Zucchini Pasta Bake

One of my favourite pastas ever is this one (a Mimi Thorisson recipe). There is something about the combination of zucchini, cheese, and pasta that I really love. The zucchini somehow seems to keep it much lighter – perfect for summer.

So, as soon as I started seeing zucchini at the farmers market I knew I had to try this dish from Smitten Kitchen. I used a pasta bought from my recent trip to Italy called gnocchetti. Supermarkets there always seem to have much more interesting shapes (not to mention be more affordable — when I looked this type of pasta up at UK supermarkets, it was over £6 a kilo and I paid less than €2 for 500g). Gnocchetti comes from Sardinia and was historically made by pressing the dough on the bottom of a wicker basket. (As soon as H. laid eyes on the bag, he proclaimed that they looked like maggots!).

The dish involves a few different steps — preparing the zucchini, cooking the pasta, making the bechamel — but it comes together quickly, and it’s definitely worth it. Both H. and I thought it was the perfect summer dish — easy to make, not too heavy, and really tasty. The only thing that would make it better, for non-vegetarians of course, is adding bacon. ;)

Maggots?
Maggots?

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PS: for more zucchini recipes, see a roundup here.

Thai Roasted Chicken with Coconut Rice

Thomasina Miers has had a column in the Saturday Guardian magazine for quite a while now. She is the owner of the Wahaca restaurants, which are Mexican, but her columns have always been rather internationally focused, cuisine-wise. Until recently, I hadn’t tried any of her recipes (or at least can’t remember having done so), but this one caught my eye a couple of weeks ago. It had me at “Thai BBQ chicken.”

Ah, barbeques. This is the time of year that I really feel the absence of a back yard or a balcony. Majorly. If I had my way I would be cooking outside most nights, but since that isn’t an option when you live in a small flat in one of the world’s most expensive cities, I did it in the oven.

I followed the recipe fairly carefully (using thighs instead of a whole chicken), but omitted the coconut and raisins in the rice. I don’t like the texture of the former, and the latter is not meant to be eaten in any other form except on their own (no personal preferences here at all! Ha).

This is one of those weird dishes that is really more than the sum of its parts. On its own, each element isn’t anything to write home about — particularly the rice, which I found a bit stodgy and I’m still not sure about the roasted cashews which get a bit lost. But when it’s all mixed together in a mouthful (with the sauce, not pictured below), it’s delicious. It reminded me a bit of a new-ish restaurant in London, a Thai BBQ place called the Smoking Goat, which H. and I tried a couple of months back. Yes, char from a BBQ would have made it a lot better, but this version worked just fine for us. It’s definitely a marinade and sauce combination I would make again.

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Milano

Way back at the beginning of this month (which seems both a long time ago and a very short time ago), I spent four days in Milan at my fifth(!) and final conference of this academic year. I am now completely conferenced out. It was the busiest and most jam-packed conference I’ve been to yet, which unfortunately left very little time for sightseeing. Fortunately, I did manage to eat out a couple of times and tried a few local specialties, and saw a couple of main sites. Here are a couple of pics.

Duomo
Duomo
Such an amazing location for a conference
Such an amazing location for a conference
Not-on-the-menu ragu specialty
Not-on-the-menu ragu specialty
Oh that cheese
Oh that cheese
Rondanini Pietà, Michelangelo’s last sculpture
Rondanini Pietà, Michelangelo’s last sculpture

May/June 2015 Favourites: my 350th post!

It’s July! 2015 is half-over (good lord). Happy belated Canada day e ciao da Milano (more on that later). I missed May’s favourites in a flurry of conferencing and deadlines, but I am pleased to report that I’ve tried to make up for it with this list. :)

◌ Close-up shots of bees.

◌ The best book I read these past two months was The Shepherd’s Life.

◌ I have a weakness for chicken wings and these offerings from one of my favourite chefs make my mouth water (although I have not yet ventured to make them at home….I think they’re best saved for Wednesdays at the pub).

◌ The tree of language.

No-cook salads from Saveur.

◌ LOVE these green kitchens.

The cod’s comin’ back in Newfoundland, bye.

