I recently had the great pleasure and privilege of hearing Yotam Ottolenghi speak. He gave a talk on Jerusalem, his hometown, at SOAS as a part of their food policy seminar series. It was extremely well-attended (no surprises there), and I was surprised at just how warm, inspiring, articulate, and intelligent he was (and academic — his masters thesis was on “ontological status of the photographic image in aesthetic and analytic philosophy,” and he almost started a PhD before going into the food world!). His personality definitely matched the impressions I get from his books and columns.

Attending the talk re-invigorated my Ottolenghi love and prompted me to go through the cookbooks of his that I own and re-acquaint myself with his recipes. At this time of the year (or 2 weeks ago when I made this), markets are filled with pears and apples and so I thought this was a perfect fit.

The introductory description for this recipe, from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, says that God must have had this cake in mind for mid-afternoon tea breaks. I’m inclined to agree, although I’d pair it with coffee instead. In fact, it’s a perfect cake for Kaffee und Kuchen, a traditional German afternoon activity. ;)

The stages required for this loaf, truth be told, are slightly annoying and will dirty many bowls in your kitchen. You can find the recipe online here, so I won’t repost. I made a couple of small changes — I substituted whisky for the Amaretto and almonds for the walnuts.

There was something slightly retro about this cake. I think it was the density and the nuts. It reminded me of a cake for parents or grandparents — I know my dad in particular would love it. A little note on the crumble topping (butter, flour, sugar): that is something I’d usually not do, just because I’d think it tastes fine without (in fact for the loaves and muffins I’ve made of his before, I’ve not bothered). However this time I decided to make it and I have to say that the extra work is worth it: the crumble topping really added to the cake.

Apologies for the poor quality of the photo!

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“I cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.”

So says a humourous magnet that H. bought me. And it’s coming true in the case of this post. Unfortunately, despite my love for wine, I really did not like this meal. It is rare I cook things that I don’t like. If something goes wrong, it’s one thing, but this one turned out just fine and I simply didn’t like it. :(

I found some chicken thighs at the market and decided I’d try coq au vin – a dish I have never eaten before. The recipe is another from Craig Flinn‘s Fresh and Local.

  • Marinate the chicken overnight in a combination of 1.5 tsp tomato paste, salt, pepper, a bay leaf, some fresh thyme, and wine. I used about 2/3 of a bottle (the original recipe says a full bottle but also uses more chicken, so I modified it for what I had which was 4 good-sized thighs).
  • When ready to cook, take the chicken out of the fridge, dry it off, and sear in some olive oil until browned on both sides. (Keep the marinade to add in later).
  • Meanwhile cook about ~100g (less or more, as desired) bacon and set aside. *Use streaky bacon if in the UK.
  • Add a tsp of butter to a frying pan (I used the same one throughout), and cook onions (recipe calls for 20 pearl onions, I used 2 shallots), garlic (anywhere between a half and full head), and about ~150g button mushrooms for about 10 minutes. Then add a 1tsbp of flour and mix with the fat to make a roux – I didn’t find this worked well for me. Perhaps I should have used more flour?
  • Deglaze the pan with roughly 1/8 of a cup of brandy and add the marinade back in. Stir well, and then add the chicken and bacon back in. Simmer for 30 minutes, covered (I uncovered it for the last half as I wanted the sauce to become a bit thicker).

As I said above, I wasn’t happy with this meal. The taste for me was too ….. wine-y. And a bit unpleasant. I felt that the sauce should have been a bit thicker too. It was a real shame as the chicken was great quality and very tasty but I couldn’t finish mine. It has all kind of ingredients I like — bacon, chicken, lots of garlic, mushrooms, wine! — but ultimately the combination didn’t work for me. H. liked it, but I won’t be making it again anytime soon.

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I recently came across The Shortbread, a new interview-style blog dedicated to exploring everyday perceptions of food and food and culture. After reading the first two interviews, I decided that I’d do a very unofficial one of my own! :)

Name: Kate

Date / Time / Your location: 15 November, afternoon, London

What is the last thing you ate? A cracker with garlic zinfandel jelly (see below).

What is the most interesting item in your fridge or freezer right now? Garlic zinfandel jelly! (Lovely gift from Meaghan – all the way from Edmonton). Also have some yummy fresh mozzarella from the market this morning.

Tell me about a food that evokes nostalgia for a certain time or place for you. My grandmother cooked the perfect steak. Steak reminds me of her and the very happy years I spent living with my grandparents.

