Pesto Seitan

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Even a minute looking at this recipe for seitan would completely put me off as it appears a mile long and every inch of it arduous, and there’s no real way to convince you it’s quite straightforward other than attempting to distract by waving lots of lengthy adjectives about. Frankly, I’ve not seen a single seitan recipe which doesn’t make the entire process seem like a gigantic pain in the skull and I doubt mine is doing anything to mitigate this – but it really, honestly, is a lot easier to put together than it is to read about.

As far as I can tell there’s no streamlining the three main steps – mixing the dough, simmering the dough, then actually cooking it as you intended – but once you have your head around these steps you can face the process with exuberance in your heart. When I first made this I just used gluten flour and water, with no added protein in the form of cannellini beans, and it was fine, but very springy – the pureed beans give the seitan a more relaxed texture, and they also make your gluten flour go further since it’s weirdly expensive here at $9 a package. You may rightfully be suspicious at how there’s very little seasoning in the seitan itself, but I’ve found it’s easier to get the flavour in during the marinading process than it is at the start, where the gluten flour muffles every effort at making it taste like anything other than hard bouncy flour.

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You can of course dial back my recipe by leaving out the pesto element – this was part of my birthday dinner last month (and you can also see the Triple Pickle Macaroni in the photos) and pesto remains as thrilling to me now as it did back in 2003 when I first learned of its existence. If you’re not making it a la pesto, then I would enthusiastically suggest adding lots of chopped fresh rosemary and thyme to the marinade, their resiny robust fragrance is an ideal pairing with the seitan.

It’s not that seitan tastes like meat, it doesn’t. As soon as I start trying to describe it – firm, chewy, slightly fibrous – we get back into off-putting territory, but there really is something amazing about its texture. The gluten gives a mild flavour, slightly nutty and rich, a foolproof backdrop for whatever flavour you wish to have cling to. Basically: it tastes of culinary potential. Once marinated in a salt-fat-acid-heat mixture, then fried vigorously till crisp-edged and caramelised, with the rubble of hand-chopped pesto stirred through – it becomes particularly luxurious and opulent. It reminded me of the canned mock duck which I used to consume at great length and which, in lockdown, I lamentably haven’t been able to get hold of – this is, perhaps, the highest praise I can offer. Therefore, truly worth the hassle. That being said, if you are, unlike me, able to get hold of the Wu Chung canned mock duck? Put your feet up and ignore everything I’ve just said, because dinner is served.

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Pesto Seitan

A recipe by myself.

Seitan

  • 1 x 400g tin cannellini beans
  • 1 and 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten, also sold as gluten flour (the brand I used was Lotus Gluten Flour which I found at my small local New World)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 vegan chicken stock cube (or whatever flavour you want)

Marinade

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 heaped teaspoon Marmite or 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper or a dash of chilli sauce

Pesto Sauce

  • 2 large handfuls fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 2 heaped tablespoons tahini
  • zest and juice of a lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (though you may wish to add more)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • salt, to taste

Step One: Mix and Simmer the Seitan

1: Blend the drained cannellini beans in a food processor until smooth. You can mash them with a fork if need be, but it’s a lot harder to mix into the flour if not completely pureed. Transfer to a bowl and add the gluten flour, 1/2 a cup of water and half the stock cube, stirring briefly till it forms a solid ball – this won’t take very long, and only add more water if there’s too much flour remaining. Knead it for a minute – pushing away and pulling back with your palms and knuckles – it should feel quite dense and solid.

2: Cut the ball into four even pieces (the size and quantity isn’t that important, it’s just to make it easier to simmer.) Place the seitan and remaining half a stock cube in a large pan and cover with water by a couple inches. Bring the water to the boil, and then simmer for about fifteen to twenty minutes, stirring often. The seitan will swell up alarmingly, which is why you need to keep an eye on it, but it will deflate once the water is drained.

3: Thoroughly drain the seitan – I put it in a colander and then press down with the pan I’ve just cooked it in – and set aside till you’re ready to cook dinner. I quite like to leave it overnight in the fridge, it seems to improve the flavour and texture, but I also very, very, very rarely think that far ahead, so don’t worry too much. It helps, once the seitan has cooled, to squeeze it out a bit over a sink – but don’t stress too much, any remaining water will evaporate in the hot saucepan.

Step Two: Make the Marinade and Sauce

1: About half an hour before you want to cook dinner, mix together the marinade ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Slice the thoroughly drained seitan into small pieces and stir into the marinade, and leave at room temperature for about half an hour.

2: To make the pesto sauce, chop the basil, pine nuts and walnuts finely – doing it in small batches with a large knife is most effective – and mix together in a small bowl with the remaining pesto ingredients. It’s fine if some pine nuts are left whole or larger pieces of walnuts remain. This won’t look like pesto from a jar – it’s supposed to be more rough and textural. Taste to see if it needs more of anything.

Step Three: Fry, Stir and Serve

1: Heat a large frying pan and fry the marinated seitan pieces over a high heat, turning occasionally with tongs, until browned and a little crisp in places. Tip in the remaining marinade and stir for a minute or two.

2: Remove from the heat and stir in the pesto until everything is thoroughly coated.

3: Serve immediately.

Substitution notes: instead of cannellini beans you can use chickpeas or firm tofu – about 150g to 200g, pressed with a paper towel to remove excess liquid, whatever you use just blend it in the same way. Stock cubes can be replaced with soy sauce, or just use more Marmite; use tomato puree or even tomato ketchup/sauce instead of paste. You can add different herbs and spices to the marinade – chopped fresh rosemary goes really well here – and you can use different oil, maple syrup or golden syrup instead of sugar, and any time I mention garlic cloves you can totally use the stuff from a jar. I would, however, make a concerted effort to get hold of some celery salt – it adds something specific and irreplaceable in my opinion! You can increase the quantity of pine nuts in the pesto if you’re feeling rich; and you can add spinach or parsley to the basil.

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music lately:

Savage Remix, by Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé. Imagine having Beyoncé featuring on your track before you even release your debut album? It makes sense though and I love this for Megan, she’s so enormously talented and fun and if the song wasn’t already the quarantine soundtrack with the ubiquitous accompanying Tik-Tok dance challenge (which I admit, I learned, but did not broadcast) this fresh take has thoroughly invigorated my love of it. I realise what I’ve just written feels extremely 2020, but – here we undeniably are.

Big Iron, by Marty Robbins from his Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs album which is so instantly calming yet stirring it’s like being full-body dunked in a bowl of noodle soup.

Tainted Love, Gloria Jones, this is kind of like Rumble by Link Wray in that you listen to it and it’s like does anything else go as hard as this? Why do we bother to continue making music when this exists? Why doesn’t every song have that dun-dun beat in it (as in, “sometimes I feel I’ve got to – dun-dun – run away”) imagine how much better Mozart would be if his Eine Kleine Nachtmusik had the Tainted Love dun-dun after his opening bars?

