Vegan Chocolate Guinness Cake

P1200376

As a rule, an abiding principle, a personal boundary: I hate anything that suggests even the merest hint of “team-building exercise”, three words that make my shoulders immediately stoop earthwards in resigned anticipation of all the time I’ll never get back from my one wild and free life. That being said I also like to please and being in this endless (necessary! but endless) lockdown does strange things to all of us, in my case it’s that I’ve ended up kind of throwing myself wholeheartedly into Mum’s lockdown project of honouring a new theme each day. Which brings us to this Vegan Chocolate Guinness Cake.

You see, first we did a letter of the alphabet each day (for example on W day we listened to the Who and classical waltzes and I made a Woon Heng recipe for dinner) and when lockdown exceeded 26 days we hastily assembled the next ongoing theme: a new country each day, that at least one person in the family had been to, in – and bear with me here – alphabetical order, with music from that country and at least one regional dish or attempt thereof for dinner. We’re up to the letter I, which brings us to Ireland, which I visited in 2005, and The Cranberries/The Undertones/Thin Lizzy/My Bloody Valentine/Enya as the day’s soundtrack. I found a couple of cans of Guinness in my cupboard leftover from making last year’s Christmas Cake and before I knew it I was spontaneously and enthusiastically throwing together a vegan version of Nigella Lawson’s classic Chocolate Guinness Cake, like someone who enjoys activities and showing initiative. I don’t, but I do like hyperfocussing on a project and I love the opportunity for arbitrary culinarily decisions and in all honesty it has been a lot of fun – not a bit like team-building exercises, in fact.

P1200369

As I said, this recipe is inspired by Nigella Lawson’s cake from her book Feast, which I used to make all the time – because it was so incredibly delicious! – and while this version lacks that throat-coating full-cream dairy factor from the cream cheese icing, it’s a pretty fantastic tribute and I’m very pleased with myself. In case you haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing this combination of chocolate and Guinness before, the bitter aggression of the Guinness provides an intense and dark backdrop to the cocoa and yet all its rough edges are entirely bevelled back and tempered by the cake batter and the sweetness in the icing. Curiously, despite the sugar in the cake exceeding that in the topping, the latter is much sweeter than the former, such is the black-hole abilities of Guinness to absorb everything that comes into its path. I’m not someone who can sit down and drink a Guinness with any conviction – it’s too blood-nosedly ferrous for me – but mixed with chocolate it’s quite spectacular, entirely palatable, and makes perfect sense – after all, dark coffee and chocolate are a go-to pairing, this just takes it one step further in the direction of bitterness.

Real hungryandfrozen-heads will notice that this recipe method doesn’t differ too much from my Incredibly Delicious Mocha Cake; that cake has never failed me and so I figured it would be a decent blueprint for this Guinness cake – and once more it came through. As well as being utterly delicious, dense yet light-crumbed, rich and celebratory yet unpretentious and comforting, this cake is a mere one-bowl situation and it leaves you plenty of Guinness leftover to drink from its tall can – if you have the palate for it – otherwise, I guess you’ll just have to make another cake.

P1200372

Vegan Chocolate Guinness Cake

A dense yet light-textured chocolate cake full of rich bitter Guinness – my vegan take on Nigella Lawson’s classic recipe. This is a one-bowl affair with a creamy, tangy frosting, and is just incredibly delicious. Recipe by myself.

  • 2 and 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 cup good dark cocoa (see notes)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup plain oil, eg rice bran
  • 1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup (or light corn syrup or treacle if you’re in the US)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup/250ml Guinness

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and grease and line a 21cm springform or loose-based cake tin. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl, then sieve in the baking soda and cocoa and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre and add everything except the Guinness, and stir briefly – it will look thick and dry and unlikely at this point but we’ve still got the Guinness to go, so don’t you worry.

2: Pour in the Guinness and slowly stir everything together to form a thick cake batter, making sure there’s no lumps of flour caught in it. Spatula this mixture into your prepared cake tin and bake for forty minutes, covering with tin foil in the last ten minutes if need be. Allow to cool completely on a cake rack.

For the Icing:

This uses the sourness of citric acid and the fulsome saltiness of miso paste to emulate the vibe of the cream cheese icing that customarily goes with this cake; that being said if you can get hold of vegan cream cheese (or you’re happy to eat dairy) then feel free to use that instead in place of the coconut oil and coconut milk, leaving out the citric and miso and adjusting the lemon juice quantities as needed. I’ve included coconut milk here for its creaminess and because I figure you’ll have some leftover from the can you opened for the cake; you barely taste any coconut in the finished frosting. Finally, if you don’t have a food processor you can use a bowl and a wooden spoon to make this but it’ll take considerably more effort to get it thick and smooth. But, this is how people make icing for centuries so it’s not impossible.

  • 1 and 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • 3 tablespoons soft refined coconut oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon citric acid
  • 1/2 teaspoon miso paste
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1-3 tablespoons full-fat coconut milk

1: Tip the icing sugar into the food processor and pulse a few times to get rid of any lumps. Add the coconut oil, citric acid, and miso paste, and process to combine. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice and the coconut milk, one tablespoon at a time, and process until you have a very thick, very smooth, bright white frosting. If it needs more liquid add it a little at a time. Set the icing aside in a cool place until needed. (I put it in the fridge, which made it entirely too solid, but sitting the bowl in a second bowl of hot water and stirring it helped.)

2: Spatula the icing onto the top of the cooled cake and spread it evenly over the top, leaving the sides bare. Store in an airtight container.

