Sunday, 28 July 2013

Channelling Nigella - Vegan Cannelloni

Nigella Lawson
Okay you win. I submit. This is strictly a one off! I never wanted to be a recipe blogger. There are enough good veggie recipe blogs out there. Check out my friend Nicole Don't get me wrong, I love to create good meals and I adore eating them, but the idea of writing a recipe blog? Let's just say it's not my tazza di te, as they say round here. That measured precision approach to cooking of conventional recipes bores me into oblivion. But... enough people have asked for this.

I do everything by taste, feel and proportion. Not just cooking!! A dash of this a splash of that and a good tablespoon of the other. Everyone knows stuff like shortcrust pastry is half fat to flour don't they? They don't? Buy a cookbook for heavens sake! Guests shyly ask for recipes all the time. (The shyly part is probably because they listen to Paul's tales of my 'chefy stropps'.) But I want to put the record straight. I'm a pussycat in the kitchen and I purr like Nigella Lawson straight into camera while licking the hummus I've just scraped from the blender slowly, delicately, tantalisingly off my little finger and out of my moustache. Yum. Needs a soup├žon more lemon, a smidgen of salt. Forget grammes and millilitres. The only way I can write a recipe is like Nigella. If you've read How To Eat you'll get my drift.

So I begin channelling Nigella. The camera pans across the kitchen and alights for just a millisecond on my cute Brummie ass in tight maroon cords. Then it rises the length of my slender sinewy figure. You can see my nipples through my tight T-Shirt. It finds me beaming, lips glistening. I run my tongue along my moustache. Turned on yet? Cut to elevator music as I open the fridge and take out an enormous wedge of chocolate gateau and stuff it greedily into my cake hole. Scene set we're off:

Vegan Cannelloni

Tasty dish No. 1
From your big posh larder cupboard pull: Olive oil, Onions and vegetables (according to your own taste), Passata, Rice Milk, Garlic, Herbs, Lasagne sheets, Porridge Oats, Walnuts or Brazils, Sunflower or pumpkin seeds, Cornflour, Yeast Extract, Tomato Puree, Salt (if you want) and pepper.

Serves 6 (sometimes 4 according to how hungry/greedy people are)

For the white sauce you'll need a small onion - white or red it doesn't matter, a clove of garlic or more depending on your taste. Some olive oil. Personally I like enough to kill a beginner. Some cornflour and some rice or soya milk. Seasoning to your own taste.

If you've ever wondered what's meant by 'first of all make a roux' here's what you do. Add a good slug of olive oil to a pan. Add your onion and garlic chopped finely and cook for a few minutes. You can't be exact, if you like more allium pungency cook less than if you like the sweeter caramalised taste. Next add your cornflour and stir vigorously. If your going to make a large proper teacup full of sauce you'll only need a heaped teaspoon of cornflour. Cook the cornflour but don't let the mixture burn. Remove from the heat and gradually add your rice or soya milk. Keep stiring to avoid lumps but if they form give it a blast with a hand blender to smooth it out. Return to the heat and boil and it should thicken. Too thick? Add more milk. Set aside.
Jonnie Falafel

For the tomato sauce you need a small onion, some chopped olives and and and capers, some tomato paste and a half bottle of a good quality smooth passata. Add some oil to pan and heat. Add some chopped onion and cook until tender. Next add your passata, olives and capers and if you like extra tomatoeyness a tablespoon of triple concentrate tomato puree. Cook together for a bout 15 minutes. Done. You can of course vary the vegetables. If you use zucchini, peppers, mushrooms they will not affect the cooking time. Chopped harder vegetables like broccoli or carrot will need longer cooking. If you like herby flavours you should add the herbs with the onions and cook for a while before adding everything else.

Make an egg substitute which is going to bind your filling together and be the matrix for the main flavours. Crack a couple of tablespoons of linseeds in a food processor and whizz up with hot water. Set aside and it should thicken like wallpaper paste. To this mixture add a good heaped teaspoon of yeast extract (Marmite will do) and half a tube of tomato puree. Whizz up. It should be thick and brownish.

Tasty Dish 2
The filling. Fry a finely chopped onion and any finely chopped.vegetables you like. As before you can add herbs to your taste. Once cooked turn off heat and leave. In a food processor whizz up some porridge oats, with some pumpkin or sunflower seeds and add some walnuts. I like walnuts because of their fatty unctuousness, but Brazils work just as well. Hazelnuts have a strong flavour but you can use them. Peanuts just taste wrong. Mix these dry ingredients with your cooked vegetables. Add your egg substitute and combine well.

Now comes the assembly. Place filling on the cooked lasagne sheets in sausage like lines and roll up. Place each roll in an oiled baking dish. When the dish is full, pour over your tomato sauce then the white sauce over that. Cover with foil and bake at 170 degrees for about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake further until browned. Remove from the oven, cut into portions and serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

It's ready for your guests to enjoy. I always save a portion and all the bit's that stick to the dish, cover it with cling film and bung it in the fridge. Then I string fairy lights all around the kitchen in case of night starvation when  I get up at 2 am and finish it off along with the rest of the chocolate cake. Gaviscon follows. Ciao a tutti.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

All Your Children Here - Leonard Cohen in Lucca

Last night was Leonard Cohen's second stop of his never ending tour at the Summer Festival in the genteel Northern Tuscany city of Lucca. The first was in 2009. He made it to Piazza Santa Croce in Firenze in 2010.

