Happy new year readers! I’m starting 2017 off not with a ‘new year new you’ green smoothie or broth, but with some comfort food. It hasn’t exactly been an easy slide into 2017 for me, although I knew it wouldn’t be. My 2016 ended with a whirlwind of change: I got a full-time job! After 4 years as a student/very low-paid adjunct lecturer, I am very pleased about this development. However…the job involves me spending my weeks in the north of England and my weekends in London, which will radically change the way I live plan and cook meals. I start next week, and am currently in a stressful fog of marking, flat-hunting, and preparing for this new job. As ever, being in the kitchen remains a form of solace.
Obviously, the blog is about to undergo a bit of a change of focus, and probably less frequent posting in the short term. I will be cooking in a totally new way and the blog will reflect that. Hopefully you will still want to continue reading. 😉
The dish Incidentally, I had never bought gnocchi until a couple of months ago (though have made it before). I picked up a couple of packages, thinking it would be a good to throw together on evenings when I didn’t have anything planned.
I can’t find the exact recipe I used online, but this one is similar. Although it has the taste of a dish that took much longer, this can easily be made in under half an hour. The sauce is made from sauteed mushrooms, cream (~150ml), stock (~150ml), thyme, sage, and salt and pepper. The original recipe called for spinach, but I used kale instead as I prefer a sturdier leaf in this type of dish. I also modified the cheese – the recipe called originally for 75g of Gorgonzola, but I used Stilton, and much less of it, and then topped with Parmesan.
Somehow this dish manages to be comforting but not too cloying or heavy, despite the cream. It’s a great one to throw together quickly — tasty, easy, satisfying.
So far, I’ve read 40 books in 2016 (outside of those I read for work).
As with most years, I have a clear winner. The best book I read in 2016 was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This book absolutely knocked my socks off. I read it almost a year ago and I am still thinking about it. Any description of this book that I attempt won’t do it justice. Just read it. I came to Station Eleven in a bit of an unusual way; I had heard good things but never really thought it was for me, because I never read sci fi. What eventually persuaded me was Shelagh Rogers’ interview with the author: Shelagh explicitly mentioned not to discount this book if you think sci fi or dystopian literature isn’t for you. That made me investigate it further, and I am so glad I did. This is not only my favourite book of the year, it is one of my favourites, ever.
Runners up fiction The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan — This was another ‘wow’, for the way that Flanagan writes about war. I don’t think I have ever read such a heartbreaking tale of warfare. The story centres on an Australian POWs in WWII Japan. It is very well-deserving of all its accolades. All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews — Brilliant storytelling by a fantastic Canadian writer. Sad, but so funny at the same time. Toews just gets better and better. A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories, by Lucia Berlin — I read maybe one or two short story collections a year — not many — but I am so glad I read this one, because it’s the kind of book that makes you sit up straight, gasp, and really think. Berlin was an extraordinary woman. (Check out these sample quotes: “Some lady at a bridge party somewhere started the rumor that to test the honesty of a cleaning woman you leave little rosebud ashtrays around with loose change in them, here and there. My solution to this is to always add a few pennies, even a dime.”)
Runners up non-fiction Unfinished Business, by Anne-Marie Slaughter — I had the pleasure of seeing Slaughter speak at the LSE early in the year, and was so impressed and inspired by her ideas and tenacity. I am at a natural crossroads in my career, and spending a lot of time thinking about what I exactly want out of it, and how to combine it with family life, so this was well-timed for me. The Battle of the Atlantic, by Jonathan Dimbleby — This book distills, very impressively, all of the naval action the Atlantic saw during WWII. It is written in a very captivating, engrossing style that hooked me from page one. I am still thinking about some of the stories.
H. and I have done very little entertaining this fall, which is unusual for us. Looking back, I think we had more people over last fall, which was one of the most hellish periods ever since beginning my PhD! However, this past Friday we had our good friends S. & C. over for supper. It was a very relaxed evening — all four of us had some kind of work Christmas party during the week, so I wanted it to be a low-key and fun meal.
Keeping it simple, I made a pasta bake and salad for the main. For an appetizer I wanted to try something new. I decided on sausage rolls, which I had been wanting to make for a while (I also made this cheesy bacon holiday crack — never said it was going to be a healthy evening!). I used venison — more on this decision below — and the recipe in Best Recipes Ever, the collaboration between the CBC and Canadian Living (sidenote: an underrated cookbook, I believe. I really like it!).
Using pre-made puff pastry these are not difficult to throw together, nor are they as finicky as one might expect. The most difficult part is probably getting the sausage out of the casings; if you can buy sausage meat on its own, I would recommend that. The tip to put the rolls in the freezer before cutting them is a good one as it makes it much easier to slice them.
I knew my rolls wouldn’t be as succulent or as rich as if I had used pork. However, I wanted to give these a go as I had great meat from the market. Plus, venison is healthy and sustainable. The rolls were still good, in my opinion, though obviously on the leaner side. They weren’t dry (the all-butter pastry helps!). Personally, next time I will up the Dijon a bit (1.5 tbsp) and add in a little more salt and pepper, but for a first attempt I was pleased at how they turned out. They were gobbled up very quickly!
This was my first foray into the sausage roll world — one that allows for infinite possibilities — so I will report back on any future experiments!
◌ Thanks to my friend D. for alerting me to the Axe Files podcast. If you’re into American politics and in-depth interviews with political figures, this is for you.