Sobering, horrifying.

◌ Sometimes I forget that I used to live in such an amazing, historical city (part 2).

Fried.guacamole.

Lolz.

◌ Gin cocktails are my favourite. Here are 12 of them!

◌ They’re starting… A Little Bird’s summer reading list.

◌ Really quite enjoyed this article on a Canadian knife handle designer.

Free full-length docs online.

◌ Joanna’s ‘most beautiful thing you’ve ever read’ picks. Some of them are jaw-dropping.

Liked this, an introvert’s heart :)

By Gemma Correll, found on a Cup of Jo
By Gemma Correll, found on a Cup of Jo

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Apricot Crumble Tart

Nigel Slater is one of my favourite British cooks. He just seems so calm and likable. I wouldn’t normally buy apricots, but Nigel convinced me with this recipe in last Sunday’s Observer. I’m very glad I made this tart, the first tart/crumble/dessert-type thing I’ve baked in months!

It’s sort of an odd one, as the title suggests, a mix between a crumble and a tart. The same mixture, which is what I would call a traditional crumble topping, is used for both the base and the top. For the base, it’s mixed together with a bit of water and pressed into the pan. I was a bit nervous, but it worked perfectly. I even completely forgot to add the pine nuts (oops), and it turned out wonderfully (although, not quite as crumbly as the photo in the link!).

This is a very forgiving dessert in that even if it doesn’t look pretty, unless you forgot to do something crucial, it’s likely going to taste pretty damn good. As Nigel says, you need a bit of cream or ice cream with it (we used a bit of double cream). Overall, it was a thumbs up from both of us (H. proclaimed it “amazing”). It kept overnight in the fridge but didn’t last long after that. :)

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Three (more) summer salads

I haven’t posted a proper ‘food’ post for a long time (the end of April, so almost 2 months). I think that’s a record in the 4+ year history of this blog. Yikes. I refuse to feel guilty about what’s supposed to be a simple fund side project, but I’m not happy with that. I got back from Canada on Sunday the 14th and a week ago today, Tuesday the 16th, finally made supper in my own kitchen for the first time in about a month. That felt strange but very, very good. I really want to get back to a normal posting schedule, but I know with a 6-day trip coming up next week and an 8-day trip following soon after, that’s going to be a bit challenging. So, I’ll do what I can when I can. :)

It might not be sky-high temperatures here in the UK, but it’s finally summer and at this time of year I crave really simple and lighter meals. Last year I did a summer salad post so I thought I’d keep to tradition and do another one this year.

Delia Smith’s Red Rice Salad (recipe)
I’ve written about red rice before (here and here). If you’ve had red rice, you know if you’re a red rice lover or not. I happen to be, and this salad is excellent. In my books, the chewier the rice, the better, and I love the texture of this stuff. Red rice tends to go really well with certain types of cheese and spring onions, both of which this salad features, along with rocket leaves and a simple dressing (I left the shallots out as I didn’t have any). This would be a great BBQ side or it perfectly fine on its own. No picture for this one, sorry — it got gobbled up too quickly!

Fried Chickpeas with Tamarind-Yogurt Sauce
The second is an incredibly easy dish that can be made in about 15 minutes; perfect for a quick supper or lunch. I got the idea from an old Bon Appetit magazine that my aunt had laying around. The idea is to drain a can of chickpeas, and then lightly fry them in oil for about 10-15 minutes, until slightly crispy. While that’s happening, wash and chop up some spring onions and fresh coriander. When the chickpeas are finished, drain them and mix with a couple of tablespoons of Greek yogurt and 1.5 tsp tamarind paste (**these measurements are approximate — adjust accordingly!). The sourness of the tamarind works perfectly with the other flavours. It would also be great with added veggies (cucumbers or red peppers come to mind).
chickpea tamarind (3)

Thai Mango Salad
Normally the idea of fruit in salad puts me off completely, but I gave this a try recently (in Sandy Cove), and was pleasantly surprised. There are lots of versions of this out there (here is one similar to the one we made) and you can make it veggie or non-veggie with chicken or shrimp. I did the former. I couldn’t eat this every day, but found it to be a really refreshing salad that has the sweet, spicy, and salty trademarks of Thai food.

mango salad

Eating (well) on the road

Greetings from Nova Scotia!

