Fresh Peach Galette [Vegan]

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When pondering my blog recently, in the way a concerned parent might frown, with tented fingers, at their child’s blotchy and error-strewn schoolbooks, perhaps with unsavoury cartoons drawn in the margins, something occurred to me: the majority of my recipes lately have been baking, with the occasional preserve. The simple reason being I blog about things as I cook and eat them – it’s rare that I’ll make something especially for the blog – and in turn, baking is most likely to happen during the day, which makes for good photography light, as opposed to dinner, which either happens after the sun has set, or in a hurry of serving and eating, or both. As for desserts, which happen even later – well, no wonder I don’t have a ton of recipes for them these days. Unless they’re ice cream, a scoop of which can be photographed in the morning. I would love to have the kind of food blog where I make recipes – and even test them! – in the day time and photograph them specially, which would make it more of a resource, as opposed to in this incidental fashion with the photographing happening moments before the consumption. That’s not likely to change anytime soon, nor is it practical to my living situation, and that’s fine, but in case you’re like, “where are the dinner and dessert recipes already”, well, take comfort from the fact that I frequently lie awake thinking about that very same question.

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Anyway, this week I was the fortunate, grateful receiver of a large bucket of ripe peaches from my godmother’s garden, and I was determined to make something that wasn’t a cake or an ice cream (my first instinct, and – I’m not ruling out the remaining peaches ending up used in this fashion) but a dessert, a proper pudding. Enter this vegan peach galette – the ideal recipe for me, in that I could make it in the day, take some beautifully lit photographs, and then quickly warm it up later on for eating after dinner. And it’s the ideal recipe for you, because it’s a pie – but so much easier – with a careless and carefree method for pastry and filling both. And even though I’ve said it’s a dessert, in the unlikely event of leftovers a slice of this is lovely cold (or briefly nuked in the microwave) with a cup of tea or coffee.

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Untroubled by any other rowdy filling ingredients, the gorgeous peaches shine – lightly caramelised and jammy from the oven’s heat and gently helped along by the resiny warmth of the thyme leaves and a slight kick of lemon. The pastry couldn’t be easier – and yeah, it uses margarine, but let me be upfront: while I’m yet to meet a commercial margarine which doesn’t taste slightly awful either immediately, or later upon sober reflection in the middle of the night, I must concede that it’s a consistently well-behaved ingredient to bake with. Pastry is stressful enough without worrying about it falling to pieces! The margarine, plus the acid of the vinegar added to the milk, makes a pastry which is tender, easy to roll, extremely courteous, and bakes to a biscuity crisp finish. And to counteract the entirely valid stress of it tasting like margarine, I’ve added plenty of cinnamon – I promise, the finished product is purely peach pie, with no unwelcome flavours.

This galette would be beautiful with whatever fruit you have to hand – obviously any stone fruit could be subbed in, but also consider berries, apples, pears, or a thrilling combination of any of the above. But in our current high summer there’s no better fruit than the peach, and they look so gloriously golden and cosy peeking out from under their pastry blanket-hem that I’m almost envious of them – oh to be a peach, gently tucked under a fold of pastry and baked for thirty minutes!

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Fresh Peach Galette

An easy and delicious rustic free-form vegan peach pie, for anyone too scared to make a pie – the pastry is done in the food processor, the filling is basically just sliced peaches, and yet it tastes like so much more.
Recipe by myself. Makes six good-sized slices, or four even-better-sized slices.

  • 7 tablespoons margarine (no need to level them if they’re slightly heaped)
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 cup soy milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 ripe peaches
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons custard powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1: Place the margarine and flour into the food processor bowl and – if it will fit – put the processor bowl in the freezer for ten minutes. If you don’t have the space, chill the margarine and flour in a small bowl before transferring to the food processor. While this is happening, mix the soy milk and vinegar together and set aside to activate/curdle.

2: Briefly blend the chilled margarine, flour, plus the salt and cinnamon in the food processor till everything is incorporated and resembles damp sand. Add the milk and vinegar mixture and pulse two or three times to just mix it in. Don’t worry if it’s not looking particularly coherent at this point, the key to a tender pastry is not over-mixing. Tip the dough into a bowl and press it into a ball with your hands. It’ll be a little sticky, which is fine, but dust a little more flour over if you think it needs it. Cover the bowl and chill the pastry in the fridge for about an hour, although you can leave it overnight if need be.

3: Once the pastry is about done chilling, set your oven to 190C/375F. Slice the peaches and place in a bowl with the sugar, lemon juice, custard powder, and vanilla.

4: Remove the pastry from the fridge and place on a baking paper lined baking tray. Roll it out to a large rough oval or circle shape – it truly doesn’t matter, just roll – about 1/2cm thick. I scattered a little flour on the dough and then put a piece of baking paper on top before rolling, both to prevent it sticking and to save having to wash the rolling pin, I recommend you do the same. The edges don’t have to be uniform, but if they’re particularly jagged, trim them a little, and re-roll the scraps of pastry into the rest of the dough.

5: Pile the peaches into the centre of the pastry, leaving a border of about 8cm free – no need to get out your ruler though, it really doesn’t matter too much either way, you just need to have enough free pastry to fold over the peaches.

6: Sprinkle the thyme leaves over the peaches. Fold the edges of the pastry over the peaches, as you can see in the photos. There should be some liquid remaining in the bowl which held the peaches – pour most of it over the peaches and use the rest to brush over the pastry (or you can simply brush the pastry with a little milk.) Bake your galette for thirty minutes, or until the pastry is golden and crisp. Let it sit for ten minutes before slicing.

Notes:

  • I say five peaches to account for any bruised bits/eating slices of peach as you go. If you have four absolutely perfect peaches and the fortitude to not eat any of them, you can use four. You could probably get away with three peaches, it would just be a smaller galette. And of course, you could use other stone fruit instead – nectarines, apricots, plums, etc.
  • If you don’t have a food processor – one less dish to wash, hurrah – simply rub the cold margarine into the flour with your fingertips, and stir the milk in with a spoon.

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music lately:

I Believe from the Broadway cast recording of Spring Awakening. I’ve been revisiting a lot of cast recordings I haven’t listened to in a long time and getting outstandingly emotional over them, thoroughly recommend it. That being said, I Believe could just about fool someone into thinking it’s not song from a stage show but instead a forgotten folk tune from the 70s, with its hopeful yet bittersweet refrain, yearning harmonies, and pensive guitar strumming.

Force Field by KŌTIRO from their album High-Def Multinational. This is just gorgeous, airy and spacious yet full and warm, like a freshly-baked loaf of bread. I also love the lush and immense Puti’s Maunga from the same album, it’s only 56 seconds long so my advice is to listen to it eighteen times in a row on loop to give yourself time to properly vibe with it.