Talk about your favorite restaurant in your home town. (Truro) Bistro 22. (Halifax) For fine dining, Da Maurizio. For sandwich, the chicken Caesar wrap from Rogue’s Roost is like crack to me. For pub food, The Old Triangle. For seafood, Mckelvies. For coffee, Steve-o-Reno’s.

Name an “acclaimed” or generally beloved food that you won’t eat. That’s a hard one. I guess the level of “acclaimed-ness” might be debated, but….. pumpkin pie, candy canes, squash, caramelized onions, …

What is the best meal you’ve had while traveling? Oh dear. There have been many, but the one that stands out that will be very very hard to beat, probably ever, is a meal I shared in 2008 with my extended family in the middle of the bush at Sabi Sands game reserve in South Africa. Not your typical African eating experience, but one that I will never forget. The food — mostly game — was incredible and the atmosphere so magical and surreal it seemed like a dream.

What is your favorite item in your kitchen – this could be a cooking tool or something entirely non-food related. I like my turquoise serving platter and lobster slate.

What is your favorite image of food from a movie or book? This is a tough one. I remember all of the coffee in the Stieg Larsson Millennium trilogy and liked that, since the idea of coffee, for me, is almost better than coffee itself.

Describe your ideal sandwich. Super-fresh tomatoes, good mozzarella, pesto…mmmmm.

What makes for great barbecue? Char!

What do you like to eat when the weather is hottest? Tomatoes. Cold noodle salads. Veggies.

What do you like to eat when it is freezing cold outside? Soup and casseroles. I have recently had a craving for old-school casseroles like the type my mum used to make. Watch this space. ;)

What can you cook really well? how did you learn this dish? Pad Thai. I was taught by the best, my aunt Joanne. She gave me the bible of Thai cooking and then we made Pad Thai once together. It’s one of my favourite things to make now — I don’t even need the recipe anymore.

What would you like to be able to cook well? I’d like to be a better baker, particularly of bread. And I’m working on roasts.

What is the best meal you’ve eaten for under five dollars? Zaatar flatbreads at the (now closed) Architecture Cafe at McGill. Not a meal, but a damn good snack.

What has been your most satisfying food splurge? Money spent on good wine and good cheese is never wasted. The biggest splurge I’ve made in the kitchen is our food processor, but have to categorize that as the least satisfying splurge. What a disappointment.

Tell me about an experience or person that has changed or inspired the way you eat. Moving to Montreal (in 2005). When I was growing up my family was very meat and potatoes; we didn’t eat a huge variety of foods. Living in Montreal was a complete eye-opener for me and I was introduced, sometimes a bit grudgingly(!), to so many different styles and cuisines.

A food ethic is a set of values and principles that guide the choices you make about what to eat. Describe your personal food ethic. 1) Buy local when possible. 2) Share food with people you care about. 3) Food snobbery is never, ever attractive. 4) Enjoy the process.

We are hooked on these genius roasted cashews with soy sauce. I know sounds a bit odd but I really encourage you to try it. They couldn’t be simpler to make — it just requires a bit of advance thinking as you have to soak the cashews in the soy sauce overnight (or 12+) hours in advance. *Note that the roasted time says 25-30 minutes — I found it was more like 20 or 21, so I’d check them after 20. Also, don’t be worried if they don’t seem crispy when they come out of the oven — they’ll crisp up when drying. Now, go and buy some cashews and try this out! Warning: they are addictive. :)

 

Unexpected action shot!

Unexpected action shot!

The nuts!

The nuts!

 

I recently realized that I haven’t been posting many soups lately. The majority of my soup posts (see here) are 2+ years old. I think the reason for that is because although I still make a lot of soup, especially at this time of year, there are quite a few repeats — either that or I don’t think they’re “substantial” enough to warrant a post on their own. I thought I’d change that (especially as we’re now deep into soup season) with this carrot & ginger soup from Canadian chef Craig Flinn. This recipe comes from his book Fresh and Local.

I love making soups because usually you just throw a number of ingredients into a pot, wait a bit, and enjoy! This one has an added step– roasting the carrots — but it’s worth it.

Carrot & Ginger Soup
Adapted from Craig Flinn’s recipe
Serves 2-4.

  • Preheat oven to 200°C.
  • Mix 3 cups peeled & chopped carrots wtih 1/2 cup diced onions (adjust as desired!), 2 gloves garlic, a dash of olive oil, 1 tbsp powdered ginger, and salt and pepper to taste. Roast in oven ~25 minutes.
  • When roasted, dump the vegetables in a heavy pot along with 3 cups/1.5L chicken stock, 1/2 cup orange juice, 1/2 cup heavy cream, and 1/4 cup freshly chopped ginger.*
  • Simmer soup for 45 minutes-1 hour. Puree. If the soup is too thick for your liking, add a bit of water, stock, or orange juice as desired.

