Dark Chocolate Sunflower Seed Bark

When in Toronto for work at the end of May, I stocked up on snacks. Now that I have a “normal” 9-to-5 job, Some of my favourites include fried corn and sesame sticks, but I also discovered a new (to me) company Barkthins. (Sidenote: snacks are way better in North America. UK, you could really do with upping the snack game!)

After devouring the bark in about two days at work, I decided I would try to recreate it. I used this recipe as a base. I experimented a bit with the ratio of seeds to chocolate: in the end I used 300g dark chocolate and about 200g sunflower seeds — you really do need quite a bit of chocolate if you’re going to make a big batch.

This is really easy to make. I only used sunflower seeds — make sure you lightly toast or roast them. I was a bit nervous that it wouldn’t set, but it did (make sure to refrigerate at least an hour). It is delicious, especially with the added sea salt. I’d encourage everyone to give this one a go! 🙂

Sorry, no photo this time!

Cauliflower & Broccoli Cheddar Bake

Soon after I posted saying I’m not cooking much new…I have a couple of posts in the pipeline.

This is like a mac & cheese except solely with vegetables. I’m not sure about elsewhere, but cauliflower rice is everywhere here: even in tiny shops it’s available, pre-chopped. I picked some up on a whim and for a couple of days mulled over what to do with it. Since we all know that I love cheese…it had to be something cheesy in the end. I loosely adapted this recipe.

I didn’t have buffalo sauce (it doesn’t seem to exist here? Maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough), so made the recipe a simple “mac and cheese,” with bechamel sauce, cheese (mature cheddar and Parmesan), and “pasta” (vegetables). The original recipe is with shrimp, but, again, I omitted this.

I won’t lie: this was not the tastiest or most thrilling dish I’ve ever made. In hindsight I would have added some sharp blue cheese to it, and if I make it again I think I’ll do that. Nevertheless, it wasn’t dull or bland — I had it with a side salad and they worked well together. I don’t think I’d go to the trouble of mincing the cauliflower by hand to make this though — some shortcuts are worth it.

cauli cheddar bake

 

A New Normal, part 2

In my last post, I reflected on a “new normal” that I’ve been living since the beginning of this year. In this post I want to talk more about what that means in terms of cooking and eating. You’ll notice that posts have declined quite a bit since January, and that’s because I simply don’t try many new recipes anymore (that being said, now that we’re moving into summer months, I hope to change that).

My requirements for food during the week are as follows: meals must a) be fairly easy to prep, b) healthy, c) require a minimum amount of ingredients, d) within budget, and e) as leftovers, be able to be taken for lunch the next day. I don’t have a huge pantry of staples condiments/spices to turn to, so anything too complicated or time-consuming is out.

I try to follow a stringent meal planning system because without it I would waste a lot of food (and money). As I am hardly ever in Liverpool for more than 5 days at a time, I need to plan carefully to make sure I don’t leave a lot of perishable food that will be off by Monday evening. I’ve found this to be tricky because I want to eat as many fresh vegetables as possible, but this is also the stuff that goes off quickly.

I’ve found that I eat more vegetarian meals now than I did when living full-time with H., just because they’re often less complicated to prep and meat is of course pricier. I also have eaten more pre-prepared food than before, simply for the convenience factor (this was especially true during the first few chaotic weeks). I try to keep to a rough budget of £25-30/per week, though some weeks will be more if I am stocking up on basics. Some staple meals include risottos, pastas, fresh ravioli, salads, fish, and curries.

I miss a lot of my “London life”, including more adventurous meals and the luxury of cooking out of only one kitchen(!). But, things were always going to change post-PhD, as I am no longer able to set my own schedule as much as I once was. I also really miss cooking with H. regularly (though not necessarily having to plan around his schedule! 😉 ). When it comes down to it, I doubt I’ll ever have as much time to cook as I have over the past 6 years since I started the blog. Life gets in the way! But I hope to continue to share what I can until posting feels like a chore. 🙂

“Ravioli” with Cavolo Nero & Goat’s Cheese

This recipe caught my eye because it simply looked good in a recent edition of my delicious magazine. It also falls into a category — vaguely healthy-sounding pasta dish — that usually appeals to me. This one was unusual because it uses fresh lasagne sheets as the pasta — the “ravioli” aren’t really ravioli.

The sauce is made in a food processor with a combination of cavolo nero (boiled for a minute to make it soft, then water squeezed out), olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and salt. The accompanying paste is soft goat’s cheese, walnuts (I used toasted almonds), sage, lemon juice, and oil, again made in a food processor. To assemble, you cook the lasagne sheets, and then “layer” the three components, beginning with sauce, then noodles, then goat’s cheese paste. Repeat. Top with Parmesan or Pecorino.

