PUNISHMENT SOUP

I like few things more than food shopping. Record shopping has the edge, I s’pose, but I really do enjoy pushing my trolley up and down the aisles of Foodland, spending my lunchbreak in an Afghani grocers or comparing fermented tofu brands in an Asian supermarket.

As a result, I can be a bit of an over-shopper. The cupboards are always well-stocked with all sorts of lovely stuff. Over the past year or so, I’ve tried to rein in the amount of vegetables that go into the compost bin by making what I call my Punishment Soup.

Basically, it’s a soup made using all the veggies which are going soft in the fridge. It’s different every time and always bloody lovely. I tend to freeze it in portions and take it to work to reheat, where people frequently exclaim, “Ooh that smells nice”, and I then feel obliged to explain what it is, which leads to a conversation with my colleagues in my unpaid break time, which, my friends, is The Punishment!

TAHINI DRESSING

Today I found myself with half a jar of light tahini to get rid of, so I came up with the following dressing recipe. Perfect on salads, used as a dip, or as a mayonnaise substitute.

Half a jar of tahini (the light stuff has a milder flavour which lends itself better to this recipe, I reckon).

Glug of olive oil

Half a dozen ice cubes.

Glug of cider vinegar

Dribble of maple syrup.

Tablespoon of Dijon mustard.

Salt

Black pepper.

All you do is blend it all together. Please adjust the quantities to suit your own tastes.

Save it in the fridge for Ron.

Addit: This went quite thick in consistency in the fridge, so I’ve been using it as a kind of mayonnaise in sandwiches. Works well.

PROTEIN BALLS

PROTEIN BALLS HAVE TAKEN OVER FROM THE MACARON. They’re bloody everywhere.

When the historians of the future look back at the early 21st Century, and when they want a break from muttering ‘what the actual fuck’, they will perhaps examine the rise of the protein ball.

Sphere of influence

The internet, whilst it gives untold variations on recipes for protein balls, gives little insight into their origins. They sort of grew out of the space between the flapjack (remember them?), chocolate crackles, the slimmer’s bar and the chocolate digestive. They do hold quite a lot of information about our current obsessions though, with the protein element pushed to the fore (got to have protein, lots of protein – even though I sit on my arse all day, I need the protein intake of Precious McKenzie), coconut (the on-trend oily veg), and purport to be a low-guilt healthy energy boost (we used to say sugar-hit, but that just won’t do anymore) and things with ‘Superfood’ on the label, like Cocoa Nibs.

I’d never tasted one until a colleague (the same one who got me into brewing kombucha) forced one upon me. Not my kind of thing, usually, but, man, it was delicious – not as sweet as I’d imagined, and satisfying enough to dull the mid-afternoon hunger pangs before the you run the next marathon, dead-lift the next 100 kilos or browse youtube clips until you can sneak off home without being noticed. I persuaded him to give me the recipe, and I pass that on to you.


Approximately 250g Mixed raw nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, brazils), blended (choose your size of lump).

Cocoa powder

6 Dates, pitted (more, if you want it sweeter)

2 tbs coconut oil

Coconut flakes

Vanilla extract (although I forgot to put this in the second time I made them and they were still nice).

Cocoa nibs

Water

All you do is blend the nuts, coconut and dates. Mix with the vanilla, cocoa nibs, and a drop of water, not making it too wet. Form into balls, roll them in cocoa power and let them firm up in the fridge. Lick your hands clean, not getting it into your beard.

KNOW YOUR ONIONS

I’D FIND LIFE VERY DIFFICULT WITHOUT ONIONS.

Leaving aside pickled onions for a moment, which we get though a fair whack of in this house, as I’m married to a pickled onion fanatic (and let me take a moment to pay tribute to the delightful tiny cocktail onions which blessed my Gibsons, before I stopped drinking alcohol). I tend to buy three types: red onions (which, for some unknown reason, are called Spanish onions round these parts), spring onions (or scallions to our American comrades) and brown onions.

I generally use the red onions for salads, often lightly pickling the sliced onion segments in the bottom of the salad bowl, either in lemon juice or vinegar, as I prepare the other ingredients. It’s also worth noting that a red onion, sliced in half against the grain, is a thing of remarkable beauty.

