Wow, October. What a busy but fun month! Our weeks were jam-packed and so were our weekends: we took a trip to the New Forest to celebrate our 5th anniversary. The weekend after we hosted Thanksgiving. The weekend of the 18/19th we had my friend M. visiting from Croatia (and the two of us went to our first-ever supper club). And finally this past weekend saw one of my BFFs, (another) M., and her husband visit all the way from Edmonton! It was a fantastic weekend and it gave me a chance to be a tourist in London again, and reminded me that while we have had MORE than our fair share of “downs” in this city, it truly is one of the best in the world, and we’re lucky to be able to live here. :)

This video has been all over the blosphere but just in case you haven’t seen it, do watch. Made me laugh out loud!

◌ Food52’s fall cookbooks roundup….oh if I had the money!

◌ Roundups: 10 zucchini noodle dishes (yum) and 15 healthier spins on mac & cheese (want every single one).

◌ Love the idea of an articles club. Although as most of my smartest and bestest friends live so far away, I’d have to make it a Skype club. ;)

Is brunch for jerks? I don’t totally agree, but I am not a fan of brunch for a couple of reasons: I get up early, so I don’t like eating my first meal around 10 or 11; I like lingering over meals but I’d MUCH rather do it in the evening; and it’s very difficult to find a decent table in London for brunch if you don’t book ahead.

◌ I was saddened to hear of the death of Oscar de la Renta. My grandmother, who has been gone now for nearly 3 years, was a HUGE Oscar fan and always wore his perfume.

◌ Netflix movie suggestions.

◌ Pairing Bordeaux wine and food from one of my favourite food writers.

◌ On a recommendation from my parents, I devoured Happy Valley. Anyone into crime fiction or shows will love it — and the Yorkshire scenery is stunning (the show is available on Netflix for Canadians).

Big Ben & Parliament from the Eye!

Big Ben & Parliament from the Eye!

 

Finally, I am going to try an experiment over the next week or so that may lead to some radio silence on the blog. I am going to try to take as much of a social media “detox” as I can. I won’t be completely ignoring it, but will be making a conscious effort to spend as little time on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and Instagram as possible. My reasons for attempting this are many. One, it’s reading week next week, which means no teaching for me, and more time to devote to my own work. Tomorrow is also the start of Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo) which is a month-long, largely social-media (the irony!) supported and fuelled dedication to greater productivity and progress in academic writing — a cyber “knuckling down”, if you will. Finally, while this past month has been very rewarding and a lot of fun, it’s been overwhelming for me in many ways, and I think a mini break from technology and the feeling to be up-to-date on social media would do me good. :)

Now that the clocks have changed (at least here) and fall is truly upon us, I thought I’d share some of my favourite soups to make.

Senegalese peanut soup
This is quite simply delicious. It is one of H. & I’s all-time favourites, especially good over couscous or brown rice. Let sit for a bit if you can.

Spicy bean & lentil
This one doesn’t sound all that appealing but I promise you it tastes much better than it sounds. It’s the perfect combination of smoke, spice, and comfort, and pretty healthy too.

Cauliflower
I am a sucker for a simple cream of cauliflower. Done well, and topped with a bit of cheese, they are so good. I particularly like the British Larder’s version.

Broccoli, lemon & Parmesan
Another one that’s let down by its name. This soup is easy to make, very tasty, and a quick way to use up a head of broccoli that might have been sitting in the fridge a day or two too long!

And, these aren’t really fall soups per se, but the corn and coconut done with frozen corn I think works just as well, and can add some brightness to a dull day. Similarly, roasted red pepper is another favourite (and much easier if you can find the peppers in a jar).

Fall in Nuremberg, Germany (5 years ago!)

Fall in Nuremberg, Germany (5 years ago!)

I wasn’t originally planning on writing about our first time eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant. This is not a restaurant review blog, and I don’t normally write in detail about eating outside of what I cook in my own kitchen. However, as it was such a novel and unique occasion, I thought it might be fun to share.

Recently, H. and I celebrated 5 years together (!). We naturally wanted to do something to celebrate. We had a friend visiting the actual day (19th October), so we chose another weekend to go away and spent a night in the New Forest. Since we are both from small towns and now live in a massive and frequently overwhelming metropolis, our preferred getaway locations these days are usually rural and quiet!

We stayed in Brockenhurst and did a lovely 11km country hike on day 1 followed by a pub visit and then curry which hit the spot after so much walking. The next day — as our anniversary gift to ourselves — we had lunch at the Terrace restaurant.

