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:

Celeriac Soup with Pancetta & Hazelnuts

Celeriac. The name isn’t inviting, and neither does this odd looking vegetable particularly look it either. But pickings are a bit slim at the market this time of year, and having read a little feature on this versatile vegetable from delicious magazine (as well as pledged to myself to try new ingredients sometimes), I decided to give it, and one of their recipes, a go.

First tings first: peeling and cutting this thing isn’t easy! Allow plenty of time, because it’s awkward.

I can’t find the recipe online (although this one is quite similar). Here’s how to make my version, based on the recipe from delicious‘ January issue:

  1. Fry ~100g diced pancetta in a bit of butter and then set aside.
  2. Peel and chop a large celeriac (they say 750g, mine was bigger than this so I only used about 2/3 of it). Note that this will take some time!
  3. Dice a shallot or small onion and then add it to a pot along with a bit of butter or oil. After a few minutes, add in the chopped celeriac along with 1L chicken stock and a bay leaf.
  4. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the celeriac is tender.
  5. Meanwhile, toast a handful of hazelnuts in a pan and then chop roughly.
  6. When the soup is ready, blend until smooth, and garnish with your choice of pancetta, hazelnuts, chives, creme fraiche, and/or chives.

When I asked H. whether he liked it, he didn’t respond right away. I think he was trying to formulate a response based along these lines: this soup isn’t the best you’ll ever have, but it is economical, seasonal, and tasty.

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December Roast of the Month: Roast beef with horseradish and orange cream

I’m a little late posting this since it’s the December roast. Truth be told I made this in January! December completely got away from me. The only weekend I had free was the 20th-21st and we were leaving for Germany on the 22nd, so didn’t want to cook a big meal and then not be able to enjoy the leftovers.

Anyway, onto the roast. For those of you who missed my previous installment, find it here. I pledged in November to cook and share one roast a month. The first went spectacularly well. This one was good but not spectacular. I wanted to do something other than pork, so went with a topside beef joint, recommended by local butcher, and followed this New York Times recipe. It was very easy to make, with almost no work required other than the searing.

The only thing that went wrong was that, in my opinion, the beef was slightly overdone. We have two thermometers and they read different temperatures so gambled a bit. We now know which one is more accurate! Although it was a bit over for my tastes (H. thought it was fine), it was still very tasty, and I think the horseradish and orange zest cream suited the beef perfectly.

Stay tuned for January’s roast coming soon. :)

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Kale, Sweet Potato, & Goat Cheese Salad

This is the ideal salad for January: kale and sweet potatoes are both in season, and it’s bulky enough to feel like a real meal that fills you up, while still being relatively light. This is my own recipe, and in this version I added in leftover roast chicken as it had to be used up.

Here’s how to make it:

  1. Cut up and roast sweet potatoes. Note: to get sweet potatoes crispy in the oven, I used the cornstarch (aka “cornflour” in the UK) method outlined here.
  2. Meanwhile, assemble the other parts of the salad: rinse and chop the kale, and add the cheese. For this salad, I used cavolo nero (black kale), but other types would work too.
  3. Make the dressing: I made a basic vinaigrette using fig balsamic vinegar (yum!), but you could adapt this to what you’d prefer. See some ideas from Martha here. Or, since kale is a sturdy leaf, it can stand up to a much heavier, creamier dressing (one with tahini is coming to mind).
  4. Let the sweet potatoes cool for a few minutes, if you can, and then add them to the salad along with the dressing. If you’re patient enough/have the time, let it sit for a few minutes so that everything soaks in. Otherwise, eat and enjoy.

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Edinburgh & East Lothian, Scotland

I consider myself very lucky to be a fairly regular visitor to Scotland. It’s truly one of my favourite places. H. and I had a quick but great trip earlier this month visiting some of my family. We rented a car one day and drove along the coast as far as Dunbar. We completely lucked out with the weather as you can see!