Next time: I’m in the mood to make ice cream.

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

Marmite Babka

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Yes, as you can see from the photos, I burnt this a little. But you won’t! At no point in the instructions do I tell anyone to burn anything. Admittedly, I didn’t tell myself to burn anything and yet here we find ourselves. But I hate food waste, and the recipe did work perfectly well, the variable factor was me, putting something in the oven and then promptly forgetting about it. In fact, I hate wasting food so much I wrote an essay about it for Tenderly, which was spurred on from an extremely disastrous cake I tried making last week. The premise was: wasting food sucks anyway, but during COVID-19 lockdown it feels appallingly guilt-ridden. If I’ve learned anything from attempting to monetise my every complete thought, there’s no better way to process an emotion than in essay form! I’m not even being flippant – because I wrote that whole essay, I was so much more quickly able to be pragmatic about this burnt babka.

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Babka is a traditional Jewish dessert – often more of a leavened cake than mere sweetened bread – and this recipe, with Marmite swirling through the dough, is obviously deeply untraditional, though made with great reverence for its provenance. If you’re unfamiliar with Marmite, it’s a black, salty, vitamin-enriched yeast spread, which I concede sounds horrific, but as with most foodstuffs based on sodium it’s super compelling to the taste buds. There are variants, which inspire vehement allegiance from some – for example, Vegemite, or the Marmite you get in the UK, which curiously, tastes exactly like Vegemite. Despite their being so closely aligned in spirit, Vegemite tastes utterly disgusting to me, but if it inherently appeals to you, then by all means make this recipe using it instead. I don’t want it near me, but I can understand how someone would feel the same way about Marmite.

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Non-stop caveats and burnt bits aside, how does the Marmite Babka actually taste? Amazing! The dough is soft and feathery with a light, crisp pastry-like crust, and as you can see from the photos, a gratifyingly perfect swirl of Marmite throughout. Salt being the dear friend of sugar, the Marmite naturally pairs wonderfully with the sweetness of the dough, and the finished babka is barely savoury – I’d happily eat it for dessert. This is partially due to the coconut oil and tahini I added to mellow out the salinity, and honestly, it was a struggle to not simply eat the filling mixture on its own. I also can’t emphasise enough how half-hearted the dough-twisting process is for such good-looking results.

This is really not a practical recipe – it takes forever to make, though little of that involves effort from you, and once it’s baked the twisted pull-apart nature of it means it’s quite easy to make a whole loaf disappear in one sitting. But I woke up with the strong urge to make this idea which came into my head, and since having drive to do anything seemed like an avenue of joy rather lost to lockdown, I had no choice but to act upon it. If you want something more sensibly utilitarian to put in the oven, I recommend my Social Distancing Bread.

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Marmite Babka

A recipe by myself.

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup lukewarm water
  • 3 cups high-grade/bread flour
  • 1/2 cup aquafaba (brine from a can of chickpeas)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 heaped tablespoon Marmite
  • 2 heaped tablespoons coconut oil, softened
  • 2 heaped tablespoons tahini

1: Place the yeast, sugar and water in a large mixing bowl, swirl the bowl to combine them, and leave to sit for five minutes to get a little bubbly.

2: Stir in 1/4 cup of the flour, and sit for another five minutes.

3: Tip in the remaining flour and the aquafaba and stir to form a shaggy dough. Now, knead in the olive oil – drizzle some oil over, pull and push with your knuckles and the heel of your palm, and repeat until the oil is gone. The dough will be dense, and not particularly springy, but should be a fairly cohesive and smooth ball by the time you’re done.

4: Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap (sorry!) and leave in the refrigerator for six hours, or overnight.

5: Once the time is up, remove the bowl from the fridge and let it sit for about an hour to get to room temperature (I recommend setting your alarm early, staggering out to remove the bowl, and then going back to bed.) Don’t worry if it hasn’t risen dramatically, as long as it’s bigger than when it went in.

6: Mix the Marmite, coconut oil and tahini together in a small bowl.

7: Take the dough and roll it out to a large, even-ish rectangle about 1-2cm thick. It helps to do this on a piece of baking paper, which you can then use when you bake the bread.

8: Spread the Marmite mixture evenly over the entire dough rectangle, then roll it up from one side into a long cylinder. Slice this cylinder in half lengthwise, then twist these two halves around each other by lifting up one piece and shuffling the other underneath and so on. Don’t overthink it.

9: Transfer the dough into a baking-paper lined loaf tin – I just lifted up the piece of baking paper that it was sitting on and transferred the whole thing into the tin – cover again and leave to rise again for 40 minutes.

10: Bake at 180C/350F for 45 minutes or until cooked through. Check regularly to make sure it’s not burning – like mine did!! – and place a piece of tin foil over the loaf if it looks like it’s browning too quickly.

11: Leave the loaf to rest for a few minutes and then eat the lot.

Note: this was based on a recipe for babka I made for Tenderly which has photos of the rolling/cutting/twisting process if that’s helpful.

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music lately:

Rumble, by Link Wray. One of those perfect pieces of music you can listen to and feel the approaching shadows of so many songs to come since.

Ladies Who Lunch, performed by Audra McDonald, Christine Baranski and Meryl Streep yesterday, live-streamed from their respective houses for Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday celebrations. This should be too much – the three of them performatively drinking for the camera, singing Sondheim’s sardonic song disparaging rich women while very much being rich women during a global pandemic. But it was just right, and deliciously so – a demonstration of what real performing is, and how it doesn’t always need a stage. The whole concert itself was incredibly moving in places, a little not-for-me in others, but this was certainly the most instantly memorable part.

So What’cha Want, Beastie Boys. I love this song so much, I love them so much, and I want that lumbering drumbeat to follow me around everywhere.

Next time: I totally forgot that I was going to blog about pesto seitan! After spending so long asking the universe for a good seitan recipe! You can really see how I could accidentally leave a loaf of bread in the oven too long, huh.

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.

Triple Pickle Macaroni

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A birthday in lockdown is no great hardship compared to the breadth of suffering and distress worldwide resulting from COVID-19. I also can’t pretend to be winsomely diffident, it took some getting used to – but it was only a very small adversity. There were many positives: I received a lot of love online – and truly, there’s no greater gift than online displays of affection. Would I rather have an elaborate present, or a nice instagram story about how much someone loves me? That’s so unchallenging a question it’s practically rhetorical. (But the answer is the latter, in case I wasn’t clear.) I also got to make dinner for my family, and since making dinner is a pastime I anticipate with irrational vigilance, it was like another gift to me.

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On the menu was pesto seitan, a salad with the final precious avocado for the foreseeable future, and something I call Triple Pickle Macaroni, since, well, that’s what it is. Like all good recipes this idea appeared in my head all at once, fully formed, and all I had to do was make it. I was going to call it a Mac and Cheese because it’s certainly evocative of that wonderful dish, but there’s no actual cheese involved and something in the sheer inelegance of the title Triple Pickle Macaroni cheered me hugely. Now, no matter how defined the image of a recipe is in your mind, the tangible result doesn’t always match up. Fortunately for me, my family, my birthday, and ultimately you: it was so delicious.

