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.




Mushroom & Mozza Risotto Cakes / Baked Risotto with Peppers & Eggplant

Two posts in November is not a great record. I had every intention of posting more, but life got in the way. I was a hermit for most of October and was not being very social, so made it my goal to get out more in November. I wish I could say that’s why I haven’t been posting, but no, H. and I were struck down with an awful stomach bug that lasted 10 days. That 1 1/2 weeks was a total write-off in terms of cooking and doing much outside of the house, unfortunately.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately… life has changed a great deal in the almost 5(!) years since I started this blog. While I still have a great deal of control over my schedule, I no longer have the time to experiment in the kitchen as much as I used to. Cooking has become a lot more functional and practical, as I knew it would, and that’s only going to increase over time. I still love being in the kitchen and trying new things, but I now only seem to have the time to do that a few times a month. Of course, this is also coming to the end of the semester during which I have lectured for the first time, am trying to finish my PhD, and of course how can I forget, now starting to apply for ‘real’ jobs. I.e. it’s a very busy of time of year! Reprieve will come (I hope).

Today I have two really good recipes to share, both featuring arborio rice used in ways different to a traditional risotto. Bringing these together was a fluke; I originally intended to post them separately but it makes sense to combine them.

Mushroom & mozarella risoto cakes
delicious magazine tweeted this recipe over a month ago, and it caught my eye straight away. It is one of those recipes that looks straightforward and requires easy-to-get-a-hold-of ingredients. Although my version did not look as good as the photo in the link ;), I loved this meal because it turns out that I love the texture of fried arborio rice. The cakes are a bit hard to get to stick together. Mine did, but just barely. This is the perfect meal to have with a crisp, slightly spicy side green salad. They’re crunchy and simply delicious.

risotto cakes


Baked rice with eggplant and peppers
Luisa’s title sounds better, and her photo looks better too! But essentially this is exactly what is sounds like: rice baked with aubergine and peppers and topped with cheese. It’s very tasty and straightforward enough to make as a weeknight meal. I’d be inclined next time to try it with drained canned tomatoes instead of fresh ones, just to see what a difference it makes in texture. Otherwise this dish gets my full approval.

riso al forno all siciliana

PS: Happy December! November favourites coming soon.

Coq au Vin

“I cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.”

So says a humourous magnet that H. bought me. And it’s coming true in the case of this post. Unfortunately, despite my love for wine, I really did not like this meal. It is rare I cook things that I don’t like. If something goes wrong, it’s one thing, but this one turned out just fine and I simply didn’t like it. 😦

I found some chicken thighs at the market and decided I’d try coq au vin – a dish I have never eaten before. The recipe is another from Craig Flinn‘s Fresh and Local.

  • Marinate the chicken overnight in a combination of 1.5 tsp tomato paste, salt, pepper, a bay leaf, some fresh thyme, and wine. I used about 2/3 of a bottle (the original recipe says a full bottle but also uses more chicken, so I modified it for what I had which was 4 good-sized thighs).
  • When ready to cook, take the chicken out of the fridge, dry it off, and sear in some olive oil until browned on both sides. (Keep the marinade to add in later).
  • Meanwhile cook about ~100g (less or more, as desired) bacon and set aside. *Use streaky bacon if in the UK.
  • Add a tsp of butter to a frying pan (I used the same one throughout), and cook onions (recipe calls for 20 pearl onions, I used 2 shallots), garlic (anywhere between a half and full head), and about ~150g button mushrooms for about 10 minutes. Then add a 1tsbp of flour and mix with the fat to make a roux – I didn’t find this worked well for me. Perhaps I should have used more flour?
  • Deglaze the pan with roughly 1/8 of a cup of brandy and add the marinade back in. Stir well, and then add the chicken and bacon back in. Simmer for 30 minutes, covered (I uncovered it for the last half as I wanted the sauce to become a bit thicker).

As I said above, I wasn’t happy with this meal. The taste for me was too ….. wine-y. And a bit unpleasant. I felt that the sauce should have been a bit thicker too. It was a real shame as the chicken was great quality and very tasty but I couldn’t finish mine. It has all kind of ingredients I like — bacon, chicken, lots of garlic, mushrooms, wine! — but ultimately the combination didn’t work for me. H. liked it, but I won’t be making it again anytime soon.


Mushroom, Leek, & Bacon Tart

Three or four years ago, any tart with leeks as a main ingredient would not have been something that I’d have ever sought out or prepared. How times have changed! I am still left-centre on the onion spectrum: I love spring onions, now eat shallots and apparently leeks, but draw the line at “obvious” onions that aren’t blended well enough. And I will not consume raw onions. But H. says with this tart I am one step closer to Zwiebelkuchen [“onion cake”], one of his favourite meals that I won’t eat, as it’s …..a cake (well, more of a tart ;)). With onions. Das reicht nicht!