This unfortunately did not pack enough of a punch taste-waste for me. The sauce was a bit bland and watery. The recipe says to squeeze out as much water from the cavolo nero as possible, which I did, but I still found it lacking. I also found the noodles too thick. It was an experimental meal I guess — not a bad one, but one I won’t be making again.

lasagne ravioli

Early Spring Favourites

I missed February favourites, so thought I’d do an ‘early spring’ roundup. I hope to return to more frequent posting very soon. Happy spring! 🙂

◌ Two of my favourite things.

◌ Goop’s spring fiction guide.

◌ Seems very, very impractical!

What an experience. Take me there!

◌ I can’t stand the term ‘clean eating’ either.

◌ My cultural consumption has plummeted over the past few months with the exception of podcasts, which I have been listening to on my way to work: I’ve really enjoyed the short, fictional podcast Homecoming, starring Catherine Keener & David Schwimmer, among others. The Babysitters Club Club has really made me laugh, and I recently began  season 2 of Undisclosed, and I’m hooked.

◌ Love this feature on Alaskan fisherwomen.

Meal planning for one.

WOAH.

Leonard Cohen’s Montreal neighbourhood was also mine. Makes me nostalgic.

Amazing.

◌ Happy that Broadchurch and Line of Duty are back.

IMG_20170403_083140535_HDR

Sea Bass with Ginger & Garlic

Current meal standards and expectations are very, very low. This is the only ‘new’ thing I have made in the past 7 weeks — I think that’s a new record for me, even in all of the craziness of the PhD. I started a new job in mid-January, which had meant a complete change in my personal and professional life. I’m lucky now if I manage to eat an evening meal, let alone make one from scratch or try a new recipe.

Most weekends, I travel back to London. I leave work around 3:45pm and arrive back home in the capital by 7:45pm. However, on the weekend that I made this, H. came up to visit me. The recipe had caught my eye in the Guardian magazine and I set out especially to make it — to try something new.

Regular readers will know that I don’t make a lot of seafood in the UK. I decided to make an exception for this and got the fish at a local fishmonger. This dish was, to put it simply, wonderful. Aside from the fact that the fish fell apart a bit– too much handling — it was spot-on. The tastes were wonderful. Ottolenghi is known for his big punchy flavours and this didn’t disappoint. Both H. and I agree we’re going to make it again. I followed the recipe carefully and would recommend doing the same. It is essential to have everything prepared before you start to cook.

sea bass

Kate, Lately

I have no food-related updates for you , so I thought I would try something different. Hopefully I will be able to share a recipe soon.

Relishing any moment I have to read for pleasure. These moments have been few and far between since I started my new job, which is a big change for me.

Remembering that this isn’t forever.

Reading George W. Bush’s memoirs (a little odd timing) and on page 2 of this novel.

Delighted that I have made two genuinely fantastic friends since my move up north — I live with one and one is a colleague.

Recommending the second season of the CBC podcast Someone Knows Something. Start from episode one. It is without a doubt one of the best podcasts I have ever heard, possibly the best.

Eating a lot of meals that require a minimum number of ingredients.

Grateful to have a new job that challenges me.

Loving that I am teaching feminism for the first time next week.

Checking Donald Trump’s Twitter feed almost obsessively. It’s a problem.

Choosing life. (Ha). Positivity & gratefulness.

Listening to (back episodes of) CriminalThis American LifeMatrimoney. I’m one ep in to the Babysitters Club Club and it is hilarious and so nostalgic.

Laughing with my sister, whenever we can. I miss her. We can always make each other laugh.

Looking forward to Saturday, the first day I will be taking off since I started my new job.

Planning lecture after seminar after tutorial after lecture.

Running 2 mornings a week before work. This is a new routine and I am proud of myself for sticking to it so far.

Working like I have never worked before.

Finding that H. & I are rock solid — as if there was ever any doubt!

Dreaming of summer in Nova Scotia.

Still thinking about donating blood — something I wanted to do for the first time at Christmas and haven’t done yet.

Ending my student life. My PhD corrections are officially approved. My full-time job is now teaching undergrads. My first paycheck arrives in 12 days (not that I’m counting or anything). Apparently I’m an adult!

Gnocchi with Mushroom & Kale Cream Sauce

Welcome 2017
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.

gnocchi

 

Venison Sausage Rolls

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!

sausage-rolls

Curried Carrot and Coconut Soup

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.

carrot-coconut-soup-1