Notes:

  • When buying cocoa, look for a brand that has a minimum of 20g fat per 100g – I try not to be fussy with you about ingredients but anything less than 20g is not worth your while and will taste weak and is false economy.
  • I accidentally overcooked my cake – it was fine, but the edges were a little crisp, so I just prodded it with a skewer and brushed it with a quick syrup of a few spoons of brown sugar dissolved in an equal quantity of hot water before applying the icing with a pastry brush, and I pass this along in case you find yourself in the same predicament.
  • You could probably use soy milk or something similar instead of coconut milk in the cake and still have it turn out fine; but Nigella’s original recipe uses sour cream and I wanted something particularly creamy and fat to offset the bitter Guinness, so I do think it’s necessary – the finished cake doesn’t taste anything like coconut, I promise.
  • If you don’t have miso paste or just don’t have any confidence in my decision making – and it’s true, we do ask a lot of miso paste these days, perhaps too much even – then leave it out and add a pinch of salt.

P1200374

music lately:

I Wanna Be A Cowboy, Baby! by CMAT – who, coincidentally, is from Dublin. My friend Jordan recommended her music to me and in turn, I enthusiastically recommend her to you (I also recommend to you to recommend songs to me in general, as long as you’re prepared for my candid evaluation.)

For Good from the musical Wicked as performed by original cast members Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel at the Tony Awards this week. Now – this is not something I say lightly – I don’t necessarily love this song in and of itself, it’s not the most exciting or lyrically dexterous, to me, but I will always drop everything to watch a live performance of it because what it does give you is four and a half minutes of Acting and Emotion and Unbearable Momentousness. To see Chenoweth and Menzel reunited here – a very rare occurrence in the eighteen years since Wicked launched on Broadway – at the first Tony Awards since 2019, to see them hold hands and perform this song with all the sincerity of their long-ago characters but also as themselves, to hear those gentle but defined harmonies where she goes low and she goes high – well, you already know I cried.

You Mean The World To Me by Toni Braxton, simply a perfect song – obviously you could take Babyface’s back catalogue to a desert island and never run out of hits but he and Braxton together are a match made in heaven – that “oh baby baby, baby baby, babyyyy” bit at the end of the chorus has to be up there with the various pinnacles of human creative achievement.

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

Vegan Salted Caramel Ice Cream

P1200316

Why waste your breath chasing originality when you could instead obsess over one thing contingent only upon your getting sick of it, which does not seem likely anytime soon? I’m talking of course about salted caramel (but also I could be talking about, say, The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, a book that I loved as a kid and would re-read and re-read and every time I tried to get into literally any other book by CS Lewis it felt joyless and like hard work which, in the fullness of time, perhaps it really was, but anyway!)

Despite being, as a concept, utterly normal and unsurprising, salted caramel still manages to make eyes light up and taste buds limber up and for that – and its sheer deliciousness of course – I respect it. It’s truly the Saturday of foods, it’s switching the channel to find The Castle is on TV for the hundredth time and stopping to watch it for the hundredth time, it’s the culinary equivalent of the Grease megamix or Come On Eileen at the wedding dance floor, the food about which no one will ever say “oh god, not this again,” and even if they do try to front like they’re above it, a mere taste of whatever salted caramel confection is on offer will suddenly and stickily erase all attempts at snootiness.

P1200320

This salted caramel ice cream recipe is simple, has few ingredients, and does not require an ice cream machine – my personal vendetta against Big Ice Cream Machine guarantees you’ll never need one while I’m around – but, much like this blog post, there is a lengthy preamble to get through before you actually reach the gratifying part. By which I mean, you have to caramelise a can of condensed coconut milk by boiling it for several hours under a thick layer of water – while we fortunately live in a bountiful age where vegan condensed milk is a thing, we haven’t quite reached the convenience of ready-caramelised stuff yet (on the upside, it gives you something to complain about.) The process itself isn’t difficult or anything, but if you don’t have a crockpot you’ll need to situate yourself in or near the kitchen to make sure nothing burns or explodes, hence why I suggest making a double batch to give you maximum caramel output for your efforts.

@hungryandfrozen

vegan salted caramel ice cream🍦recipe at hungryandfrozen.com🍦SO GOOD🍦 #saltedcaramel #recipevideo #veganicecream #nochurn #icecream #pinkaesthetic

♬ Glory Box – Portishead

Once that step is complete it’s just a little mixing and freezing and you’ve got the creamiest, lushest ice cream rippled with waves of golden, burnished caramel. It tastes amazing, and the texture is glorious – chilling the coconut cream first and whipping it gives an airy denseness that I’ve been missing from my homemade ice creams; possibly the modest slosh of rum that I added helped the texture too, but you can leave the alcohol out and replace it with vanilla extract.

So no, this isn’t the first salted caramel recipe (or even the first vegan salted caramel ice cream recipe), nor will it be the last – and as long as salted caramel continues to taste this incredible, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

P1200319

Vegan Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Vegan, four ingredients, no-churn – of course! I’ll never ask you to use an ice-cream maker – and I know I say this every time, but this really is my best ice cream recipe yet. It’s creamy and soft and rich and rippled with caramel – truly the stuff of dreams. The caramel step is 1000% worth the wait, and I swear the process is a lot simpler than my wordy method makes it appear. Recipe by myself.

  • 1 x 320g tin sweetened condensed coconut milk
  • 1 x 400ml tin full-fat coconut cream
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • salt, to taste

1: First, caramelise your condensed milk. A crockpot is ideal (and frankly, in my opinion, the best use for them) since all you have to do is cover the tin (with the label removed) in boiling water, cook on high for about four hours, then allow to cool completely, still in the crockpot. Otherwise, you can use the stovetop, bearing in mind that you’ll need to pay a lot more attention to it – place the tin, label removed, into a saucepan, cover completely with water, and boil for three hours, watching constantly to make sure nothing bad happens and that the water level doesn’t drop – my understanding is that if it evaporates enough so that the tin is no longer submerged, you could have a messy and dangerous explosion on your hands, so please consider yourself warned. While the condensed coconut milk is cooking, take this opportunity to place the can of coconut cream into the fridge to chill and firm up. Everything beyond this step is easy, I promise.

