Vegan Chocolate Guinness Cake

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Chilli Corn Macaroni [vegan]

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

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

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

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

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

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Chilli Corn Macaroni

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

Vegan Miso Butter Noodles (two ways)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vegan Miso Butter Noodles

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

Version 1: Almond Butter

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

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

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

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

Version 2: Quick Emulsion

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

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

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

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

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music lately:

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

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

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

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

Vegan Tofu-Fried Tofu

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On Friday I had my first professional driving lesson in at least ten years. People have been trying to teach me to drive one way or another since 2001; people have failed. I could not be car-broken. And in a nation of drivers, where 97% of society and its amenities are inaccessible without a car, this was eventually going to bite me. Learning about things like anxiety and ADHD has certainly helped me understand why I might not have taken smoothly to driving, but it still didn’t make me any more inclined to get behind the wheel. What I wanted was a Matrix-style chip in the back of my neck, uploading the necessary software to turn me into a driver – failing that, some kind of magic-adjacent experience, such as being hit over the head or electrocuting myself or being bitten by a spider. I did not want to do the work! Nor, should I! Why can’t society bend to me, why must we prioritise driving when it’s so dangerous and environmentally terrible and also something I can’t do?

Ten months of avoidance passed after I got my learners license (again) and then I finally booked a lesson. Unlike the other pros, this instructor was kind and patient and had heard of anxiety and didn’t just bark at me to drive into oncoming traffic; after 50 minutes concentrated figure-eighting around the nearby town, making serviceable left turns and even a few right turns, I felt unbelievably powerful and hyperactive, high on the absence of failure, almost too powerful – like, wait, can I drive now? Should I go on a cross-country road trip right now? Probably, right? Just to be safe?

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I bring this up for reasons twofold: firstly, I just wanted to boast that I bravely committed to learning to drive; secondly, if you’ve ever been suspicious of tofu – which I don’t respect but I do understand because we live in a society and tofu has been poorly treated in the public image – then perhaps this recipe could be the kind of successful interaction to finally make you feel like a person who not only enjoys tofu but frantically celebrates it at any opportunity. (I also recommend Bettina Makalintal’s crispy glazed tofu, I will never be without a bag of potato starch ever again.)

The recipe is Tofu-Fried Tofu, and it’s spectacularly good and inspired by Brooks Headley and his Superiority Burger Crispy Fried Tofu Sandwich. Sometimes, no matter how established the person writing the recipe, I just physically can’t follow it, and instead, I have to scan it into my head like a pdf and never read it again but use whatever key components I can remember to make a recipe based on it. Why is this? I think it’s partly the way a lot of recipes are laid out these days, and probably partly something neurological on my part, let’s be honest. The only person I don’t do this with is Nigella Lawson – at least, not as much – and I think it’s because her recipes feel as though they’re so very already in my language – whatever changes I’d make, Nigella has probably already anticipated it.

This is my roundabout way of explaining that I’m not trying to say I’m any better than Brooks Headley but I still had to make my own version inspired by his recipe rather than following it to the letter. There’s no reason why you can’t make his recipe as it’s written, I’m sure it’s amazing, and my recipe doesn’t diverge too wildly anyway. But the recipe I made is also delicious and through some trial and error, it’s exactly where I want it to be. These errors include adding cocoa to the flour mixture (I wanted to want it, but it’s not the one) and leaving the tofu at its from-the-package thickness, making for a genuinely strenuous eating experience where you practically needed a step-ladder to scale the breadth of soy protein on your plate.

These slender triangles of tofu bathe in an aggressive marinade of pickle brine, soy milk, vegan oyster sauce or Maggi, and mustard powder – which when combined is oddly potable if not wildly delicious, I really had to bargain with myself to stop drinking it from the container while the tofu was marinating in it, I wish I were exaggerating for comic effect here but if anything I’m downplaying it. The key to the flour dredge is a ton of Chinese Five-Spice powder and ground white pepper – an inelegant ingredient but one who deserves to shine, in my opinion – and double-dunking to create pockets and crevices of crumbly coating. It’s more of a KFC-esque coating – dense and softly crisp – rather than shatteringly crunchy, especially the longer it sits, and this is obviously not a bad thing.

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Between the tanginess of the pickle brine and mustard and the bumptious yet balanced spices, this is one of the very best things you can do with tofu. It makes sense to tuck it into a burger bun (I spread the base with hummus and topped the tofu with kimchi which was a chaotic but complementary combination) but you could serve these alongside chips or on top of rice. The crucial thing is to leave yourself a few for the next day, I honestly think they taste better cold than they do at any other stage of the proceedings.