*You may of course adjust the ginger depending on preferences.

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Three or four years ago, any tart with leeks as a main ingredient would not have been something that I’d have ever sought out or prepared. How times have changed! I am still left-centre on the onion spectrum: I love spring onions, now eat shallots and apparently leeks, but draw the line at “obvious” onions that aren’t blended well enough. And I will not consume raw onions. But H. says with this tart I am one step closer to Zwiebelkuchen [“onion cake”], one of his favourite meals that I won’t eat, as it’s …..a cake (well, more of a tart ;)). With onions. Das reicht nicht!

The comments in the original recipe link say it all. This meal comes together very quickly — the prep is minimal, using store-bought puff pastry. Someone suggested it was a perfect last-minute dinner party dish and I agree completely. I made a few modifications. I could not get a hold of Gruyere locally, and so substituted with Parmesan. I also added bacon: we had half a package in the fridge that needed using up, and what tart doesn’t taste better with bacon? (FYI I added the bacon at the same time as the cheese and noted that it only needed a further 2-3 minutes in the oven, not the 5-7 as suggested in the recipe). With a big dose of freshly ground pepper, this is a dish I’d happily order in a restaurant.

leek tart

leek tart 1

(NB for any veggies/vegans: there is a pic of raw meat below)

Taking a cue from delicious magazine (to which I am a devoted subscriber), which features a “roast of the month” in every issue, I’ve decided to create a new feature whereby am going to challenge myself to cook and share a roast per month between now and March or April (my intention was to start this project in October, but the month got away from me).

Why? Roasts are one of my culinary weak points — I just don’t have much confidence with them. I can roast a chicken and a lovely pink pork tenderloin, we do a very nice brisket, but I am not intuitively experienced with a wide range of cuts (nor, at 27 and still a student, do I expect to be!). But, I thought it might be fun to challenge myself and share the results (and maybe finally learn to crack crackling?). Roasts are also comforting and the perfect food to make together with H. on a windy and rainy afternoon like this past Sunday — roast #1 — was.

I had three recipes in mind (all pork), and chose to go with whatever I found at the market. When I came across pork shoulder, it was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s chestnut and apple stuffed roast shoulder of pork. This recipe was chosen strategically because a colleague of H.’s had given us some chestnuts. Neither of us are particular fans of chestnuts, but we did not want to see them go to waste. I therefore though that this would be a good way to use them up. That is, until we opened them, and they turned out to have already gone off! We improvised quickly and ended up preparing a stuffing that was a riff on one of our favourite dishes that H.’s mum makes, rouladen. Our stuffing was composed of:

3-4 cloves of garlic
1 shallot (these first 2 ingredients lightly sauteed)
2 slices of torn white sandwich bread
1 small apple, diced into small pieces
1 tsp fresh thyme
Salt & pepper to taste

Before it went into the oven.

Before it went into the oven.

We had a roughly 1.5kg piece of shoulder. I thought it would prove a little small and thus difficult to stuff, but it was perfectly fine. As per Hugh’s recipe, we “zapped” it in the oven at 220°C for thirty minutes, and then turned the heat down to 140° and left it in for about 4.5 hours. When you turn the heat down, you add in a glass of apple cider and a glass of water. Hugh recommends zapping it again at the end, to crisp up the crackling, but I didn’t do this and it turned out fine. In fact….. (drum roll)……this first roast was a MASSIVE success. It was by far the best roast pork I’ve done, and the crackling was perfect.

Finished product!

Finished product!

We served it with creamy mashed potatoes and braised leeks (similar to the recipe here except I braised them in cider instead of white wine). Thee drippings from the meat mixed with the apple cider made a nice gravy after only about 10 minutes simmering on the stove.

Final plate

Final plate

What did I do this time that I haven’t before? I think the meat may have been slightly better quality, but I think the main thing was cooking time: long and low. I think the added moisture from the cider and water really helped as well. This is definitely a recipe I will be making again. :)

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Also, for those following my social media “detox”/break: I had 3 days (Saturday-Monday) off social media completely, and it was excellent. I didn’t miss it and it was easier than I thought it would be. Monday was incredibly productive as I fully concentrated on my work. As of yesterday I have introduced Twitter and Facebook back but in much shorter, more controlled bursts and I intend to keep going on this track. I haven’t yet looked at Instagram or any blogs and I am really surprised to say that I don’t miss it.

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

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