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

Oat Butter, Two Ways: Homemade Vegan Oat Butter + Pecan Cookie Granola Butter

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Sometimes inspiration – not so much for recipes, but for the hunger that eventually drives their creation – comes from relatively ambient sources. And with COVID-19 things are getting more ambient and less direct every day. By which I mean, I saw someone tweet the words “oat butter” – I don’t even remember who it was or when, but as I was scrolling that pair of nouns really made themselves at home in the tastebuds of my mind and I knew, whatever oat butter was, I wanted it. I looked it up on google, and found two completely different culinary directions – first, a traditional table spread, based on actual butter, but made of oats, and second, a blended-to-smithereens peanut butter riff which promised to taste like cookies. I couldn’t decide which avenue sounded more appealing so – why not both? Two recipes it is.

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I’ve made several homemade butters before, with one based on ground almonds and one based on aquafaba and honestly? I love them all! Couldn’t choose between them. But there’s something about the rustic simplicity of the oats in this latest recipe, not to mention the recency bias, which appeals to me, and the resulting butter is stunning – rich, creamy, spreadable, light, delicious. Plus if you’re spreading it on wholegrain bread with oats in it, there’s the added deliciousness of synergy! It melts ably into a sauce to give added body (no surprise, with all that oil) and is equally at home under savoury or sweet toppings. I haven’t tried baking anything with it, mostly because it disappears so quickly. I wouldn’t rule out its working in this capacity, but homemade butters can behave differently to manufactured spreads so if you’re wanting to do this, I’d test it on something smallish and forgiving, as opposed to, say, your firstborn’s wedding cake for a union brought about to settle a generations-old blood feud.

If that weren’t enough synergy for you, there’s also the Pecan Cookie Granola Butter. It really does live up to its slightly overstuffed name, but I call it thusly for a reason: it simultaneously tastes like cookies AND granola, and pecans are expensive so I want anyone eating it to be super-aware of their presence. It’s made from a pulverised mixture of pecans, seeds, coconut and toasted oats, and you’ll curse my name as the food processor enters its fifteenth minute of noisy whirring with nothing to show for its efforts but pricey dust, but it does eventually come together, and upon tasting the finished product, you will forget the effort. It’s absolutely lush, nutty and oaty and dense and cinnamon-warm and delicious, and I’m so glad I found this recipe, as well as the other oat butter recipe, because my life has been genuinely improved by its existence. It’s one of those very America creations that I certainly wouldn’t have come up with it on my own (I mean I might have eventually, in a thousand-monkeys-thousand-typewriters way) and which sounds like there’s too much going on to process, but it makes perfect sense when you eat it.

Make one or both of these oat butters and – as well as the sheer thrill of experiencing synergy – your toast, instantly, will become a whole lot more exciting (which I say as someone quite easily diverted by toast, so hold onto your hats, I guess.)

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Oat Butter

A rich, buttery spread for your toast, sandwiches, and sauces, and it’s pretty much entirely made of oats? Amazing. This recipe comes from tastecelebration.com, I have made some slight adaptations, but otherwise it’s all theirs.

  • 500ml/2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons rice bran oil or other neutral oil (eg sunflower)
  • a pinch of salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 cup refined coconut oil, melted but not hot
  • 1/2 cup rice bran or other neutral oil, extra
  • 1 heaped teaspoon white miso paste
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon sugar (optional – I think it improves the flavour but up to you)
  • a pinch of turmeric, for colour

1: Bring the 500ml water to the boil in a small saucepan. Stir in the oats, remove from the heat, and leave to sit for half an hour.

2: Pour the oats and liquid into a high-speed blender with the 2 tablespoons oil and a pinch of salt, and blitz until very smooth, pale, and creamy. Now, you CAN strain this through a cloth or a nut milk bag or whatever but I literally just used a regular kitchen sieve and I was pleased with the results so don’t feel you have to rush out and buy equipment. Whatever you end up using, strain this liquid into a container – there shouldn’t be much ‘grit’ left behind, but this step will make it especially smooth. You only need half a cup of this oat cream to make the butter – store the rest in the fridge and add it to sauces, soups, or anything you want to make more rich and creamy.

3: All you have to do now is blend 1/2 a cup (125ml) of the above oat cream, along with the second measure of rice bran oil, the melted coconut oil, the miso paste, a tiny pinch of sugar, and salt to taste, until it’s smooth and thick. No need to wash the blender!

4: Taste to see if it needs a little more salt and then spatula it into a clean jar or airtight container and chill in the fridge until firm.

Makes around 325ml. Consume within a week.

Notes:

  • Refined coconut oil is important here so the butter doesn’t taste overwhelmingly coconutty – that being said I’m sure it’ll still taste good so if you don’t mind the coconut vibe and all you have is unrefined coconut oil, go ahead.
  • If you don’t have a high speed blender, a stick/immersion blender will do the trick. You could try using a regular food processor, you just might need to blend the oats and water together for a bit longer. I’m afraid it’ll be very difficult without some kind of equipment, as is the case for most vegan recipes it seems!

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Pecan Cookie Granola Butter

This is SO GOOD and worth the hectic endless blending – instead of a spreadable butter, this is in the peanut butter family of spreads, blitzing toasted oats, nuts and seeds into an incredibly delicious spread which tastes like melted cookies, if that were a thing. Recipe adapted a little (and gratefully) from this one at foodfaithfitness.com.

  • 1 and 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup pecans
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup coconut chips/flakes
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil (either refined or unrefined is fine here)
  • 4 tablespoons golden syrup or maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

1: Place the oats in a large frying pan and stir them over a low heat for about five minutes to lightly toast them – you don’t want them scorched, but a little golden and browned in places is good. As soon as they hit this stage, and you can smell their fragrance wafting up to you, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the oats into the bowl of a food processor.

2: Place the pan back on a low heat and tip in the pecans, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds, stirring over a low heat for a couple of minutes until they are fragrant and warmed through. Transfer them to the food processor with the oats, and finally, toast the coconut chips for a minute or so until lightly browned in places – this won’t take long at all. If you’re feeling reckless/impatient you can toast the whole lot at once, oats and nuts and everything, bearing in mind that the coconut will toast quicker than anything else.

3: Blend these ingredients on high for about fifteen minutes, stopping every now and then to scrape down the sides with a spatula and to give your processor’s motor a break. Nothing will happen for ages – it’ll just look like rubble – but eventually, if you keep blending for ages and ages and ages – the nuts, seeds and coconut will release their oils and it’ll suddenly start to look more promising and like a potential spread. But you really just have to keep blending and blending and blending, much longer than feels right, and I’m sorry in advance!

4: Once it gets to this point, add the remaining ingredients and continue blending for another five to ten minutes until it’s a thick paste that vaguely resembles almond butter. Taste to see if it needs more salt, sugar, or cinnamon (I usually end up adding more of each for what it’s worth) and then spatula it into a jar and store in the pantry.

Makes around 250-300ml (It really feels like it should make more, but all that blending really minimises and compacts the structure of its ingredients.) (Sorry.)