[Also – I forgot to mention this last week but I had the joy of appearing on Pip Adam’s Better off Read podcast to discuss the plot devices I employ in my poetry, the way I’m influenced by film auteurs in my fiction writing (does this make me an auteur? Maybe??) and more besides; Pip is one of my very favourite writers and it was such an honour and a thrill to speak with her about writing. It’s just really fun and I thoroughly recommend you listen to it because I’m a great podcast guest and she’s a great host!]

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Tofu-Fried Tofu

This is inspired by Brooks Headley’s recipe, and the more often you make it the less effort it will seem. I can’t tell you how delicious this is cold from the fridge the next day. Makes 12 pieces.

  • 1 x 300g (or thereabouts) block of tofu, firm or extra-firm
  • 1/3 cup brine from a jar of pickles/gherkins
  • 1/2 cup soy milk (or oat milk – I wouldn’t use anything other than these guys though)
  • 1 tablespoon mustard powder
  • 1 tablespoon vegan oyster sauce, Maggi seasoning sauce, or soy sauce
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons cornflour
  • 5 teaspoons Chinese Five-Spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • a large pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried celery (if you can get hold of it)
  • neutral oil, such as rice bran, for frying

1: If you have the time, freeze the tofu for at least a couple of hours and then allow it to defrost – this does something wonderful to the texture, but if you forgot or can’t be bothered – or just got home and want to eat this as soon as possible – don’t worry, it’ll still taste good with tofu straight from the fridge.

2: Place the pickle brine, soy milk, mustard powder, and vegan oyster sauce in a rectangular container a little larger than your block of tofu and whisk to combine. Drain any liquid from the tofu and slice it across diagonally, so you have four triangles, then sit each triangle on their longest side and slice through them twice with the knife flush with the flat side, so you have three of that same triangle, just a lot thinner/flatter. You’re cutting pages, not wedges. I hope that description makes sense – basically, you want to go from having those four triangles to having three matching sets of those triangles, which you can stack up again back into the original rectangle. If it still doesn’t make sense, watch the TikTok above and you’ll see how I cut it there.

3: Place the tofu into the container of marinade, stacking them up into their original rectangle shape, and leave for a couple of hours (although I’ve made this with only about half an hour of marinating and it still tasted good so once again, if you’re impatient or didn’t plan a single thing, it’ll work out.)

4: In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornflour, Chinese Five-Spice powder, smoked paprika, garlic, pepper, salt, and dried celery if you’re using it.

5: Drop each tofu triangle into the flour mixture, then dunk them back in the pickle marinade, then coat in flour again. This is messy, there’s no way around it, but if you just use one hand it’s at least contained, you know?

6: Pour a thin but definite layer of oil into a large saucepan and once it’s hot – when bubbles form around a spoon or whatever you stick into it – cook the tofu slices for a few minutes on each side, flipping twice. Also, this might sound weird but if you have any leftover flour mixture, stir in a little marinade and fry this dough in the hot oil too as a little cook’s treat. It’s really good and I don’t care!

7: Transfer the cooked tofu to a rack with absorbent paper on it and either use immediately, or you can store them in an airtight container in the fridge and briefly fry on each side to heat through. They’re best either straight from the pan or dead cold from the fridge, but this in-between stage is also very commendable.

Notes: As you can see, there are some aspects of this recipe you can be loose about and some which I think are very important. I’d like to emphasise that you absolutely cannot leave out the Chinese Five-Spice and the pepper has to be white – but if you only have a quarter of a cup of pickle brine left in your jar or if you accidentally pour half a cup, nothing bad is going to happen. Sometimes I add a little pinch of baking powder to the flour mixture, this time I forgot, either way is fine. Also, I realise two cups of flour sounds like a lot, but you end up needing it all to confidently double-dunk the tofu. Finally: I don’t know if you can bake or air fry this and I don’t want to find out! The oil is as important an ingredient as anything else on the list!

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music lately:

For The Love of Ivy by The Gun Club. Rhyming “hell” with “hell” four times in a row? Going loud then quiet then loud? That’s the ticket!

Matthew and Son by Yusuf/Cat Stevens (he goes by both names these days, I checked) this song is disarmingly goofy and has the distinct air of being accompanied by a high school orchestra and it’s nowhere near as cool as any of his other songs so naturally, it’s my favourite thing that he’s ever done. It is what it is!