View from Tantallon Castle
View from Tantallon Castle

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North Sea
North Sea
Beach at North Berwick
Beach at North Berwick

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Some quick ideas for trips to the area:
*best views in Edinburgh: Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, the Scott monument, Blackford Hills
*Water of Leith, Stockbridge
*Breakfast/lunch/coffee/brunch (or all of the above) at Milk
*Poke around the Old Town (High Street, Grassmarket)
*Tour the Scottish Parliament
*City of literature
*Sit in the Princes Street Gardens and admire the views!
*National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Museum of Scotland
*North Berwick and coastline is well worth it if you have the time.
*Lots of other ideas here

Baked Chicken Satay with Millet

Happy 2015 everyone!

I’m starting out the year with a rather indulgent meal, at least compared to the numerous “detox” slimline ones I’m seeing elsewhere on the internet. I’m not a huge believer in detoxes or giving something up for January. Yes, I have gotten back on track to my exercise regime, have cut back a bit on alcohol and sweet consumption, but I am not about to do anything radical this month other than follow my normally fairly healthy, “everything in moderation” eating habits. I believe in a year-round do what feels right for you. Life is too short.

I actually made this before Christmas, but am still drooling thinking about it! The recipe is from Nigel Slater’s Eat, a book I’ve wanted to try since it came out.* Fortunately I happened upon it at my local library. This chicken was the first thing I made from the book, and it was EXCELLENT. Really the perfect meal and it does not take long to prep. Once the ingreidents for the sauce are in place, you can simply leave it and get on with other things.

Both H. and I love peanut butter, although H. is definitely more addicted than I am (I don’t generally eat it on toast but in anything savoury, you really can’t go wrong!). The recipe (scroll down, slightly wonky but works) thus immediately appealed, although I sort of underestimated just how good it would be. It IS indulgent (250g PB…..erm. But I think you could do it with less). Instead of beansprouts, I served it with millet — perfect accompaniment with the nuttiness — and a kale and carrot side salad. I didn’t make a separate sauce for either; cooked the millet and just added it plain onto the plate and used the extra sauce to mop it up. Similarly, the kale, a strong green, held up too and in this recipe there is lots of extra sauce.

Bottom line: if you like PB I urge you to give this a go. I promise it won’t disappoint on cold/windy/rainy/snowy winter nights!

*Verdict on Eat: concept, layout, recipes (ones I’ve tried so far….. I mean, chicken skin popcorn!): A. Design of book: F! Whoever thought of making this book a chubby fat little thing….should not design any more books, please. Its pages won’t stay open and it’s very, very awkward to use. What a shame. I see the appeal of the design from a design perspective, but unless one has a countertop book holder (and I don’t have room for one in my current kitchen), it is completely impractical, and I feel so strongly about it that I don’t think I’ll be buying this book, unfortunately.

yummy baked chicken

December 2014 Favourites

Happy New Year’s Eve! I honestly can’t believe another year has gone by. It’s been a good one: I worked hard but played hard too. We spent Christmas in Germany and are heading to Scotland tomorrow for a few days.

Ramen 10 ways = yum.

◌ The best books of 2014, according to The New York Times, New York Magazine + the  New Yorker. ;)

◌ I really like this profile of Angela Merkel.

◌ Some not-so-great news: housing in London in 2014

◌ H. and I saw The Imitation Game – recommended!

◌ Meaghan’s tomato jam caught my eye. Definitely saving this one for next year’s tomato crop!

Dangerous but awesome.

◌ I liked this collection of peanut butter recipes. The one for kale salad was particularly good!

Super foods that we’ll all be trying to eat more of come January detoxes. ;)

◌ Rolling Stones, 1971, Côte d’Azur = this (and Exile on Main Street).

◌ Good list of some of 2014’s documentaries.

Food posts have been a little light recently but rest assured they will be picking up again in the new year!

Finally, a very happy new year to all of my readers! Thanks for continuing to read my humble blog, and I wish you all the best in 2015. :)

Snow in Nuremberg, Germany
Snow in Nuremberg, Germany