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.

don’t have a cow, man

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I’m warning you right now, this blog post is long as HELL due to the fact that I was tinkering around with ideas for Christmas Dinner recipes and somehow ended up making three recipes at once in an absolute fugue state of proficiency and perspicacity: Brined and Roasted Whole Cauliflower with Pesto Glaze; Roasted Whole Pumpkin with Herb and Onion Stuffing, and Eggplant Roulade, AND Mushroom, Walnut and Red Wine Gravy. It’s suddenly less than a month till Christmas and whether or not you observe the holiday in an official capacity there’s no denying that this time of year calls for an excess of abundance and an abundance of excess so I was like why not just … write about this all this at once. So whether you’re the kind to settle in with a glass of port to scrutinise this from top to bottom or you’re already flexing your scrolling finger (or indeed, whichever body part you use to scroll downwards through large swathes of text), here we go.

I’m not one to not boast, but I just want the record to state that I made every single one of the below recipes all at once in just under two and a half hours. Why? You know and I know, because I bring it up a lot, because it happens a lot: I’m quite all or nothing. At times an inert snake lying in bed unable to finish, well, even this sentence; at times I’m like “Uh I wrote an entire violin symphony in twelve minutes” (to everything, turn turn, there is a season, turn turn) and while the presence of Ritalin in my life has helped to both enable activity on the inert-snake days and to moderate the high energy hyper-focus, that’s still just how I am. And I guess this week’s blog is precisely an example of that hyperfocus in action: I had all these ideas for recipes that might be cool for Christmas dinner, or indeed, any celebratory food-eating time, and I just put my head down and made the whole lot at once without really thinking through what I was doing and suddenly two and a half hours later there was an enormous meal just sitting there. (This is how I know I’ve made personal growth/consumed some Ritalin though: I actually wrote down the recipes as I was making them. Yes, this is what counts as personal growth for me.)

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Somewhat hilariously, none of the friends that I messaged to come help me eat it were available, leaving me alone at the table with this massive feast and wondering ruefully whether perhaps you really cannot, in fact, win friends with salad. I’m not saying I like, threw it all in the bin or anything, I had a delicious plateful of everything and have been eating leftovers gleefully ever since, but what I am saying is that you’ll just have to take my word for it that these recipes are good.

My aim for these recipes was to create a sense of lavishness, intense deliciousness and layers of texture and flavour, so that there was no sense of being without, that you would feel and indeed taste the effort and care taken. I wanted food that was somehow inherently Christmassy – which is a little weird, I grant you, because in New Zealand Christmas falls in the middle of summer but so many people still have a very traditional English style full roast meal. By which I mean, even though we’re all sweating uncomfortably, the food is resolutely winter wonderland because that’s just how it is. So that’s what I was going for.

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1: Brined and Roasted Whole Cauliflower with Pesto Glaze

A recipe by myself, but inspired by the title of this one on Food52.

  • 1 whole cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Brine:

  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half/into bits
  • 1 inch or so slice of fresh ginger (or 1 teaspoon ground ginger)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced in half (no need to peel)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

Pesto:

  • The leaves from 1 of those supermarket basil plants (roughly two cups loosely packed basil leaves)
  • 1 cup loosely packed rocket leaves
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice (can be from a bottle)
  • Plenty of salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup water, optional

Remove the leaves from the cauliflower and trim off as much of the stem as you can manage, so that the cauliflower is able to sit on its haunches, so to speak, without anything protruding from the base.

Place all the brine ingredients in a large mixing bowl, fill partway with cold water, and give it a stir just to dissolve the maple syrup and salt somewhat. Sit the cauliflower in this and top with water till the cauliflower is more or less submerged. Cover – either with plastic wrap or simply by sitting a plate on top – and set aside away from any heat for an hour, although if it’s like an hour and fifteen minutes because you forgot or something came up that’s honestly fine.

Get on with the pesto while the cauliflower is brining – throw all the ingredients into a food processor and blitz to form a rough green paste. Add a little water to loosen it up a bit, it can absorb it without making it watery. Taste for salt, pepper, or more lime juice, and set aside.

Set your oven to 200C/400F and get an oven dish ready. Once the oven is hot and the brining time is up, remove the cauliflower from the brine, shaking off any bits that have stuck to it, and place it in the roasting dish. Drizzle with the two tablespoons of olive oil and roast, uncovered, for about 40 minutes, or until it’s evenly golden on the surface. At this point, spoon some of the pesto over the cauliflower, using a pastry brush to spread it down over the florets, and return to the oven for another ten minutes. Serve with the remaining pesto in a dish beside for those who (rightly) want more.

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2: Roasted Whole Pumpkin with Herb and Onion Stuffing

A recipe by myself

  • 1 good-sized buttercup pumpkin (roughly 900g I guess? But I personally relate more to “good sized” than weight for accuracy)
  • 1 can white beans, often sold as haricot beans
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 small ciabatta or similarly hearty bread roll
  • 1 tablespoon English Mustard or wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  • Plenty of salt and pepper, to taste

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Cut the ciabatta in half and sit it in the oven while it’s heating up for about five minutes, the aim being to lightly toast it and dry it out (just don’t forget that it’s there.)

Using a small, sharp knife, make incisions in a circular fashion around the stem of the pumpkin so you can wiggle it out and reveal the insides. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon – set aside to roast them if you like but this level of sustainability was unfortunately too much for me, and I simply binned them. (This might be a good time to check on the state of your ciabatta in the oven.)

Dice the onion and gently fry it in the olive oil till it’s softened and golden. Add the pumpkin seeds and give them a stir for a minute just to toast them a little, then set the pan aside off the heat.

