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Playing Russian roulette with end of season food

What is it about wrapping things in pastry that seems to be a universal constant? Whether it's spring rolls in China, samosas in India, patties in Jamaica or those weird grim things that sit sweating in chippies throughout the land, pastry is where it's at.

I love a good pie, but I can't think of the last time I made one. The last time I ate one, however, was when I was having a lazy day and decided to dig out a Clive's Pies aloo gobi number.

I'm not gluten-free, but a lot of Clive's Pies stuff is - a bonus for coeliacs,  but I wonder if it might have been behind the structural failure of the pie, which sort of collapsed when I fished it out of the oven. It was actually a pretty decent pie despite that - I love aloo, I love gobi, I love aloo and gobi together, and I love them all wrapped in pastry. I'm only human after all.

And, if you can bear to drag your eyes away from the pie that looks like it's fallen off a small stepladder and onto a plate, then you'll notice that the radish just above the top crust has a little heart in it. Nature, you sweetie, you.

This week, I also managed to pass my first year exams, so I'm one step closer to getting a degree. Maybe that's why most of the food I have to show you recently is fairly basic - I'm celebrating my student status!

And is there anything more studenty than cooking things on toast? This is a step up from beans though (granted, not a huge one, but a step nonetheless) - this is the Russian-English classic that is mushroom stroganoff on toast.

I used to hate mushroom stroganoff for a while, which I attribute mainly to it being the standard vegetarian option for any pub in the 1990s and it also being available as one of those dehydrated packet sauce mixes. You know, just add milk, mix, pour over mushrooms, and enjoy whatever grimness results? Yeah, I made a load of those when I was a student last time around. It's probably only those that stopped me from developing some nutritional deficiency. It did have a bit of a taste deficiency though.

Nowadays, when I want to make mushroom stroganoff, there are no packets of weird powder.  Just a bit of garlic, some paprika, and lots of Tofutti vegan sour cream. And toast. Lots of toast.

But don't worry, I've been making a few things that would have eluded the cooking skills that I managed to amass at university last time around - I've been making some dessert too. After saying how much I liked Livia's Kitchen's raw millionaire bites recently - and how expensive they were - I thought I'd have a go at making my own. Happily, the eponymous Olivia of Livia's Kitchen occasionally publishes recipes on her blog, and I used this one for chocolate hazelnut slice to knock up a slightly cheaper version of the raw millionaire bites at home.

It's not a massively complex recipe: it's more 'blend some stuff, press it into a dish, blend some more stuff, press it on top, cover with melted chocolate'. Despite that rather underwhelming summary I've just given you, it was pretty great.

What do you think about best before dates? I tend to view them mainly as a challenge than as a guide to when to chuck away the stuff in your fridge.

Case in point: I realised that I moved into my current home a couple of years ago, and I took with me a bunch of yuba sheets. Those yuba have remained tucked away since then, waiting for the day I finally plucked up the courage to attempt making yuba rolls.

Turns out that the time I plucked up enough courage to use them was about 18 months after their best before date. Still, I wasn't going to let a little thing like that stop me - how wrong could dried yuba go in a sealed packet, I thought. I was about to find out.

I made these yuba rolls by adapting a recipe from Mari Fujii's book on shojin ryori cuisine, The Englightened Kitchen: Fresh Vegetable Dishes from the Temples of Japan. Inside the magical yuba were carrots, shiitakes and spare bits of yuba that had crumbled off the sheets I was using. I cooked them both by steaming and by baking, and enjoyed both. For what it's worth, I had no ill effects after eating the ancient yuba. Half a packet remains - perhaps I'll get around to using them some time in 2019!

And from Japan to the Spanish speaking world. The end of summer means the end of lots of good vegetables, and at the moment I'm mostly mourning the disappearance of padron peppers.

I love the way that with a bit of hot oil and some sea salt, the simplest of vegetables becomes a rich treat, its grassy flesh becoming melting soft. I also like the Russian roulette nature of the green peppers: every time you take a first bite into one, you wonder if you'll get the standard issue padron or a fiery chilli-esque one instead?

I've been munching through them by the truckload, often using them as a side dish or accompanying them with simple black bean and spinach cashewdillas. Please summer, don't go too soon. I'll miss your vegetable bounty.

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  1. Congratulations on finishing your first year exams! How many years are left? Looks like you're doing pretty well with food, too. I like the look of the bars — whatever ingredients you threw in the pan seemed to work really well. As for yuba — I love it. We usually use the rolled up yuba tubes in soups and stir-frys, but after seeing your rolls, I'm wanting some. Rice paper is nice, but yuba is special.

  2. Congrats on passing your 1st year exams! The mushroom stroganoff toast looks great, never thought to sub the noodles for toast. It was just in the news recently how best by dates are set by the manufacturer and more or less meaningless on food safety so you're all good on the dried yuba sheets. :-)

  3. I used to be frightened by BB dates and quite strict but as my food budget has decreased I've become much more free and easy when I find things languishing in the back of the pantry. I will def check out that hazelnut slice recipe - thanks for sharing and big congrats on passing the first year exams!

  4. Congratulations on passing the first year of exams. And now wow, lots of eats here. I haven't ever had a Clives pies, only because I make my own version of vegan pies and have made lots of fillings inc. aloo gobi. Ive not cooked with yuba yet, but its on my list to do. I will have to check out the book you mention too

  5. congrats on the exams - making millionaire's shortbread sounds like good celebratory eats - I love that you use yuba way past the use by date - if stuff is looking ok I am usually ok with it though I am a bit weary of stuff that needs the fridge. I've never had yuba rolls but yours look amazingly delicious. I love the look of your mushrooms on toast but I still cringe at the suggestion of a mushroom meal - which perhaps is because I still hate being offered a mushroom meal in cafes.

  6. Congratulations on the exam results! It looks like you've eaten some delicious things to honour the good news :-)


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