The comments in the original recipe link say it all. This meal comes together very quickly — the prep is minimal, using store-bought puff pastry. Someone suggested it was a perfect last-minute dinner party dish and I agree completely. I made a few modifications. I could not get a hold of Gruyere locally, and so substituted with Parmesan. I also added bacon: we had half a package in the fridge that needed using up, and what tart doesn’t taste better with bacon? (FYI I added the bacon at the same time as the cheese and noted that it only needed a further 2-3 minutes in the oven, not the 5-7 as suggested in the recipe). With a big dose of freshly ground pepper, this is a dish I’d happily order in a restaurant.

leek tart

leek tart 1

Back on the job

I can’t believe there has been a nearly 3 week gap between my last post and this one. I don’t think that’s ever happened on this blog other than planned breaks! The 3-year anniversary of MwL even came and went on the 10th without my acknowledgement – tsk, tsk. Needless to say it’s been very busy on this end with lots of PhD-stuff going on and a 5-day trip to Poland squeezed in there. Another part of why I haven’t posted is because I’ve felt that why I’ve been trying a few new things in the kitchen, not a lot of them are groundbreaking or interesting enough to warrant a post. With that in mind, I’ve decided to play catch-up by combining a few different dishes into one post.

Anti-vampire (aka garlic) soup (from Lottie & Doof, recipe here)
As a lover of garlic I have always wanted to try making garlic soup. This one seemed the perfect antidote to the crappy weather we’ve had all winter. It was also great because I wanted to use some of the sage that my friend A. brought back from Turkey for me as a gift! Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me at the time, there are two types of sage. One is much stronger, and guess which one I was using? I left it in the entire time the soup was simmering (~20 minutes) and as soon as I’d taken the first sip I knew: it was horribly and disgustingly bitter! Once we’d removed all the sage it was palatable but still unfortunately not probably as good as it could have been. What made it better was fresh bread & the poached egg, which were both lovely.

Get outta my soup, sage.
Get outta my soup, sage.

After stating for years that I wasn’t a fan of quiche (due to a very unfortunate bad association with rotten quiche on a plane as a child), I discovered over Christmas that I actually love it! My aunt J2 made a delicious lobster quiche for Christmas morning brunch and since then I’ve made it three times (although admittedly with the less luxurious and more humble mushroom). This recipe, with the addition of green onion, is my favourite so far.

Quiche & Sunday morning sun
Quiche & Sunday morning sun

Breakfast hash
I am a sweet potato fiend and so this brunch dish immediately caught my eye. It did not disappoint! Other than slightly overcooking the eggs (baked eggs are such a precise science!), this was perfect. Unlike the recipe I did make it the day of and was chopping potatoes at 9am, but it was worth it.

Sausage, egg, & bacon hash

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

I have always wanted to try my hand at making gnocchi. When I saw this posted at one of my new favourite blogs, Half Baked Harvest, I thought it looked like a delicious recipe and a good opportunity to try it out.

Making gnocchi is quite a labourious task and should be set aside for an evening when you know you have some extra time. In most cases the first step will be boiling or roasting the potatoes (unless you happen to have extra mashed potatoes lying around). I roasted mine for about 35 minutes. The next step is preparing the mixture of sweet potatoes, Parmesan, eggs, burrata or ricotta (my local shop had neither, so I used ‘fresh cheese’ which isn’t as good as German Frischkäse unfortunately), salt, then adding the flour and mixing and shaping the gnocchi. This was definitely the most time-consuming part. Mine definitely did not look very uniform and I also made them too big.

I served them with the caramelized mushrooms and goat cheese as in the recipe I linked to, as well as a side salad. H. loved this meal and in particular the gnocchi but I thought they were just okay — a little bland (you are your own worst critic!). I am glad I tried this, but I don’t think I will be making gnocchi again anytime soon: it is simply too time-consuming!

A little flour-y?
Dough before it is cut up into small gnocchi: a little flour-y?
Finished product: sweet potato gnocchi with mushrooms and goat cheese.
Finished product: sweet potato gnocchi with mushrooms and goat cheese.

Mushroom, Pork, & Mascarpone Lasagne

The title is not deceiving you: this is an incredibly rich dish that would fail any diet test. BUT, I can promise that it is ridiculously good, and worth indulging in!

delicious tweeted the recipe about a week ago and it immediately caught my eye. It proved to be perfect for an early fall weekend meal.