When Love Goes Wrong, Nothing Goes Right, by Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell from the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, I haven’t seen this film in years but was reminded – on TikTok! – of how charming this number is and how crackling the chemistry is between Monroe and Russell. Their harmonies when the song speeds up a notch – “a man goes out, gets high as a kite” – are glorious. I will absolutely be rewatching this film soon.

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.

rum and coke jackfruit

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The notes app on our phones and its contribution to our general existentialism cannot be overstated – it’s our id and ego condensed, an unkempt filing cabinet of shopping lists and auspicious dreams, of half-written poems, funny bits, bullet points, log-in details, recipes, addresses and other arbitrary ephemera.

(If this doesn’t make any sense: the notes app is a function on most smartphones that acts as a notebook for you to jot down literally anything – usually to forget about it immediately – and there’s also a good chance I’ve misused the word “existentialism” here but whatever, it’s the vibe of the thing.)

Because I ricochet from one thought to another like an earnest pinball, and every last one of these thoughts seems terribly meaningful, my notes app is rather busy. And because each note is filed away forevermore until you delete it, I’m always finding stuff I absolutely do not remember writing.

Like this note: “rum and coke jackfruit”.

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I don’t remember writing it – although evidently, I did at some point – but having found it, I decided to make good on this long-ago reminder to myself, and so we have this week’s recipe, based on that promising prompt. Jackfruit is a large fruit present in the cuisine of numerous cultures, including Bangladesh and Sri Lanka for whom it’s the national fruit, and South India and Southeast Asia. Over the last few years, it’s become increasingly common in NZ supermarkets canned in brine, which makes it straightforward to use, and its superb texture – dense, softly fibrous – and sweetly mellow flavour makes it ideal for vegan cooking.

Rum and Coke are both sweet, and somehow spiced without being spicy – and together they plus a few other ingredients create a sticky, saucy coating for the jackfruit under the heat of the oven’s grill. Now, if you were to taste this wearing a blindfold I don’t know if you could confidently name either ingredient, and if I’m very honest the rum is mostly just window-dressing because the come-hither familiarity of the title is cute – but nonetheless, this is monumentally appealing, with the smokiness from the paprika, earthy cumin, and plenty of garlic. And despite the length of the recipe, it’s easy too – a bit of simmering, a bit of scorching in the oven, and it’s all yours, to be draped over rice or tucked into tacos and sandwiches.

@hungryandfrozen

my best loop yet 🥲 Rum and Coke Jackfruit, recipe @ hungryandfrozen.com 🤠 #recipe #vegan #veganrecipes #jackfruit #foodblogger #cooking #fypシ #fy

♬ Bluebirds Over the Mountain – Richie valens

This sauce mix – by which I mean everything minus the chicken stock and jackfruit – would be excellent coating other star ingredients as well, with its general barbecue-ribs-flame-grill mood – tofu, obviously, or seitan would be great, but I think oyster mushrooms would be even better. I based the method on the pulled jackfruit recipe I made back in 2017 – before I was vegan but tentatively contemplating it – and I enthusiastically recommend you make that one too. It’s true for both recipes: no matter how much jackfruit I cook, I always wish I’d made more – you’d better write “two cans of jackfruit” in your notes app, to be safe.

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Rum and Coke Jackfruit

Sticky, smoky and sweet, this vegan jackfruit is perfect over rice, in tacos, in sandwiches – basically wherever you want something extremely delicious. Recipe by myself.

  • 1 x 500g can jackfruit in brine (300g drained weight)
  • 1 cup vegan chicken stock (eg 1 cup water, 1 stock cube)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
  • a pinch of cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1/2 cup coca-cola
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornflour (cornstarch)

1: Drain the liquid from the can and roughly chop each piece of jackfruit into smaller pieces lengthwise. Don’t worry if there are any seeds – leave them in.

2: Place the jackfruit pieces, the chicken stock, and the unpeeled garlic cloves into a saucepan and simmer for ten minutes. Simmering the garlic cloves like this gives them a more mellow flavour and makes them easy to peel later.

3: While this is happening, turn your oven to 200C/400F, pour the olive oil into a roasting tray, and place it in the oven to heat up.

4: In a small bowl, mix together the mustard, cumin, paprika, sugar, and cinnamon. Stir in the soy sauce, dark rum, coca-cola (it’ll fizz up a little) and the cornflour.