Spring onions are obviously good for dishes originating in Asia, like stir-fries or ramen, or indeed in salads – but not in the truly wretched British salads of my childhood, which consisted of a couple of lettuce leaves, some slices of cucumber, a couple of tomato quarters, a couple of spring onions and some protein (usually one of the following: a hard-boiled egg, some cheese, a slice of ham, Spam, tinned corned beef, tinned salmon), with only a blob of Salad Cream to alleviate the suffering.

As I use brown onions for all other basic cooking, from finely chopped in sauces and stews, to sliced and fried on a sausage or vegeburger sandwich, I get through a lot more of these.

Spem in Allium.

Here, then, is my hot tip: I always buy brown onions by the sack. In my experience, a sack costs not much more than what at small net of onions costs (see above pictures) and contains about ten times more. It’ll be ages before they start to sprout and go soft (pick out any that do), and you’ll have already saved loads of money. Obviously, you need to have somewhere to store them, and I’m fortunate to have room. Keep an eye out for any that go off, though, because they stink.

If you come to the end of a jar of pickled onions, don’t discard the vinegar, try just filling the jar with sliced brown onions. They’ll quickly pickle and are delicious.

As something of an afterthought, it came to me that I should include onion powder here. I’d never used this until a year or so ago, when I saw it being included in lots of American cooking shows. If you’re making something burger-y, onion powder is a fantastic addition; it gives loads of onion flavour without disrupting the form of the burger. Anyone who has despaired as their vegeburgers fall apart in the pan will appreciate this. It’s also essential in those barbecque or chilli sauces that you make for, say, baked beans or Buffalo wings.

YOGHURT

Yoghurt is truly wonderful stuff. I still recall getting a tub of flavoured yoghurt as a treat as a kid and just loving it. In those days, it was all fruit pulp and sugar. Things are very different now, with supermarkets having a huge range of flavoured and unflavoured yoghurts to choose from. (In Australia, I think we have to give a big shout out to our Greek community for pushing things forward in this area). Still, similar to the hummus situation: such small tubs; such high cost.

The English-speaking world struggles with the word yoghurt. It’s apparently Turkish in origin and the way people say the word in English tends to fall into two camps: yo-gurt and yog-ert. I think each group considers the other’s pronunciation as odd and slightly foolish. I come from the yog-ert part of the world and live in the yo-gert part, can’t find it in myself to change and have had to come to terms with the fact that I sound faintly ridiculous.

I eat yoghurt most days, either in my morning muesli smoothie or with something like preserved peaches or a drizzle of honey for a simple dessert. Making dairy or non-dairy versions are just as easy, as the same ‘good’ bacteria work on both dairy and plant milks.

That, dear reader, is the perfect consistency.

Years ago, when I was a vegan, I started making my own soy yoghurt. The homemade stuff is really cheap, has all the good stuff in it (blah, blah, probiotics), and can be made with the minimum of faffing about.

In the old days, I had a wide-necked thermos and I’d bring a pan of soy milk up to just below the boil, let it cool to just above blood temperature (too hot, the bacteria will die; too cold, the bacteria won’t multiply), take off the skin, then add a bit of the previous batch (or some shop-bought live yoghurt) and let it sit overnight.

More recently, I’d been making it directly in mason jars using much the same method, only this time putting the filled jars into an esky with a jar of boiling water overnight to maintain the temperature.

However, about six months ago, I bought myself a rice cooker. Turns out that the ‘keep warm’ setting is perfect for yoghurt fermentation. I just pour in two litres of unsweetened soy milk, add the starter (either the last of the previous batch or a few tablespoons of bought yoghurt), flick the switch and leave overnight. I end up with two litres of thick, delicious, nutritious soy yoghurt.

My extensive internet research tells me (rightly or wrongly) that I don’t need to bring my milk up to near-boiling point anymore, so I don’t.

I primarily use unsweetened soy milk, largely because it has a good protein content (as opposed to, say, oat or almond milk, is lower in cholesterol than cow’s milk, and has a pleasant ‘beany’ taste. Also, I’ve found that different brands of soy milk produce very different results – not so much in flavour, but in consistency. I recently tried hemp milk, which made a runny yoghurt, with a pleasant taste, but cost a dollar or so more per litre.

I understand that you can also put it in your pants if you get thrush.

A FEW WORDS ABOUT COFFEE

I FUCKING LOVE COFFEE. Always have. It helps you wake up, helps you think; helps you poo. Living in Adelaide, a city where the inhabitants try to distract themselves from the ennui caused by living in Adelaide, by being obsessed, not just with coffee, but with perfect coffee, has only made this love more potent.

Quality froth.

I try to start every day with as good a cup as I can manage and drink two or three more cups each day. I avoid regularly buying from coffee shops, despite working near one of the best, largely because I’m a bit of a skinflint, but also so that – when I do go out for a cup – I like it to feel like a treat.

I bought a cheapo espresso machine a few years ago, which was quickly flogged to death in this household of relentless coffee drinkers. When my mum died and I inherited a few quid, I invested in a fancy DeLonghi coffee machine, which, although it was eye-wateringly expensive, lasted years with the occasional service and repair, churning out decent coffee, multiple times a day. We were all fucking bereft when it finally gave up the ghost. When I priced up a replacement, they were, sadly, just too expensive to justify the outlay.

As luck would have it, I’d been in an op shop (thrift/charity shop) and picked up a boxed, Bodum glass milk frother a couple of years previously, just because it was too good to resist at $5. It looks and functions like a traditional cafetière (French press/plunger), but without any metal parts on the jug, so you can put an inch or two of milk in it, pop it into the microwave to warm up, then plunge the plunger up and down to froth the milk. I thought I’d dig this out of the cupboard and give it a whirl, not having very high hopes, to be honest. Turns out it makes hugely thick, luscious, frothy milk. Well done Bodum. It also produces good results with your non-dairy milks, too.

I did a bit of internet research and found the Brikka moka pot, made by Bialetti, which has a little valve inside which is supposed to add crema to the coffee. I invested in the 6 shot version. It makes consistently superb coffee, frequently with a decent crema, which I drink with my frothed milk which takes, rather conveniently I think, about the same amount of time to prepare as the coffee takes to percolate.

It’s also worth noting that this process takes about the same amount of time as using the machine, once you factor in waiting for it to flush out, warm up etc. You also avoid having to clean the machine, which was always a proper ball-ache.

The only problem I had was sitting the moka pot on the gas stove. The iron trivet-thingy was just too small, so it would always be a bit of a balancing act, leading to the occasional spill – and fuck me, it makes a mess if it falls over.

To resolve this, I managed to buy online some small, flat, circular iron things which sit on the stove to support the pot. Unfortunately, due to my inability to read Japanese, I bought three, but never mind, eh.

One afternoon, on a day off, I was pottering round the house when I fancied a coffee, so made and drank a six-cup special. This gave me the worries. Quite uncomfortably so. So, for the sake of my mental health, I got myself a smaller version.

This wonderful little gadget (also made by Bialetti, as it happens), delivers a single shot of espresso straight into the cup and is perfect for giving you a little coffee-caffeine hit, without causing your brain to spoil your precious day away from your place of employment by causing you to ruminate over conversations you had ten years ago or why your boss is such a cunt.

I’m not getting paid to recommend this.

During the day at work, I drink black coffee made in my little cheapo one cup cafetière/plunger/French press. Whilst I’m not one to skimp on the essential ingredient, I’ve recently discovered that the organic, fair trade ground coffee sold by Aldi is, to me, pretty hard to beat. It’s not just because I’m trying to be woke, either.

It’s frothy, man. [Shout out to the 70’s kids out there]

A note about milk. Currently, I’m drinking oat milk at home and will happily go for whole milk, soy, dog, cat or oat if I’m out and about, depending how the mood takes me and I appreciate the taste variations.

WHO THE FUCK AM I?

I’M A PERSON WHO WAS UNFORTUNATE enough to have been brought up on the British food of the sixties and seventies, which was pretty crap overall. It wasn’t until I became vegan (where I reached the rank of Chief Inspector of the Vegan Police, before handing in my badge after 12 years) that I learned to cook and explored lots of amazing new foods. Apparently, I’m now a ‘flexitarian’. Fuck. I’m lucky enough to have lived in three wonderful cities (London, Birmingham, and Adelaide), all of whom have left their culinary mark.

I started this blog, because I thought I’d like to share some of the recipes which I enjoy, along with some associated topics. I’m not a trained cook (as will become abundantly clear, I expect), nor am I a nutritionist, lifestyle guru, or internet influencer. I do, however, have a love of tasty, healthy, economically viable food, and enjoy cooking.

The keener-eyed among you will have noticed I’m not a great one for giving quantities in my recipes. The reason is, that this is cooking, not fucking chemistry, and the correct amount of an ingredient should be what you think it should be (in most cases). I realise this makes me sound a bit of a prick, but, you know – my blog and all that.