The restaurant is part of a hotel, the Montagu Arms, and located in the tiny village of Beaulieu (side note: this Canadian has never seen a French pronunciation butchered so badly! Instead of “beau-lieu” [beautiful place], it’s pronounced “bu-leigh” locally. Ugh. Anyway!). We arrived a bit early and we were first taken into the lounge area where we started on a glass of wine, nibbles, and had our choice of the Saturday papers (although this politics student noticed an absence of the Guardian — the subject of a different post on a different blog ;) ). When our table was ready, we were led into the main dining room, which felt bright (even though it was drizzling — a feat!), but a teensy bit more “stuffily” decorated than I anticipated. It definitely had an old world feel with wood-panelled walls, and most tables look out onto their gorgeous terrace and gardens (we took a post-lunch stroll through them, they were so impressive).

We opted for the set lunch (option 2 or 3 courses, with 3 choices for each course). The bread rolls that came out first, a mix of white, wholewheat, and fennel ones, were simply incredible — some of the best bread I’d ever tasted (H.: “make sure to write about the bread”). As a starter, H. had a smoked salmon, beet, & watercress salad and I had a potato velouté with truffle oil and chunks of Parmesan. It was rich but delicious. For my main course I had a large lobster and crab raviolo — yes, just one big raviolo, stuffed full of seafood. I wish I had a picture but felt odd taking photos of everything. It was served with a delicious buttery sauce and sauteed greens including samphire — I SO wish I’d taken a photo of our menu or written everything down afterwards as I cannot be more specific — a shame! H.’s main was braised pork belly with mashed potatoes and roasted autumn veg. It was delicious, melt-in-your-mouth meat. We were too full sephonsified to go for dessert, so left it at 2 courses.

Service was on the whole very good but slightly too attentive at times. There were many staff on hand and it felt like maybe they weren’t quite as coordinated as they could have been.

So, in sum. Was it the best meal we’ve ever had? No, I don’t think it was. But it was very good and the experience was definitely worth it. Our indulgences in life are travel and time — we do not often treat ourselves to very expensive meals so while we felt a bit of trepidation beforehand, it was a memorable meal worth treating ourselves to, and we were able to save considerably by opting for lunch over an evening meal. All in all, the weekend was a lovely way to mark 5 years together and the lunch was definitely an integral and special part of our short trip.

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LOVE wild ponies!!!

LOVE wild ponies!!!

Lovely 8th century church

Lovely 8th century church

This made us laugh SO much!

This made us laugh SO much!

Wine and the Sunday papers!

Wine, nibbles, and the papers!

My potato veloute

My potato veloute, with the delicious bread pictured in the background

I find Thanksgiving one of the hardest times of the year to be away from home — after Christmas, it’s a close second. October in Nova Scotia is beautiful (just in case you need proof!), it’s a long weekend, you’re with family, etc. So, in the absence of a weekend like this, I created my own version on a very rainy Sunday afternoon in London. We were 3 Canadians, a German, a Spaniard, an Argentinian, a Cypriot, and an Australian = a pretty diverse crowd! And, aside from the chicken, the entire thing was VEGAN! Which, I have to say, I am proud of — not because I am vegan but because I am glad I was able to cater for people that often have to say “no”, turn things down, explain, and ask ingredients.

The idea started off by wanting to host a candle-making party. Ha! I am not crafty in the least but I was inspired by this post and thought it would be something fun to try. I bought the wax, wicks, and 8 jars and we spent the first part of the afternoon making them and drinking wine! Special thanks to H. who manned the melting wax! While it wasn’t as an interactive an activity as I’d hoped (it’s essentially one at a time as the wax takes a long time to melt), it was something new and fun to try.

Our candles

Our candles

* * *

MENU

Afternoon snacks
Chips, crackers, dips
Crudites Veggies
Soy sauce-roasted cashews (coming in a future post)
Pumpkin cinnamon buns (vegan)

Mains
Michael Smith’s roast chicken with apples
Roast carrots
Mashed potatoes
Panzanella
Penne with pesto, tomatoes, & rocket (brought by my friend P.)

Dessert
Apple crisp

* * *

All in all this was one of my least-stressful dinner parties so far. I’m getting better at managing time which I think is one of the keys to a successful meal. I made the cinnamon buns the day before as they were the most elaborate and I wanted to get them out of the way. On Sunday afternoon, I heated them up and made the glaze, but that was it. Making the rolls definitely involves a bit of work and in this case a bit of hunting for ingredients (chia seeds). These ones turned out much better than my previous attempt, although I did find them a little on the dry side (some day I will try non-dairy-free ones!).

Ignore the odd-looking ones -- those are the ends.

Ignore the odd-looking ones — those are the ends.