5: After ten minutes, drain the stock from the pan of jackfruit (you can save it for later use, I’m not advocating wastefulness here.) Press down on the garlic cloves to release them from their skins and roughly chop them. Return them to the pan of jackfruit along with the coca-cola/spice mix and stir to combine.

6: Remove the hot roasting dish from the oven. Transfer the jackfruit mixture onto the roasting dish – I recommend using tongs to ferry the jackfruit pieces across before pouring the remaining liquid over rather than just dumping the contents of the pan onto the roasting dish because it will splutter when the liquid hits the hot oil.

7: Place the tray in the oven and leave for twenty minutes. At this point, remove the tray, turn the jackfruit pieces over, switch your oven to the grill/broil function and grill for a further ten minutes, keeping an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t scorch too much. By this point, the liquid should have evaporated and the jackfruit should be burnished brown at the edges.

8: Serve immediately, although you can store it in the fridge and reheat it in a hot pan if need be.

Serves – well that depends on how you serve this. It fed four as part of a rice bowl, but if I was having it with fewer extra bits I wouldn’t want to make this for any more than two people, and one person could eat the lot very easily. Making double would be sensible (in which case I’d only increase the liquids by about half – eg 1/2 cup coca-cola becomes 3/4 cup – but the spices can be fully doubled.)

Notes:

  • If you don’t have rum or don’t wish to use alcohol in the recipe, that’s all good – just add an extra teaspoon of sugar. I wouldn’t make this if I only had white rum in the house, but spiced rum could be interesting.
  • Feel free to add your preferred form of chilli to this recipe – my family’s taste tends towards the mild, but if I was making it just for myself a little gochujang wouldn’t go amiss.
  • I suspect diet Coke or Coke Zero wouldn’t have the same effect here – you need the sugar to make it work.

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music lately:

Pretty Little Angel Eyes by Curtis Lee. I’ve had of late an odd nostalgia for the songs used in my jazz dancing classes in the early nineties – those hard-working cassette tapes dubbed from other tapes by my teacher. This song was one which we danced to, and despite its chirpy lyrics and break-neck pace – I’m not sure it actually has any verses? It’s literally all bridge? – there’s something about that doo-wop sound that makes me feel super melancholy the minute the “woo-ooo-ooo” bit starts. Anyone else?

Overload by Zappacosta, another song on high rotation in my jazz-dancing years – and I’m sorry to sound ancient but WHY don’t songs sound like this anymore? When will people be brave enough to do that? Is it so much to ask?

SpottieOttieDopaliscious by Outkast. Everyone mentions the horns first – and they’re the greatest – but I also harbour deep affection for that “damn, damn, damn James” refrain. This song is seven minutes long and it feels like three – honestly, forty minutes would still leave you feeling bereft the moment it ends.

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.

Nigella’s Norwegian Mountain Loaf (no-knead, vegan)

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Over the past few months of undulating lockdown levels I’ve been turning to this bread recipe at least once a week, baking loaf after loaf of seeded, grainy future toast. This recipe is as reliable as it is easy, and I’ve loved it since I first got Nigella Lawson’s wonderful book How To Be A Domestic Goddess back in 2006 – and yet somehow I never once blogged about it in all the ensuing years. Which is kind of odd, given how consumed I am with turning everything I consume into words for you to consume. What a treat from the universe for the tired-brained writer – here’s one I actually did prepare earlier.

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I really can’t express how minimal the effort is here – some half-hearted commitment to the ingredients list, a little apathetic stirring, the most unceremonious hiffing of the dough into a loaf tin, and then the oven does the rest of the work for you.

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This bread is fine on its own – if a little strenuously chewy – but really comes alive once toasted, and that is my strongest recommendation for it. In turn, the more seeds you add to it, the more wonderfully nutty and crunchy it will be when put through the toaster. The combination of flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds means you can practically feel your hair getting shinier with every mouthful – however walnuts, sesame seeds, chia and hemp seeds would be great too. I favour this toast spread with refined coconut oil and Marmite, a combination which, chaotic though it may sound, tastes deliciously, butterishly logical to me.

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If you fancy further bread recipes, I recommend my (also no-knead) Social Distancing Bread or, if you really need a diversion, my Marmite Babka.