"Draw us near
Bind us tight
All your children here
In our rags of light"

The Maestro
You know the story already. Back in 2008 Leonard Cohen took to the road again after a 15 year hiatus in order to remedy dire financial straits brought about when his assistant Kelly Lynch siphoned his retirement fund. When he stepped back onto the stage that spring for those early Canadian and British dates little did he know that Lynch had done him – and us – a favour. Reassured he still had an audience, the experience sparked a creative renaissance realised in 2012s Old Ideas album and triggered an appetite for live performance that he claims never to have felt before.

Lucca has it all – quaint charm, gentility and and sophistication, in spades. The grand Piazza Napoleone (so named because Napoleon once ruled this city) is a spectacular setting for the event and as we strolled to soak up the atmosphere we were fortunate enough to witness the 5pm sound check. A relaxed Cohen dressed in a loose fitting open-necked light grey shirt, but still bearing the trade-mark trilby, led the band through a bouncy I Can't Forget from 1988s I'm Your Man album and a cover of the recently deceased George Jones Choices, neither of which he performed that evening. He stepped back and watched attentively as Sharon Robinson performed a partial Alexandra Leaving and the Webb sisters gave their version of If It Be Your Will an outing. Bidding adieu Leonard explained that they were retiring to the dressing room to get something to eat before the performance proper.

The Afternoon Sound Check
A brisk Dance Me To The End of Love opened the proceedings as it has at every Cohen concert for the past 28 years. In terms of song selection the opening set has remained largely the same since 2008 with the addition of a couple of numbers from Old Ideas. Someone was asking if this wasn't getting stale, but the anorak in me is forced to point out that Bird On A Wire has reverted to it's original lyric, Leonard having dropped the pleading “don't cry no more/Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry no more/It's over/It's finished/It's been paid for” which has been a feature of live performances for a couple of decades or more. Musical or lyrical variations provided enough to keep me interested even though the songs remained the same. Special mention has to go to Lover, Lover, Lover which has an astonishingly powerful new groove and a very committed vocal from the man himself.

Of course I was thrilled to hear the Old Ideas songs since I'd never witnessed them in performance. Amen was faithful to the album with Leonard extemporising for emphasis. He had not merely “seen through the horror”, but seen through “this whole damn horror”. The sublimely intense Come Healing - which has reduced me to tears on occasion - was marred by some totally inappropriate audience participation. What sort of ego needs to whistle loudly in the middle of the subdued harmonies? Why did some chat through the entire evening, or spend their time texting or even talking on the phone? At one stage a guy in front of me with his back to the stage had a screamed conversation with someone in the VIP bleachers at the back and was more or less shouting into my face. I just don't get it. Dylan has the right idea. At recent shows he's asked audiences to put away these devices and allow everyone to experience the concert directly first hand. Maybe I'm just getting old and irritable, but audience milling and churning, which is a feature of these types of shows, really got in the way of my enjoyment of the first set.
The energy levels and the volume went up in the second set. Some of the less committed audience members had disappeared leaving those with an attention span, and a touching Sisters of Mercy was a live first for me. I'd witnessed a full band version of Chelsea Hotel #2 at Florence three years ago, here it was an acoustic incarnation. I'd forgotten Heart With No Companion had been resurrected. It took me by surprise. The brisk-paced country shuffle arrangement has always seemed at odds with the lyric to me (“the nights of wild distress/Though your promise counts for nothing/You must keep it nonetheless”), but it was so perfectly enunciated you couldn't doubt it.

I'm Your Man allowed Leonard to be court jester, offering to wear an “old man's mask for you” and doing some outrageous mugging while making his plea, “if you want a father for your child” pointing directly into the front row. His own weakness in this little story of power-play was made clear in the repeated, “you know damn well you can/I'm your man” On the subject of mugging and movements that echo meaning it's worth mentioning here that earlier during a solid performance of Everybody Knows that he placed the back of his hand beneath his nose when he got to, “Everybody knows you live forever/When you've done a line or two” making the cocaine reference abundantly unambiguous.

Tonight Hallelujah was so subdued I could tell that some people didn't recognise it until he got to the chorus and then it slipped by subverting what had become a sing-along on previous tours. People are so used to power house versions of this song that it's almost
universally misunderstood as an anthem of praise. He combined the original lyric with the later re-write so I think we got most verses of both versions. Quite how, “Love is not a victory march/It's a cold and a very broken Hallelujah”, or “It's not a cry you hear tonight/From someone who has seen the light” or “Even though it's all gone wrong/I'll stand before the lord of song/Nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah” translates in some folks heads as celebratory is mystifying. As puzzling as his reputation for writing depressing songs.

I'm not really a fan of Sharon Robinson's melodies on Ten New Songs, but her rendition of Alexandra Leaving tonight is the epitome of style and dignity. Her voice is incredible and she holds the crowds rapt. I can't find words to signify just how intense it was.
Sharon Robinson

We got our chance for a sing-along with So Long Marianne. The audience belted out the chorus and Leonard stood with a broad grin and remarked on our “pretty singing”. He really seemed to enjoy leaving it to us. Going Home, featured in the encore, had Leonard lingering over the opening, “I love to speak with Leonard/He's a sportsman/He's a shepherd/He's a lazy bastard living in a suit” and the audience lapping up the self-deprecating humour. He wrapped up the evening unsurprisingly with I Tried To Leave You. “Here's a man still working for your smile”, the sonorous bass intoned. This was my fifth Cohen concert in as many years and I realised I was working for his and it was more in evidence than ever. After his usual benediction “May you be surrounded by the blessing of family and friends and if you are not, may the blessing find you in your solitude”, we all headed for home happy.