Drain the can of beans and roughly mash them with a fork, it doesn’t matter if some are left whole. Roughly slice the ciabatta into small cubes and add this to the mashed beans along with the thyme, rosemary, mustard, maple syrup, cider vinegar, nutmeg, plenty of salt and pepper, and the onion/pumpkin seed mixture.

Carefully spoon all of this into the waiting and emptied pumpkin, pushing down with the spoon to fill every crevice and cavity. Place the stem on top like a lid. Sit the pumpkin on a large piece of tinfoil and bring the tinfoil up the sides of the pumpkin so it’s mostly wrapped but with the stem still exposed (did I explain this right?) and then sit this in a roasting dish. Roast for an hour and a half or until a knife can easily pierce through the side of the pumpkin, thus meaning the inside is good and tender. Serve by cutting the pumpkin into large wedges.

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3: Eggplant Roulade

A recipe by myself

  • 2 sheets flaky puff pastry (check the ingredients to make sure they’re dairy free, if this is of concern)
  • 1 large eggplant
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 1 cup bulghur wheat
  • 70g walnuts
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • plenty of salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons almond butter

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Place the bulghur wheat in a large bowl and pour over water from a just-boiled kettle to cover it by about 1cm. Cover with plastic wrap or similar and set aside for about ten minutes for it to absorb.

Meanwhile, slice the eggplant as thinly as you can lengthwise. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large saucepan and fry the eggplant slices a few at a time on both sides till softened and browned, adding more olive oil as you (inevitably) need it. Set aside.

Fluff the cooked bulghur wheat with a fork and stir in the walnuts, cranberries, rosemary, cumin, cinnamon, and plenty of salt and pepper.

Set the two sheets of pastry side by side with one inch overlap on a large piece of baking paper, and press down where they overlap to kind of glue them together into one large piece of pastry. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the almond butter over the pastry – soften it with a little olive oil if you need to. Place the eggplant slices on top of this in one layer starting from the left side, with the long side of the eggplant parallel to the long side of the pastry – I had six slices of eggplant so there was two sets of three laid horizontally, if that makes sense. If it doesn’t, let me know and I’ll try to explain further. Now take the bulghur wheat and spoon it in a thick column on top of the eggplant, roughly an inch in from the short side on the left. Carefully but confidently roll the pastry from the short side over the bulghur wheat and continue rolling, sushi-like, till you have a fat cylinder of pastry coiled around the eggplant and bulghur. Tuck the edges down and pinch them together, and carefully place the pastry into a baking dish. Make a couple of slashes in the top with a sharp knife and brush the surface with olive oil, then bake for 30 – 40 minutes until the pastry is puffy and golden brown. Serve in thick slices.

(There’ll be heaps of bulghur wheat leftover but it’s delicious reheated and drizzled with lots of olive oil the next day, however reduce the quantity if you don’t want leftovers.)

4: Mushroom, Walnut and Red Wine Gravy

A (vague, I admit) recipe by myself

  • 1 onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 7 brown mushrooms (if you have like 9 this is not a problem)
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 70g walnuts
  • A pinch each of ground nutmeg and cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

Roughly chop the onion and garlic. Make sure the mushrooms have any dirt brushed off and roughly chop them as well. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan and fry all of this over a low heat until the onions and mushrooms are softened. Sprinkle over the flour and stir for a couple of minutes, before raising the heat and tipping in the red wine. Stir till the wine is absorbed into the floury oniony mushrooms, then tip in the walnuts, the nutritional yeast, and the cinnamon and nutmeg. Slowly add water – around 250ml/1 cup – and allow it to come to the boil, stirring continuously till it’s looking a little thick. You’re going to be blending this up so all the ingredients will naturally thicken it, so it doesn’t have to be too reduced down. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before blitzing it carefully in a high speed blender. I tipped it straight back into the pan to reheat it, but by all means strain it if you want it to be super smooth. It may need more water added at this point if it’s too thick, but up to you. Finally add the soy sauce to taste, and serve hot over EVERYTHING.

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With all that in mind, let’s assess them individually.

1: The concept of roasting a whole cauliflower is, as I noted, an idea I got from Food52, and the idea of brining it first is something I got from a Nigella turkey recipe. I love the idea of treating a vegetable in the same way that you’d treat meat and while cauliflower is more or less going to look after itself in the oven this does come out sweet and tender with its crisp pesto-crusted exterior. It also looks rather wonderful in the roasting dish because it’s so big and whole. On the other hand, because one must be critical: even with the brining and the pesto, this is still just like, a cauliflower alone on a plate. My verdict: this is delicious but I would want it as well as something else, as opposed to being the only thing, otherwise it’s like “wow cool thanks for my slice of damp vegetable really appreciate this.” You of course personally might be more than satisfied by this! But this is how I feel.

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2: The whole pumpkin looks really cool, somehow splendid yet storybook-adorable at the same time. The stuffing has, somehow, and I mean this in an entirely positive and non-innuendo way: a certain sausagey-ness to it. Something in the way the vinegar and mustard play off the rich thyme and the mashed beans and the texture of the bread, it’s all very cured-smallgoodsy and hearty and traditional tasting. My verdict: I am super pleased with this, however I would recommend leaning further into the luxuriousness by making the pesto anyway to have alongside, and perhaps consider adding some pistachios or something else treat-y to the stuffing so that the vegan in your close proximity feels particularly loved.

