Smoked Haddock & Leek Risotto

To me, this is the perfect late winter/early spring ‘transition’ meal. I know some of my Canadian readers will want to scream when they read this, but here in London it’s felt like spring for about a month now. Daffodils are out and trees are blooming. But it’s odd: we’re into spring without ever really having had winter — in my mind anyway. We had no snow other than a few days of flurries, and maybe 1 or 2 days below freezing temperatures.

Anyway, onto the risotto. This recipe is adapted from….wait for it….Lidl magazine, which I received free with my Saturday Guardian a about a month ago (yes, I made this at the beginning of March!). For some reason it caught my eye, and I ordered some smoked haddock in order to try it out. Here’s my version:

Smoked Haddock & Leek Risotto

 

  1. Cook the haddock (300g): I followed the method used in the original recipe, a warm milk bath. This is not a method I had used before, but it seemed it work: “place the fish into a dish and cover with the hot milk [250ml], black peppercorns and bay leaf. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes then flake the fish into pieces discarding any bones or skin, strain the milk and reserve.”
  2. Meanwhile, start the risotto: melt 1.5 tablespoon butter in a saucepan and add in a large handful of chopped leeks as well as one chopped shallot. Cook gently for ~7 minutes.
  3. Add arborio rice and lightly toast for 1-2 minutes, until the rice begins to look translucent. Then deglaze the pan with a cup (~230ml) of white wine. Continue cooking, adding in vegetable stock one ladle at a time, until the rice is your preference of done-ness (I like mine slightly al dente).
  4. When the rice is finished, stir in some grated Parmesan and 2 tsp wholegrain mustard, along with the fish and a bit of the milk for extra creaminess. Garnish with some finely chopped parsley or chives.

As risottos go, this was a fairly rich one, even without the mascarpone that the original recipe called for! However, it was delicious, and definitely one I will be making again. H. claimed it was his favourite risotto I’ve made, and there have been quite a few of them. The smokiness of the fish mixed with the leek worked very well together. My stomach is grumbling just thinking about it!

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March 2015 Favourites

Happy April!

The fourth anniversary of this blog passed on 10 March, without any acknowledgement on my part. (I believe this is the second year in a row this has happened). I’m pleased to say that I’ve moved on from my very first food post, fajitas, and feel a need to once again thank everyone for reading what I’ve got to say over the past 4 years! The blog has changed focus a bit in recent months, but I still hope my friends and family enjoy reading it.

Here are some links for your Easter holiday weekend perusal. Sadly for me only Sunday will be a day ‘off’, as I am catching up after spending 3 days at a conference earlier this week.

◌ 20 “seriously weird” (according to Rough Guides) places around the world.

Unplugging from social media.

Michael Ruhlman talking so much sense: “Who then to listen to? Yourself, your own body, and common sense. Everyone is different. If we cook our own food, if that food is whole, as opposed to being stripped of nutrients to make it cheap, then you can pretty much eat what you want.”

◌ These Brown sister portraits are very moving.

Inspirational.

This list of where to shop in London’s Chinatown is revolutionary for me!

Books about the North.

◌ I don’t like the Daily Mail but I do like this list of the world’s best luxury hostels!

Upcoming interesting films.

After the crash = heartbreaking (and no, this is not the most recent crash, but the Malaysia Airlines flight that was shot down over the Ukraine last July).

◌ The Mordecai Richler Library is long overdue!

Cows on the beach.

◌ Book recommendations: Sylvanus Now.

Bird sitting atop the peace memorial in Riga
Bird sitting atop the peace memorial in Riga
Sun sets in Riga
Sun sets in Riga

Eating & Drinking in London

Since this is mostly a food-related blog and I live in London, I thought I should do at lease one post on some of my favourite food-related discoveries in the city. After all I have lived here 2.5 years now. But before I go into that, I should outline a few of my ‘rules’ /expectations when it comes to eating and drinking out.