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The pickled elements I refer to are sauerkraut, gherkins and pickled apples, each of which tangle into the creamy sauce and provide tangy, biting contrast. With all the sharp-sweet-saltiness going on it almost tastes like there is cheese involved, and in fact – well, I’m only human – I concede it would probably taste particularly great with actual cheese added. Naturally, referring here to vegan cheese – if you can find one which doesn’t go unsettlingly waxy when melted then feel free to plough ahead and stir it in. Should you eat cheese made out of dairy I’m not going to hold it against you if you put it in this recipe, nor would I assume you’d care what I think about this decision, but you know I’m obliged to mention our terrible expensive vegan cheese first. Should you have no cheese of any sort to hand, fear not: the Triple Pickle Macaroni is wonderful on its own. Rich, robustly hearty, tasting of lurid kitschy yesteryear and the punctilious present all at once, dense enough to make you sleepy but strewn with enough vinegary bursts of texture to wake you back up again.

In my last blog post I talked about the overwhelming, impenetrable irritability that has grown like a haunted forest around my brain in lockdown. If I may be frank, after some reflection I’m not entirely convinced it’s me being disagreeable – I think people really are just becoming more annoying. I am, however, doing my best to remain sanguine. Turning 34 was not at all what I thought it would be, but it was, all told, a rather happy little birthday, and I’m immensely grateful to everyone who helped make it so.

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Triple Pickle Macaroni

A recipe by myself.

  • 1 x 500g package macaroni elbows
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Marmite or half a stock cube
  • 2 cups oat milk or whatever you have
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 cup sauerkraut
  • 1/4 cup chopped gherkins (or as they’re sometimes simply known: pickles)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pickled apples
  • salt and pepper to taste, plus a little paprika to sprinkle over

Note: I don’t assume you have pickled apples to hand – you can use pretty much anything else you think would work, whether it’s pickled onions, beans, zucchini, whatever. Or just more sauerkraut and gherkins.

1: Cook the macaroni in a large pan of boiling, well-salted water for about eleven minutes or until it’s tender.

2: Meanwhile, stir the coconut oil, olive oil, flour and Marmite together in another pan over a medium heat, continuing to stir for about five minutes or until it’s somewhat thickened. Slowly add the oat milk, continuing to stir the whole time. Let it simmer away over a low heat, stirring often. It should be fairly thick and saucy but still plausibly able to coat a whole lot of pasta at this point, add more milk if it gets too thick. 

3: Stir in the nutmeg, nutritional yeast, and all the pickled ingredients. I’ve suggested 1/4 cup of each as a starting point but you can absolutely add more, indeed, I encourage it.

4: By this point your pasta should be cooked. Drain the macaroni, reserving about 1/2 a cup of the cooking water, which you then add to the simmering sauce. Taste the sauce to see if it needs more of anything, then stir through the drained macaroni. Serve sprinkled with a dusting of paprika.

This makes a LOT, and will serve four people very generously with plenty of leftovers, and probably up to eight people as a side. 

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music lately:

I Want You To Love Me, by Fiona Apple. The only thing better than public displays of love on my birthday is Fiona Apple releasing a brand new album. This is the first song on Fetch The Bolt Cutters and it arrives with a clatter of piano keys and Apple’s throaty voice and her lyrics which have the emotional effect of being suddenly kicked behind the knees: Whenever you want to begin, begin/We don’t have to go back to where we’ve been/I am the woman who wants you to win/and I’ve been waiting, waiting for you to love me.

Simon Zealotes, from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, covered by Ledisi. Very specifically, I’ve been listening to the stretch between 2:12 and 3:09 over and over where she sounds especially incredible, and I strongly encourage you to do the same, I wish the whole song consisted of this bit.

Cheree, by Suicide, I love this song so much, it’s kinda creepy and yet makes it feel like the world is full of possibilities all waiting for you to discover them, which is, you must admit, a rare combination to pull off.

Next time: the pesto seitan was also super delicious and I finally am truly at one with seitan, so I might post that recipe.

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. And if dovetailing is something you’re keen on, then there’s truly no better time than at this close proximity to my birthday.

a low-key handful of recipes: mushroom stroganoff, gumbo-esque stew, mince on toast, chocolate pear pudding

We’re about three weeks into lockdown here in NZ but for me it’s been a full month since I’ve left the house – even to go outside at all. I had romantic notions of reading and knitting in the yard but every time you open a window wasps and mice and flies pour in and though it gives the vibe of living in a Southern Gothic novel it’s also massively off-putting. I generally regard the outdoors with suspicion anyway so I guess this is simply the universe reinforcing my assessment of it.

If you’re reading this I certainly hope things are as close to your current working definition of “okay” as possible. I personally cannot complain too much (and yet!) but I do find myself increasingly quick to irritation as a result of all this repetition. People trying to be funny online annoy me, people trying to be heartfelt annoy me, if you say something inane, that’s annoying, if you say something deep, that’s super annoying, if you mention hanging out with your partner, it’s plumbing the very teeth-eroding depths of intolerable. Oh, don’t worry, I find literally everything I say and do annoying too – and then comes the guilt at being so grumpy at everyone, guilt for not being a fountain of perky positivity – even though I’ve always been irritated by fountains of perky positivity whether or not there was a pandemic closing in on us. Then, just as it feels like my skin is going to fall off from sheer, resentful aggravation – I stand up and do some form of cardio exercise. And afterwards, even if I only exerted myself for ten minutes, and if I’m honest it’s seldom more than ten minutes – afterwards I’ll feel benign, positively magnanimous. Everyone is excused, everyone is clearly doing their best in these trying circumstances!

And then I get annoyed at the exercise, for being so maddeningly effective. Why can’t I get my endorphins from sitting down?

As you can see this blog post is a little different from usual; despite having all the time in the world I have a lot less focus – and I didn’t have an abundance to begin with – and while I’ve been cooking food I haven’t exactly been making specific recipes. I was about to give up on the notion of writing this altogether to sit and stew in my own pinging, directionless ire, when I realised I could still talk about what I’d cooked, and perhaps, collectively, it might be of some use. Each recipe is, as you can see, open to tinkering with – indeed, each one of them was the result of me meandering about, hoping what I was cooking would meet the image in my mind. The stroganoff is rich and creamy and lush (and don’t skip the cayenne, it might be that there is very little going on in my life but for days after I couldn’t stop thinking about how perfectly a pinprick of pepper brought the whole stroganoff to life.) The gumbo-esque stew was inspired by a Bryant Terry recipe, in that I looked at it and then ignored pretty much everything he suggested, but I would absolutely not have had this incredible dinner without him as a starting point. Mince on toast is pretty self-explanatory but I am keen to champion Chinese Five-Spice to anyone who will listen; and the pudding is even more self-explanatory: pudding is nice.