The past three weeks have been a whirlwind, so much so that I lost myself a bit. I haven’t been cooking at all. My time has been taken up by working full time for 2 weeks, writing to very tight deadlines, flying to Ottawa to attend a conference, and over the past few days in Nova Scotia I’ve finally allowed myself a little break before I head back to London tonight! I hope to return to a semi-regular posting schedule as soon as possible. In the meantime…

I first had the idea for this post when I was in Sheffield at the end of March for a(nother) conference. One of the major challenges I find with conferences (work travel in general) is keeping a healthy and nutritious diet on a reasonable budget, since I am usually constantly on the go, with barely time to use the bathroom! There also tends to be a lot of coffee on an empty stomach, or sickly sweet cookies to accompany (I am not a fan), accompanied by mysterious-looking and dubious conference food.

Over the past couple of years I have developed some habits that I try to stick to when traveling, and I thought I would share them here. Although the offerings of UK supermarkets are pretty decent, I still find myself falling into the trap of wraps on the go which or grabbing chips (crisps) as a quick snack here and there. That coupled with lack of regular exercise (aka very little) is enough to make me feel out of whack. Not to mention that plane and train and especially airport food is often hideously overpriced and often full of bad stuff.

Here is what I do

  • I always try to stay at accommodation with a kitchen. However, this isn’t always possible or desirable depending on the nature of the trip. When staying at a hotel, I look for one with fridges in the room — it makes things so much easier.
  • I take teabags with me when possible (particularly herbal teas that don’t need milk added are quite good). Most cafes charge more for a cup than the cost of a whole box of tea. (Unfortunately this doesn’t apply to coffee, since I can’t stand instant).
  • I always try to bring food for train/plane journeys. Make a big meal the night before that can be eaten cold. (Pad Thai is a particular favourite of mine for this – bonus points if it’s something that tastes better the next day!).
  • Bring snacks that will last. When I went to Riga in early March, I brought muffins, and most recently in Sheffield for a conference and brought along more muffins, healthy cookies, and crackers. Nuts make very good snacks too.
  • In Sheffield, I even brought my own breakfast: homemade granola, a bowl and spoon, and then I bought a small jug of milk when I got there. My room had a fridge (see above) and so I was able to save £30 in breakfasts over 3 days and knew exactly what I was eating. Fresh fruit makes a good accompaniment to granola too.
  • Do some research ahead of time and make a list of suitable restaurants and cafes that are close to your hotel/conference venue. This is something I’m trying to get better at. When it comes to trips for pleasure, I do a lot of research — sometimes too much. But often for a business trip I do not put a lot of effort into research. I think this is important, because often you have to make quick choices on the go and if you already have a list of places that fit the bill, you’re ahead of the game.

Those are my tips. :) I can’t wait to get back to cooking so expect an update or two over the next few weeks!

Hotel living
Hotel living
Sheffield
Sheffield

Proust Questionnaire

Since posts are have been few and far between lately (I’ve not been cooking at all :( ), I thought I’d post something a little different, my own version of the famous Proust Questionnaire.


What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Reading a good book at sunrise or sunset in Sandy Cove, with either a cup of coffee (former) of glass of wine (latter).

What is your greatest fear?
Inadequacy.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Jackie Kennedy! Ha.

Which living person do you most admire?
I can’t pinpoint one. I admire a lot of people. But I’ll give an example: I admire my partner for choosing a career that he knew wouldn’t be easy but one that he loves and brings joy to a lot of people.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Perfectionism – a constant battle against – and the feeling of needing to please others.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Arrogance.

What is your favourite journey?
The 101 SW bound.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Certain forms of temperance and patience. But only certain forms.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Travel.

On what occasion do you lie?
To protect feelings, occasionally.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My front teeth and pointy nose (from the side).

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
According to one of my grandfathers, “okay.”