There are a lot of places I have left off this list because they fall victim to my biggest gripe about eating out in London — bad service. My reasoning on this — and this is mostly only true for central London — is that a lot of them seem to cater to the one-time tourist visitor: they do not entice you to return. Food may be ok, but if service is awful I will not return somewhere.

Another point, and I’m not quite sure how to describe this, regards value. At the end of a meal out, I have to feel that it’s reasonable “value” — i.e. I don’t want to feel cheated for paying for a meal that is mediocre. I’m a student living in London and don’t eat out very often so that is important to me. This isn’t about money necessarily, since it applies even if I am not the one paying. Basically, I have to feel it’s worth it. Unfortunately, it’s happened too many times when I feel it’s not, and none of those places made my list (Dishoom, Polpo , I’m looking at you).

This city is FULL of restaurants, cafes, pubs, bars, food stalls — so full that choice often becomes overwhelming. So, this is a mere drop in the ocean. Perhaps I’ll post an updated version someday in the future.

Yalla YallaExcellent food (Middle Eastern/Lebanese), and good atmosphere.
♠ INDIAN: I love a good curry! :) Our local is Kiplings, but for other parts of the city, we’ve tried and liked Raj’s Tandoori, Berwick Street, Soho (discovered completely by accident way back in September 2012 during our first week in London!); Sitar on the Strand; and to splurge you simply can’t go wrong with Cinnamon Club.
Fernandez and Wells: One branch of this Spanish cafe-bar was a mere 30-second walk from my department at the university where I did the first year of my PhD. Good coffee, wine, and nibbles, and altogether maybe not always exciting, but dependable.
Gordon’s Wine Bar: Stuffy, dank, and you can usually never find a table (becoming too touristy?), but it’s a very unique experience and I think a must-do.
♠ Our favourite locals: The Angel Inn, The Flask, & the Bull (Wing Wednesdays – £5 for 1/2 lb of wings – is heavenly).
High Tea of Highgate: Speaking of local, it’s small, but cozy, and the perfect place for afternoon tea and crumpets. They also sell their tea in boxes which a few people reading this will have been gifted somewhere along the way. ;)
Nopi: Ottolenghi’s restaurant was a birthday treat in 2013 and still sticks in my mind as a very memorable meal. His Ottolenghi cafes are more relaxed, pricey, but very good food.
Vini Italiani: I first learned about this place during a wine tasting class at West London Wine School. They are the go-to reliable sources on Italian wines, always have a good recommendation and reasonably priced wines by the glass too, to drink in.
Ba Shan: tasty, reliable Chinese just off Shaftesbury Avenue.
Experimental Cocktaill Club: Make a reservation, and look for the door on Lisle Street in Chinatown. Expensive, but worth it because it’s … an experience.
♠ COFFEE: The app London Coffee is perfect.
♠ Immediately next to the legendary Gerry’s, where you can get any drink under the sun!, on Old Compton Street in Soho is a small and unassuming Tuscan wine bar/restaurant, Tuscanic. I have popped in here a few times on my own as a retreat from Soho’s very busy streets. The wine list is good and service friendly.
Leong’s Legends: Taiwanese YUM in Chinatown. Very dependable, reasonably priced, and excellent food.
Granger & Co.: I almost didn’t include it on my list, because I’ve had some truly awful service there, but the food won out. I think this is one of the best breakfasts/brunches in London.
Leon: Good for a quick, healthy, reasonably tasty meal that’s not Pret or Eat.
London farmers’ markets always make for a tasty and interesting visit (my Saturday staple is Parliament Hill).
♠ Maltby Street market – particularly the beef burger from African Volcano, wine from Life’s a Bottle, gin from Little Bird.
♠ Our pick for the best burgers in London (which has gone through a real rage) is Honest Burgers.
♠ Best ramen (similar, newer rage): Shoryu.
Quo Vadis: Elegant, simple, top-notch service — this place is definitely somewhere to take the in-laws.
Hubbard & Bell at the Hoxton Holborn: I’ve only been here once (with a second trip planned), but the kale salad was the best kale I have ever had, so I think it needs to be on the list.