You may notice I haven’t mentioned garlic at all in any of the savoury recipes: it’s not that none was used – quite the opposite – but I also assume you each have highly specific opinions on what constitutes a suitable quantity and so I’m going to trust you to follow your instincts there. And once again – I really do hope you’re all okay, whatever okay is!

Mushroom Stroganoff

Slice enough button mushrooms for however many people you’re serving. If you don’t know how many mushrooms to serve people, just slice up every mushroom you have – they shrink in the pan and if you have leftovers, so be it. Fry a chopped onion in plenty of olive oil till softened, then add the mushrooms and continue stirring till they’ve collapsed and browned. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, one heaped teaspoon paprika, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and a spoonful of whatever mustard you have, along with two tablespoons of flour. Add a splash of whatever wine you’re drinking, if you have it – red or white, doesn’t matter. After stirring this around for a minute or two, slowly pour in coconut milk (or almond milk/soy milk/whatever) continuing to stir as you pour, and then let it simmer away, stirring, until as thickened yet saucy as you want it to be. Feel free to add more coconut milk and make it really saucy, and if you only have a little milk to hand you can top it up with water. I am going to assume at some point you’ve added salt and pepper. Taste to see if it needs more of anything, then serve over rice or mashed potatoes with chopped parsley. Of course you can use portobello mushrooms or fancy mushrooms or a mix but, button mushrooms will do the trick just fine.

Gumbo-esque Stew

I say Gumbo-esque because this lacks the requisite filé powder (though if you have it, go ahead) and other signposts of a classic gumbo. It tastes magnificent though, and it’s even better the next day. Roughly chop a generous handful of greens per person: spinach, kale, silverbeet, cabbage, whatever you have. It’ll shrink down in the pan, so don’t hold back. Finely chop a large onion, one or two sticks of celery, and a green capsicum (bell pepper for the Americans.) Heat four tablespoons olive oil and half a cup of flour together in a large pan, stirring over a medium heat for at least ten minutes, or until the flour is a rich golden brown colour. Then add the onion/celery/capsicum mixture and cook until the vegetables are a little softened. Add two teaspoons paprika, a good pinch of cayenne, a teaspoon of sugar (or maple syrup or molasses or whatever) and then slowly stir in about four cups of strongly seasoned stock/broth (I like vegan beef stock here for the flavour), followed by a drained can of black beans (or whatever beans you like, and you can add more beans to feed more people) as well as any extra chopped vegetables you want – carrots, kumara, etc. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly, then add the greens. Simmer for about 20-40 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more of anything (including stock) until it’s the taste and texture you want. If you have some good vegan sausages, chop them up and add them to the simmering pot too. And if you have a bay leaf, now would be the time to throw that in. Once it’s done simmering, stir in plenty of fresh thyme leaves and a splash of any vinegar you have before serving over rice or simply as is.

Mince on Toast

I mean like: cook mince and put it on toast, but also: fry an onion and a few chopped button mushrooms, add your vegan mince, stir to let it cook through, then tip in a quarter to half a jar of tomato relish and a good teaspoon of Marmite, add a splash of water/red wine and let simmer. A pinch of Chinese Five-Spice always makes everything delicious. If you don’t have vegan mince to hand, a mixture of fried mushrooms, chopped walnuts and chopped sun-dried tomatoes is really good.

Chocolate Pear Pudding

This is based on a recipe of Nigella Lawson’s, which I made vegan and more chocolatey. If you have fresh actual pears – which we did, and which was what prompted the making of this – then slice them up and arrange them in the baking dish and pop them in the oven as it heats up while you make the batter. Otherwise, as is more likely the case, simply drain two tins of pears and arrange over the base of a baking dish. Melt 1/3 cup coconut oil (though you could use margarine) and stir in 1 cup sugar, 1 and 1/2 cups flour, 4 tablespoons cocoa, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds mixed with 4 tablespoons of water (mix the flaxseed and water first and leave it to sit while you mix everything else.) Finally, stir in around 3/4 cup soy milk or whatever milk you have, until the texture is thick yet softly spreadable. Chop up about 50g-75g dark chocolate and sprinkle it over the pears, then spoon the batter over the top, smoothing it evenly with a knife or the back of a spoon. It will only just cover the pears, so try not to eat too much while you’re making it. Bake for about thirty minutes at 180C/350F. Serve as is, or with cold coconut milk or ice cream.

music lately:

Lungs, by Townes Van Zandt, from his Live at the Old Quarter album. That final line, “we’ll tell the world we tried,” I just!

Yon Ferrets Return, Neko Case. Possibly the most fiercely joyful song ever written about the ferret, and #14 in another playlist I made for Tenderly, this time about the less-celebrated members of the animal kingdom.

I’m Going Home, from the 36th Annual Sacred Harp Convention. Turns out you can get your endorphins sitting down: listening to this – and I recommend headphones – is even more rewarding than cardio. I mean, everything’s more rewarding than cardio to me, but this really does approach similar levels of busting through the hardened plaque built up around one’s brain.

Next time: photos, I promise! It’s my birthday tomorrow (the 17th) so I’m aiming to cook something cool for dinner and will report back here. I mean, there’s not much else I can do for a birthday in lockdown, but fortunately cooking dinner is pretty much all I ever want to do anyway.

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. Also! I wrote a round up of television recommendations if you need them while stuck at home, which anyone can read on my Patreon for free.

Canned Peach Cake

 

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Without wanting to overly romanticise the cheap staples of a pantry there’s nonetheless something comforting about canned peaches. Whether on cornflakes with evaporated milk for dessert or blended up in my grandmother’s old blender to make a smoothie (literally just the peaches and their syrup – as you can see I was always gourmet-minded) they’ve been a faithful constant throughout my life. Even the smell of them – when I was a kid I thought it would be the ideal perfume fragrance – specifically canned peaches, not the real thing – and if I’m honest I’d still buy it. Obviously in lockdown canned peaches are only reliable if you actually own them already, but this is a super chilled out cake that you don’t even need to use the titular fruit for: mashed bananas, stewed apples, canned pears or apricots would all likely work perfectly well and bring their own deliciousness to it.

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As far as other substitutions go – I couldn’t say for sure if they’ll work but you’re welcome to try. I used margarine here because I figured it was cheap and easy to find, I promise you can’t taste it at all in the finished cake. And I appreciate that there’s a relatively large amount of flour involved – but if you’ve got it, you might as well use it.

The finished cake isn’t wildly peachy – more a broadly lush fruitiness – but it’s fantastically moist and springy and so delicious, warm with cinnamon and vanilla, sticky with its peach-tinted glaze, and most of all – that word again – comforting. In lieu of being able to get a hug, I guess eating food that evokes a sense of cosiness is the next logical step.