What is your greatest regret?
I have made a few poor choices with regards to my career, but ultimately don’t want to think of them in terms of “regret.”

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
H. and my family. And books.

When and where were you happiest?
It is impossible to choose a time, but if forced I’d say South Africa, August 2008.

Which talent would you most like to have?
More upper body strength and the ability to read music.

What is your current state of mind?
Overworked, rather chaotic, but calmer now that it’s the weekend.

Which living person do you most despise?
Difficult one. Hard to pinpoint. I’ll choose a category instead: those who exploit the vulnerable for personal gain.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would be better at managing guilt or rather not have it at all.

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
Distance.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My education to date.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
A person!

If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
It might be fun to be a bird or whale.

What is your most treasured possession?
Some of my jewelry, books, and some of my late grandmother’s things (perfume, sweaters, and scarves).

What is the quality you most like in woman?
Humility, sense of humour.

What is the quality you most like in a man?
Awareness of sensitivity (does that make sense?).

What is your most marked characteristic?
Don’t I have to ask someone else that? My organizational skills?

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Complacency.

Where would you like to live?
In a house by the (Atlantic) ocean.

What is your favourite occupation?
Book critic.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My grandfathers, JMM & JWR.

What is it that you most dislike?
Injustice.

How would you like to die?
Quietly and peacefully (wouldn’t we all?).

What is your motto?
“Press on regardless.”

April 2015 Favourites

Guten Tag von Deutschland, where I’ve been since Wednesday. It’s slight strange to be here when the UK is in the throes of election campaign and now baby celebrations.

April was a busy month, bookended by short trips (one work, one play), and filled in the middle with visits from good friends and lots of other activities. I also finished the first draft of a chapter of my thesis (yay!). Here are a few tidbits for your perusal.

Beautiful maps.

◌ Speaking of beautiful, saw this fantastic musical and would highly recommend it.

◌ Great collection of recipes for Cinco de Mayo from one of my favourite blogs.

Do I have a child or have a career?

◌ The 40 best restaurants in Britain (apparently!).

◌ Anyone who hasn’t seen The Jinx yet MUST watch it as soon as possible — sooo chilling, and very well done.

Oldest known video footage of London.

◌ Book: I sped through No Expenses Spared, about UK MPs’ expenses scandal, and am currently reading Crow Lake and loving it.

◌ Quite enjoyed Jancis Robinson’s wine for invalids.

Guide to Asian noodles.

Finally, do whatever you can, beg, borrow, or steal(ok, maybe not the latter), to watch this documentary:

It’s the best film I have seen in a very long time — simply amazing!

Tahini Cookies

Over the last couple of years, tahini has become one of my favourite ingredients. I have used it in everything from cheesecake to salads to smoothies and the results have always been good.

I’d had my eye on the recipe in Jerusalem for a while and finally got around to making them one evening last week. The cookies are easy to prepare with only a few ingredients. Here’s how to make them:

Tahini cookies, from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C (note: I found this a little high and would recommend 180).
  2. Beat together 130g caster sugar with 150g unsalted, softened butter.
  3. Once creamed, add in 110g light tahini paste (nb: I used regular), ½ tsp vanilla essence, and 25ml double cream. Then stir in 270g plain flour.
  4. From here, the recipe says to knead until smooth. I found this wasn’t really necessary as the dough came together quite easily. It’s definitely the first time I’ve seen kneading in a cookie recipe.
  5. Shape the dough into cookies, press down with a fork, sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon on top (I forgot to do this), and bake for 15-17 minutes until golden brown.*

*The baking time says 15-17 minutes. I had my first batch in for 14 mins and a few of them came out very black on the bottom (see below!). The second batch was in for 11 mins and still a few of those were ‘over-coloured.’ I am blaming my ancient oven for this one but, as a forewarning, make sure you keep an eye on them.

Both H. and I loved these, as did some special overnight visiting guests we had, and I think I’ll definitely be making them again soon, possibly experimenting with a little less sugar (I think they’d be just fine with 80-100g). The texture is very similar to shortbread but the taste is smooth and unique — just the right amount of sweetness for breakfast, dessert, or a snack.

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