I made a few small changes. 1) I used prosciutto instead of parma ham (I couldn’t remember what it called for at the store and got the wrong one by mistake). I would say you could leave it out if you wanted to. 2) Instead of Taleggio, I used a combination of fresh mozzarella and cheddar.

This lasagne is not something I would make often, and I try to limit cheesy pasta bakes in my diet, but as a treat this is a really good option. You could also make it veggie with just mushrooms although you will need a lot of them! (I used 500g and could have done with more).

I followed the specifications listed and it lasted the two of us three meals, so this is definitely a bulk recipe that would also work well for a small dinner party. You can also freeze the whole thing (pre-bake).

Those of you who try this will not be disappointed! 😀

Out of the oven
messy plates

Friday Night Chinese Feast

H. and I have been living in London for just over a year now. While we like living here, there are some parts of everyday life that are made much more complicated in a city that is as crowded and massive as it is. Running errands is one of them. Anything that goes beyond bank/post office/groceries tends to involve a lot of chaos and miles on public transport. On this particular Friday afternoon (Friday the 13th, of course!), I was feeling quite defeated after a whole afternoon of frustrations and one setback after another. The whole time I was out I was looking forward to relaxing at home with a glass of wine and preparing this meal. For me, time in the kitchen tends to heal a lot of wounds.

The initial inspiration for this meal came from this Saveur recipe, and I based the other dishes around it.

Kong Bao Ji Ding (aka Kung Pao Chicken): Peanuts, in pretty much any form, go down very well in this house. I knew the moment I saw this that it would be a good options for us, and H. is still raving about it. The  recipe looks complicated but is actually quite simple to prepare, and absolutely delicious. I’ve also since made it in veggie form using tofu which worked too.

Eggs noodles with sesame dressingThe noodles were probably the weakest part of the meal – still very tasty, but they did not pack as big a punch taste-wise as the other two. I probably won’t use this recipe again.

Broccoli & shiitake mushrooms: This is a great recipe from the NYT‘s Martha Rose Shulman which I modified to just include broccoli and mushrooms. The hoisin sauce mixture  is really delicious and would work with all sorts of veg combinations I think.

* * *

The meal came together quicker than anticipated. I started by marinating the chicken, and by the time that was done (30 minutes), I had all of the other sauces prepared and was ready to cook. Once the chicken is in, the noodles and broccoli combined take under 10 minutes, so it all came together really quickly. I think the key is definitely having everything pre-mixed before you cook.

As a first go at a 3-part Chinese meal I think this turned out really well and I was pleased and proud of the result. Add H., a shared bottle of wine, and some Arrested Development and you have the perfect cathartic end to a hectic day!

Chicken in wok
Chicken in wok
A true feast!
A true feast!

Breakfast: Baked Mushrooms & Eggs

I wanted to squeeze in a final post this week as I have a backlog and will be without internet the next couple of days!

If you’re a mushroom fiend like me, this one’s for you. It’s also the perfect weekend breakfast served with strong coffee and some toast if you desire. It is dead easy to make as well: saute desired amount of mushrooms (keep in mind they’re going to shrink quite a bit – although if you love mushrooms you already know that!). Then transfer the mushrooms into an oven proof dish, break desired number of eggs on top (I used 3 split between the two of us), and simply place in the oven until your desired doneness is achieved. Top with a little pepper and shaved Parmesan.

Mine was in the oven just slightly too long, resulting in a little more rubbery eggs that I would have preferred (however, better than the alternative, runny yolks, which I cannot stand!).

Original recipe here.

Mushroom eggs

Mushroom Pearl Barley ‘Risotto’

In some ways, it seems silly to post separately about this dish when in fact much of it is very similar to this mushroom risotto, a dish I first posted about a year and a half ago and have made many times since. The change in this case, of course, is not using rice but pearl barley. This is an ingredient that seems to be cropping up a lot lately. I don’t know if it’s a trend or whether I’ve just noticed it more.

The recipe is based on this one from delicious. magazine. I made a couple of changes. I didn’t use Tesco’s “Creamy Garlic Mushroom” pack (pre-seasoned vegetables do not get my stamp of approval!). Unfortunately I could only find button mushrooms, but sauteed them first before making the barley and added them in at the end. Also, I love blue cheese but didn’t have any, so used feta.

I’m glad I tried this way but I have to admit that I prefer traditional risotto. The barley was very chewy and its harder texture really stood out.

Please be patient with my sub-par pictures — my camera and battery charger are still at the bottom of a box somewhere!