Notes:

  • You can muck around with proportions and ingredients here – pecans have a specific flavour which seems to evoke cookies, so I wouldn’t want to make it without them, but I’m sure walnuts would have their own charm instead.
  • You can toast the nuts and seeds etc in the oven, which will result in more even toasting, but I prefer the speed and ease of the stovetop method. Either way, keep a close eye on them.
  • The original recipe asks you to blend the nuts and seeds first before adding the coconut and oats and I probably should have done that too, but I read the recipe in a heedless fashion and just blended everything together all at once. As you can see, it worked out fine, but I still feel like I should tell you and you can definitely choose this option instead! Probably to your benefit!

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music lately:

A Man Without Love by Robert Goulet. That chorus! So boisterously mournful! I listened to this forty times in a row on loop on Friday and look, I turned out fine!

You’re No Good by ESG, minimalist yet stroppy with a delightfully cunning bassline.

A Love From Outer Space, by A.R Kane. Yes, them again, I just love them!

Lonely Room from the soundtrack to The Apartment by composer Adolph Deutsch. I’ve been listening to a LOT of old film scores lately which is, if you’re similarly inclined, an excellent way to make one’s COVID-restricted life feel slightly more glamorous. The Apartment is one of my very favourite films and its score is just heavenly – as demonstrated in this track which is somehow sorrowful yet immensely comforting at the same time.

Next time: I feel like I haven’t done anything savoury in ages BUT I also made an incredible passionfruit panna cotta, so! The sugar rush continues.

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

The Best Vegan Cupcakes

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Somewhere between Sex and the City, the establishment of Web 2.0, and the 2008 financial crisis, cupcakes truly had a moment. I’ve been around long enough with hungryandfrozen.com to witness their rise, their stagnation, and the mild backlash, and in this time I’ve only actually blogged about them like, once, eleven years ago, and have spent the rest of the time loftily reflecting upon the cupcake’s place in societal food trends and my place as its constant witness. That self-congratulatory nonsense ends today, since I finally made cupcakes again and the thing is, outside of trends or whether you think they’re cutesy or whether you’re still smarting from being charged $9 for one that time when you accidentally wandered into the local organic market and had made too much small talk with the cupcake seller to be able to back out politely without some kind of purchase – outside of all that – cupcakes are wonderful. A small cake! Just for you! Whole and perfect, with nothing to add or subtract! What’s not to love?

Recently it was my brother and father’s birthday, and I strong-armed them into letting me make cupcakes as the candle-bearing birthday cake (a conceit completely undermined by the birthday celebrations occurring at a beach picnic where the untethered wind wouldn’t even let the match stay lit for more than a second). Normally I’m quite confident to just make up a cake but with the pressure of it being for an occasion I wanted to consult an existing recipe, and then this one at Minimalist Baker seemed so straightforward and reasonable that I ended up following it pretty well to the letter. The recipe worked perfectly: tender, vanilla-scented little sponge cakes, exactly how I pictured them in the tastebuds of my mind (or the mind of my tastebuds?) and the ideal load-bearing wall for all that buttercream.

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So while I can’t take credit for the cupcakes, the buttercream is absolutely my invention and I cannot even begin to express how delighted I am with it, and myself. Speaking with a vague, unearned air of science, the process involves making a quick emulsion of oil, vinegar and milk, which imitates butter, and then beating icing sugar into that unlikely emulsion until you end up with clouds of the most dreamy, fudgy, buttery and delicious icing you can fathom (as a vegan, I mean, but everyone I’ve fed this to loves it.) I’d explored different kinds of vegan icing before and while using margarine gives good results texture-wise, it’s so hard to avoid that unfriendly margarine flavour. With this quick emulsion method, you get all texture, all flavour, and none of the crestfallen bereft-ness. I split the buttercream in two and flavoured half with cocoa and half with raspberry flavouring and the latter was absolutely my favourite – obviously chocolate is very good, in fact it hardly needs me to defend it, but there’s something about a pink cupcake that just feels right in my soul.

These really are the perfect cupcakes, and without a drop of exaggeration I’ve thought about them every single day since the last one was consumed. And don’t feel like you have to wait for a special occasion to make these: if birthdays are far off (or out of reach) I’d just make a batch and have them for dinner, in its entirety.

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The Best Vegan Cupcakes (with The Best Vegan Buttercream)

Delicious, classic vanilla cupcakes with raspberry or chocolate vegan buttercream. Cupcake recipe adapted very slightly from the Minimalist Baker; Buttercream recipe by myself. Makes 12.

  • 1 cup soy milk or similar
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup rice bran oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a standard muffin tray with 12 paper liners.

2: Start by pouring the milk and vinegar into a large mixing bowl and leaving for a minute or two to curdle slightly. Add the oil, vanilla, and sugar, and whisk to combine.

3: Sieve in the dry ingredients – important, as sieving prevents any baking soda lumps – and as the original recipe recommends sifting some of the flour in before the raising agents followed the remaining flour and salt, I will pass this tip onto you as well. Sieving the dry ingredients in this order helps to ensure that the baking powder and baking soda are fully dispersed amongst the flour. Whisk everything together until well blended without any lumps remaining. The mixture should be about the texture of pancake batter – if it’s too liquidy then just sieve in a couple more tablespoons of flour.

4: Divide the mixture between the twelve paper holders, filling them no more than 3/4 full to allow for the cupcakes rising. The mixture is extremely delicious, and it will look like you’ve got a lot, but I personally recommend waiting until you’ve actually filled the paper cases before you go eating too much of it. Bake the cupcakes in the centre of the oven (that is, not too high or too low) for 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of one of them comes out clean. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before icing. If the cupcakes have risen quite high, you might want to level off the tops with a serrated knife (and then eat the offcuts, cook’s treat) to make a flat playing field for the icing to go on.

Buttercream:

  • 1/3 cup soft (but not melted) refined coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup soy milk or similar (plus extra if necessary)
  • 1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 level tablespoon golden syrup (or light corn syrup if American)
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon custard powder
  • 2 and 1/2 – 3 cups icing sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons good cocoa
  • 1/4 teaspoon raspberry flavoured essence
  • few drops pink food colouring
  • Rainbow sprinkles, or sprinkles of your choice, to serve

1: Place the soft coconut oil, milk, vinegar, golden syrup and salt into a mixing bowl and blend with a stick blender. It will look quite unpromising at this point, but don’t worry. Add the custard powder and blend again, followed by the icing sugar, a spoonful at a time while still blending, until it forms a thick, dense frosting that begins to hold its shape.

2: Once it gets particularly thick you can remove the stick blender and add the remaining icing sugar by sieving it in and then stirring to combine – start off with 2 and 1/2 cups, but if it’s too thick, stir in a tablespoon or two of extra soy milk, and if it’s too soft, sieve in a little extra icing sugar. The texture you’re after is a spreadable icing that’s thick enough to hold its shape when you move your spoon through it.

