of a cuisine that isn’t mine needs me to meddle in it but as it stands, I don’t eat beef but I wanted to eat this. I’m delighted with my variation and I’m delighted that I found the original recipes that inspired it; I wouldn’t have come up with this without them. Rather than use a fake meat as a replacement I decided a rubbly mixture of blended up peanuts and sun-dried tomatoes would be ideal, and they were – the peanuts give texture, protein and nutty mildness; the sun-dried tomatoes add concentrated, near-meaty dark red savoury flavour and stickiness.

So far this gochujang bokkeum has been delicious on cold noodles, on hot noodles, and mixed into stir-fried vegetables with fake chicken; I know in my near future there’ll be a big spoonful of this on a bowl of rice with fried mushrooms, and I feel like it would work beautifully with a creamy texture as well – like these coconut chilli tofu noodles.

@hungryandfrozen

vegan gochujang bokkeum 🌶 SO DELICIOUS thanks @johnnykyunghwo for the inspiration🌶 #vegankorean #recipe #gochujang #veganrecipes #foodblogger #fyp

♬ Rumble – Link Wray & His Ray Men

All the peanuts and tomatoes spread that chilli heat out a little, but eating this is still a vigorous experience, and the gochujang, a Korean fermented chilli paste, is definitely pretty fiery. But it’s not only hot. It’s got these shadowy layers of flavour and depth and, as Nigella Lawson said in her book Kitchen, an “almost liquorice intensity”, a description that dances in my mind whenever I eat it. Besides, heat tolerance is a moving target and the only way to get used to it is to eat more. I don’t consider myself even close to being able to handle a lot of chilli heat and yet I keep sneaking spoonfuls of this; after a while your tastebuds do adjust – eventually you’ll be spooning it onto your breakfast cereal.

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Vegan Gochujang Bokkeum

This Korean fried chilli sauce is seriously delicious and versatile. I’ve replaced the usual meat with peanuts and sun-dried tomatoes, but the star ingredient is, of course, gochujang, a Korean fermented chilli paste. My vegan version is both inspired by and based on this recipe at Racheerachh Eats and this TikTok by Johnny Kyung-Hwo Sheldrick.

  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 and 1/2 cups raw peanuts
  • 10 sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used rice bran)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mushroom soy sauce (or regular soy sauce)
  • 1/2 cup gochujang
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1: Finely dice the onion and roughly chop the garlic. Place the peanuts and tomatoes in a food processor and blend them into a chunky paste; the peanuts should be in small pieces but not in any danger of turning into peanut butter.

2: Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan and gently fry the onions and garlic till they’re softened. Spatula in your peanut and tomato mixture and fry for another five minutes, stirring often – don’t expect it to brown or change appearance considerably – then stir in the sugar and soy sauce and keep stirring till the sugar has melted into everything.

3: Add the gochujang to the pan and continue to fry and stir for another couple of minutes, it will be a fantastic dark red shade and quite thick. Remove from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and sesame seeds, and transfer to an airtight container or clean jar. Store in the fridge.

Makes around 2 cups.

  • Gochujang is more readily available in chain supermarkets these days but since most of my favourite ingredients come from Asian supermarkets anyway I tend to just get it there; either way, I’m afraid to say I go for the one labelled “mild”.

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music lately:

Mijn Droom [I Dreamed a Dream] by Pia Douwes from the 1991 original Dutch production of Les Miserables. I love finding the people in non-English speaking countries who are the go-to for theatre roles (like German powerhouse Willemijn Verkaik) and though I’ve heard of Pia Douwes I’ve never investigated her singing before, it was after watching a TikTok by BroadwayBob that I simply had to. She has this gutsy yet vulnerable voice that is made for the stage; I also highly recommend her Sally Bowles in the Dutch language Cabaret, it is, as you can imagine, quite powerful.

Legend of a Cowgirl by Imani Coppola, it’s the most 1997 sound imaginable and yet still so fresh and arresting and irrepressible and she should’ve been a megastar off the back of it.

It Hurts Me Too by Karen Dalton, one of those songs and voices that just makes you tearful the second you hear it. Good crying, not crying-crying, but after a while who can even tell!

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

Rhubarb, Raspberry, and Cardamom Jam [vegan]

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I never feel more normal than when I’m quietly, as if by automatism, trying out a recipe that appeared in my head. “Normal” has twofold meaning here, in that I feel most calmly myself when I’m dithering away in the kitchen, and also I imagine this must be what it feels like for other people when they achieve everyday tasks the moment they arise. Tasks like using the phone to make an innocuous appointment, or tidying a living space, or, more broadly, maintaining one liveable salary instead of corralling a skittish herd of seventeen different tiny one-off payments every month.

Not that any such notions troubled me when I blissfully – with head empty, no thoughts, only preserves – made this Rhubarb, Raspberry, and Cardamom Jam on Saturday morning five minutes after the idea appeared to me. It was only once the jar lids popped under the pressure of the heat rising from the boiled fruit that things got existential, and it hasn’t quite left me, but at least I have delicious jam to eat.