Potato Skins, Two Ways

In North American pubs/bars, potato skins are, unashamedly, one of my favourite things to order. Crunchy, salty, loads of sour cream and cheese — yum. My perfect comfort food. I have never tried to make them at home before now because somehow thought they’d always be inferior. Some things are better left to deep-fat fryers eating out. However, I was in the mood for them and decided to give these two versions a go (not on the same night of course).

Traditional skins (Original recipe here)
Of the two, these were the easier to make. The most awkward part is cutting out the flesh after the potatoes are done — it has to be done a bit delicately otherwise the skin will break. With these flavours, and lots of sour cream!, you can’t really go wrong. No, it’s not the same as sitting in a bar and nursing a beer while you wait, but these definitely hit the spot.

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Thai-inspired peanut sweet potato skins (Original recipe here)
Sweet potatoes are more finicky than regular ones, as all of the sugar makes them sticky and harder to handle. It’s also harder to get them crispy (in our oven anyway — it’s a fine line between well-done and burnt). Taste-wise, these were excellent. The satay-type sauce worked well and coriander and spring onions balanced out the sweetness of the potatoes. Having said that, I don’t think I’ll make these again because it was simply too tedious with the sweet potatoes. They do make a nice change though and would be great as an appetizer if you have the patience!

sw pot skins thai

Barcelona

H. and I spent last weekend in Barcelona, a city neither of us had been to before. After a difficult 2 weeks it was just what we needed.

The first word that comes to mind when I think of this city is unpretentious. It is effortlessly cool without trying. The perfect city to walk around all day long stopping frequently for snacks and drinks, which is pretty much how we spent the weekend!

quimet

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Tapas!
Tapas!

Recommended spots:
* Jai-Ca
* Crum (potatoes any way you want — or, like us, if you don’t fully understand the Catalan/Spanish menu, it’ll be a surprise!)
* Tainos (cocktails & tapas!)
* Bar Calders
* Bodega Vinito
* Quimet & Quimet
Stay in Sant Antoni or Poble Sec.

February 2015 Favourites

Happy March! In like a lamb here. :)
A short list this month, reflective of my new approach to social media.

Whisky-flavoured toothpaste?

◌ I’m going on a work-related trip to Riga next month week and although I won’t have too much free time, this has me excited! (This too).

◌ Canada’s human landscapes as seen from above.

In season in March.

◌ The doc Blackfish was terrifying and sad, but brilliantly done. I urge everyone to watch it and then discourage everyone you know from going to Sea World! As a counter, here are photos I came across of snorkeling with orcas in Norway.

The Notorious R.B.G.

◌ Negotiating, as a woman. I’m reading Lean In at the moment, and this struck a chord. Lots of contradicting opinions on this one.

Beach in Barcelona! Far too cool to swim, but still lovely.
Beach in Barcelona! Far too cool to swim, but still lovely.

Valentine’s Day 2015

For the past few years H. and I have had the tradition of staying home, opening a bottle (or 2) of wine and cooking something together — something more elaborate than we’d normally make. This year a was a little different because we spent the afternoon with 150+ people (most of them kids!) at a Valentine’s Day concert that H. and his piano partner put on — a raving success, I  might add! After a bottle of wine shared with H.’s piano partner and his wife, we returned home and spent the next couple of hours in the kitchen, happy to be alone in our quiet flat after a very loud and overwhelming afternoon.

In planning the meal, I’d had my eye on this gnocchi recipe for a while. Readers with a good memory might remember my first go — these ones, despite a bit of a panicky moment when I though I’d ruined them — turned out better, I’m pleased to say. I also knew that I wanted to make this cheesecake which had been on my to-make list for a few months.