3: Scoop about half of the icing into another small bowl. In one bowl, sieve in the cocoa and stir it in until it’s completely combined – you may want to add another spoonful of milk here, as the cocoa can have quite a drying effect. In the second bowl, stir in the raspberry essence and a few drops of pink food colouring, until it’s the flavour and shade you want.

4: Frost the cupcakes once they’re cooled completely – I just dropped a spoonful of icing on top of a cupcake and spread it around with the back of the spoon, then moved onto the next one, but you could also use the flat side of a knife. Scatter the sprinkles over the cupcakes as soon as you’ve iced them – if you leave it too long the icing will set and the sprinkles will just bounce straight off (I mean, I still got sprinkles everywhere anyway, but.) You might end up with a little more icing than you need, once again: cook’s treat.

Notes:

  • I recommend rice bran oil specifically because of its neutral flavour – because these cupcakes are pretty simple I wouldn’t recommend an oil with an overpowering flavour. Canola or grapeseed oil also have a pretty neutral flavour.
  • I haven’t tried piping this buttercream so I couldn’t honestly say whether or not it’s suitable for the purpose, although I’d guess it would be, since it holds its shape well.
  • The custard powder in the icing is for flavour and texture, but I’ve made it without and it was also fine so don’t stress if you don’t have any.

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music lately:

One For My Baby (And One More For The Road) by the highly underrated Ida Lupino, from one of my favourite films, Road House (1948). She’s not exactly a singer, but the way she acts through this song is exquisite – as the bystander says after she’s done, “She does more without a voice than anyone I’ve ever heard!”

Dress by PJ Harvey. That barrelling drumbeat and the “if you put it on” refrain and everything, it’s just so good.

Regina by The Sugarcubes. You know I have ready a list of Broadway songs I would love to hear Bjork sing (and vice versa, I’ve always thought Idina Menzel would be an ideal person to cover Big Time Sensuality.

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

Roasted Plum Harissa [Vegan]

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We’re still squarely in Plumtown. Last time it was the Five-Spice Plum Ice Cream, this time it’s Roasted Plum Harissa, an idea inspired by Nigella Lawson’s apricot harissa from her latest book, Cook, Eat, Repeat, which I joyfully received for Christmas. This book is exactly what I needed – not a cookbook as you’d expect it, but just an unhurried and welcome tidal wave of Nigella meditating with gentle persistence on food and its place in our lives. It’s honestly near-hypnotic.

Cook, Eat, Repeat, is the first post-COVID cookbook I’ve read – more specifically, it’s clear that the pandemic affected the course of the book, as Nigella talks about changing a chapter on dinner parties and offers several means of reducing recipes down to a single serve. It’s not as simple as merely, breezily, omitting content however. When she says, in the Christmas chapter – a time of year she has made very much her province in all its elaborateness – that as long as she had her children around the table that year she could “eat gruel and be happy” – when she says “we shall not be eating in isolation forever,” – well! Let’s just say the cookbook got stained with tears before it did with cooking ingredients. (I mean, it took me precisely one recipe to stain the book with ingredients, and as you can probably guess the contents of this harissa are also living on, pagebound.) I sometimes feel weird and ungracious barrelling on with blogging as though everyone reading this is in the same, relatively calm position I’m in – I also can’t rule out New Zealand unexpectedly entering another lockdown at any minute. Nigella, as per usual, is excellent at articulating not just the food, but every emotion and motivation and expectation and context around the food – and there is just so much to articulate!

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Anyway, the harissa. Nigella acknowledges that apricots aren’t traditionally used in this Tunisian chilli paste, and as for plums, well, they’re really not supposed to be there. But I couldn’t stop thinking about them together with the chillies and spices – possibly from the power of suggestion as opposed to culinary genius as we just had so many plums around – but either way, this harissa is lush, and for that, at least, I comfortably give myself credit. That plummy taste – you know, garnets soaked in pinot noir, something like that – plus their sourness, softened by the heat of the grill, is tremendous with the blistered chillis and all those whole spices – licorice-y caraway, smoky paprika, earthy cumin, and ginger-lemony cardamom and coriander. The combination of heat and spice, plus the sweetness, saltiness, and the richness of the olive oil, is incredibly compelling – you’ll taste it to see if it’s balanced and find your spoon returning again and again to the bowl without even realising it.

This harissa is immensely versatile – first of all, you can just use it wherever you might otherwise have applied some kind of chilli. It’s wonderful alongside tomato – the acid of the plums and the depth of the spices making the blandest, cheapest canned tomatoes come alive – and I’ve used it already in a tomato-based pasta sauce and a sort of patatas bravas-type dish with great results. It also works to punch up more mellow foods – for example, it would be delicious alongside or inside hummus, and in Cook, Eat, Repeat, Nigella uses her apricot harissa in a roasted cauliflower recipe – I’m sure I’ll be following her lead before long. For all of harissa’s versatility, we’re likely to move through most of it just from me swiping spoonfuls from the jar every time I pass through the kitchen, in fact, I’ve half a mind to spread it on my toast.

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Roasted Plum Harissa

Spicy, sour-sweet, extremely compelling. Recipe based closely on the Apricot Harissa from Nigella Lawson’s wonderful book, Cook, Eat, Repeat.

  • 6 ripe, firm plums
  • 3 large red chillis
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • seeds from 4 cardamom pods
  • one teaspoon ground turmeric (or 15g fresh, peeled and roughly chopped)
  • 25g fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar (or regular sugar)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, extra
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1: Turn your oven to the grill (broil) function at 220C/425F. Slice the plums in half, discarding the stones, and place the fruit cut side up along with the chillis in a small shallow roasting dish. Pour over the two tablespoons of olive oil, turning the plums and chilli over and back again with your hands to make sure they’re all oil-slicked. Grill for about ten minutes, or until the chillis are wrinkled and darkened in places. The plums should still be holding their shape but look a little collapsed.

2: Remove everything from the oven. Place the chillis in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap or something airtight and more environmentally friendly should you have it, and set aside for a few minutes. This will make it very easy to peel the skin from the chillis – which is the next step – although it doesn’t matter if some skin remains. Discard the green stems from the chilli, and if you want a more mellow harissa you can pull/prise open the chillis and remove the seeds at this point, too. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards and avoid touching your eye area, as any chilli remaining on your fingertips will hurt like hell.

3: Place the deseeded, skinned chilli back in the small bowl along with the plums and any oil from the roasting dish (a spatula is useful here.) Place the caraway, coriander, cumin and cardamom seeds in a small pan and toast them over a low heat for just a minute or two, shaking the pan and stirring them to ensure they don’t burn. Their fragrance should, as Nigella says, waft up to you as they cook – this will let you know it’s time to remove them from the heat. Tip these spices into the bowl of chillis and plums.

4: Add the remaining ingredients to this bowl, and using a stick blender, blitz it to a bright-red, smooth-ish paste. Taste to see if it needs more salt, or maybe a dash more vinegar or sugar – you may also want to add more olive oil. You’ll know when you have the harissa you want.