It never hurts to pause and think on what you’re grateful for, indeed, having the means to stop and be grateful is frankly worth having gratitude for in itself. Some aspects of lockdown are getting harder and others are easily surmounted, but I am very fortunate that cooking is what I love and it’s still an avenue of enjoyment available to me. And while making a cake isn’t going to solve anything on a grand scale – you do still get cake.

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Canned Peach Cake

A recipe by myself.

  • 1 x 400g can peach slices
  • 4 tablespoons vegan butter/margarine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup (or maple syrup)
  • 1/2 cup plant milk
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Icing:

  • 3/4 cup icing sugar
  • 2-3 teaspoons reserved peach juice
  • 1 drop food grade lemon oil (optional) or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Fresh thyme leaves, to serve (optional)

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line the base of a standard square cake tin with baking paper.

2: Drain the peaches, reserving some of the juice for the icing (I would recommend simply drinking the rest yourself.) Either using a stick blender or in a food processor, blend the peaches until smoothly pureed. If you have neither of these, mash the peaches thoroughly with a fork, and the finished cake will have a bit more texture to it – not a bad thing. Add the butter, sugar and golden syrup and blitz again briefly – it might look a little messy but will come together!

3: Mix together the milk and vinegar in a small measuring jug and set aside for a minute. Fold the flour and baking soda (I definitely recommend sieving the baking soda to prevent lumps) into the peach mixture, along with the cinnamon, vanilla, followed by the milk and vinegar mixture.

4: Spatula all this into the cake tin and bake for around 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Leave to cool completely.

5: To make the icing, stir the peach juice into the icing sugar a spoonful at a time – a little liquid goes a long way – followed by the flavourings if you’re adding them. Drizzle evenly over the cooled cake and sprinkle with the thyme leaves if using.

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music lately:

Denise, by Fountains of Wayne. This was the first song of theirs I heard back in 1999 and I’ve loved it ever since, it’s somehow 90s yet 60s, perky yet sour at the same time. Band member Adam Schlesinger died of COVID-19 complications on April 1 and this one hit me hard – he co-wrote most of the songs on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a TV show that means an enormous amount to me, and his ability to lovingly pastiche was unparalleled. For example – Love’s Not A Game which I genuinely think exceeds its inspiration, Luck Be A Lady Tonight, and I couldn’t even exaggerate the number of times I’ve watched the video for it.

Farewell Transmission, by Songs: Ohia. Sounds like every single Neil Young song blitzed together like peaches in an old blender, so obviously I completely adore it.

Next time: I’ll try to lay off the flour.

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. Also! I wrote a round up of television recommendations if you need them while stuck at home, which anyone can read on my Patreon for free.

Vegan Lemon Bars

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One hour at a time, one day at a time: ten words so repetitively stuck in my head, I suspect they’ll soon tip from reassuring to cloyingly irritating the longer I spend with myself. Until then, it’s a serviceable mantra for these times – for this literal time in fact, this hour and this day and the next ones to follow. Since I last updated, New Zealand has gone into lockdown – we’re all under house arrest unless in essential services, so on the one hand there’s not much to do other than cook and bake, but on the other hand, ducking out to the supermarket for a specific ingredient is an activity of the past. With all this in mind I might as well to keep writing about food so long as I have the means to, but hopefully with a vibe of low-key non-urgency. Gentle food blogging. I can’t know what’s in your kitchen, and there’s no perfect catch-all recipe that will cover every variable, but on the upside if today’s recipe doesn’t work for you there’s the whole internet out there and surely someone will have used the exact same combination of ingredients you have to make something delicious.

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This being week one of lockdown we’re pretty well stocked from prior supermarket shops, nevertheless I was wary of burning through too many ingredients at once. I also didn’t want to get stuck just staring at the ingredients too nervous to touch them, you know? The specific ingredient that kicked this recipe off was an abundance of lemons fresh from the tree, needing to be used before they turned oxidised and doughy. This recipe for Vegan Lemon Bars uses plenty of lemon juice – though you could of course sub in any citrus you have to hand, or use bottled lemon juice, or you could even try it with pineapple juice or whatever you’ve got in the fridge. Usually I prefer to bake with coconut oil but went with margarine for the base since I figured that was a cheaper and more accessible ingredient, and if you did happen to have a jar of coconut oil you might not want to lose a whole half cup of it in one fell swoop. There’s plenty of lemon zest and juice in the base and I promise the finished result doesn’t actually taste of the margarine. The real magic here comes from the cornflour, turning a liquid filling into a gelatinously firm and sliceable topping, and I realise “gelatinously firm” isn’t the most enticing language, but…it’s true.

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The crisp base against the dense, bouncy topping is texturally pleasing, and the intense hit of lemon tastes and smells of pure optimism. The sight of the finished product alone is immensely cheering with its sunshine yellow colour (aided, admittedly, by a bump of turmeric.) It’s sweet but not overly so, keeps well, and when there’s not a whole lot else going on it’s nice to know this deliciousness is waiting in the fridge to accompany your next cup of tea.

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Vegan Lemon Bars

Adapted pretty liberally from this recipe at Namely Marly.

Base:

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter/margarine
  • lemon zest, from the lemons used for juice
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

Filling

  • 1/2 cup cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup rice milk (or whatever you have)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon essence or a couple drops food-grade lemon oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • a pinch of turmeric, for colour (optional)

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line the base of a standard brownie/baking tin with baking paper. Mix all the base ingredients except for the lemon juice together in a bowl, using the back of a spoon to press the butter into the flour. Add the lemon juice – you may not need it all – and continue to stir until the mixture forms rough crumbs that stick together when pressed.

2: Tip the base mixture into the baking dish and press down firmly with the back of a spoon to form an even layer. Jab it a few times with a fork or sharp knife (this, plus pressing down firmly, helps it to bake evenly without rising) and bake for ten minutes. Once the time is up, remove the dish from the oven and reduce the heat to 160C/320F)

3: In a small saucepan, whisk together the ingredients for the filling, making sure there are no lumps of cornflour trapped in the liquid. Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until it’s significantly thickened to a fairly spreadable, gluey (for want of a better word) paste. It may initially look like it’s thickening all lumpy and uneven, but if you keep stirring it will come together. Remove from the heat immediately at this point and continue stirring for a minute just to stop it catching on the base of the pan, and then spread it evenly over the cooked base in the baking dish.

4: Return it to the oven, now at its lower setting, for fifteen minutes. It may appear to be a little puffy and weird-looking, but it settles down once cooled! Allow it to cool completely and then refrigerate for about two hours before slicing.

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music lately:

Clay Pigeons, John Prine. I talked about this song in a playlist I made for Tenderly back on March 11 (literally a decade ago?) and as I said then, it’s simply one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Something about the world shrinking down to one house is making new music a little harder to take in, hence turning to the warmth of the familiar like this cover of Blaze Foley’s wonderful tune. I read yesterday morning that John Prine is now in critical condition with Covid-19, and my good thoughts, such as they are, are going out to him and his family in the hopes he pulls through.