2: Once the can of caramelised condensed milk has cooled completely in whichever vessel of water it’s been bathing in, remove the tin and spoon about 3/4 of the now richly dark caramel into a mixing bowl. Take the coconut cream from the fridge and spoon the thickened coconut cream from the top into the mixing bowl. Using electric beaters (or a whisk and some exertion) beat the caramel and coconut cream together until thick and mousse-like, then tip in any remaining coconut water from the can of chilled coconut cream along with the rum if you’re using it and beat again to combine. Finally, beat in a good pinch of salt – bearing in mind that it’s always easier to add rather than subtract – and taste judiciously till you’re satisfied with the levels of salinity. (Also, you could consider stirring some salt into the condensed coconut milk before adding it to the coconut cream – or sprinkling more salt over the ice cream before freezing – or both! Your tastebuds will know what they want.)

3: Spatula this incredibly delicious mixture into a freezer-proof container and drizzle over the remaining 1/4 can of caramelised condensed coconut milk, using a skewer or something similar to ripple it throughout the cream. Cover the container and refrigerate for two hours – which I swear improves both the flavour and texture – and then, finally, freeze for around six hours or until solid. No need to tamper with it in any way during this time, although it’ll be easier to scoop if it sits on the bench for five or so minutes before serving.

Makes around 750ml. Since this is a fairly small quantity – about four servings – and since the caramel takes significant time to do its thing – I highly recommend making double quantities.

Notes:

  • There’s only one brand of condensed coconut milk on the shelves in New Zealand as far as I know, so that’s the one you’ll be getting. If you’re not vegan I guess there’s nothing stopping you from buying ready caramelised condensed non-vegan milk, but you know that already!
  • I said full-fat coconut cream and I meant it, if you choose low-fat or coconut milk then be it on your own head. I almost always get Pam’s, it’s inexpensive and does not appear to be watered down too much like some brands.
  • Instead of rum you can use bourbon, or brandy, or leave it out and add a teaspoon of vanilla instead.

P1200322

music lately:

Can I Help Me? (キャン・アイ・ヘルプ・ミー) by Plastics. Their 1980 debut album Welcome Plastics album is so good – I love the Apache-esque guitar lick and insouciant vibe of song in particular.

Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart by Julee Cruise. I’m re-watching Twin Peaks with my brother (who’s watching it for the first time) and, well, there’s never a wrong time to be reminded of this song, which is simply one of the best songs in the world!

Lot’s Wife from the Broadway musical Caroline, or Change performed by the supremely talented Sharon D. Clarke at the 2019 Olivier Awards; there’s this part in the middle where she just holds this huge note for what feels like hours, an absolute standing ovation of a performance.

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

Vegan Lemon Poppyseed Loaf Cake

P1200297

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

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

P1200295

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

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

P1200291

Vegan Lemon Poppyseed Loaf Cake

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

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

For the brine:

  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the icing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

P1200301


music lately:

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

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

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

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

Vegan Lemon Ice Cream [no-churn]

IMG_0173

It helps, when feeling on the back foot, to place what you’re doing within a wider context, to ground it, to lend precedence and credence. If you’re plagued with Main Character Syndrome like me you’ll already use this trick on a daily basis but for the rest of you it’s a great way to go from “another ice cream recipe? Really?” to “What do these artists have in common: Andy Warhol. Keith Haring. Yayoi Kusama. Gertrude Stein – that’s right, they incorporated repetition into their work and now they’re super iconic.” And then you point to yourself while saying “iconic”, thus indelibly cementing the association of you and that word. And then someone hands you a million-dollar record deal and it’s a hop skip and a jump to the top of the charts!

So yes, this lemon ice cream enters the room piggy-backing on my Twin Peaks Ice Cream method – which itself was a spin on the Feijoa Ice Cream method which was a vegan version of my original Feijoa Ice Cream! Because it’s such an easy and excellent way of making ice cream you can expect to see it pop up again sporadically in the future in further untold flavours, and should I ever want to repeat any of my existing ice cream flavour ideas I’ll probably be retroactively applying this method to them. (Although aquafaba will always have a place in my heart and my freezer.)

This iteration makes the most of the lemons which have happily burst into season just in time to give us some mid-winter sunshine. The scent of fresh lemon is enormously uplifting – although I take umbrage with the proliferation of TikTok videos claiming that eating lemon peel causes near-instant euphoria – and its sheer pure sourness matches well with a backdrop of lush coconut, giving a cloudless, sun-warmed beach towel vibe to even the frostiest of days. This is one of those recipes where you definitely still taste the coconut in the finished product but when the pairing is this perfect it’s a bonus, not a drawback. Unlike the Twin Peaks and Feijoa Ice Creams, I gave this mixture a brief go-over with electric beaters to aerate it before freezing. Where those ice creams were quite dense, this one is lighter and creamier – as befits its more delicate flavouring.

IMG_0180

You’d think ice cream would be the last thing anyone would want to make in the middle of winter but my favourite food knows no seasons, and the method is so relaxed and undemanding that I look forward to making this almost as much as eating it. And while there are few rewards for a life shackled by capitalism, a small good thing you can do as an adult to exert control and thumb your nose at practicality is to sit by a heater in your underwear and eat ice cream. I thoroughly recommend it. If you’re in the northern hemisphere and enjoying actual summer, I have to warn you that the seasonal inverse of this activity (eating a hot casserole in a swimming pool) just isn’t the same – but your time will come soon enough.

IMG_0183

Lemon Ice Cream

No-churn, three ingredients – vegan ice cream doesn’t get simpler than this. Recipe by myself.