Also! If you are eligible to vote in New Zealand and haven’t yet enrolled please consider doing so as soon as possible! The process is honestly? Not very straightforward. The options of who to vote for? Often disappointing and underwhelming! But I assume if you’re reading this you’re probably a cool decent non-rightwing person and so, we need you do vote for whoever disappoints you the least so that the most disappointing and harmful people don’t get all the power. It may not feel like it, but your vote does count for something! Unfortunately that something might be “the lesser of several evils” – but it’s still something. I would really love to be more positive about this! And also to write about it with fewer double negatives! Unfortunately I am bitterly pragmatic and obtusely wordy. In short: enrol online here.

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Nigella Lawson’s Norwegian Mountain Loaf

No rise, no knead, grainy seedy bread. Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess – I’ve listed the ingredients I’ve used but have included Nigella’s exact ingredients below the recipe for you to compare/consider using instead. With this in mind you could definitely experiment with different seeds, grains and dusts, but this combination works very well for me.

  • 350g strong bread flour (usually labelled “high grade”)
  • 50g wholemeal flour
  • 50g rolled oats (not instant)
  • 10g instant/active dried yeast
  • 1 heaped tablespoon sugar, any kind
  • 1 cup/250ml soy milk, diluted slightly with water
  • 1 cup/250ml cold water
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt flakes or 1 and 1/2 teaspoons regular table salt
  • 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  • 3 tablespoons flaxseeds
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower seeds

1: Mix all the ingredients together to form a thick, sticky batter.

2: Tip the mixture into a loaf tin lined with baking paper. Place in a cold oven, immediately turn the temperature to 110C/230F and leave it for half an hour.

3: Once the thirty minutes is up, turn the temperature to 180C/350F and cook it for another hour. Because this is quite dense it might need a little longer – Nigella recommends sticking a skewer in it to see if it comes out clean which is a pretty good way of checking.

Note: I genuinely don’t know why I increased the yeast to ten grams from seven other than being the victim of my own rakish whimsy but! Now that I’ve started doing it I find it hard to stop, so ten grams it is. If you want to use the original seven there is no reason why that won’t work, it is after all what Nigella herself uses.

Nigella’s exact ingredients, for your comparison/consideration:

  • 250ml water
  • 250ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 350g wholemeal bread flour
  • 50g rye flour
  • 7g easy-blend yeast or 15g fresh yeast
  • 50g porridge oats (not instant)
  • 25g wheatgerm
  • 3 tablespoons each flaxseeds and sunflower seeds
  • 1 tablespoon salt

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music lately:

Losing True by The Roches. If you ever wished the band Yes sounded more like the Cocteau Twins, or vice versa, this song might just be for you.

Route by MC Mabon – I want to say it’s kind of early Beck-esque downbeat…hip hop? It’s definitely extremely Welsh, and definitely extremely bewitching, I genuinely can’t stop listening to it.

First Love/Late Spring by Mitski. I’ve said it before but whenever I don’t know what to listen to and can’t commit to sitting through a whole song, she is always what my brain really wanted the whole time. If you’ve never heard her before I urge you with everything I’ve got to also listen to her song Your Best American Girl – what I wouldn’t give, to go back to the feeling of hearing one minute and twenty two seconds into that song for the first time!

Next time: I’m trying a new ice cream recipe! But also made another pasta recipe.

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

Vegan No-Churn Pineapple-Lemon Gelato

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This frozen dessert occupies a space somewhere between sorbet and ice cream – it’s opaquely, mildly creamy, and yet icily brisk and refreshing – and so, with the kind of abject, disrespectful non-authenticity which I seem particularly intent on applying to Italian cuisine only, I’ve called it gelato. It’s inspired by this wonderful lemon curd recipe which I devised last year, with three key components: the pineapple juice for buttery zing and general lengthening, a cornflour-based custard for smooth texture, and a little raw cacao butter for body, richness, and to bevel out the water content.

Unlike with the lemon curd, you really can taste the pineapple when it’s used here, but I decided – once I realised this – that it was intentional. Pineapple and lemon frozen together taste like cold distilled sunshine, with the sugar content somehow making the lemon even more sour, and vice versa. A truly delightful combination.

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As with all my recipes of this nature, this Pineapple-Lemon Gelato doesn’t require an ice cream maker – and I will never cease my objections against Big Ice Cream Maker – you don’t even have to stir or blend it as it freezes, that’s how well-behaved the recipe is. However, the key to success here is to cool the mixture very slowly – first on the bench, and then in the fridge. This allows the cacao butter content to gradually solidify without separating out, plus you can say the gelato has been “aged” to improve the flavour, as though it’s a twenty dollar bottle of wine or a rare cheese. Neither of these outcomes is based on any scientific knowledge – just wild guesswork and following my heart – but the method worked for me.