5: Transfer this mixture to a clean jar, and store in the fridge. It may solidify or separate slightly after a while in the fridge, but a brisk stir will set it right again. I don’t know how long it keeps, to be honest, but I imagine pretty indefinitely.

Makes 250ml/1 cup.

Notes:

  • You can of course use Nigella’s originally stipulated dried apricots (six thereof) instead of plums. She also used 20g large dried chillis, reconstituted in boiling water, and the only reason I didn’t use them was because I absolutely couldn’t find any at my local supermarket. The sugar is also my addition, to balance the sourness of the plums – dried apricots wouldn’t need such sweetening.
  • If you use five or seven plums and four chillis or whatever I doubt it’ll hurt the recipe – you’ll just end up with slightly more or slightly less harissa.
  • If you don’t have sea salt, I would just add whatever salt you have a little at a time until the salinity suits your taste buds.
  • If you don’t have a stick blender, then a regular smallish food processor should do the trick, but maybe bash the spices in a pestle and mortar first or put them through a spice grinder (although if you have such fancy equipment as this you probably have a stick blender.) You could also surely make this whole thing in the pestle and mortar if you’re so inclined.
  • You might notice that the plums are actually grilled, not roasted, but I thought the word roasted sounded better, and then also it cuts out the potential cross-translation into the American word “broil”, which I just think sounds kind of terrible, comparatively. So, roasted it is.

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music lately:

Joy by Apollo 100. You may sneer, but five seconds of listening to this sheer exuberance will have you dancing an eightsome reel before your mind has even had time to process what your body is doing. The hymn Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, upon which this is based, is one I sang with negligible success in my school choir – and which I erroneously believed, until this year, was also sung by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa at the wedding of Princess Diana. The choir teacher told us this, possibly to motivate us to be less visibly tormented by that laborious time signature. The whole time, Dame Kiri actually sang Let The Bright Seraphim. This is exactly like the time I realised, after telling so many people that Rita Moreno was the first person to get an EGOT, that Rita Moreno was not the first person to get an EGOT.

A Depression Glass, by Spahn Ranch. Holds onto some of their earlier “chainsaw being thrown at your head” vibe while sounding extremely 1997 – in fact it sounds like it could have been in the party scene in the film Nowhere by Gregg Araki, which is one of the higher honours I could bestow a song.

Ridin’ For A Fall from the 1943 film Thank Your Lucky Stars, performed by Dennis Morgan and Joan Leslie (although, actually dubbed by voice-for-hire Sally Sweetland.) That “gal with the big blue eyes” line is astonishingly catchy, and although it’s not her singing voice, Ms Leslie’s charisma and good humour is so evident in every frame, I just love it. If I’m honest, I think they could’ve chosen a more relaxed vocal for this number – Ms Sweetland’s soprano is beautiful, but it sounds a little overcooked in this cutesy song. Someone with a more conversational tone, like say, Annette Warren (who provided the singing voices for Ava Gardner and Lucille Ball among others) might’ve been better. Even so, Joan Leslie sells it 100%.

Next time: I’m making cupcakes for my dad and brother’s birthday, I’m assuming they’re going to be delicious and so will share the recipe here.

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

Windfall Five-Spice Plum Ice Cream (Vegan)

If you live in the rural countryside, there’s a solid chance at any stage of the summer that your mother, an aunty, (perhaps yours) or the neighbour’s dog will confidently stride into your house and lower onto the table a bulging tote bag or empty paint bucket filled with plums. I’ve spoken before of that particular proclivity in regards to receiving lemons, but it very much extends to any and all domesticated fruit. If, like me, you find yourself in possession of a lot of plums and are wondering what to make with them, may I suggest this Windfall Five-Spice Plum ice cream – as pink as pureed lipstick, intensely plummy, tartly acerbic, and extremely delicious. Even if you aren’t blessed with a front-end loader’s worth of plums, they’re in season right now and therefore, I hope, easier to acquire – and this ice cream is absolutely worth a little outlay.

This uses a full thirty plums – which is on its own, a lot, but did not make any visible dent in our large tote bag full of them – and yields you a fun-sized 2.5 litres of ice cream. As with all my ice creams, this is no-churn – no ice cream maker necessary – and although my instructions look violently complicated, there’s not really a whole lot asked of you in the process. There are two components to this – first, the simmered plums, thickened to make a kind of dense, pink custard. Then, the aquafaba, that versatile liquid in your canned chickpeas, which is whipped into a glossy meringue and folded together with the plums. I’ve used aquafaba in many of my other recipes and yet, every time, I’m amazed at its functionality and structural integrity. It’s literally just water that beans were cooked in, it somehow becomes, well, everything.

Because of the high proportion of fruit in this ice cream it has an icy, slightly sorbet-like texture, but with a rich smoothness from the aquafaba and custard powder. The plums have an almost tinfoil-biting sourness, which is kept in check by the sugar and the vanilla, and rounded out by a kick of cinnamon and Chinese five-spice powder – in particular, the star anise component of the five-spice is excellent with the jamminess of the plums.

This recipe also works well – and is just as seasonal – in a strawberry-lemon variation – just replace the plums with two to three punnets of hulled, chopped strawberries, use fresh lemon juice instead of water, reduce the sugar to about 1/2 a cup for the syrup and 1/2 a cup for the aquafaba, and I would definitely add a pinch of citric acid to the cooled syrup too (plus the grated zest of however many lemons you squeezed.) This makes around 1.5 litres of dreamy, creamy strawberry-lemon ice cream. Either way, whichever fruit: delicious, bright pink, ice-cold summer happiness awaits.

Windfall Five-Spice Plum Ice Cream

What to do with a lot of plums? Why, make this extremely delicious, no-churn, vegan ice cream. As per usual, the process is much easier than my over-explaining makes it look; all you’re doing is simmering some plums, whipping some aquafaba, and stirring them together. Recipe by myself.

  • 30 ripe plums
  • 1 and 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup soy milk
  • 1/4 cup custard powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder (or to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup aquafaba (the brine from one standard can of chickpeas)
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1: Have ready two containers – preferably with lids – of a combined capacity of about 2.5 litres, since that’s how much this makes. Roughly chop the plums, removing the stones as you go, and place in a good-sized saucepan with one cup of the sugar (the remaining sugar goes in the aquafaba) and the 1/2 cup of water. Bring this mixture to the boil, stirring often, then lower the heat and let it bubble away at a brisk simmer until the fruit has collapsed, still stirring all the while.

2: Meanwhile, whisk the custard powder into the soy milk, making sure there are no lumps remaining. Once the plums have completely softened, almost dissolving into the syrup as you press against them with your wooden spoon, remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the soy milk mixture. It will immediately turn from a dark scarlet to a more muted pink, but don’t worry, it will somehow get brighter as it freezes. Return the pan to a low heat for just another minute, stirring as you go, to let the custard powder thicken the syrup up somewhat.