  • 1 x 400ml tin full-fat coconut cream
  • 1 x 320g tin sweetened condensed coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice + the grated lemon zest
  • optional: a pinch of citric acid for extra zing

1: Place the coconut cream, sweetened condensed milk, and lemon juice and zest into a mixing bowl and beat on high for about three minutes using electric handheld beaters. If you don’t have electric beaters, just use a whisk and some upper body strength. You’re looking for an aerated texture – it won’t thicken or whip up but incorporating some air in it at this point will give a creamier texture later.

2: Stir in the citric acid if you’re using it and pour the mixture into a freezer-safe container. Place the lid on top and refrigerate the ice cream mixture for two hours before freezing for about six hours or overnight. It should be pretty scoopable straight from the freezer but may require a ten minute sit on the bench to soften first.

Makes around 1 litre.

IMG_0184

music lately:

Modern Dance by Pere Ubu. Jaunty and frug-y yet abrasive and awkward and coincidentally an excellent use of repetition? I love it!

You’re Dead by Nora Tanega. Cheerfully ominous, blithely jumping around time signatures, and exuding so much cool it could freeze a thousand tubs of ice cream.

There Will Be A Miracle by Mary Testa from Michael John LaChiusa’s 2005 off-Broadway musical See What I Wanna See, a mellow, tranquil oasis of calm in a fairly dark musical. The lyrics to this song are still dark but the melody is so gentle and Mary Testa repeating “there will be a miracle” is so soothing that you can zone out and vibe to it and feel pretty good about the world for a minute or two.

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

vegan rhubarb panna cotta

IMG_8890

The alluring culinary dichotomy of sour and sweet is present in numerous fruits but enjoys arguably its prettiest expression in the vivid magenta blush of roasted rhubarb. And there’s nothing like adding a creamy, fat element to this – a tri-chotomy? I’m sorry! I know words have meaning! – to truly enhance its colour and flavour, like wearing an enormous fluffy coat with a tiny slip dress: there’s contrast and balance.

Now, you’d think my lack of object permanence would cause a container of roasted rhubarb to languish in the fridge, entirely forgotten before I’d even closed the door, but fortunately for all involved a secondary function of my brain kicked into gear, where I commence a random and often barely relevant task as if by automatism and wake up halfway through; in this case the morning after roasting the rhubarb I found myself, entirely without thinking, making a pink variation of the passionfruit panna cotta I rapturised about back in March.

IMG_8888

This is a delightful way to come up with new recipes – by taking an existing recipe I love and sliding in a new ingredient, mad-libs style. There is obviously no points system at play here but if there were I would give bonus credit to any such recipe where a half-assed, barely-thought-out replacement ingredient proved so deliciously perfect that at the very last minute I decided to blog about it. But subconsciously I must have known I was onto a winner because I divided most of the mixture between four glasses with a little extra in a fifth glass as a “tester” – surely the actions of a person who suspected they’d want to make sure the recipe worked so they could photograph the remaining desserts in an attractive tableau before the intermittent winter sunlight faded altogether. Also, I took videos of the cooking process for a TikTok which really makes it sound like this was all planned in advance but again: I can’t stress enough how many things I do without thinking! It’s possible! It’s horribly annoying! It’s rarely anything useful! Not once have I zoned in on myself industriously tidying my room or paying bills.

Anyway, all I was trying to say before getting quagmired in the psychological journey is that I guess I knew this was going to be delicious but I was not prepared for just how exquisite it would taste! So let’s finally get to the important part: what does this rhubarb panna cotta taste like? I could and unfortunately will say things like “sherbet cloud” and “nights in pink satin” but to be more specific, the perfumed, green apple-raspberry vibes of the rhubarb become even more pronounced when roasted and cooled; this softened fruit near-on dissolves in the cream leaving nothing but tiny threads interrupting the otherwise plush smoothness, and each thread carries within it a tiny fizzy burst of candy sourness met but not dulled by the modest quantity of sugar. Draping it with more roasted rhubarb stops it from being too mellow and importantly, adds another shade of pink: we eat with our eyes and the sheer aesthetic power of this panna cotta leaves you full up before you can blink.

IMG_8906

I’m not sure if that accurately describes them or if I’ve ended up moving even further away from my point but the point is: these panna cotta taste incredible and you should make them today. And if you can’t get hold of rhubarb? Try the passionfruit version! There’s a sour-sweet dessert for all seasons! Also, I looked up the word ‘trichotomy’ and it’s actually real: my mind is always three steps ahead even when it’s two steps behind.

IMG_8900

Vegan Rhubarb Panna Cotta

Dreamy, pink and delicious. Recipe adapted from my Passionfruit Panna Cotta, which was, in turn, adapted slightly from this recipe at anisabet.com.au. Roasted rhubarb is a method suggested in numerous Nigella Lawson books, most recently Cook, Eat, Repeat. Makes 4-5 servings.

  • 500g pink rhubarb, cleaned and trimmed
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus 1/3 cup extra
  • 1 x 400ml tin full-fat coconut cream
  • 1 teaspoon agar-agar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1: First, roast your rhubarb – slice each stick of rhubarb into smaller lengths, pack into a roasting dish in more or less a single layer, sprinkle over the half cup of sugar – and honestly, I didn’t actually measure it out, I just shook the bag of sugar over the rhubarb till it felt right and encourage you to do the same – then cover the tin tightly with tinfoil and place in a 180C/350F oven for thirty minutes. Allow the rhubarb to cool before decanting it, along with all the pink syrup that has formed, into a container and store in the fridge. This will make more than you need for the recipe but roasted rhubarb is always delightful to have on hand.