If being self-satisfied about making a recipe based on another recipe I made up isn’t enough, I also have an alternative ice cream recipe for you that’s even easier than this gelato – the fluffy, soft, rich no-churn Berry Ice Cream that I made for Tenderly, published this week. If making custard and sourcing cacao butter feels like too much effort, all this ice cream uses is a bit of fruit, some sugar, and the aquafaba from a can of chickpeas. And it tastes like a dream.

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Look at it!

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But also look at this! Better make them both, just to be safe.

No-Churn Pineapple-Lemon Gelato

Sour-sweet and delicious, and no special equipment required beyond a wooden spoon. Recipe by myself.

  • 2 cups pineapple juice
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (around four good-sized lemons’ worth)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup soy milk
  • 7 teaspoons cornflour (aka cornstarch)
  • 1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped raw cacao butter*
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • finely grated zest from the lemons (optional but very good)

1: Bring the pineapple juice, lemon juice and sugar to the boil in a saucepan, and then lower to a simmer and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Turn off the heat, but leave the pan where it is.

2: Mix the cornflour with a little of the soymilk in a small bowl – just enough to make it into a wet slurry, which will ensure it blends smoothly without lumps. Add the cornflour mixture and remaining soy milk to the pineapple mixture and cook it over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to about the texture of a good smoothie – you’ll be able to feel the difference in it as you stir, as it becomes less watery and more saucy.

3: Remove from the heat and stir in the cacao butter, vanilla extract, and salt, continuing to stir until the cacao butter has melted and is completely incorporated. At this point, stir in the lemon zest if using.

4: Transfer the mixture to a freezer-safe container, cover, and allow to come to room temperature on the bench. Then, refrigerate it for four to six hours. This step is important – it helps the mixture to settle, so that the fat doesn’t separate, and I am convinced it improves the flavour. Give it a stir – only if it looks like it needs it – and then freeze for six hours or overnight. It should be ready to serve right away, otherwise sit it on the bench for ten minutes first.

Makes around 800ml.

*If you can’t find cacao butter this will probably work with coconut oil – I haven’t tested it but I’m quite sure it would be fine. Keep it at a heaped tablespoon, but you won’t need to chop it up because coconut oil melts very quickly.

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music lately:

Classic Girl by Jane’s Addiction. I love the way it starts drowsy and woozy and suddenly springs to life with those jaunty, Space Oddity-style drum fills. I love whatever top-of-nose metallic register Perry Farrell’s voice is in. An excellent closer to an eternally excellent album.

Legends Never Die by Orville Peck and Shania Twain – in a year of so little positivity, this song is just very uncomplicatedly lovely. Peck’s cavernous Orbison-y voice blends gloriously with Twain’s more raspy vocals on the road-weary lyrics, and they’re both clearly having a wonderful time.

You’ve Got A Friend, sung by Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters and Mama Cass on a 1971 episode of The Carol Burnett Show. My friend Sam sent this to me correctly assuming it would bring me joy – and oh what joy it brings. The daffy choreography, the flowing gowns, the teeny microphones, the hyperactive vocal arrangement (“you’ve got a friend, you’ve got a good friend, you’ve got a very good friend”) the soaring sumptuousness of Mama Cass’s voice, baby Bernadette Peters’ voice like a china plate falling to the floor but never quite hitting it, the fact that the song lasts six minutes and fifty five whole seconds. There’s something so comforting about that immense, competent professionalism that you get in stars of yesteryear like Carol Burnett (see also the endlessly capable Julie Andrews) which becomes even more comforting when she’s assuring you repeatedly through the medium of song that you’re not alone.

Next time: more pasta?

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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

we don’t talk about love, we only want to get drunk

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I had intended to make these Drunken Noodles because I thought they’d be delicious, and not because of the reason for their cute name – which supposedly came about because they’re a good hangover cure. But then I got a bit of a hangover! Not a huge one, but just a certain dull-edged self-indulgent seediness that made me crave salt and heat. As I said in my last blog post, there’s not much else to do in the countryside other than drink tea; now that I’m back visiting Wellington there are significantly more bars per capita and people to catch up with, in said bars, also per capita. You start off with a ferrous, silt-thick craft beer while using a bar’s WiFi, then move to a second location to meet your dear friend Kate for a Prosecco, then another dear friend Kim joins and it’s like, would it be morally wrong not to split a bottle of wine now? And then you have more wine with dinner, and then whisky afterwards, and before you know it’s 9pm and you’ve been drinking since noon.