You Don’t Have to Cry by Emma Ruth Rundle, continuing in the vein of songs I already love, songs that give without asking too much of you: this is glorious, building and swirling to magnitudes while still remaining extremely mellow.

Next time: let’s be honest, probably some kind of baking, I’ll try to make it more minimal than this week’s recipe. Also – I finally updated my Frasier food blog with an amazing curry noodle soup recipe if you want to check that out while you’re waiting. 

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. Also! I wrote a round up of television recommendations if you need them while stuck at home, which anyone can read on my Patreon for free.

Social Distancing Bread

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Everything’s changing – not just week to week, but by the hour, literally last Friday I was scoffing about the prospect of Broadway closing in the face of coronavirus and idly checking if flights overseas were getting cheaper. Seven days later that seems unspeakably churlish and straight up stupid and I also haven’t left the house once since. That’s the new normal for ya.

If your new normal includes being at home a lot more, then perhaps your thoughts are turning more to the kitchen. Obviously we need food – whether or not the making of it provides any comfort is by no means a given, but presumably if you’re reading this you have some passing interest in it. So, you might consider baking bread. This recipe is named Social Distancing Bread partly because it’s cute, I concede – it’s a no-knead method so you’re literally practicing social distancing with your own bread as you make it. But the real point is that the lack of kneading makes it relatively easy and un-strenuous, so whether you’re a newcomer to bread or simply life-weary, my recipe asks very little of you. You stir, you wait, you bake.

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I’ve also heard from people who have gone outside in the last week that supermarkets are being fleeced of flour – so presumably this recipe will be relevant to someone out there.

There is one brief step in preparation – I’ve used the Japanese tangzhong method where you heat a small amount of flour and water together first to be added to the dough. For scientific reasons which I can’t convey convincingly, incorporating the tangzhong makes your bread particularly tender and pillowy. It only takes a minute and it really works – this bread is feather-soft and springy, with an impressively crisp, rich golden crust. And it’s delicious – just simple, perfect bread. I particularly like it dunked in olive oil. Life doesn’t offer us a lot of direct proportionality between patience required and reward promised – bread is one of the few reliable examples. And because you don’t have to knead it, the waiting really is the hardest part.

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If I may, I’m going to re-refer you to last week’s list of recipes on my blog which rely largely on pantry or freezer ingredients.

Recipes from or Near the Store Cupboard

And in slightly less practical news, I hope to offer some levity with this piece I wrote for Tenderly: Fifteen animals who invented social distancing. (The deep-sea bony-eared assfish is my personal favourite.)

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Social Distancing Bread

A recipe by myself.

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 teaspoons active dried yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 and 1/4 cups lukewarm water, extra
  • 3 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, extra
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt

1: First, make the tangzhong – a simple roux which will be stirred into the dough. In a small saucepan (nonstick is particularly good here) mix the 1/4 cup flour and 1/2 cup water together. Stir constantly over a low heat until it forms a thick paste that more or less holds its shape. This should only take a minute, and remove the pan from the heat as soon as it reaches this stage, continuing to stir just to prevent it burning in the residual heat. Set aside until it’s cooled to a lukewarm temperature.

2: While the tangzhong is cooling, stir the yeast, sugar, and remaining 1 and 1/4 cups lukewarm water together in a large mixing bowl, and leave it to sit for about five to seven minutes to get a little foamy/activated.

3: The most taxing part of the recipe is over – now all you have to do is tip the remaining flour, oil, salt and the cooled tangzhong into the yeast mixture, and give it a stir with a spatula till it’s thoroughly combined. Cover tightly – we have these reusable covers that resemble shower caps which make me feel slightly less environmentally guilty – and leave on the bench for an hour to let the dough rise.

4: Once your hour is up, remove the cover and press down on the inflated dough with your spatula to release the air bubbles. Line a regular sized loaf tin with baking paper and scrape the dough into it. Cover again with plastic or something similar (sorry!) and leave to prove – a second rise – for half an hour. This dough is quite sticky, so it might help to brush a little extra olive oil over the top first.

5: Set your oven to 200C/400F – about twenty minutes into the proving session is a good time to do this so it’s super hot and ready for the bread. Remove the cover from the dough – it should be significantly risen and puffy in the loaf tin – and bake for 50 minutes, covering with tinfoil for the last twenty if the top looks quite browned already.

6: Remove the bread from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for fifteen minutes before slicing (or just hoof right into it, but it’s easier to slice after sitting for a bit)

music lately:

Song #1, Fugazi. A big chunky bruiser of song which somehow evokes both Led Zep and Beastie Boys.

Thursday Girl by Mitski, whenever I don’t know what to listen to or can’t commit to more than fifteen seconds of any song, even ones I like, I always end up realising that Mitski is precisely what I wanted to listen to the whole time. In particular this song, which has just continued to have a profound effect, moving back and forth through me like a persistent ghost.

Never Alone, by the Contemporary Gospel Chorus of the High School of Performing Arts, from the movie Fame. With Fugazi levels of energy and exuberance, Never Alone makes you feel about as much like you’re running downhill with your arms in the air and your eyes shut as a song is able to, and I love it.

Next time: I still have that pineapple sage syrup and still haven’t had it in a gin, despite having been in extremely close proximity to it all week, so perhaps that’ll be next week’s recipe.

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. Also! I wrote a round up of television recommendations if you’re stuck at home and need them, which anyone can read on my Patreon for free.

forty cloves of garlic with potatoes and artichoke hearts

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There’s a fine line between gallows humour and insensitivity, so you’ll just have to trust me that I had this recipe working over in my brain well before the prevalence of coronavirus and the ensuing cancelled events and social distancing. But for what it’s worth: this recipe really does have forty cloves of garlic in it, and garlic is powerfully good for your immune system, and if you’re self-isolating for the safety of the public already you might as well marinade yourself in its divisive pungency.

As someone who’s essentially been in quarantine for the past year anyway (by which I mean – I moved from Wellington to a tiny rural village to live with my parents) not much is changing for me. The routine shutting down or cancellation of everything, in the erstwhile meaning of the word, is pretty overwhelming – Disneyland! The NBA! Tom Hanks! But it’s becoming clear that it’s all for the greater good and there’s no fighting it. I’m definitely feeling anxiety – firstly for people actually contracting the virus, and secondly for everyone whose roles so dearly depend, minute-to-minute, on human contact – such as bartending, the job that used to occupy my every waking moment. Like, I can’t express how difficult-to-nonexistent paid sick leave is in hospitality roles, so if you are out and about I recommend tipping as generously as you can muster since those people are probably especially nervous with few options other than to show up for work and hope for the best. I mean, I would hope you don’t need me to tell you to be nice to anyone in customer service but! Experience would suggest there are numerous people out there who haven’t quite reached this conclusion.