Onto the main. I was extremely impressed with Smith’s chicken recipe and I will definitely be making it again. The apples really add to the flavour and disintegrate to form the perfect jus/gravy. There were 7 of us eating chicken and we had a 2.4 kg bird along with 8 drumsticks, as per the farmer’s recommendation. This was more than enough and H. and I had enough leftovers to make a leftover potato/chicken hash and a chicken soup, along with some stock which is excellent (I used a modified version of Craig Flinn’s recipe).

Panzanella is one of my favourite salads and this one was really good. I prepped all of the ingredients beforehand and combined them just before eating, but next time I’d let it sit much longer — it is really the best when the bread has soaked up the dressing.

Finally, the dessert: I was a bit nervous making the crisp topping using non-dairy butter substitute, but it turned out fine. I prepped the apples and dry ingredients of the topping beforehand, and then melted the “butter” and combined it with the other topping ingredients before spreading onto the apple mixture and baking. You can’t really go wrong with apple crisp and vanilla ice cream (for those that can eat it)!

Just some of the ingredients, post-market

Just some of the ingredients, post-market

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My plate

My plate

Colourful stock simmering the next day

Colourful stock simmering the next day

I finally tried it. Cauliflower crust pizza has been featured on blogs for months now, and has absolutely taken off. I’ve been intrigued since I very first saw it.

H. was extremely dubious of my endeavour. He loves pizza and takes a lot of pride in making the dough (which he does very well!). But I had been wanting to try this for so long, and one should always try new things in the kitchen.

Making the crust: (See link to recipe below) Grating cauliflower is a lot easier than it sounds. After that’s done, it’s very straightforward to mix the ingredients together. Spreading the “dough” was a bit tricky (as you can see form the photo mine is not very neatly shaped!).

The toppings: We dressed ours a little haphazardly with olive oil (base), rocket, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, and drizzled balsamic overtop.

The verdict: It was a success! Even H. admitted that it was better than he thought it would be. I really didn’t miss the traditional dough. And, although the recipe is for one pizza, we found it to be not enough. Next time, I would use about 180g of cauliflower and up the ground almonds and other flour (I used plain, not buckwheat) appropriately.

Apologies for the poor quality!

Apologies for the poor quality!

My favourite type of baking is baking for other people. I don’t often eat sweet things, but I love making treats for H. and friends and family, and strangers! A great opportunity came along recently when a local pub/music venue hosted a Macmillan coffee morning. Macmillan is a large UK charity that provides support for people diagnosed with cancer (and their families). Every year they host a massive fundrasier, the coffee morning, which last year raised £20 million! Incredible.

I went a bit crazy and made two types of muffins as well as scones. In hindsight I should have stuck to two.

Chocolate & hazelnut scones
I saw the recipe for the scones in one of Goop’s recent newsletters. They did NOT turn out as expected. I really don’t know what happened because I followed the recipe exactly. What’s going on, Gwyneth? Things started to seem odd when the recipe called for shaping the dough into balls (with an ice cream scoop), and freezing. When I have made scones before, I’ve always cut them out and baked without freezing. Because they were frozen, the scones never really flattened; they stayed rather lumpy throughout baking. In addition, the texture was way off — they were very crumbly and looked and tasted much more like cookies than scones. FORTUNATELY although they looked odd, they tasted very good! What went wrong?! I really have no idea.

On the other hand, both muffins turned out perfectly…

Honey & apple muffins
This first one honey and apple caught my eye because it has coffee and whisky looked easy, and in fact it was very straightforward and produced a great muffin! I halved the amount of sugar which was for the best because with the honey it was already sweet enough. I’d definitely make these again.

Spinach, bacon, & cheddar muffins
I decided to do a savoury muffin at the last minute: I had all of the ingredients on hand and thought these ones, from one of my favourite magazines, delicious, looked intriguing. They are slightly more work than the sweet muffins because of the added steps of cooking the bacon and blanching the spinach, but worth it. These are my ideal breakfast or lunch muffin.

This frenzy produced enough to donate roughly 2/3 of the goods and save the rest for us. I brought a few leftovers to a meeting at the university and one of the senior academics in my department proclaimed that I was an “excellent baker”! I don’t know about that, but although it was slightly stressful at times, I’m glad I could contribute a small share to such a worthy cause.

Sept. cooking 051 Some of the ingredients!

Sept. cooking 054 *These are only a few — I didn’t manage to snap a pic of everything together, unfortunately!

Finally: a happy Thanksgiving weekend to all Canadians! I am cooking for 8 tomorrow, so stay tuned for a report on that! Fingers crossed.

(aka aubergine & courgette in the UK)

True to form, H. & I were hit with the back-to-school cold a couple of weeks ago. H. got it first and I made it 5 days before I caught it as well. I made this when we were both feeling pretty low and craving something spicy and comforting (the garlic, ginger, & turmeric were definitely welcome). When I saw this post on My Darling Lemon Thyme, it was perfect. I’d had a package of millet sitting around in the cupboard since the early summer, but never used it. This was my first time cooking and eating millet and I am definitely hooked — it has more flavour than couscous and quinoa and is quite nutty-tasting.

I made a couple of adjustments to the recipe. Instead of whole tomatoes, I used canned, draining some of the liquid so the mixture wouldn’t be too wet. I also added in a couple of small zucchinis and half a red pepper that I had lying around. All in all, this was an excellent meal, perfect for a warming fall weeknight dish as the days close in on us! I would really encourage you to try millet if you haven’t before — it is on its way to becoming a staple in our household.

 

Millet

Millet

Sept. cooking 045

Does it scare anyone else out that it’s October today? Ok, good. I’m choosing to interpret it positively with this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

:)

These photos.

Island in the sun kitchen = very cool.

What is Canadian food? Love this.

◌ I really like this article on The Saltry restaurant in Alaska.

Anthony Bourdain on travel is GREAT.

What we should be reading, according to Tolstoy.

◌ Irresistable fall recipes from Half Baked Harvest.

◌ I’ve seen a couple of excellent films this month: Twenty Feet From Stardom (doc) and The Grand Seduction!

What’s your favourite thing about autumn?

Obama’s coffee preferences are top secret!

◌ To kick off the new month, what’s in season in October.

Confession time: one of the highlights of my month was touring the Coronation Street set with my mum & sister!

Confession time: one of the highlights of my month was touring the Coronation Street set with my mum & sister!

Ahhh, pot stickers. There are some foods that should be left to restaurants, and these might be one of them. But I was intrigued by the recipe, like a challenge, and since I was going to be near Chinatown anyway, figured I would pick up the gyoza wrappers and give them a try.

We used 500g of mince — for two, this makes quite a bit. I ended up only making around 20 pot stickers; the rest we rolled into meatballs which we fried and had for leftovers the next day.

While the dumplings were quite time consuming, the entire process was quicker than I thought. The meat mixture comes together quite quickly and of course filling and folding the wrappers takes up the most time. Be careful not to overstuff — tempting, to save time! — but the wrappers are delicate and they’ll end up breaking. I found the wrappers a little finicky but no more so than other dumpling-esque things such as shrimp raviolispring rolls, or pork parcels.

I was slightly dubious of the recommended (two-ingredient) dipping sauce — soy sauce and vinegar? But it worked amazingly, and the pot stickers were definitely tasty (aside from being a touch too salty for my tastes).

In the end though, I probably won’t make these again. They didn’t taste restaurant-quality and while I have been known to happily spend many labourious hours in the kitchen, some things are worth that effort and some not.

Sept. cooking 036

Sept. cooking 039

I’m playing catch up with my posts — I didn’t envision writing about jam this late into September, but alas that’s what has happened.

Jam making has been a tradition in my family for a long time — my grandmother made it for as long as I can remember, and now my aunt is following suit. I have always wanted to make it, but city living + lack of equipment and resources (more the latter) has held me back until now. I confess that I am a complete canning novice. Prior to the jam I’d never done it before, although especially within the past 1-2 years it’s definitely something I’ve become more interested in.

There are two ways to make jam (as far as I am aware of anyway) — the old-fashioned way of boiling berries and sugar, or with pectin. We did the latter (and used Certo — even if you’re familiar with it, please check out the website, which looks like it came from 1998!). Essentially, the jam has to gel and stabilize, and the pectin does this without the necessity of boiling for hours. I confess that, usually, taking shortcuts is not really something that appeals to me in the kitchen. However, this is the way my grandmother did it, and it’s quick and easy so I am on board! :)

Here’s how to make it. Note that this is just the basic formula — you’ll need to follow the instructions as to measurements depending on how much you want to make. We used 8 cups of berries which made 14 jars.

  1. Prepare all equipment first by disinfecting the jars & lids (we put the jars in the oven and boiled the lids).
  2. Crush the berries lightly and place in a pan with the sugar.
  3. Heat gently, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Then bring the pot to a full rolling boil and boil rapidly for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in the Certo. Skim off any foam, if necessary.
  6. Ladle the jam into jars immediately — close the lids but don’t screw them on too tightly immediately as it still has to set (we did this the next day).

jam berries Raspberries stewing!

jam jars Jars disinfected & ready to go

jam finished Finished jam :)

gordo sleeping Someone wasn’t very interested in jam-making.

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