3: Remove the pan from the heat for the final time, stir in the cinnamon, five-spice, and vanilla, and set aside to cool a little. I like to stick it in a sink filled about 1/3 high with cold water to hasten the process. Just make sure anyone else in the house is aware of this so they don’t turn on the tap and blast your pan with cold water (which has actually happened to me. I managed to salvage it – and wouldn’t you know, the resulting ice cream was incredible and I have no idea how to recreate it now.)

4: While this is cooling, place the aquafaba in a large mixing bowl and using electric beaters (you can use a whisk if you have the patience and energy though) whip the aquafaba on a low speed until it’s frothy and opaque. Add the apple cider vinegar and continue beating at a higher speed, until it’s really quite frothy and stiff, and the beaters leave visible trails in the mixture as they move through it. Now, start beating at the highest speed while you add the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar a little at a time. Keep beating until the sugar is entirely dissolved – to test, taste a little of the mixture and if you perceive any sugary grit remaining, keep beating.

5: Fold the plum mixture into the pale-white, aerated aquafaba a little at a time, until it’s all mixed together (I find a 1/3 cup measure useful to transfer the plums into the aquafaba bowl.) The aquafaba will lose a little of its volume, but manages to bear the weight of all that fruit impressively well. To ensure it stays as fluffy as possible, make sure you really are folding the fruit in, rather than briskly stirring or whisking. Taste, to see if it wants a bit more five-spice powder, which it may well do.

6: Spatula this dreamy pink mixture between your containers – I recommend something with a lid, to prevent freezer burn – and then pop these containers into the fridge for two to three hours. This improves the flavour and the texture, I don’t know why, but I cannot make ice cream any other way now. After this time, remove the lid, give the mousse-like mixture a brief folding stir to lift up any fruit which has dropped to the bottom of the containers, return the lid, and then freeze your ice cream for at least six hours, undisturbed (that is, you don’t need to stir, process, or churn it at any stage. So both you and the ice cream are undisturbed, really.)

Makes around 2.5 litres depending on the size of your plums, the curve of the earth, etc.

Notes:

  • If your plums are very sweet, you may want to reduce the sugar a little – perhaps 3/4 cup in the syrup and 1/2 a cup in the aquafaba – I would also recommend adding a pinch of citric acid to the cooled syrup
  • Feel free to use cornflour (cornstarch) in lieu of custard powder
  • This is fairly scoop-able straight from the freezer, but it’s a lot easier if it’s had five-ten minutes on the bench first
  • I’ve made ice cream with pretty much every plant milk available and curiously, soy milk has the most unobtrusive flavour here, hence why I’ve specified it

music lately:

Tentpeg by JFA. Probably one of their more accessible numbers, but still as loud and mean as you please.

On A Clear Day, by Robert Goulet. That voice! That relaxed yet opulent voice! The way he swings into the lip-smacking enunciation all, “Awn-uhh cleah day” – the way that listening to this makes it feel, very briefly, like everything is actually wonderful! Goulet’s version is second only to my favourite interpretation of this song, by the tragically late Laurie Beechman – an astonishing and entirely different take, and one I revisit often.

Lucinda, by A Certain Ratio. May I just say, what a staggeringly funky bassline. I really like their unexpected 2020 release, ACR Loco – good news at last – but the older stuff has a slightly more shambolic, menacing quality to it.

Next time: While we’re talking bright pink foods, I made the beetroot and rhubarb soup from Nigella’s new cookbook and it was excellent.

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

Vegan Rum + Pecan Cookies

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Well, 2021 has shuffled in the back door looking suspiciously like 2020 in a trench coat with a large fake moustache affixed under its nose. And with it, I also shuffle forwards in continuous pursuit of the most palatable way to be all, “here’s a cookie recipe” as the systemic failures and relentless atrocities of the world spiral around us. Truth be told, I don’t know if there is a good way of doing it – and I also don’t believe it’s actually possible to politely withhold politics from the dinner table. What else is there to talk about? Everything’s political! If anything, my hesitancy in alluding to current events is less based in coyness and more based in the fact that there is just SO much happening right now, and all these happenings are jostling for the attention of whatever shreds of my attention span remain after being pan-fried in the savagely hot, high-summer sun which is, I believe, currently located on the roof of my house and not in outer space. (All that being said: a president having two impeachments – while demonstrably imposed far too late to have any real mitigation of risk and harm – is objectively hilarious. Or careless, as Lady Bracknell would have said.)

On New Years Eve my dear friend Charlotte and I watched the sun setting meditatively over the Tasman Sea, and under that sinking sun we listed our intentions and goals for the year – as you can guess, mine include getting an indulgent yet solicitous agent; having a manuscript published to fabulous acclaim; working out how to make a food blog relevant without changing a single thing because I like it as it is; and acquiring a weighted blanket – and I’m speaking them aloud here to give the manifestation process a purposeful bump forwards. We then went home and played Scattergories until 1am when I realised it was suddenly no longer 2020. It was maybe the most lovely new year I’ve ever had, and I hope you, like me, also had a chill and delightful time over the holidays.

Anyway – here’s a cookie recipe?

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You know and I know that the chocolate chunk cookie rules supreme in hearts and imaginations, but this recipe – which I’ve adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s excellent Veganomicon cookbook – is sensational, and extremely worth your attention. The original recipe evokes the flavours of eggnog, but not having ever tried eggnog I can’t speak to its accuracy. Even sans context, these flavours are glorious – the demure warmth of the nutmeg and cinnamon, the buttery elegance of the rum and pecans, the latter offering mellow crunch strewn throughout each chubby golden ball of dough.

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I have to assure you that your cookies won’t turn out cracked and funny like the ones pictured – I’ve made this recipe so many times, but the one occasion where I thought to photograph them, I’d only had self-raising flour on hand and so that affected the way they baked. Your cookies will be smooth-surfaced and beguiling, I promise. I really have made these rum + pecan cookies dozens of times – including a triple batch just before Christmas, prepared in such large quantities for – unsurprisingly – Christmas presents to distribute to the whānau. I also attempted a version while camping last week, “baked” in the large gas-powered frying pan – and they weren’t terrible. Even if you accidentally overcook these they’re still fine, you just really need a cup of tea on hand for significant dunking.

These are grown-up yet comforting and cosy – a truly remarkable cookie. I don’t think I’ve made a batch yet without doubling up the quantities since the first time I tried it.

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Vegan Rum + Pecan Cookies

My favourite cookies – maybe even more than chocolate chunk? Adapted from a recipe in Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. See notes at the end of the recipe for ingredient substitutes and how to make these alcohol-free.

  • 3/4 cup pecans
  • 1/3 cup neutral-flavoured oil (eg rice bran)
  • 1/4 cup soy milk or similar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses, treacle, or golden syrup
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 and 1/4 cups plain flour
  • 1/4 cup cornflour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or use ground)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a baking sheet (or two, if you have them) with baking paper. Roughly chop the pecans, or – I personally find this much easier – crumble them with your fingers, and set aside.