◌ Part of Ottolenghi’s Cook for Syria column, this recipe for bulgur with tomato, fried aubergine and cucumber yogurt was spot on. This is one of those ones with quite mundane and banal ingredients that just shines.
It’s hard to believe that only 2 weeks remain of the academic semester for me. The fall term always goes by so quickly. This has been a bit of a strange term for me as I navigate the post-PhD job market (a nightmare), tie up loose ends of my PhD, and plan my next research projects, all the while trying to make a living in London — difficult at the best of times.
As a lecturer one’s schedule changes each semester, which I personally don’t mind as it means variety and flexibility. However, this term’s schedule has been particularly challenging when it comes to meal planning and cooking, since the only night that I am actually able to get “into” the kitchen at a decent hour is Friday. Every other night I have to plan things carefully because either (a) I get home late (Tues, Weds, Thurs) and/or H. is teaching in our flat (Mon, Weds, Thurs), which means I can’t cook (open plan is a blessing and a curse!).
This means a lot of meal planning and advance prep. I use a number of strategies to ensure we still eat well and at a decent hour. I try to get a head start on Sundays and either pre-make Monday and/or Tuesday’s meal, or do a lot of advance prep so that they don’t require time to throw together.
This brings me onto soup. For the past couple of years I have made soups most weekends from October-April. They usually last for a weekend lunch plus one lunch or evening meal during the week. Since I usually go to the market on Saturday mornings I always have fresh vegetables on hand. This one from the NYT caught my eye recently. I always have lots of carrots and it seemed like a good combination of creamy and spicy. As with most soups, it’s easy to make. Just don’t make the mistake I did: it calls for a cup (roughly ~230mls) of coconut milk. I got a bit lazy and just dumped a whole can (400mls) in. Don’t do that. It was too creamy. Not creamy enough that I couldn’t eat it, but it wasn’t a good idea. Also, the spice in this is subtle. If you like a spicier version I’d recommend upping the cayenne. Otherwise, this gets the full stamp of approval from me.
The term green goddess seems to be everywhere these days. I’m not particularly fond of it, since it seems to be one of those terms that can be appropriated for everything from smoothies to face masks, but I’ve left it in the title because it sounds better than ‘healthier mac and cheese’ or ‘mac and cheese with kale, basil, and spinach.’
I’ll get straight to it: this was a real winner for us. I added in curly kale in addition to the basil and spinach. It’s fairly easy to make — pureeing the greens just takes a bit of extra time. There’s still lots of cheese, but you do feel a bit better eating this knowing that there is some healthy bits! It was absolutely delicious and will become a part of my regular rotation of meals.
I did not expect to be going back to the southwest of the country so soon after H. & I were in south Devon in early October. However, about a month ago, I got a text from my friend B. asking me if I would like to join her on a trip to Padstow. B. is a journalist working in the luxury travel sector. Our trip would include dinner at Rick Stein’s signature Seafood Restaurant and a day at the Cookery School. After a bit of debate I decided this was too good an opportunity to pass up!
This was my first trip to Cornwall and it was a good introduction, though I understand there are lots of beautiful corners to see of this county. We both highly enjoyed our meals at the Seafood Restaurant and loved the day at the cooking school. My personal favourite was learning how to fillet fish and de-bone a chicken. These are skills that I don’t often need, I’ll be honest, but I really loved learning them. It was also a treat to eat so much delicious fresh seafood.
B. and I have known each other for 15+ years and with very full lives don’t get a chance to catch up as often as we would like even though we live in the same city. That was the best part of the weekend for me! 🙂
Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol’s The Flavour Principle is one of my favourite cookbooks. I love the way it is organized according to taste. This pie appears, as you might be able to guess from the title, in the umami section. Translated from the Japanese as delicious essence, umami is used to describe tastes that are deep, savoury, often ‘meaty’ flavour such as those in Parmesan, prosciutto, and soy sauce.
Onto the pie. It’s been a long time since I have made pie crust, but since this recipe calls for a special ingredient — cheddar cheese — to be added, I had to make it from scratch. And, surprisingly, it turned out well! (Much better than last time!)
I followed the recipe quite closely, using a mix of apples, although found that I had too much of the mixture after cooking them (this was also because I used a slightly smaller pie dish). I did find that the top browned too quickly so covered it with baking paper as Lucy suggests.
I was really pleased with this pie. The cheddar taste is milder than you might think, and delicious. Perfect fall comfort food.
◌ I have been on a huge true crime kick: I have now listened to all episodes of the Maura Murray podcast (if you start this, prepare to fall into a rabbit hole); almost finished In Cold Blood; and I could talk about Netflix’s Amanda Knox doc for hours.
This is the ultimate throwback. When I saw this recipe I knew immediately I had to try it. Yes, I ate Hamburger Helper as a child, and to me it evokes a lot of nostalgia. Also, it’s fall now, and the perfect time for casseroles.
This is a one-potter and very easy to make. I won’t lie in that I was a little bit nervous about the flavour combinations as it contains ingredients I wouldn’t normally put together. I omitted the celery and corn. So…..drum roll…… itt must have been 15+ years since I have had HH, but as soon as I took my first bite, I was transported back to my mum stirring at the stove in our old house! Nag (recipe creator) nailed it! And H., who has never had HH, loved it too. I urge those of you who grew up with this to try it! 🙂