2: Scoop about 3/4 cup of the roasted rhubarb and syrup into a saucepan, along with the can of coconut cream and the extra 1/3 cup of sugar. Cook over low heat for a few minutes, without letting it come to a boil, stirring to break down the rhubarb.

3: Dissolve the agar-agar in a little cold water and spatula the lot into the pink rhubarb cream, stirring thoroughly to ensure there are no lumps. Keep stirring over a low heat – again, without letting it get anywhere near boiling – for another five or so minutes. It should thicken up slightly. Stir in the vanilla (you can really stir it in at any point along the way, I just remembered it now.)

4: Use a cup measure or ladle to divide this mixture between four or five small ramekins or pretty glasses. If you use four, you’ll get more, if you use five, you’ll get five panna cotta, it’s as simple as that. Refrigerate the panna cotta for a couple of hours – they set quite quickly, but I find the flavour grows stronger if you leave them overnight.

Serve with reserved roasted rhubarb and a little of the rhubarb syrup spooned over the top.

Notes:

  • Agar-agar is available at shops that sell vegan stuff and Asian supermarkets, it’s usually quite inexpensive at the latter. One teaspoon doesn’t sound like a lot to set all that liquid but it’s powerful stuff.
  • Use any leftover rhubarb on yoghurt and cereal, to top ice cream, add the syrup to cocktails, or just – make another batch of panna cotta!

IMG_8889


music lately:

Snow by Whipping Boy. I swear every dinner time a random forgotten shoegaze band will come up in conversation with my brother that I’ve never heard of and then I listen to them and it turns out they’re my new favourite band! Somehow we haven’t run out of shoegaze bands yet! This song came from Whipping Boy’s album Submarine, and I recommend listening to it all at once, but Snow has all the hallmarks of what makes the rest of the album excellent: a muffled, layered early 90s grimness coupled with remarkable, soaring beauty.

Supervixens by A.R Kane. Speaking of shoegaze; Spotify recently capitalised on the user-propelled free advertising they receive with their end-of-year listening summaries by delivering a distinctly half-hearted mid-year version, and yes, I knew I was being pandered to but unfortunately I love being told I’m special and when Spotify said: “who else but you would play Linda Eder after A.R Kane?” I was like yes, who indeed could do this? Well, now you can enjoy being special too. I’ve mentioned this song so many times on here already but I don’t care because I love it so much.

Don’t Rain On My Parade by Linda Eder. Look if you don’t have time, skip to 3 minutes and 10 seconds, the direction the notes go in compared to how utterly chill she appears to be delivering them is literally comparable to the Moon landing in terms of widespread cultural significance.

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

Vegan Passionfruit Panna Cotta

P1200221

Gelatine is one of those ingredients where if I see it in a recipe – no matter how chill I am with cooking elaborate stuff – a voice in my head immediately goes “Nah, too hard.” (Which is a particular roadblock when you grew up poring over eighties cookbooks like I did, a cheerfully colloidal time where anything from salmon to tomato soup to chocolate mousse was pointless without a stiff wobble of gelatine.) Through much reading of Nigella Lawson’s reassuring cookbooks I more or less got to grips with leaf gelatine, but still regarded it with some wary caution and didn’t necessarily go out of my way to make recipes using it.

And as for agar agar, gelatine’s friendly vegetarian counterpart, well. What if it doesn’t set? What if it sets too much? What if this reflects upon my entire worth as a person and a food writer in that order? Etc? 

P1200222

But! Should you be burdened with similar trepidations as me, let this passionfruit panna cotta recipe put your fears at ease with its easiness. This recipe is just so easy and there’s nothing at all to the agar agar aspect of it – simply stir it in and let the mixture cook a little. I appreciate that it’s a relatively specialist ingredient, but I got a good-sized sachet of the Telephone Brand agar agar from an Asian supermarket for no more than a couple of dollars. And even though panna cotta has a slightly intimidating high-end-dessert vibe, these ones stay in their dinky little glasses, so you don’t have to stress about successfully un-moulding them onto a serving dish. This also means less washing up – will the blessings never cease!

P1200224

You could make this with something other than passionfruit, but its sherbety, twinkling sour-sweetness is my ideal pairing for the amicable backdrop of coconut cream. All that tartness captured and suspended in a light yet rich cream is astonishingly delicious – like a cloud made of citric acid – the perfect marriage of texture and flavour – and you’ll find yourself wishing you’d poured the entirety of the mixture into an imperial pint glass all for yourself instead of doling it out between several winsome and dainty goblets for your family to enjoy. (To that end, if you are wondering how I got these nice photos of our dessert it’s because I divided the mixture between six receptacles for the four of us and saved two to photograph the next day, thus depriving my family of a quarter of a fluid ounce each of panna cotta the night before, all for the sake of the blog. What a world we live in.)

I realise last week’s recipe for Vegan Jelly Tip ice cream also used agar agar and I didn’t make a gigantic fuss about it then, for which there are a few reasons: 1) I was planning to blog about this first but the ice cream was just too exciting, 2) I can only say so many things in one blog post, and 3) if I’m gonna coerce you into buying agar agar I at least want to give you plenty of things to do with it. The ice cream is a bit full-on, I grant you, but there’s truly nothing more delicious or simple than this passionfruit panna cotta recipe. Make this, and you’ll suddenly be looking at your tomato soup like damn, maybe those eighties chefs were onto something. 

P1200226

Vegan Passionfruit Panna Cotta

This easy vegan panna cotta is creamy, tangy, light and delicious and – I just need to reiterate again – so easy. The recipe is adapted slightly from this one at anisasabet.com.au.

  • 10 passionfruit + 2 to serve, extra
  • 1 x 400ml can full-fat coconut cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon powdered agar agar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1: Halve the ten passionfruit and scoop the pulp into a small saucepan. Add the coconut cream and sugar and stir for a minute over a low heat.

2: Mix the agar agar powder with a little water in a small cup, which will make it easier to incorporate into the hot liquid. Add it to the saucepan and stir it briskly to prevent lumps from forming. You’ll be straining it though so don’t stress too much. Continue stirring this mixture over a low heat for another ten minutes without letting it bubble – this will allow it to both thicken slightly and to extract the flavour from the passionfruit.

3: Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and then strain the mixture through a sieve into a measuring jug – extra dishes, I’m afraid, but it’s easier to pour it into the serving dishes this way. Push down on the passionfruit pulp as you’re sieving it, to get the maximum flavour, and save the pulp for smoothies if you like (or at least, this was my plan, but I ended up just eating it all straight out of the sieve.)

4: Pour the coconut cream mixture into your waiting glasses or cups or dishes, and then chill them in the fridge for four to six hours, or overnight if you want to make this in advance.

5: Serve by cutting the remaining passionfruit and spooning the pulp over the panna cottas.

Makes 4 – 6 depending on the size of your receptacles.

Note: You can use a couple more or fewer passionfruit at the start and to serve depending on how many you have.

P1200218

music lately:

Cold Rock a Party by MC Lyte feat Missy Elliot. Ok sure, my enjoyment of this song is more vicarious in these unprecedented times but this song is so good and MC Lyte and Missy are so great that even those hypothetical thrills are pretty genuinely thrilling. I’m obsessed with the airy bounce of the Diana Ross sample; sampling is truly an art form.

Lowdown-down by Lea Delaria. She has several albums where she sings standards in a jazzy fashion, a genre I find incredibly soothing. This song, a pragmatically sorrowful number from LaChiusa’s 2000 Broadway show The Wild Party (based on the Joseph Moncure March poem, The Wild Party, which coincidentally inspired a completely separate off-Broadway musical that very same year) isn’t exactly a standard, but it should be.

Sunset Boulevard by Pocket Knife Morales. Obviously, the title caught my eye but it’s an enchanting song, with the sort of wistful vibe which makes you want to put on a large cardigan and wrap it close as you walk down the stone footpath to post a letter with hope in your heart, pausing to salute the horse in the paddock next door, the autumn breeze threatening to lift your cowboy hat, and so on and so forth.

Next time: I really feel like making brownies, but there’s also this incredible bread recipe from Nigella’s new book.

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.

Sticky Shiitake Yuba with Creamy Double Corn Polenta

IMG_1233

When making or devising vegan recipes, a lot of the time the point is suggesting a prior, existing food – eg, this tastes just like white chocolate! This tastes like pulled pork! I can’t believe it’s not butter! and so on. In choosing to close myself off to several avenues of consuming food, this comes as no surprise. When considering what today’s recipe was supposed to represent, however, I couldn’t come up with anything. It’s supposed to be itself, that’s all. In fact I wasn’t even making it to be blogged about – as you can probably tell from the slightly hasty vibe of the photos – but it tasted so good, that I couldn’t selfishly keep it to myself. Fortunately for me there’s a current vogue for food photography which looks as though it took place under a yellow lightbulb, but it probably helps to let you know of this trend in case the imagery strikes you as hideous and unwarranted. It’s warranted! Much as prior generations gasp at the antics of the subsequent youth, I can imagine my 2007 self being moderately aghast that the ugly photos I took then out of necessity, due to living in a house as dark and wet as the underside of a lake, might later be recreated on purpose. That being said, the photos I took back then were properly ugly regardless of context, and no, you should not go back into the archives and investigate. I love to brag about how I’ve been blogging for a very long time, less fun is having reminders of what that content actually was.

Anyway, the recipe!

IMG_1236

This is a double bill of which you can take or leave either part, but the components work beautifully together. Firstly, yuba – more specifically, the skin that forms on top of the soy milk while making tofu, then sold as a versatile product in its own right – which is marinated in a number of condiments and pastes and fried till stickily dense and chewy in a delicious and elegant salty-sweet tangle of crisp shiitake mushrooms and caramelised onions.

Secondly, the lotion-thick polenta, slowly simmered in coconut cream and stock with corn kernels added for no real reason other than I like corn and that’s my prerogative. If you’ve never had soft polenta before its floppy, porridge-like texture might seem a little disconcerting – is it hard soup? Is it cake batter? Big sauce? But its creamy, rich yielding-ness is wonderfully comforting and a great way of both propping up and absorbing the sauce of other foods in the same way you might use mashed potato. If, on the other hand, you are extremely familiar with polenta then you’ll probably hate my explanation not to mention my untraditional method of mixing the polenta and liquid together before heating it, instead of dropping the polenta into hot liquid and I’m sorry but I refuse to change! Or apologise!

IMG_1226

This recipe would be, I think, an ideal meal if you want to impress someone. I just made it for my brother and me for dinner, but I was pretty impressed with myself, for what it’s worth.

We’re back in lockdown in New Zealand, or at least, we are in my part of the country. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by returning to prior restrictions, I’m glad we have relatively clear leadership deciding this for us. Like, I extremely resist any sense of being part of a “team of five million”, which to me sounds like the realm of people who enjoy ice-breaker games and beep tests, but there’s nothing stopping us not being dicks about it at least. We’ve done this before and it’s not a surprise. We got to enjoy one hundred days free of COVID-19, on borrowed – and unprecedented – time, and now we’re putting in the work again. I’m very lucky that the activities which bring me joy are mostly housebound – knitting, cooking, writing, watching movies, reading – and maybe next time you hear from me I’ll be frazzled and denouncing this calmness, but till then: one hour at a time, one day at a time.

IMG_1232

Sticky Shiitake Yuba with Creamy Double Corn Polenta

Low-key and elegant. Recipe by myself. Serves 2.

  • 1 package yuba (also sold as tofu skin or bean curd skin)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for frying
  • 1 tablespoon liquid aminos or soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
  • A dash of your preferred hot sauce, or to taste
  • 1 heaped tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 large onions
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Polenta

  • 3/4 cup polenta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup coconut cream
  • 1 and half cups water
  • 1 vege stock cube (or your preferred flavour)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 can corn kernels, drained (or 1 cup frozen corn kernels)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

1: First, the prep – place all of the yuba into a medium bowl and the shiitake mushrooms into a smaller bowl. Cover the yuba in cold water and leave for about four hours or until very soft. If the day is warm, cover and put it in the fridge, otherwise just leaving it on the bench is fine. At the same time, since they need to be soaked too, you might as well cover the shiitake mushrooms in boiling water.

2: Drain the soaked yuba, gently squeezing it to remove most of the water. Roll it up on a board and roughly chop into thin strips and shreds. Return it to the same bowl and add the olive oil, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, sugar, hot sauce and tomato paste. Drain the mushrooms, reserving a tablespoon of the soaking liquid, and add this liquid to the yuba. Leave the yuba to marinate for about an hour, and set the drained mushrooms aside.

3: Peel and finely slice the two onions, and fry them in a medium-sized saucepan in a little extra olive oil till quite browned. Turn off the heat, but leave the saucepan where it is.

4: Now for the polenta – mix all the ingredients except the corn kernels together in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring often with a wooden spoon, then add the corn kernels, lower the heat, and allow to simmer for about twenty minutes – stirring quite often – until the polenta has lost any grittiness. You may need to add a little extra water along the way. I like to stir in more olive oil at the end but it’s optional, I am just extremely pro-oil. The level of seasoning is also up to you, but please, do season it.

5: While the polenta is simmering, turn the heat up under the onions again, push the onions to one side of the pan, add a little extra oil, and fry the shiitake mushrooms, allowing them to get browned on both sides. Next, push everything to the side and add the yuba along with its marinade, and the chopped garlic cloves, and stir over a high heat for a couple of minutes. The yuba should be sticky and chewy, and a little shrivelled in places, for want of a better word.

Spoon the polenta onto two plates, and divide the yuba mixture between them on top. Sprinkle over the parsley.

IMG_1228

music lately:

Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain by Harry Dean Stanton. A classic, from a classic.

Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu by Dolores Duran – a song often recorded under a name you might be more familiar with: Volare. Duran’s voice was stunning – smoky and rich with a comforting heft which belied her young years.

Next time: 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.

Vegan Piña Colada Loaf Cake

P1190983

“Is that coconut I taste in this food you’ve cooked?” Yes, probably, I’m vegan. With this loaf cake I decided to take the obvious and go large with it – you’re definitely supposed to taste the coconut. In fact, it started off in my head as just a coconut loaf – admittedly, I was thinking about how cute the toasted coconut chips would look against the white icing more than anything else, but in my defence these days you have to be aesthetic-forwards or no one will grant you their precious attention span on the timeline, let alone care how passionately you write. And a coconut loaf cake on its own would’ve been great, but there was pineapple juice in the fridge leftover from another recipe, and I have a lot of rum in my wardrobe (as in, that’s where I have space to store it, Wardrobe-Rum isn’t a weird bartender quirk, it doesn’t enhance the flavour or anything.)

And who is better friends with coconut than pineapple and rum? I mean, to answer that question honestly as a vegan, I’d say there’s not much that I can’t make play nicely with coconut, but in a traditional sense, rum-coconut-pineapple is a classic, an iconic marriage of sweet and rich and zingy. My piña colada loaf cake recipe celebrates this magnificent trifecta – with an added friendly dash of lime – in an easy, one-bowl affair, which is chill enough to eat in the morning, yet elegant enough to eat at night.

P1190985

That SPF 50 flavour comes from using three different kinds of coconut – the sandy desiccated stuff in the cake batter, coconut cream in the batter and icing, and a generous handful of coconut chips on top. The rum is optional – but it makes things taste like rum, which is undeniably positive – and the pineapple, one of the most hardworking flavours there is, gives us juicy sourness, golden sweetness and a certain beachy hopefulness. The thing is, a piña colada wouldn’t really be my first, second or third choice of drink (and I’m so glad I retired my practice of naming blog posts for corresponding song lyrics so I don’t have to acknowledge that song) but in loaf cake form, it’s sublime. Is that coconut you taste? Hell yes.

P1190981

Piña Colada Loaf Cake

One-bowl, pineapple-coconut-rum magic. Recipe by myself.

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream or full-fat coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup rice bran oil, canola oil, or similar
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice (or lemon)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

Icing

  • 2 and 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Jamaican rum (or rum of your choice, or an extra tablespoon pineapple juice)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut cream
  • 2 tablespoons pineapple juice
  • 1/3 cup coconut chips/flakes

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a loaf tin with baking paper. Stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda and desiccated coconut together in a mixing bowl.

2: Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and tip in the pineapple juice, coconut cream, oil, lemon juice, vanilla and salt. Fold it together till it forms a thick batter. Spatula this mixture into the loaf tin and spread it evenly. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. If it looks like it’s getting too brown on top, cover it with a sheet of tinfoil.

3: To make the icing, mix together the rum, coconut cream, pineapple juice and icing sugar. Toast the coconut chips (I did half and left half raw) over a low heat in a frying pan till they’re just browned, and quickly remove from the heat.

6: Let the cake cool somewhat before icing – it can still be a little warm, but if it’s too hot the icing will slide right off. Spread the icing thickly over the top and then sprinkle with the coconut chips.

Store in an airtight container.

Notes: If your coconut cream is the kind that separates itself out in the can, make sure it’s the thick, creamy stuff that you’re using, and not the more watery part. For added flavour, you can jab the cooked loaf cake with a skewer in several places while it’s still hot and pour over a tablespoon or so of either rum or pineapple juice.

P1190987

music lately:

Song For The Sun by Swans. Yes, I like their more difficult stuff, but sometimes it’s nice to reward yourself with a straightforwardly wonderful song like this, and even if the melody is fantastically uplifting, the poetically miserable lyrics are there to grab you by the ankle and make you fall to the floor.

Dashti by Hayedeh. That contralto!

Ever New by Beverly Glenn-Copeland. Simply one of the most gloriously beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, I urge you to listen to it! For your health! Prioritise your health and listen to this song!

Next time: something savoury.

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.

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.

vegan penne alla vodka

P1190686

The subject of vodka raises ire within me, frankly I turn into a real killjoy when I talk about it. Then I feel bad and overcompensate, which extrapolates into me just yelling “It’s STUPID! And that’s VALID!” while people rapidly vacate the room. I say this with a former bartender’s hubris, and the absolute humility of someone who – on this very blog! – once sincerely referred to a vodka soda as a “sneeringly dry drink.” In my defence, 2009 was a simpler time and being exposed to fewer ideas meant you could garner unearned braggadocio alarmingly easily.

My issue with vodka? Its purpose is to not exist; a vodka soda might as well just be a soda. There is nothing else it can possibly taste like. If you sincerely want to make your juice alcoholic without the burden of experiencing flavour then that’s fine, go right ahead and add vodka, but I don’t understand the appeal of prestige brands – there is bad vodka, there is competent vodka, and beyond that, there’s not a lot to discern them. My one exception is Zubrowka, but that’s because the bison grass flavouring makes it delicious and actually recognisable, as opposed to the base spirit itself.

P1190691

However. Where I begrudgingly – no, blatantly! – acknowledge this otherwise dullard spirit coming into its own, is in the Italian-American dish, Penne Alla Vodka. Everything about this recipe is pleasing: its drawly, Appenine-via-the-Baltics title, the simple joy of tomato sauce spliced with cream, and, yes, the vodka, which provides sinewy, vigorous richness. Pouring vodka into your pasta might suggest novelty, but a splash of white wine in a hot pan will improve any sauce, so switch out a far higher ABV in the form of vodka and you’re rewarded with even more intensity.

P1190681

My version is vegan, so there’s obviously no cream involved. The richness instead comes from coconut yoghurt – the sort that’s so thick you can genuinely stand your spoon up in it – and a little pasta cooking water. Unlike Penne Alla Vodka, which first emerged – unsurprisingly – in the 1970s, the notion of using the starchy water from your pasta as an emulsifier dates back to the Roman Empire. Don’t leave it out, it somehow thins and silkily thickens the sauce simultaneously. The yoghurt lends tangy luxury, and yeah, you can taste the coconut to a certain extent, but coconut becomes your zero point when you’re vegan for a while. And anyway, its unique mellow sweetness works beautifully with the acidic tomatoes.

More than just the same old pasta with tomatoes you think you know, Penne Alla Vodka has a dishevelled sexiness to it, a dish you could make for someone you’re trying to impress while also doing your best to appear artless and nonchalant. And if you don’t have the titular vodka in your liquor annexe? You can always use instead that most gratifying of flavoured vodkas – gin.

P1190687

Vegan Penne Alla Vodka

A recipe by myself.

  • 100g dried penne pasta
  • 4 ripe tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 spring onion
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vodka
  • 2 tablespoons unflavoured coconut yoghurt
  • salt and pepper
  • Olive oil, to fry and serve
  • chopped parsley, to serve

1: Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling, well-salted water. This should take around twelve minutes, give or take.

2: Halve the tomatoes, cut off the green stalky part, and scoop out the seeds. It doesn’t matter if some are left, and you can just eat them if you’re aghast at the wastefulness, I did. Roughly chop the remaining tomato flesh. Finely chop the spring onion and garlic cloves.

3: Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan, and cook the onion, garlic and tomato – all together at once – over a medium heat till the tomato has broken down a little. Add salt and pepper to taste, plus a small pinch of sugar. If you’re using crushed garlic from a jar, leave the sugar out.

4: Add the vodka and let the sauce bubble away on medium for another minute, stirring constantly.

5: Once your pasta is nearly tender and cooked, scoop out two tablespoons of the pasta cooking water and mix it into the coconut yoghurt. Stir this into the tomato sauce, and turn up the heat a little to get it bubbling. Stir until the sauce has thickened, then remove from the heat.

6: Fold the cooked, drained pasta into the sauce. Drizzle with more olive oil if you like, and sprinkle over chopped parsley.

Serves 1. If you want to make this for two I’d double the pasta but you can probably just add half the ingredients – like, another two tomatoes and another tablespoon of vodka.

P1190682

music lately:

Brand New Love by Sebadoh. Oh, what a song! You think it’s going to be fast and then it’s slow, you think it’s going to be slow and then it’s GINORMOUS. And I will never ever get over how 53 seconds in it sounds exactly like the Defying Gravity coda, like, Stephen Schwartz should be paying them royalties (seriously, please indulge me, the coda starts at 4:28 in Defying Gravity. It’s also, incidentally, my ringtone, and receiving phone calls makes me anxious, which has now made my relationship with this song super weird, although I guess my relationship with it was demonstrably already kind of weird for a grown woman.)

Wimp, by The Zeros, the A-side to their better-known 1976 song Don’t Push Me Around. It’s a great track, but I prefer Wimp’s sludgy, Stooges-y, fulsome brattiness.

Next time: As you can see from the photo above – a small sample! – we are overrun with tomatoes, so they will probably feature.

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.