2: Briskly stir the oil, milk, white and brown sugars, molasses, rum and vanilla together in a mixing bowl, then stir in the pecans. Sieve in the remaining dry ingredients and mix into a thick dough. If it looks too sticky, add a little extra flour (and sometimes I roll each unbaked cookie in a little extra flour before baking just to be safe – hence the dusting of flour you can see on the cookies in the photos.)

3: Roll tablespoons of the dough into balls and place about two inches apart from each other on the baking tray – no need to flatten them or anything. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes, until the pale dough has turned golden. As I’ve noted elsewhere, your cookies probably won’t crack like mine did in this photo – I only had self-raising flour when I made this batch and I think it affected them a little.

4: Carefully transfer the cookies to a cooling rack using a lifter/flipper tool and continue rolling and baking the remaining dough. If you are baking two trays of cookies at a time you may need to give the tray on the bottom an extra minute or two.

Makes 20-24 cookies.

Notes:

  •  The rum I used was Plantation Original – it really is crucial that you use a darker rum here, not a white rum. That being said, if you have spiced rum on hand that would work perfectly. Bourbon would also be extremely ideal here.
  • If you don’t want to use alcohol at all, replace the rum with more milk or orange juice, and up the vanilla extract to 2 teaspoons.
  • I feel compelled to emphasise that the ingredient we call “cornflour” in New Zealand is called cornstarch in America, and is not to be confused with polenta.
  • The original recipe only uses white sugar, so you can absolutely do the same
  • Walnuts work great instead of pecans
  • I don’t recommend using self-raising flour!

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music lately:

No 1 Fan by Majesty Crush. This song, from the very underground early 90s shoegazey band Majesty Crush, is just startlingly gorgeous. It makes you feel exhilarated but in a really sad way, you know?

That’s Where The Sin Is, by Minimal Man. I started 2020 with MM’s transcendently wonderful song Pull Back The Bolt – I urge you to go listen to it! – and we meet again in 2021. That’s Where The Sin Is bears a more sinister, nihilistic vibe, but is no less immediate and alluring.

Nobody’s Side, sung by Broadway’s Julia Murney in the 2003 concert version of the musical Chess – this is the definitive interpretation of the song. The cerebral quality Murney brings to every role, the Capital-A Acting that she does, her unparalleled vibrato absolutely pinging, that note she hits precisely three minutes in which is so stratospheric I couldn’t even tell you what it is (a high J perhaps? An N major?) I could pummel whoever decided to cut away from her expressive face at that moment to do a wide shot, and I would gladly hand over a non-essential organ for a high-quality cast recording of this show – till that blessed day comes, a grainy YouTube video it is.

Next time: I believe it’s that time of year where, despite professing to not be wild about soup, the only thing I can face eating in this stifling heat is…chilled soup.

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

Thai Yellow Curry Mac’n’Cheese

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

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

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

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

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Thai Yellow Curry Mac’nCheese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 2 as a main.

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

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music lately:

LA WEED, by Allison Stone from her latest album of the same name. A long-awaited new release from Stone brings the year to a close in a slightly more bearable way – I love the title track and just everything from this album, it sort of sounds like Elastica if they were slowed down and then sped up again but only slightly?

Supervixens, by AR Kane, I know I talked about this song last week but the truth is I just have not stopped listening to it! And nor should you! Can you honestly tell me that whatever else you’re doing right now is more important than this?

Lonely Train by Judy Henske. Equally at home in folk as she was doing torch songs, this is more the former and showcases her jaw-dropping rich howl of a voice as it surges over an urgent, steam-powered guitar rhythm.

Next time: 2021, baby.

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

The Annual HungryandFrozen Edible Gift Recipe Round-Up

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Once more Christmas lurches purposefully towards us, engorged with expectation, and emotion, and the hopes and fears of all the years, and capitalism. Which means one thing, round these parts: it’s time again for my annual list of edible gift idea recipes, gathered from my prior blog posts over the past thirteen years. It’s a self-serving action, yes, but also hopefully helpful in some way – and all I ever really want is to be useful, but to also draw attention to myself in the process.

Time is forever a strange and fluctuating thing – and never in such a collectively experienced manner as this year with COVID-19. We all felt how it was March for six months, now next March is inexplicably three months away – and I know for many, this Christmas is not going to take its usual form. If you’re confined to a relatively small circle of people, there are still neighbours, the postal service, any number of people nearby who might be cheered by a small jar or box of something in their letterbox, or on their doorstep. Even just you, alone, are reason enough to bake a cake. I also realise to heaps of people Christmas is quite reasonably another day of the week! But generally there will be some point in your life where giving a gift is required, and almost all the recipes listed below work beautifully year-round (though I personally can’t eat candy canes out of season.)

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As for the financial pressure of this time of year – I won’t lie, between the ingredients, time, electricity, storage and wrapping, homemade edible gifts aren’t necessarily that cheap, and there’s no moral superiority in making your own jam. It is undeniably delightful to receive something homemade – but if this is too strenuous, stick with the food concept and do your Christmas shopping at the supermarket. Chocolates, candy, olive oil, fancy salt, peanut butter, curry pastes, hot sauce, olives, a complicated shape of pasta – even just food you know someone eats a lot of. They love noodles? Get them noodles! I guarantee they’ll be pleased. Basically, we cannot escape capitalism but giving an edible gift of any kind has so many upsides: it’s delicious, it has immediate application, it will eventually cease taking up space in the receiver’s house, it makes you look like a really great person.

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To the list! I’ve grouped the recipes into three categories, and have also included some of the recipes I wrote for Tenderly over the last year.

Two caveats: some of these recipes are from years ago, but while details and contexts and locations and motivations have changed, the deliciousness remains constant. Also I feel like it’s worth pointing out that anything involving an ingredient which either could melt or has been melted, should be stored in the fridge rather than under the tree.

Also – all these recipes are vegan.

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Category One: Things In Jars

No matter how uncertain the world we live in, you can still count on Things In Jars. From relish to pickles to the unsinkable salted caramel sauce, it’s always well-received, it always looks like you’ve gone to arduous levels of effort, and it’s an ideal gift for everyone from your most marginally tolerable of coworkers to the most highly specific love of your life. For added personal flair – although this could just be my neurological predisposition for over-explaining – I suggest including a gift tag with recommendations on ways to use the contents of the jar.

Savoury:

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Sweet

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Category Two: Baked Goods

They’re baked! They’re good! While biscuits and cookies are more commonly gifted, don’t rule out a loaf, perhaps wrapped in baking paper and then brown paper – the banana bread and ginger molasses loaf below keep well (especially the latter) and would make a charmingly convivial offering. At this busy time of year, having something to slice and eat with a cup of tea or a snifter of whatever weird liqueur you can find in the back of the cupboard is nothing if not a stroke of good fortune.