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The next day I made these noodles for Kate and myself and I do think they had some kind of positive effect, but they were so delicious that I’d very much like to eat them on a weekly basis whether or not there’s a hangover involved. Drunken Noodles are a Thai dish that you might see on menus as Pad Kee Mao, and it’s not traditionally vegan. My recipe is obviously absolutely not authentic because it’s something I pieced together from trawling other non-vegan recipes and trying to suss out how I could make it work for me – but it’s straightforward, and it tastes fantastic, and as you can see from the ingredients list there’s plenty of room to move. You could fry some mushrooms or tofu to bulk it out, you can toy with the seasoning and sweetness, and you can make it as chilli-hot as your tastebuds can withstand.

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Drunken Noodles

  • 200g (or as many as you want) rice noodles
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Thai seasoning sauce, Maggi sauce, liquid amino sauce, or similar (or just more soy sauce if you’re stuck)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons oil (peanut oil is great, otherwise use vegetable)
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar (Zhenjiang/Chingkiang vinegar is amazingly delicious, otherwise just apple cider or malt would work)
  • 2 teaspoons sriracha, or to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • a handful (roughly) of fresh basil leaves, plus extra for serving
  • 2 spring onions
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes
  • chilli flakes, to serve 

(Note: if you can get hold of Thai basil then use that instead, I could not find any but regular basil seems to be a serviceable substitute. Similarly, if you can get hold of some vegan oyster sauce then definitely add a spoonful of that to the sauce.)

Place the noodles in a heatproof dish and cover in boiling water. Let them sit for a couple of minutes to soften, then drain and set aside.

Stir together the soy sauce, seasoning sauce, sugar, oil, vinegar, sriracha, and finely chopped garlic cloves. Finely chop most of the basil, reserving some for garnish, and stir it into the sauce. Finely slice the spring onions, and halve the cherry tomatoes.

Heat a little extra oil in a frying pan and tip in the spring onions, stirring until they’re softened and a little browned. Add the cherry tomatoes, the drained noodles, and the sauce, stirring for a couple of minutes to let the noodles absorb everything and the cherry tomatoes collapse a little.

Remove from the heat, and divide between two bowls. Sprinkle over as much of the chilli flakes as you want, and a little extra basil.

Serves 2, although one person could probably handle this quantity, that person being me.

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For something that comes together in a minute this gives so much depth of flavour – layers of dark saltiness, bursts of heat, slippery tender noodles, the sweet juiciness of the tomatoes, and the almost cinnamon-like warmth of the basil. Tomatoes and basil are always presented as an Italian cuisine thing, but I think this pairing of them here is even more iconic.

I’m in Wellington for another week or so and am not going to be operating at this high level of activity for the entire time but I absolutely will be making these noodles again. And there’s nothing quite like the pure creamery quadruple-distilled corn-fed joy of seeing old friends again – I am hugely enjoying myself.

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(Friends like…Ghost the dog!!!)

title from: A Design For Life by Manic Street Preachers, I really don’t like their music on the whole but I extremely love this one song – the dramatic strings and the way the chorus thunders into your ears and the structure of the lyrics, it’s so good.

music lately:

Spindrift by Colin Stetson. This is an incredible piece of noise, like a cavalcade of uplifting fluttery sounds coming from the saxophone of all things, it’s like a shower of cold water running over your ears but also you’re floating?

Beautiful Baby, by Elizabeth. Kate introduced me to this artist, and I was instantly in love! This song holds that particular kind of melancholy where it feels like it should be playing while you watch a person that you’re in love with slow-dancing purposefully with with someone else.

Next time: All I want to make is these noodles, it seems kind of unfair that I have to plan other recipes? But I guess that’s how food blogs work? What if I just talked about this recipe till the end of time?

PS: if you enjoy my writing and would like to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, etc – this month I reviewed 41 films and 20 books, last month I revealed the opening sentences of the novel I wrote.

start spreading the news, I’m leaving today

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It is tough out there at the moment, you know? I mean it’s always tough out there – it’s slightly reassuring but mostly terrifying to consider the fact that not a single year has gone by without something awful happening – but specifically, the burning Amazon rainforest is really making my brain glitch and my already-mounting anxiety about environmental stuff and the fragility of what time we have within that environmental stuff, ramp up significantly. To get a grip on it, this piece in The Guardian outlines clearly and calmly what’s going on and gives some ways to help – although the forests’ fate appears largely in the hands of like, three tyrannical despots and a handful of abysmally slow-moving world leaders as opposed to one individual not using a plastic bag one time. Which is not to discount the power of that plastic bag. I grant you, it’s a drop in a bucket of water that’s coming to a boil. But still. Do what you can, anything good: plant a lil native tree, write to whichever politician seems most likely to actually read your email, donate to a local shelter or women’s refuge, contribute to the kaupapa of Ihumātao, smile at a dog, ask someone how they feel and then listen to what they say.

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I recently ordered Rachel Ama’s cookbook Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats as a baseless reward to myself, the warranting of which I assume will become apparent eventually. I mean, someone’s gotta self-indulge me! I was spurred on by a recommendation of Nigella Lawson’s on instagram – Lawson and I already have a kind of jump/how high relationship as far as her opinion and me heeding her opinion goes, but I figured that a vegan recommendation from someone so wholeheartedly meaty held particular weight. Turns out Nigella and I were both correct! This book is wonderful – not least because Ama also has listed songs in it that she listens to while making the food – it’s full of the kind of food I want to eat, and I can’t wait to cook my way through it. I decided to break it in by making something swift and chill, this Chive Tofu Spread, which takes a bare minute to come together and tastes fantastically delicious.

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Rachel Ama’s Chive Tofu Spread

A recipe from the cookbook Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats

  • 40g raw cashew nuts (about 1/3 cup)
  • 280g extra firm tofu
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (the refined, flavourless type is best here)
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon garlic granules or powder
  • a handful of fresh chives, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cover the cashew nuts with water and leave to soak for about two hours, then drain.

Drain the tofu and gently press down on it with a paper towel to try remove as much of the moisture as possible. Blend everything except for the chives in a food processor – although I used a stick/immersion blender to make it extra creamy, because I wasn’t sure that I trusted the food processor. Fold in the chives, and serve.

Can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for about three days.

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You might potentially not be immediately drawn to the notion of a bowl of cold blended tofu, but this is so much greater than the sum of its bits: creamily smooth, with a flavour almost approaching soft goat’s cheese, plus a pleasing sour-cream-and-chives vibe from, obviously, the chives. The tofu gives it body and tang and the cashews and coconut oil give it lushness, and I confidently urge you to try making it for yourself. I threw it together earlier this afternoon and it’s already gone: on toast, as you can see above, in vegetable wraps, and the rest taken care of spread on crackers. I would happily double or even triple this quantity in future, and am imagining it spooned into baked potatoes, spread on bagels, stirred through pasta salad, with different herbs like basil and mint; dill and parsley; rosemary and roasted garlic, thyme and roasted garlic; back to chives again but with roasted garlic.

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I want to make it super clear that by talking about both the Amazon and this recipe, I’m not trying to be flippant or imply that cooking makes everything better – although cooking is great – I just tend to think about twelve different thoughts in tandem at any given time and these are but two of them: 1) yikes, the environment and 2) wow, this recipe is great.

If you, like me, are an eager consumer of dips and spreads, I thoroughly recommend these other recipes that I’ve written about hitherto in the last six months alone: Caramelised Onion Butter; Olive Tapenade; Muhammara; Roast Cauliflower Miso Butter, and Butternut Dip.

And if you, like, me, enjoy my writing, you have the option of channeling this enjoyment by supporting me directly on Patreon. A dollar a month gets you an exclusive blog post, two dollars a month gets you that plus further exclusive monthly content and access to everything I’ve already written this year. It’s easy and it’s appreciated!

title from: New York, New York, specifically the smoky, downbeat Cat Power cover. Frank Sinatra’s bombastic original is great, just the kind of song you’d want sung about you if you were a city, but it was the closing time song for a bar I used to go to like four years ago and I’m only just managing to dis-associate it from that “now what, oh no it’s tomorrow” feeling. 

music lately:

Cripple Creek, by Buffy Sainte-Marie, a sweetly exuberant song where she accompanies herself with the water-droplet sounds of the mouth bow. I definitely recommend you watch this video of her performing it on Sesame Street, it’s just gorgeous, and a reminder of her ground-breaking presence on that show. She was the first person to breastfeed on television!

Cheree, by Suicide. You know those songs that you can feel changing you molecule by molecule, note by note? This stunningly fizzy song is somehow wildly exhilarating yet slow moving, like an iron-rich Berocca dissolving in a glass of water.

Next time: I’m still keen to try making my own seitan and am no closer to finding a definitive recipe so please, seitan hive come through!