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Roast chicken with forty cloves of garlic is a Provençal-via-American classic from which I’ve quite obviously removed the chicken to make the garlic the star – which is always was, rather in the manner of the curtain pulling aside behind Lina Lamont to reveal Kathy Selden doing all the work in Singin’ In The Rain. To bolster the garlic and to echo the French countryside cuisine vibes I’ve added cubes of potato and artichoke hearts, all of which cook together in a roasting dish to create something spectacular, unpretentiously sumptuous and incredibly delicious. To say nothing of the lack of effort involved: just place it into the oven and wait, hungrily.

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The artichokes offer briny contrast, a little luxury, and a certain gentle fibrousness, and potatoes are just obviously delicious. The garlic cloves, partially braised and partially roasted, grow soft and creamy and buttery and caramelised in their thin casings, and astonishingly mellow considering how much of it there is. The point is to leave them unpeeled so they cook this way, also I couldn’t possibly ask you to undertake the task of actually peeling forty cloves. It means some interaction is involved with your dinner, and there’s no getting around it: you either have to extract the garlic with your teeth, or neatly spit the emptied husks out onto the plate, or swallow them. I freely admit I spat the husks out and then went back to idly chew on them again to access any possible remaining garlic flavour: whether this suggests an upside or a horrifying inculpation of prolonged solitude, is up to you, and I won’t judge you for your reaction.

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This is just so delicious and I am delighted with both it and myself – and as if this recipe weren’t giving me enough already it also looks gorgeous, in a Rococo landscape painting kind of way.

Given that the prevailing advice is to stay in as much as possible, and given that I like to be useful, I’ve compiled a list of some recipes I’ve written about before that are either from the pantry, freezer, or store cupboard, with minimal shopping required for fresh ingredients.

Recipes from or Near the Store Cupboard

What else can I say? Wash your hands thoroughly, check in on people you know who might need help, be patient…and eat garlic.

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Forty Cloves of Garlic with Potatoes and Artichoke Hearts

A recipe by myself

  • 3 garlic bulbs
  • 2 large floury potatoes (eg Agria) clean but not peeled
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 can artichoke hearts (400g or 15oz or thereabouts)
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine or white vermouth
  • Several sprigs of fresh thyme and oregano – around 1 1/2 tablespoons each/a small handful
  • salt and pepper to taste

Note: If you don’t have wine or don’t wish to use it, a couple spoons of brine from the artichokes works well instead. If you can only get hold of one of the herbs feel free to proceed, but they really do need to be fresh. Finally, tough old garlic with green shoots coming out of it won’t work well here – look for unblemished bulbs threaded with pink or purple.

1: Set your oven to 190C/375F.

2: Separate the garlic bulbs into cloves – three bulbs should get you about forty, it’s up to you whether or not you want to be precise or not about the numbers. Chop the potatoes into chunks of roughly 1 inch and scatter them with the garlic cloves into a roasting dish.

3: Drizzle the olive oil over the potatoes and garlic and then place the dish in the oven and roast for fifteen minutes.

4: Chop the artichoke hearts into quarters – they may fall apart a little, this is fine. Remove the dish from the oven and scatter the artichoke hearts over the garlic and potatoes, along with the wine and the oregano and thyme.

5: Return the dish to the oven for another twenty to thirty minutes, until the potatoes are completely tender. At this point you can either serve it as is, or turn the grill on for five to ten minutes to crisp the potatoes up a little, which is what I did.

With bread and a salad this would happily serve two, but also you should know I very, very easily ate the entire thing on my own.

music lately:

Dry The Rain, The Beta Band. It’s not only the line about choking on a vitamin that makes it timely, this song has that warm, hopeful, lazy-yet-momentous sound that makes it feel for real like everything will be okay.

My Man by Barbra Streisand, from the musical Funny Girl – if you only ever listen to one Barbra song, this should be it – and please, indulge me by making this it, since I’m going to presume most people reading this aren’t listening to a whole ton of Barbra to begin with. My Man starts off as a tearful murmur and then without warning it skyrockets, and then keeps going up and up and up to outer-space levels of huge. It’s emotional and intense and glorious, the kind of song where where you want to lie down while listening to it but require an auxiliary lie-down afterwards to recover from how immense it is.

Next time: I made some syrup from the pineapple sage plant in the garden, I suspect it will work well with gin and can’t wait to be proven right.

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. If nothing else, I have dozens and dozens of book and film reviews on there should your solitude require inspiration.

Spaghetti with Olives, Nori, Pine Nuts and Chilli

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Not once in my thirteen years of writing hungryandfrozen.com has a recipe featured anchovies. I wasn’t against anchovies – I also clearly wasn’t going out of my way to court their flavour. Being vegan now would suggest that stance is unlikely to change, but then I re-read a Nigella Lawson cookbook, as smooth and eroded from my fingerprints as a statue of Mary in a particularly tourist-friendly French cathedral, and suddenly I was consumed with trying to capture the flavour of anchovies – minus the anchovies. You might shrewdly ask, where was this fervour over the last thirteen years? The thing is, I’ve already had my first Nigella-fuelled attempts at an anchovy phase back in 2006, just before I started my blog. It wasn’t successful – I don’t think I’d amassed the life experience needed to truly enjoy anchovies – and it had since lain dormant, waiting for the trigger: the fact that I really can’t eat them anymore, and so of course, strangely want them. Limitation being the mother of invention – and Nigella being the mother of the mother of my invention, which I guess would make me the mother of my own limitation, and my limitation a servant of two masters, and this paragraph complete nonsense – I made this spaghetti.

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As they say when they’re quoting The Wire, all the pieces matter – the olives give briny density, the nori sheets strongly suggest the ocean, the pine nuts are gently rich, the parsley is strident and a little astringent, and the prunes add darkly subtle balancing sweetness without any actual, you know, pruniness. I know prunes are deeply un-alluring but I insist that you humour me here! I’ve previously paired them with olives in my tapenade recipe – frankly I think they’re an ideal match for each other’s intensity. The chilli flakes were a reckless, “more is more” addition, but their heat grounds the sauce, stopping the flavour from skidding too wildly off-course.

The flavour of this sauce is A Lot, and it looks completely hideous – like hearty mud – but once you’ve made peace with both these factors, deliciousness awaits you. Because, A Lot of flavour is great! And the ugliness of the pasta can be carefully hidden under parsley and extra pine nuts, as you see in the photos. It would take someone more recently familiar with those tiny fish than I to assess for sure if this captures the flavour of anchovies, but it’s definitely got a vibe, you know? This is pasta that has known the sea.

Given that this was inspired by her numerous anchovy-pasta recipes I probably should’ve given it a Nigella-esque high kick of a name, but I find it more helpful for all involved to simply list the main star ingredients. (Pointedly, minus the prunes, since I don’t want to alienate people before they’ve even begun.) That style works for Nigella – no-one needs to read me calling something “Sprightly Spaghetti.”