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If you don’t regard yourself as the jam-making type, this could be the recipe for you. It’s small-batch, meaning you don’t have the stress of committing to vats and vats of jam; (although this was purely informed by the amount of rhubarb in the garden and raspberries in the freezer; had I more fruit, I would’ve made more jam.) It’s soft-set – almost like a compote, as much ready to be spooned over ice cream or yoghurt as it is gunning for your next piece of toast – so you don’t have to concern yourself with whether it’s gelling adequately. And it’s a startling and glamorous shade of hot pink which surely is a point in its favour – when it comes down to it, I myself am barely the jam-making type but I remain easily swayed by aesthetics, if anything I’m constantly on the eager look-out for an aesthetic to be swayed by.

This is probably important too: the jam is sweet, but balanced stridently by the sour wince of rhubarb. The raspberries also pack significant tang for their buck, and there’s a further squeeze of lemon juice, partly for added pectin, partly to make the sugar really earn its place. Cardamom has a lemony, gingery, musky flavour and even in its small quantity, it makes these qualities felt and lends an air of elegance to the otherwise fairly brassy jam. I mean brassy as in vibe, not flavour, in case you were suddenly worried about encountering ‘notes of door handle’ or something. This recipe makes enough for two medium jars with a little leftover to be spread immediately on toast – what is that, if not an achievement of the highest order?

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Rhubarb, Raspberry, and Cardamom Jam

This soft-set small-batch jam is easy to make, delicious, and a charming shade of bright pink. Makes around 400-500ml – I filled two medium-sized jars and ate the rest spread on toast. Recipe by myself.

  • 400g rhubarb (trimmed weight) cleaned and trimmed
  • 125g raspberries (roughly one cup – I used frozen)
  • 1 lemon
  • 200g sugar
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1: Cut the rhubarb into 1-inch pieces and place them in a bowl with the raspberries. Use a vegetable peeler to remove as many viable strips of peel as you can from the lemon, and add this to the bowl, then cut the lemon in half and squeeze its juice into the bowl.

2: Tip the sugar into the bowl and stir it into the fruit. Press against the two cardamom pods with the flat side of a knife or the base of a jar until they’ve just split, and add them to the bowl too. Cover the bowl and leave it to sit on the bench for about an hour, by which point some of the sugar should have dissolved and drawn out the juice from the fruit.

3: While this is happening, why take the opportunity to sterilise your jars? Place the lids in a small bowl and cover them with boiling water, and place your clean jars into a cold oven, turn it to 100C/200F, and heat them for about fifteen minutes. The jars need to be hot when the jam goes in, so leave this step till towards the end of the steeping time.

4: Scrape every last bit of fruit and sugar and newly-formed syrup from the bowl into a saucepan.  Bring to the boil, stirring regularly, and then lower the heat slightly and let it simmer briskly – still stirring frequently, as keeping it moving will stop it sticking to the pan and burning – for another seven to ten minutes until the fruit has completely collapsed and the mixture has thickened and reduced. Remove the cardamom pods and lemon peel with a pair of tongs, or live dangerously and leave them in (I forgot about them until they were already in the jar but it’s all in how you frame it.)

5: Either using a jam funnel or a spoon and a careful hand, transfer the jam into the hot, sterilised jars (I don’t know if you need me to tell you this, but if you place the hot jars on a wooden board they’re much less likely to break than if you place them on a cold bench) and place the lids on right away, fishing them out of their bowl of water with a pair of tongs and protecting your hands with an oven mitt or tea towel (again, I don’t know if you need me to tell you this, but I know the one time I relax and let the information remain implicit, someone will get hurt and I will feel responsible!)

Keep the jam in the fridge once opened.

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music lately:

Map Ref. 41°N 93°W by Wire. If a title is going to be that annoying to type out it better be a good song; fortunately this very much is.

So Little Time by Micki Grant, from the 1972 musical revue Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope – the first Broadway show directed by a Black woman (Vinnette Caroll) and to have its music and lyrics written by a Black woman (Grant.) This song has such a warm, poignant vibe – like it could be the theme tune to a TV show that you’d watch when you were sick and didn’t go into school and got to doze on the couch all day.

Ruby by Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté from their 2010 album Ali and Toumani, but I’ve linked the whole thing so you can just swim right into its beauty – if you want music that’ll make you feel safe, yet important, yet inspired, yet also like you’re drifting gently to sleep under a weighted blanket, then, by all means, click through.

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

Lentil, Radish, Avocado and Fried Potato Salad

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

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

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

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

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Lentil, Radish, Avocado and Fried Potato Salad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

Vegan Miso Butter Noodles (two ways)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vegan Miso Butter Noodles

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

Version 1: Almond Butter

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

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

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

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

Version 2: Quick Emulsion

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

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

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

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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