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Category Three: Novelty, No-Bake Sweets, and General Sugary Chaos

The best category, let’s be frank. Whether it’s dissolving candy canes in bottom-shelf vodka or adding pink food colouring to white chocolate for the aesthetic, sugar is the true reason for the season. And since dentists wildly overcharge us for their service, you might as well make them really earn it.

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music lately:

Supervixens by AR-Kane, I love this song so much, the way the woozy vocals slide over the melody, the way the melody slides over the beat, in fact this whole album (“i”) is exhilaratingly glorious.

Brooklyn Blues, by Clifford Gibson. Okay so I love early blues, but if I’m honest, I only initially got into Gibson because I found him on Wikipedia under the list of people who have the same birthday as me (April 17.) Fortunately this rather vain curiosity was highly rewarding because he was a wonderful musician (of course!)

Irma La Douce, by Shirley MacLaine from her fantastic Live at the Palace album. This is the English version of the title number of the French stage show on which the film of the same name was based, in which Shirley MacLaine played the title character – Irma La Douce – very straightforward. It’s one of my very favourite films and I love her performance of this song, from its wistful, introspective beginning to its unhinged, full-throated conclusion.

Also – I was genuinely heartbroken to learn of the passing of Broadway legend, icon, star, Ann Reinking. I could say SO MUCH about her, and Fosse’s choreography, and Gwen Verdon, and the way they all worked together – but instead I’ll just link to this clip of her dancing in a dream sequence in All That Jazz – a film I could watch every day and never tire of. It’s a deceptively simple number, but her precision and ownership of the movements is astonishing. Everything she does – even just lowering her eyelids in a blink at 46 seconds in – is a dance movement, on a level the rest of us can only dream of.

PS: if you enjoy my writing and would like to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area, where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, poems, short stories, all for just $2 a month.

24 Hour Party Seitan

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

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

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

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

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

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24 Hour Party Seitan

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

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

To serve:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

Vegan Raspberry Rainbow Slab

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While, generally, no one wants to hear about the dream you had last night – which took me well into adulthood to grasp, as you are probably unsurprised to hear – I believe the exception to this rule is today’s recipe for Raspberry Rainbow Slab, which appeared to me in a dream and which I made come deliciously true. Whether this strikes you as whimsical, or a sad indictment of our current content-churning, always-on gig economy in which being asleep is still a fruitful opportunity to keep working, either way it tastes, in real life, every bit as good as it did in my head. (Side note, I really could taste it in my dream. Is that weird? Is that a sign of genius? Surely?) Coming up with recipes from dreams is nothing new for me, although my brain is getting slightly better at it – the first time this happened was in 2003 when I woke up and, still mostly asleep, wrote “steak with Baileys??” on a piece of paper beside my bed.

This is essentially a riff on my Vegan White Chocolate recipe, which is not something I thought could ever be improved upon – and superlative though that is, something about this bigger, thicker, creamier, baby pink confection is even more delicious, if not, possibly, the most delicious thing I’ve ever made. It tastes like the tops of those pink iced buns from the bakery – like the sort of birthday parties you’d read about in Enid Blyton books – like, well, a dream.

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You really do need to use the raspberry flavouring here instead of freeze-dried raspberry powder or something – that’s the point, that giddy, bright red fizzy drink flavour. Even the sprinkles add something – visually, obviously, but also a pleasant gritty crunch before your teeth sink clean into the chocolate below. Somehow, with all that icing sugar, it’s not too sweet – or too rich. It’s just perfect, raspberry-tinted white chocolate. However, between the cashews and the cacao this is not a particularly cheap outing, unfortunately, so I would only make it to share with someone you think will genuinely appreciate it, and indeed, you.

I know it’s really all I’ve said in this post but I just need, for my own peace of mind, to make sure that you really understand me when I say this is probably the best recipe I’ve ever invented. If, however, it still seems like too much of an outlay or too cutesy or something, why not start by making the original vegan white chocolate and work your way up.

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Raspberry Rainbow Slab

Raspberry-flavoured, pink-toned vegan white chocolate studded with rainbow sprinkles. The food of my dreams. Recipe by myself.

  • 1 and 1/2 cups roughly chopped cacao butter
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (refined or regular is fine)
  • 3/4 cup cashew butter
  • 2 and 1/2 cups icing sugar, with more just in case
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons raspberry essence/flavouring
  • couple drops pink food colouring
  • a pinch of salt
  • hundreds and thousands/rainbow sprinkles

1: Prepare a 20x20cm tin by lining it with baking paper. Slowly melt the cacao butter by placing it in a heatproof bowl and sitting that bowl on top of a small pan of simmering water – the bowl should rest in the mouth of the pan without the water touching the base of it, if that makes sense – stirring occasionally and removing from the heat as soon as it’s melted. Be careful not to overheat the cacao butter or it will seize up.

2: Alternate stirring the melted cacao butter and icing sugar into the cashew butter a little at a time. It will probably look gloopy and unpromising, but it will come together. It should be really quite thick but still somewhat liquidy once you’ve added everything – all that cacao butter will make it set, so don’t worry, but if it appears split and as though the oil and cashew butter aren’t making friends, just stir in more icing sugar till it behaves.

3: Fold in the vanilla, raspberry essence, a couple drops of pink food colouring, and the salt. Add more food colouring if need be, and taste to see if it wants more raspberry.

4: Turn this mixture into the lined tin and press out evenly, giving the tin a couple of taps against the bench to prevent any air bubbles and to even out the top. Sprinkle over a layer of hundreds and thousands, and put the tin in the fridge for two to three hours, or until it’s set.

5: Slice your raspberry rainbow slab into squares, and then store in an airtight container in the fridge. I find it helps to let the slab sit, uncut, on the bench for a minute if you want more even squares – what you can see in my photos here is what happens when you’re impatient and slice it straight from the fridge. Similarly, while you need to store this in the fridge, it tastes best when it’s not quiiite freezing cold, so let it sit for a minute before eating if you can help it.

Note:

  • If you don’t have cashew butter, soak one and a quarter cups raw cashews in boiling water for about two hours before blending in a high speed processor or with a stick blender.

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music lately:

It’s Coming, It’s Real, by Swans. I love songs which have an air of starting very far away and slowly but determinedly approaching you before they wash over your head and sweep you away and you think you’ll drown but it turns out you can breath underwater. This song belongs firmly in that genre, and also in the genre “I will listen to this on loop until I black out.”

Don’t You Think I Ought To Know, by Hadda Brooks. Her beautiful voice is somehow enhanced by the atmospheric crackly noise from the 1947 record still present on this.

Let’s Kill This Love by BLACKPINK. I watched the documentary about them on Netflix and while it wasn’t particularly enlightening and clearly entirely done in the name of promotion I guess it worked, because here we are. But it also makes sense: the tempo changes every five seconds, the costumes change even faster, there’s a lyric about crying tears of blood, they have a terrifying work ethic, of course I love it.

Next time: I am working on a seitan recipe which is worthy of Christmas day. I also made butter out of oats.

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