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3: The eggplant roulade was my favourite! There’s something about pastry that makes anything feel like an enormous effort was made (which, if you managed to make it through my attempts at instructing how to roll the pastry up, is entirely true) and also tastes of true opulence. Happily, it’s very easy to find ready-rolled sheets of puff pastry at the supermarket which are incidentally vegan because they use baker’s margarine or whatever they call it; and it still somehow tastes exactly like it should, probably because it’s what’s used in all commercially made pies and pastries and so our tastebuds are used to it (depending on how many times you’ve fallen asleep with a half-eaten gas station pie nestled beside you on your pillow, I guess.) The eggplant is rich and fulsome and the cinnamon and cranberries in the bulghur wheat are merrily Christmassy. Again, you could consider adding more to make this more, well, more: pistachios, almonds, that ubiquitous pesto, but as it is this is just wonderful. My verdict: Yes.

4: Gravy is so important and I refuse to miss out! This is pretty straightforward, layering savoury upon savoury upon savoury. My verdict: absolutely necessary.

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Because this is already sprawlingly enormous I’m going to wrap it up but overall I’m delighted with everything and with myself. I mentioned last time that I was sick with something flu-like, I thought it had gone away but then halfway through Friday night at work my voice started to disappear, unfortunately I skipped right over sexy-husky and went straight to useless (whispering “hello…welcome” in a strangled modulation as customers blithely walked by, not hearing a single thing I’d said) and seemed to be regressing back into glum sickness. Fortunately I managed to harness the one burst of high-octane energy that I’ve had all week to hoon through making these recipes; I also managed to update my Frasier food blog (Niles and Daphne, sitting in a Gothic mansion!) and have spent the rest of the time when not at work in bed irritably lacking in voice, which is possibly why I’m luxuriating in talking so much on here. Whether it’s residual sickness or just sheer effort I now feel like I need a nap after writing down all those recipes and you may well too if you’ve managed to read this far: napping is the most seasonally-appropriate activity there is, let’s be honest.

title from: Initially I was going to make it “you don’t win friends with salad” from that Simpsons bit but then I thought the “don’t have a cow, man” Simpsons quote was even funnier, all things considered.

music lately:

Blackberry Molasses, Mista This was one of my favourite songs in 1996 and it’s still super sweet, but I am also so sure that the version we got on the radio was faster than this? Can anyone verify?

Laugh It Off, Chelsea Jade. I actually did 1 (one) other activity this week: I went to see local angel Chelsea Jade live at Meow. Her music is just incredible, floaty and dreamy but pinprick-sharp as well and it was so cool to see her again.

Two Dots on a Map, Russian Futurists. This song is so swoony and expansive and pretty much undeniable Laura-bait. While I’m here may I also recommend their aggressively enthusiastic song Paul Simon.

Next time: less is more, I promise.

PS If you wish to receive a version of this blog post before everyone else in your inbox, newsletter-style, every Sunday-ish, then consider signing up here. 

you turn my legs into spaghetti, you set my heart on fire

There are milestones, there are millstones, as they sing in the Broadway musical Gypsy, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart, but I clocked two milestones this week that I’m not undelighted to have out of the way: firstly I competed in my first cocktail competition finals, and secondly it was my 32nd birthday, the latter in swift succession of the former. I didn’t win the competition but in all honesty I’m quite okay with it because the real prize for me was all the attention and getting to stand in front of an audience with a microphone. I appreciate that public speaking is many people’s idea of actual hell incarnate, but for me there’s nowhere I’d rather be than in front of a crowd of people that I have to quickly win over using little more than charm and yet more charm. However, it also is a bit of a sigh of relief that it’s finally done. I’m proud of myself and I’m suuuuper proud of my friends who won in their respective categories, and I learned a honk-ton of information (did you know that Suntory was established in 1923 initially to sell imported wine? Did you know that Canadian Club was the most smuggled liquor into the states during Prohibition? Did you know Kid Rock did the forward to the book about Jim Beam that I read?)

And then it was my birthday, and I find them a bit stressful because while it’s just another day ostensibly, there’s also all this pressure (almost entirely self-directed to be fair) to have the time of your life, but to my mild surprise, I had a genuinely fantastic birthday. I’m feeling exceptionally calm about turning 32, despite having a general one-step-forward-three-steps-backwards existence I feel like I am every day growing gradually more focussed and able to cope with life to the point where I very occasionally even feel like I could kick a hole in the sky.

And another small but nevertheless achieve-y achievement: I made myself some food! WooooOO! It was actually a staff meal at work that inspired me to make this vegan take on spaghetti bolognese, we were given pasta with sundried tomatoes and pine nuts and there was something in the richness and bite of It all that made me want to extrapolate it out further. I figured that walnuts would provide texture and a little smokiness and mushrooms would add further depth and that if you blended them with said sundried tomatoes, so you couldn’t tell where one element started and another finished, it could be an extremely good time. All three of these ingredients have a kind of meatiness, not that they actually taste like meat, but they’ve got body and heft and savoury intensity and presence.

Anyway once you’ve got your ingredients together this is all extremely easy – you just blitz the mushrooms, tomatoes and walnuts in a processor and fry it with some tomato passata (which is like tomato purée and pretty easy to find in the supermarket). It honestly looks and tastes a lot like bolognese, all richly comforting and tomato-y, but also is extremely delicious in its own right, like, not just as a meat substitute. I don’t know why I feel like I’m bending over backwards to not insult a mushroom by comparing it to meat but you know what I mean? This is really good because it just is, not because it is quite successfully mimicking something. On top of which it’s been so icy cold lately which I actually love, I really enjoy that wintery vibe of getting covered in blankets or wearing enormous coats and doing cosy things like drinking cups of tea and googling “how to spoon yourself”, and mate, there’s nothing like some spag bol eaten in bed on a cold day.

vegan spaghetti bolognese   

  • six or seven large button mushrooms (or better yet, about four big field mushrooms) 
  • 10 sundried tomatoes
  • half a cup of shelled walnuts  
  • four cloves of garlic
  • olive oil
  • a splash of red wine (optional)
  • 250ml/one cup tomato passata  (or use a can of chopped tomatoes) 
  • salt and pepper  
  • 200g dried spaghetti  
  • fresh basil leaves, to serve

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the packet instructions, eleven minutes usually does it, then drain and tip it onto two serving plates. I use water from a freshly boiled kettle just to make the process faster. 

Meanwhile, throw the mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, walnuts and garlic cloves into a food processor and blend it all together till it’s a roughly chopped paste mixture type thing.  

Heat some olive oil – a couple of tablespoons, I suppose – in a large saucepan, and spatula the mushroom mixture into the pan. Stir over a high heat for about ten minutes – mushrooms tend to give off a little liquid when they cook and you want to get it to the point where this has all evaporated. At this point I add a splash of red wine to the pan which adds some wonderful depth to it all but if you’re strictly vegan and not sure on the origins of your wine just leave it out. Add the tomato passata and let it simmer away till it’s looking all thick and saucy. If too much liquid has evaporated add more passata or some water, just trust your instincts. 

At this point give it a taste and add some salt and pepper if you think it needs it, and pile on top of your cooked spaghetti. Throw some basil leaves on top and eat. Serves two. 

You can, as with most of my recipes, just take this and run with it: add any number of herbs that you feel like, use a mixture of nuts (although I really feel like walnuts are the best here, a mixture of Brazil and almonds could probably hold their own), have the sauce on toast or use it in a lasagne-type layered up fashion.

My birthday actually started early when I (started anticipating it the minute my birthday last year ended, wait what) had wine and takeaways with my best friends Kim and Kate on Sunday (Kim has since gone overseas on holiday for like, EVER or maybe three weeks or six weeks or something so please keep me in your thoughts during this difficult time while she’s away.) On the day of I had brunch with Kate and we had prosecco like fancy functioning humans, and then I had an absolutely banging nap, and then I went and saw my friend Dom’s play, Your Heart Looks Like A Vagina, and it’s super fantastic and if you’re in Wellington I strongly recommend that you go see it this week. You maybe wouldn’t think seeing a one-man play about chronic disease would be like, the most joyful way to spend a birthday, but there’s gallows humour and regular-level humour running all the way through it, promise.

  I was not lying about eating it in bed, but also why would someone lie about that to be fair   I was not lying about eating it in bed, but also why would someone lie about that to be fair

If you’re on a vegan buzz then I recommend by way of further reading these other recipes I’ve blogged about: Vegan Apple Cake; almond feta; and this “fried chicken” recipe using jackfruit that I wrote about on my Frasier food blog.

title from: Dillon’s gently achey song Thirteen Thirty Five

music lately:  

Car Seat Headrest, My Boy. A good song for wallowing, I know at least one of you out there other than just me needs this information.

California Soul, the Diplo remix of Marlena Shaw’s already excellent 1967 track.

Washington On Your Side from the cast recording of Hamilton, the Broadway musical. This song is so jaunty and banger-y and I literally can’t stop listening to it over and over, Daveed Diggs is an absolute treasure.

next time: yeah nah your guess is as good as mine. 

when someone great is gone

As February draws to a close, it means one thing and one thing only: we are smack bang in the middle of Pisces Season, people. What does this mean? It means every time I get super irrationally emotional over something, I’m all, “classic Pisces Season.” A leading characteristic of the Pisces star sign, you see, and if you haven’t worked this out already, is emotional-ness.

However, sometimes emotions are entirely reasonable, such as when someone who has become one of the most important people in your life over the past year leaves the country. What can you even do in these situations? Well, you try and spend as much time with them as possible, and on the Monday before they go, you wait until they’ve finished their shift at work and then make a midnight feast for the both of you while you watch Desperate Housewives.

It being Monday, or “Payday Eve”, and me being extremely me, once I’d purchased mushrooms and cream at the guest’s request I essentially tried to forage everything else from what was already in my pantry: some tomatoes leftover from a team barbecue that day which I’d nicked; some black garlic and walnut butter that my mum had sent me; some vaguely elderly beetroot that I’d forgotten I’d bought at the vege market the previous week; some vermouth and bourbon from my brief flirtation with trying to have a decent liquor cabinet; it goes on. 

Mushrooms fried with garlic and cream are hardly revolutionary, but these ones are incredibly delicious: the vermouth hisses and disappears in the heat – relatable – leaving only a lick of winey flavour, and the cream reduces down to the most magnificently savoury sludge. Not necessarily the most appealing words, but you should know that they were the star on Monday and I’ve made this three times since because I love it so much. 

mushrooms with black garlic, vermouth and cream

an extremely vague recipe, but I feel like you can handle it

  • a whole ton of those big flat brown mushrooms that cost slightly more than regular button mushrooms
  • olive oil
  • dry vermouth, such as Noilly Prat
  • a clove or two of black garlic, or regular is fine! 
  • cream
  • freshly grated parmesan, salt and pepper to taste

Brush any dirt off the mushrooms and slice them up. Heat a generous couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan and tip the mushrooms in.

Let them fry in the hot oil till they soften and darken and reduce down somewhat – till they’re fried, basically – then pour in some vermouth, a couple of tablespoons at the most. This will hit the pan in a whoosh of steam and smell incredible. Stir till it’s evaporated, and then either slice or squash the clove of garlic and add it to the pan, followed by the cream – as much as you want, really. Start with a few tablespoons and then just keep pouring till it feels right. Carry on stirring over a high heat till the cream has reduced down somewhat – you want this thick and saucy.

Remove from the heat, pile on some parmesan cheese if you wish, but you don’t have to, and transfer to a bowl. Eat the lot, no matter how much you’ve made. 

The beetroot and tomato dishes were highly opportunistic on-the-spot flights of fancy but they both worked out well so I thought I’d pass on some form of a recipe of them both here. Baking beetroot in cream – leftover from the mushrooms – gives the earthy bitterness of the vegetable a fantastic mellowness, and the walnut butter makes everything almost fudge-like in texture. If you don’t have walnut butter, you could use cashew or almond butter or indeed, just leave it out and you’ll still have a good time. 

The tomatoes got a dash of bourbon on them because it was still there beside the stove from when I made those shallots and radishes last week, but it turns out they go well with these guys too. I just happened to have coconut sugar and its smoky intensity went perfectly with the sweetness of the tomatoes and the bourbon. They were sticky and sweet and bursting with juice and just so good. And I can’t even tell you how amazing the syrupy roasting juices tasted once all the tomatoes had been prised out. 

roasted beetroot with cream and walnut butter

Set your oven to 180C/350F. Chop your beetroot – however many you have – into quarters or chunks or whatever, really, and pile them into an oven dish that will comfortably fit them. Pour over enough cream so they get their feet wet but aren’t entirely submerged, and spoon over some walnut butter. Mix it all together so some of the cream and walnut butter amalgamates, then bung it in the oven and let it cook until the beetroot is extremely tender. Top with parmesan if you like. 

bourbon and coconut sugar roasted tomatoes

Again, set your oven to 180C/350F. Slice a bunch of ripe tomatoes in half and lay them, cut side up. Sprinkle over a little coconut sugar – like just a pinch per tomato. Follow this with a good solid drizzle of olive oil and then drizzle with a little bourbon – it’s easier to pour it into a spoon and then shake this over the tomatoes than trying to pour directly from the bottle. Finally sprinkle over some salt and roast em till they’re, like, roasted. 

So like, because it was at midnight when I was taking these photos I completely concede that they are Not Great and indeed, it was my own vanity that caused me to take more photos once I’d made the mushrooms again in the daylight, just in case a casual reader of this blog saw my night time photos and threw their laptop out the window in horror. But it all tasted so, so good, and it was such a nice night, that honestly: I don’t care. 

Okay I guess I do care since I bookended this blog post with nice photos of the mushrooms but still: I don’t care! (I care so much.) 

On Thursday night I finished my shift at work and then proceeded to not get any sleep until at least 7am, because this particular person had to be at the airport at 4am. I may or may not have got emotionally drunk; I may or may not have cried AND fallen asleep at the airport; I may or may not have written an extremely overwrought letter to this person about what they mean to me and then left it in the car and then had to clamber into the boot through the backseat because I couldn’t work out how to open said boot. However I’ve also come to the conclusion that Melbourne isn’t soooo far away and I could possibly even visit if I ever get my act/and/or savings together. And as they sing in the musical Wicked – and I warn you, it’s about to get disgustingly maudlin for just one second here – because I knew you, I have been changed, for good. 

 skal for faen 

skal for faen 

Due to some spectacularly terrible luck or carelessness, this is the third time I’ve written out the blog post after accidentally deleting it, twice. By this point it feels almost surreal, like I’m going round in circles, but I think right here is definitively the end of this blog post. And seriously, it’s been barely a week and I’ve made those mushrooms three more times. They’re good, people. 

title from: LCD Soundsystem, Someone Great. Okay I wasn’t QUITE done with the maudlin. 

music lately: 

I am on a sincere Pink Floyd god damn BUZZ right now and am revisiting Roger Waters’ live album In The Flesh a whole ton. Just try to not fall in love with the immensely sexy yet unsexily named Doyle Bramhall II when he sings the chorus to Comfortably Numb, suckers. 

I saw Trainspotting 2 the other day and it was exactly what I wanted it to be; it also coincided with me being extremely into a genre of music that I like to call “Let’s drink lager and headbutt Liam Gallagher”. To that end, the Prodigy’s remix of Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life is honestly really good. 

next time: I have not made ice cream in FOREVER, friends! And since it’s finally looking like summer in Wellington, it feels entirely appropriate. Watch this space. 

i’m taking the knife to the books that i own and i’m chopping and chopping and boiling soup from stone

mushroom and lentil soup with sage leaves fried in butter. Thank goodness for garnish huh, imagine how gross this would look without those sage leaves. 
So, I got a job! I am employed, so hard! I’m working at a massively swanky cinema in town at their massively swanky bar, shaky-handedly pretending I know how to make lattes, being sassy with customers, and recommending wines with minor self-confidence. It’s rad. It’s also pretty tiring, which doesn’t necessarily explain why I woke up this morning an hour and a half before my alarm was due to go off, craving some kind of intense, hearty soup. 
But yeah, I got a job! I know it’s a tough market out there but I was getting a bit downtrodden there for a while at my perpetual cycle of applying for jobs and getting rejected. Makes you feel like you’re at your first school disco getting turned down by all the popular kids when you ask them to dance. Actually I take it back, that scenario is way worse than unemployment. 

While I was lying in bed, and in the time when I wasn’t thinking about how I’d regret this careless awakeness later on when my next shift starts at work, I was thinking about soup. Which is unusual for me, soup doesn’t hold a ton of interest and I don’t eat it very often – I tend to like things that are crunchy, crispy, fried, just generally textural, and so a bowl of liquid has to work hard to appeal to me. Lentils are unlikely to be anyone’s definition of “devastatingly sexy as far as food goes” let alone delightful texture-wise, but this recipe just appeared in my head, fully formed, as they often do, and I decided to trust myself and go with it. By the time I went out and got the mushrooms and then came home I wasn’t actually hungry any more, but did have some, and can most definitely confirm that it is worth your reading this blog post further (well, it’s always worth reading my blog posts, but y’know.)

mushroom and lentil soup with sage leaves fried in butter

a recipe by myself. You could fry the sage leaves in olive oil to make this vegan/dairy free if you wish. 

3/4 cup brown lentils
ten button mushrooms
one carrot
one large clove of garlic
olive oil
one teaspoon or so of vegetable stock powder
25g butter
four or five fresh sage leaves

If you can, pour boiling water over the lentils at least an hour before you start making the soup – it’ll help them cook way faster. 

Slice the mushrooms and dice the carrot and garlic. Gently fry them in plenty of olive oil in a medium-sized pot. You want the mushrooms to brown and sizzle slightly, and the carrot to soften. Tip in the lentils and the stock powder and pour over four cups of water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the lentils are completely tender. Add more water if it has absorbed/evaporated too much. Remove from the heat and carefully spoon/tip half the soup into a food processor, and blend till it’s fairly smooth. Tip it back into the rest of the soup.

Heat the butter in a small pan and throw in the sage leaves, allowing it all to sizzle and bubble until the leaves are crisp. Divide the soup between two bowls (well, that’s how much it makes, I had some from the bowl you see pictured here and then the rest will be for another time) (if you care about such semantics) and scatter over the sage leaves. Spoon over a little of the butter if you like, and I do, and then serve. 

I always do this when I talk about lentil recipes – go on and on about how unlikeable they are before trying to convince you that this one recipe I’ve made is actually good. Sorry, lentils. Sorry you’re so unlikeable! Ha. But when I’m not being all Mean Girls up on it, this soup is delicious – simple, robust, the rough earthy flavours of the mushrooms and lentils shot through with nuttish browned butter and aromatic sage. Blending half the mixture gives it some body and textural contrast but you could just leave it as is, or pour cream in, or whatever, really. It’s simple, it’s very cheap, it’s fast, and it tastes rather excellent. The crisp sage leaves cater to my love of crisp things, and as always with soup, I am reminded as I eat it that eating something hot and non-threateningly liquefied in the middle of winter is actually wonderful.

Even more important than my getting a job, my friends got a cat from the SPCA! Her name is Minerva and she is beautiful and I’m smitten with her, both vicariously and in person.

I love her so much that we started to morph into one half-human half-cat creature, it was quite awkward to explain it to my friends who own her. 

So yeah, things will be interesting from now on – well, they always are, sometimes too interesting – as I hold down my job and this blog and my side hustle cookies. Proud of myself though.
_________________________________________________________
title from: Regina Spektor’s song The Flowers. Her voice is magic.
_________________________________________________________
music lately: 

One Direction, I Would. These loveable scruffs and their music just makes me so happy! And this is probably my favourite one of theirs. It’s just, so…right.

Icona Pop/Charli XCX, I Love It. This song always makes me feel reckless and free, and never more so when it came on the other night when I was out dancing, just when I needed to hear it most. Seriously just turn off the lights and jump and thrash around to this and everything will be good.

Saycon Sengbloh, Young Gifted and Black. Those harmonies, oof.
_________________________________________________________
next time: ummmm…I know not. But it will be good. 

mushrooms and roses is the place to be

Disliking, and having zero aptitude for science at school doesn’t preclude me coming up with several scientific theories, the hypothesis and measurement both being “I think it’s real and so…yeah.” One such theory being: Time totally, without doubt, speeds up when I’m with people I love. Fact. For example, Tim and I spent our New Year at Raumati Beach with the sort of amazing friends we only ever get to envy other people having. Between the beautiful blanket fort, the nail painting, the guitar playing, the Point Break watching, the homemade liqueur and gin and wine drinking, the feasting, the dancing to Wuthering Heights (alas caught in real time on video somewhere), the nail-painting, the swimming, the reading of many books, the frying of many potatoes, the crying of many tears with laughter and the taking of one stroll, well it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that time would unfairly speed up during all that.

Time also speeds up a little if one of your friends has cleverly made cat ears in your hair made of plaits and pipe cleaners and bobby pins. It whooshes right through your cat ears with increased aerodynamics.

I’ve always, since day dot, been hopeless at saying goodbye. Memories of crying when things are over – anything from great big emotional ballet performances to visiting an older, cool and magnanimous girl from down the road to play for the afternoon – all blur into one another. Luckily there was less of the actual tears and more of the joking about tears (to keep from the actual tears fighting through, you see) when the Raumati Beach times started to wind up, but I couldn’t help be reminded of all the times I’d been bad at accepting things are over. If you’re hanging out with me and I make yawny noises and comment on the time, instead of wild-eyedly suggesting we bust into the good whiskey, then you can either be disappointed…or, I guess, shiny with relief-sweats.

I made this marinated mushroom recipe four times in the last two weeks, and every single time it has been perfect. This is a sneaky lazy blog post, as I’ve already basically given the whole recipe in this story I wrote for 3news.co.nz on what to cook when it’s too hot to think about cooking. However I am tired and frankly a bit sneaky and lazy at the best of times too, plus, putting the recipe in two separate places on the internet shows you just how strongly I love it.

Speaking of things I love, wasn’t I lucky to score these knives and forks and bowl from Mum! The knife and fork have been in the family for generations and the plate just looks like one that has been in the family for generations, which is good enough for us. You don’t even need a knife to eat these mushrooms but I like how it looks, so it stays in the picture.

I made this for myself on the 29th, for the aforementioned friends on New Year’s Eve, for family on the 7th, and for myself again last night. Something about the name Marinated Mushrooms makes people nervously say “Oh no! You should’ve started it six weeks ago! We’ll have to have it another time” but this is actually good to go as soon as you stir it. It’s at its peak deliciousness after about 12 hours in the fridge, but truly. I tend to eat half of it while I’m making it, that’s how good it tastes.

Marinated Mushrooms

I came up with this myself, but with a little inspiration from recipes belonging to the wondrous Nigella Lawson and the also quite wondrous Yotam Ottolenghi. Quantities are vague because I never once thought to weigh or measure the amount of mushrooms I was using. Just guess though. Science can’t get you here.

  • Mushrooms; as many as you’d normally feed people – maybe a heaped handful per person though if you’re stuck. Use the cheapest white button ones you can find.
  • 1/2 cup rice bran oil or olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or golden syrup
  • Juice and zest of a lemon or 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon or American mustard
  • Salt

Wipe or peel the mushrooms – dirt will cling, and though it sounds fussy sometimes peeling’s much easier. Slice thinly and pile into a bowl. In a small cup or bowl mix the dressing ingredients together, tasting often and adding more of whichever ingredient your tastebuds feel it requires. Pour over the mushrooms, mix carefully. If it looks like it’s not dressed enough, drizzle in some more oil. Taste for salt – I add quite a lot – then either eat immediately or cover and refrigerate. 

Maple syrup on mushrooms might sound a little too daring, sure. But raw mushrooms are quite mild and almost like tofu in that they can absorb into their porous surfaces nearly every flavour that passes them by. However, not to the point where you might as well be sucking salad dressing dejectedly (or happily!) from a sponge soaked with it. Their delicate, rain-on-cut-grass freshness is mighty fine with the smoky maple syrup and sharp mustard, and the polystyrene texture becomes even more pleasingly yielding to the tooth the longer it sits there in its dressing. Basically: this stuff is addictive so watch out. I’ve never eaten so many mushrooms in one sitting, in my life.

Needless to say, camping at this place with whanau for the 25th year in a row made time speed up significantly again. Somewhat grounding was how I got bitten to pieces by mosquitos, feasting away at my apparently delicious blood till my legs looked like bubble wrap. However I’ve bought some antihistamines and am hoping for the best, and now that I’m back in the world of Monday mornings and routines and so on, heck, they’re a reminder that summer holidays did happen and they were amazing. Until I got bitten.

What did you all get up to over the Christmas/New Years era? I’ve missed this blog a bit while internet was intermittent, but I’ve loved sleeping properly, seeing family and friends, eating well and reminding myself of the good things in my life.

Title via: Janelle Monae, Mushrooms and Roses from her album The Archandroid. This song’s a little ridiculous but I love her and the melody and intense chorussing pulls you along in a dreamy fashion. And it does have the word mushrooms in it. 

Music lately:

Pat Benetar, We Belong. I’ve always disliked every single song Pat Benetar has ever called her own – except this one. It’s so annoyingly alluring and floaty and lush and I can’t honestly say I don’t like it. In fact…without quadruple negatives to hide behind…I like this song.

Stephanie J Block, Get Out And Stay Out. Her voice is stunning. Everything from the emotional, shuddery talk-singing at the start of this song to the crystal clear, exhilarating but not over-extended belting at the end is just so very listenable. 

Next time: Something new, something you’ve never seen before, something highly edible, for starters.  I guess this is the last time I can get away with saying it before it gets too weird, so…Happy New Year, everyone!

am I ever gonna see my wedding day?

To sleep, perchance to dream, that is the question…is not actually what Hamlet said, but I’ve helpfully paraphrased. It seems I’m either pursuing or avoiding sleep, but hardly ever actually just having it when I should be. Damn you elusive sleep you! (and that definitely wasn’t Shakespeare, although it’s fun to imagine Hamlet saying it while shaking his fist so hard his pantaloons start to flap around.) Luckily this recipe for Cambodian Wedding Day Dip is so easy you could make it in while sleep deprived, but equally it’s so loaded with aggressive flavours that it wakes you up fast like one of those dreams where you’re walking along and then all of a sudden you trip over and slide into your own bed like an elaborate home-run in that sport with the home runs. (I’m just playing, I know it’s softball – I was so dedicated to the Baby Sitters Club that I never once skipped the boring chapters about Kristy’s team that she coached.)

The knife really doesn’t have any purpose here but I’m so not good at these exposition type shots and it just felt right to put it there, okay?

My current state of sleepiness is self-inflicted though – last night Tim and I met up with our friends Pia and Fiona (Piona!) and went to this park on Mt Vic to have a picnic and watch the fireworks. They’re two of the nicest, funnest people we know and excellent hosts – Pia was all “we made a fancy salad” and I was all “I know, I can see it” while having their beetroot and chickpea salad and then she was all “no, this!” and pulled out another amazing salad with sliced oranges and black olives. After the fireworks (which were spectacular, although not quite as exciting as Pia running from flames like an action hero when one of her own fireworks fell over after being lit) they then invited us to play Cranium with Fiona’s sister and their friends, which went on till 2am. It may not sound so cool, but correctly identify Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat song after your teammate hums three bars of it and see how cool you feel.

Despite this ongoing feeling that I’m running towards something that keeps moving further away, this week has, upon reflection, been full of really good things. I’m going to try to keep this succinct: Broadway Bites is the blog set up by these actual Broadway stars like Adam Chanler-Berat of Next to Normal and Andy Senor Jr from a million different casts of RENT, including the international tour with Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, and Matt Shingledecker from Spring Awakening. And all three of them are in RENT’s off-Broadway revival. And they ran this competition on their blog where you email in your favourite breakfast recipe and so I did (these two) not even thinking I’d hear anything from it, and then – to take us back to the start of the story – I got this tweet from them saying I’d won, and it linked to this video of them having made the recipe and talking about it and making a porridge recipe I sent them and performing in the musical that this blog was named for. And tweeting me. To sum up: Ha-whaaa? While there’s no reason people on Broadway should be interested in this blog just because I talk about Broadway musicals in relation to food, I’ve also always dreamed of this happening, ever since I started writing it four years ago. Now if the amazing Julia Murney could just check out my recipe for pancakes… (that’s a Broadway injoke, sorry everyone.)

Then I get this parcel from Kate, who Tim and I stayed with in Oxford earlier this year – remember, her and her husband were complete strangers to us but they were from New Zealand and she liked my blog? We had a fantastic time and they were lovely of course, and when she emailed asking for my address because she had something to send me for my blog’s fourth birthday, I was expecting, say, a novelty keyring, but it was in fact a cookbook almost but not quite as gigantic as author Hugh Fearnley-Whittingsall’s name, and entirely dedicated to vegetarian recipes, which I love.

This recipe comes from that cookbook and as I said, it’s called Cambodian Wedding Day Dip, which is a pretty romantic name because it’s not only a food but it also sounds like a cool dance. The ingredients are the kind that I float towards like a moth to a light source – peanut butter, coconut milk, chili – plus plenty of chopped up mushrooms – all of which politely resist overpowering each other and instead all let each other shine gently as they roll over your tastebuds. Creamy, nutty sweetness respectfully busting a move with spicy, earthy smoky flavours.

It’s next-level delicious, somehow showcasing the richness of the peanut butter and coconut milk without tasting like you’re eating satay sauce (not a bad thing, I love satay sauce – it’s just different) and you don’t even need to be having a wedding to dip sliced up vegetables in it. It’s worth keeping in mind that the finished product is essentially a pale brown paste, hence my liberal carpeting of coriander leaves in the photos. Coriander is like the icing sugar of the savoury world: makes everything look all good again. Tonight Tim had it over rice for dinner, I’d eaten so much of it during the cooking process, that I was too full for that kind of commitment. But not to the point where I couldn’t sneak out later and eat some dip and then cry “Agh! So Full! What Hath I Wrought!” like Hamlet totally would.

Truly. That stack of crackers – with which this Cambodian Wedding Day Dip is ideal – was much, much higher when I started taking these photos. Kate – thanks so much again for sending this to me and I totally recommend this recipe.

Cambodian Wedding Day Dip

500g chestnut mushrooms (confession: used plain old button mushrooms. All I could find)
1 tablespoon oil (I use rice bran)
1 small red chilli, finely chopped (I used a tablespoon of sambal oelek, it’s what I had)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon curry powder or mild curry paste (further confession: the vagueness of this direction and my lack of any curry paste whatsoever led me to leave this out and shake in a little cinnamon and ground cumin, some weird instinct kicking in I guess.)
2 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter (confession: I followed this step exactly)
1 x 400ml can coconut milk
Juice of half a lime (used a lemon, had no lime)
Dash of soy sauce
Coriander leaves (optional, but used them because I actually had them).


Finely dice the mushrooms, or blitz them in the food processor. Not toooo fine – you want them to be the size of, say…I can’t actually think but you want them bigger than grains of rice, okay? Like 4mm square, ish. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the mushrooms, stirring while the liquid in them appears and then evaporates. Add the chili and the garlic, and cook a little further, before adding the peanut butter and curry paste (if you’ve got it) and stirring through the mushrooms. Tip in the coconut milk, and then let it bubble away, stirring often so it doesn’t burn, till it reduces down and is much thicker.

Those weren’t the only good things that happened this week though, I know, what kind of happy-go-lucky weirdos are we? Not that happy-go-lucky, I promise you. I for one, am more like clumsy-go-anxious. But sometimes you can actually force happy-go-luckiness to come your way, like when you throw a Simpsons party and invite your friends round and make a giant donut and floor-pie and an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet and nuts’n’gum. And your friends bring twinkies and rib-wiches and candy. And you all drink Skittlebrau. It was amazing fun. I’m going to be writing about it for 3news.co.nz’s National News section (just kidding, it’s under lifestyle) so if you ever get the urge to throw yourself a similar party, you’ll know how. So many people came along even though it was a very last-minute thing, the sort of people that are so good for your soul that all you can hope is that you provide some kind of similar function in return.

Title via: Wedding Bell Blues by the late Laura Nyro. Her voice is stunning, this song is all sad and poignant, and when you put the two together, my stars it is something. Props for the cool name too, Nyro.

Music lately:

SWV, It’s All About U. Some 90s R’n’B is so gold that while you’re listening to it, it feels better than any music of any other genre ever. Not that it’s a competition, you can like more than one thing. What I’m saying is, I love this song.

Erykah Badu is coming to New Zealand! That’s good. But it’s to a festival that’s far, far away from Wellington. That’s not so good. Might have to get my vicarious and much cheaper thrills by just playing more of her amazing music.

Next time: I made some frozen yoghurt! But I also made more things from this book. I think frozen yoghurt will win though.