Because I knew we’d get home quite late, I did some prep on Saturday morning. I made the cheesecake and started on the gnocchi by boiling (parsnips) and roasting (parsnips & sweet potatoes) the veg so that they were cooled and malleable by the time we got home. When we did, I concentrated first on assembling the gnocchi, then put the pork in the oven, cooked the gnocchi, and assembled the salad. Originally, I wanted to serve the gnocchi as a starter and then the pork and salad together, but by that point, I really didn’t (a) see the point of doing that or (b) care!

So how did it turn out?
The salad was definitely a hit — a predictable combination, but a reliable one. I omitted the raisins – yuck! (I can barely tolerate pear in my salad, let alone other fruit). I was quite happy with the gnocchi but resolved (again) not to make it at home anymore because it’s simply too much work. And I’m not 100% sure that I like it enough to make it worth it. The combination of blue cheese and pine nuts definitely works though, and if I saw this dish on a menu I’d order it. The pork was a tried and tested recipe — in hindsight a good idea as we had a lot else going on.

The cheesecake was a disappointment. It’s hard to describe. It didn’t taste bad or unpleasant, but it was not at ALL what I expected. H. described it as tasting like pudding, which was bang on. It had none of the mild tang of a typical cheesecake – I guess because of the mascarpone (although I have made cheesecakes with only mascarpone before and don’t remember them being so mild). The filling to me tasted like vanilla pudding and the consistency was also thinner/not as solid as I’d expected. On the latter point, in a series of tweets with Ruby, I guessed that I under-baked it a bit. The taste, however, I don’t know.

Along with the meal we had a well-deserved bottle of Prosecco and, on recommendation, some of this bottle of Dolcetto di Dogliani. I was happy with this wine — it is not something I would usually choose, but it went very well with the meal. It also inspired me to order a bottle of another Dolcetto when I was out for dinner on Saturday. (Read more about this grape variety here).

All in all, despite the disappointing cheesecake, it was a wonderful evening, the perfect antidote to the absolute chaos of the afternoon. And a great reminder that cooking can really be FUN!

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January Roast of the Month: Duck

Previously
November: Garlic & apple stuffed roast pork shoulder
December: Roast beef with horseradish & orange cream

I’m switching from pork and beef this month to a bird — duck! Duck is one of my favourites. I didn’t eat much of it growing up, but in the past 5-6 years I’ve really come to love it. The best duck I’ve ever had was in Bordeaux in 2009; it was confited, simple, and so delicious. I remember it vividly even 6 years later.

My experience cooking duck is a bit mixed. H. & I occasionally buy legs and roast them, which makes for a quick and delicious meal. I have only done a full duck once, which didn’t exactly turn out as planned. Back in October, when my BFF Meaghan and her hubby visited, I bought a wild mallard from the market and used as inspiration for a Chinese feast. Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out as planned. I think it was simply too gamey for the meal I was going for. (Although I notice that one of my favourite British cookbooks/blogs recently posted a very similar recipe to what I tried to do, so I guess it is possible). It was also overdone and we found bits of shrapnel in the meat — not exactly the best way to begin a weekend in London. I broke the cardinal rule of never trying anything new for a dinner party. Ah well. The company was excellent. ;)

This time I went traditional: simple roast (Pekin) duck. Back to basics. We stuffed it with garlic and a lemon, rubbed salt & pepper over it, and just stuck it in the oven. Easy. Paired with roast potatoes, a side salad, and a bottle of Bordeaux, it is/was a reminder that sometimes roasts really are straightforward and stress-free! I know duck isn’t for everyone but for those that love it you can’t go wrong with this simplicity.

roast duck

Peanut Butter, Chocolate, & Millet Buckeyes

Some of the more observant readers may have noticed that I haven’t been posting much recently. This hasn’t really been a conscious decision. The term has started here and I’m very busy. I’m midway through the third year of my PhD, drowning in data, and both very excited about the new things I’ve found out but struggling how to make sense of it all — how to tell a coherent story. In evaluating what I can “give up” in order to make sure I am working as efficiently as possible, updating the blog has been one of them. I haven’t stopped cooking (although I’m trying to put less pressure on myself to try new things and accept that shortcuts are okay too), but I’ve found sharing to be very time consuming. For example, I have a post half-written on Burns night, when H. and I made haggis and cock-a-leekie soup. But I won’t share that now — Burns night was 2 weeks ago and it’s not timely anymore.