(To be fair, it really is sprightly.)

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Spaghetti with Olives, Nori, Pine Nuts and Chilli

A recipe by myself

  • 1/2 cup pine nuts (70g)
  • 3/4 cup black olives, pitted
  • 1/2 cup parsley (more or less – just grab a handful)
  • 2 x 10cm nori sheets, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves or to taste
  • 2 prunes
  • chilli flakes, to taste
  • 100g spaghetti or pasta of your choice

1: Toast the pine nuts in a small pan over a medium heat till they’re lightly browned. Reserve a tablespoon or so for sprinkling over at the end, if you like, along with a little of the parsley.

2: Blend the pine nuts, olives, parsley, nori sheets, olive oil, prunes, and chilli flakes either using a stick blender in a small bowl (which is what I did) or in a small food processor, until it forms a thick paste. You will probably need to scrape down the sides once or twice. Taste to see if you think it needs more chilli, nori, etc.

3: Bring a pan of well-salted water to the boil (or, more efficiently, boil the jug and then pour that into the pan along with your salt) and cook the spaghetti for ten to twelve minutes, or however long it takes for them to be done.

4: This is a good opportunity to steal some of the pasta cooking water to stir into the olive paste to make it more saucy, if you like – around quarter of a cup should do it. The starch from the pasta makes the cooking water particularly great for this purpose, as opposed to plain tap water which will just make it watery.

5: Drain the pasta, stir through as much of the olive sauce as you like, and sprinkle over more parsley, chilli flakes, and the reserved pine nuts to serve.

Serves 1 generously, and the sauce would easily stretch to two people, just double the pasta obviously. If you don’t have a blending implement, you could chop all the sauce ingredients as finely as possible and mix them together – it will be a lot more textured as opposed to saucy, but this isn’t a bad thing!

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music lately:

All Through The Night, Cyndi Lauper – one of the most beautiful pop songs. My introduction to this was via a 2002 Idina Menzel concert bootleg at Ars Nova (if you know, you know!) but Lauper’s original is glorious, with those delicious twinkly keys and that reckless, triumphant, anything-is-possible chorus.

Suddenly Seymour by Ellen Greene and Rick Moranis, from Little Shop of Horrors. There is no one else on earth who should sing this but Ellen Greene – the way she goes from that feather-squeak speaking voice to a blood-freezing full belt is astonishing. I love the way the verses rush over each other in the middle section, I love the Kermit (as in, the Frog) earnestness of Moranis’ voice, and – Ellen Greene’s belting! So exhilarating.

Also, if you like the way I write about music and also like dogs, I made a playlist called 25 Great Songs For Dog Lovers and wrote a bit about each song for Tenderly, and you should definitely both read and listen to it.

Next time: I cooked some pulled jackfruit into which I may have put way too much chilli. I’ve been nervously avoiding returning to it to taste-test, but if it actually is good you’ll be the first to know.

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.

ginger-molasses cake

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It’s nice to know I can climb to the weird age of thirty three (thirty four in just over a month!) and still be astonished by an ingredient previously unknown to my tastebuds. I say weird only because I seem to socialise with people much older or way younger than me and I’m either like “oh god, the eighties, what a time that was,” or “how do you find Frozen 2 compares to Frozen 1?” and were it not for my friend Charlotte in Wellington who was born ten days before me I’d think I was the only thirty three year old in the world, and even so I’ve missed the boat on knowing what a person my age is supposed to be like, and honestly, why is no one frantically trying to jovially relate to MY stuff?

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Returning to my original point: I’m thirty three years old, and I tried molasses for the first time. In my defence, it’s not a terribly common ingredient in New Zealand, though the word is so easily part of one’s everyday vernacular and thoughts – slow like molasses, Blackberry Molasses, the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 – that perhaps my brain complacently assumed I’d already eaten it. My brain was, typically, incorrect. Who could mistake that flavour! That heady, thick, magnesium richness, like sweetened road tar, like a puréed cedar hope chest, like a photo negative of Marmite. I practically needed a lie down afterwards. It’s too much! I thought. Too intense! And then I went back for another spoonful.

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My reason for trying molasses was this Ginger-Molasses Cake recipe from Bryant Terry’s excellent book The Inspired Vegan – I pared his down a little for simplicity (he includes walnuts that have been caramelised with further molasses, you should definitely consider following his lead there) but other than that the cake is entirely his and it is wonderful. Dense and intense, hefty and hearty yet light and springy, with the ginger’s rhizome heat and the baritone sweetness of the molasses and I swear, notes of chocolate appeared from somewhere. It’s incredible warm from the oven, and amazing after sitting in the fridge, the chill making it extra fudgy. And it takes about three minutes to mix together.

You know that feeling, when you can tell a recipe is going to be part of your life forever? A feeling almost as delicious as that which you just cooked? That’s this cake.

Ginger-Molasses Cake

Adapted very slightly from Bryant Terry’s recipe in his book The Inspired Vegan

  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 cup unsweetened rice milk
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

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

2: Whisk the molasses, coconut oil, rice milk, apple cider vinegar, and salt together briskly. The coconut oil might form little clumps as it combines with the cold rice milk, which didn’t cause any issues – but if it puts you at ease you can gently microwave the mixture in fifteen second bursts to bring it all together. If you’re heating the liquids, do this before you add the vinegar.

3: Sift the flour and baking soda into a large bowl, and then stir in the sugar, ground ginger and walnuts.

4: Fold the liquid into the dry ingredients, stirring gently until just combined. Don’t worry if it’s a little lumpy or wet looking.

5: Spatula this mixture into your loaf tin, and bake for fifty minutes or until the top is springy and firm and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool for fifteen minutes before slicing, and store in an airtight container.

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music lately:

Love Is In The Air by John Paul Young. This, like Berlin’s Take My Breath Away, is from a highly specific genre – that possibly exists only in my head – of songs that are instantly, heart-poppingly euphoric, unflinchingly sincere, and bafflingly simple – I can’t think of anyone currently writing songs like this but I want to be proven wrong! Anyway, this song, with that come-hither disco beat, those iconic stair-step chords, the fact that he just repeats the title over and over and yet it sounds more profound every time? It’s a reward for being alive.

Emmenez-Moi, by Charles Aznavour. He was dubbed the French Frank Sinatra, although I personally pick up Scott Walker vibes – his voice ripples effortlessly over the music, I love the echoey, theatrical production, his deliciously glottal pronunciation, and the way the words speed up practically into patter at various intervals. Glorious! And without his jaunty Parce que tu crois we wouldn’t have Dr Dre’s What’s The Difference, so.

Next time: I was given some tiger nuts for Christmas and still haven’t tried them, it’s hard to tear my eyes away from what remains in the jar of molasses though.

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