I am also becoming increasingly disillusioned with blogging and social media. Perhaps it is the political scientist in me that sees neoliberalism, consumerism, exclusion, us-versus-them implicit in all lifestyle blogging (including this one). That’s the world we live in and far too complicated a topic to take on in this post or this blog, but it makes me deeply uncomfortable. And it’s prompted a reaction in me in that I’m trying to limit the time I spend on social media and strictly control what I read.

That being said, I like blogging. I like sharing what I make. So I’m not sure how to reconcile my own feelings towards social media — if I want people to read my blog but don’t want to read many others, that hardly makes sense, does it?!

The upshot of all of this is that it’s very likely, going forward, that I won’t be posting as often as I have been. I’m hoping though that what will lack in quantity will increase in quality — I will only share things that are important to me, that I’ve really enjoyed (or that have been disastrous!), that tell more of a story than “I made this.” In doing so I hope that I keep staying “true” to simplicity and what is important in my life: family, relationships, curiousity, travel, living a reasonably healthy lifestyle. Food and cooking transcend them all.

* * *

Now, I promised you buckeyes!

Way back in November, I won a cookbook! I was naturally surprised and excited to win something. Even before I won it, the recipe caught my eye online and I decided to try them out. I have made these addictive little snacks 10+ times since — for H. and I, for friends, for my parents when they were here in December, for a dinner party that we recently went to — and they’ve gone down amazingly every single time.

Buckeyes are basically bite-size peanut butter balls, made even crunchier in this case with the addition of toasted millet. They’re vegan and relatively healthy, with only a bit of added sugar. Apparently they originate from Ohio, and are named so because of their resemblance to a buckeye tree nut. They are very easy and non-finicky to make. The only thing is that they require a bit of advance planning because you have to allow enough time for them to freeze.

The “revisions” history of this post tells me I started writing it on 7 November, 3 months ago. The reason it’s taken me so long to post is because in every case they were gone before I could get a picture of them! Verdict: definitely worth making. :)

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January 2015 Favourites

Oh, January. You’ve been a bit of a tough month. A big fat list to compensate.

Best new travel apps.

◌ Where to eat in London in 2015.

Airlines want you to suffer.

My life in books, by well-known Canadians.

Mac & cheese party = yum. (I sort of did this in December except made 3 versions instead of a make-your-own. You can never go wrong with mac & cheese!).

◌ This video made me laugh!

Best value destinations for 2015. I normally don’t like lists because they often look to me a bit random — I want to know the methodology behind it (typical academic). But I’ve been a fan of the Rough Guides for a long time now and this one quite intrigued me.

◌ David Chang on ramen. Ramen has exploded in London and apparently elsewhere too.

Ice huts.

◌ Some wines from Sicily to try.

◌ Reading The Lobster Kings was like reading about home.

◌ Lots of ideas how to cook chicken thighs.

I like you just the way you are. This is such a nice throwback and tribute to an onscreen presence I grew up with.

101 ways to use coconut oil.

◌ Really like this interview with Jacques Pepin.

Saveur’s 100, 2015 version

A year in cultural consumption by Steven Soderberg. I love this. And it makes me feel less weird that I keep track of books and films too.

Food podcasts (sidenote: when do people listen to podcasts? I can never seem to find the time)

Funny things tube drivers say!

Books to come in 2015!

Finally, I just LOVE this rendition of Piano Man: