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Ambrosia and Nectar

Ambrosia and Nectar is a food blog written by a woman who loves any and all food experiences. Thinking about, cooking, and particularly eating food are some of my greatest pleasures, and the blog is meant to share some of these experiences.

Updated: 2017-12-11T03:14:39.092+00:00


Comfort vegetables


Comfort vegetables.Eh? let me try that again.Comfort. Vegetables.It doesn't sound much more likely the second time around,does it? Your comfort foods tend to be sweet and fatty, or warm, rich, and the sort of thing your mother would make you when you were sick or celebrating something. A bad day at work rarely prompts the phrase "I'm feeling a bit low. Can you peel a carrot for me, love?". At best you might be able to stretch to a plate of mashed potatoes as a platter of comfort, but it can be hard to seek solace in just a plate of greens.I returned to work at the start of October (hence this poor blog suffering lowest task on the totem pole status). I like my job as much as you can - and same can be said for the people I work with - but it was always going to be a challenge to become a Working Mother. In my first 6 weeks back, us family three have already been struck by mild colds, severe colds, teething, chest infections, feverish nights (and days), gastroenteritis, and the general disturbed sleep that comes from suddenly being left to the care of strangers all day (Baby A&N, not the adults on this one). Sometimes all three of us have been struck at once, which has led to some fairly improvised parenting ("If we drop him at day care after his nap, he'll be well rested enough to last a few hours there and we can go back to bed and get some sleep ourselves").Eating, when you have the appetite, becomes more functional than fun (which might technically mean meals become 'ctional', but that's a tough batch of letters to pronounce). Hence comfort vegetables - defined as an attempt to bring a touch of much needed coddling to a dish that would otherwise just perpetuate the blah. A recipe in Moro East (which, if you haven't heard of it, is a fantastic seasonal cookbook perfect for the allotment/home food grower) for a beetroot, broad bean, and tarragon salad seemed the perfect antidote to our vegetable lethargy. As the newly branded Mother Who Plans Ahead, I added tarragon to our weekly shopping delivery and sat back, waiting for the beetroot to come in with our weekly veg box.Except Mother Didn't Know Best, and for the only instance in weeks there was no beetroot waiting for us in our veg box (the world of weekly vegetable deliveries is a very cruel world). Luckily Father Dearest stepped in to stop the situation falling apart ("I need exciting vegetables! I have tarragon! There is no beetroot! THIS WASN'T IN MY WEEKLY FOOD PLAN!") and suggested twists to the original recipe: the salad became a warm dish, carrot stepped in for the beetroot, and a bit of sherry vinegar and cream became the sauce to hold it all together. Mr A&N was stunningly pleased with the result. I at first mostly tasted defeat and disappointment in myself, though friends assure me this is a common flavor of parenthood so I best get used to it. To be fair to these vegetables, they really were rather special, with the vinegar, tarragon and cream not just giving the right tart, deep flavored, and rich balance to one another, but it all giving a bit of comforting, vegetable love to a week night spent detoxing in front of the television.Creamy Broad Beans, Carrots and Tarragonserves 4 as a side dish2 shallots or 1 small onion, chopped very finely2-3 Tbs olive oil3 carrots, chopped into 1cm cubesabout 500g broad beans (use frozen - much easier than peeling! Do quickly boil and drain, though to take the edge off the freezing)1 bunch (about 15g) fresh tarragon, roughly chopped2-3 Tbs good quality sherry vinegarabout 125ml creamsalt and pepper to tasteOver a medium heat, warm the olive oil and add the onion. Cook until beginning to soften.Add the carrots and cook for a few minutes until their hardness is taken away.Add the broad beans and tarragon, and cook a further few minutes until both vegetables are nicely softened.Add the vinegar (start with 2 Tbs since it can be strong tasting, and add more later if you think it needs it) and cook for a minute or so until it's mostly burnt off.Add in the cream and stir until everything is well coated.Salt and pepper [...]

Daring Bakers: Macarons


The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.
Ah macarons. Like salted caramel, they seemed to take the food blog world by storm a short while ago. I resolutely/accidentally missed the boat on both, then felt behind the times enough to not want to make either since everyone else had been there, done that on my behalf. This month's Daring Bakers challenge gave me the chance to rectify this baking
oversight and dig into a plate of dainty sweet sandwiches.

My macarons were destined for imperfection. Not failure - what is failure when you still have a highly edible finished product? They were simply not going to be the macarons that any Frenchman would be seen eating. More for me, then!

Our oven has a slight flaw in that all the numbers on the temperature dial have fallen off. Silly oven. I know where to set the dial for most cakes, cookies, muffins, and roast dinners, but anything falling outside the 160 - 200C range is danger territory. In order to achieve the tell-tale crusty 'foot' on these macarons (see every other Daring Baker page for what this looks like), this recipe has the temperature starting very low and increasing after the macarons have had a chance to rest outside the oven. Low, in this case, is defined as 100C. Or, on my oven, the Vast Unknown.

And so though I journeyed to The Land I've Never Yet Been To, and the macarons returned from that journey with me, they were not as they should be. They were
soft, a bit moist, and with no feet (or limbs of any sort) on them. Oh well. They were also delicious, with the rose water buttercream and nutella buttercream I made for the standard macarons, and a mint buttercream to go with the chocolate version. They may have had trouble in baking, but not any trouble in eating.

Thanks goes to Ami from Baking Without Fear for setting the recipe and setting everyone's macarony imaginations going. Please have a look at her blog for the recipe we all used.


Vietnamese Lamb and Noodles


I cooked a soup this past weekend (soup season has begun, so I've declared). Butternut squash, corn, butter beans, cream. Something of a chowder, with gentle bay and thyme to give it more flavor. It was supposed to be my blog post, but it was brutally ugly. Fairly tasty, but in need of a good food plastic surgeon to bring some beauty to that bowl.The innocuous "What's for dinner tonight?" question on Monday was a loaded one. The weekend is for food blog time, week nights for survival. But I declared to Mr A&N that Monday night's dinner (lamb chops in the fridge) would have to be blog-worthy as I had nothing to post about this week. "Leave it to me" Mr. A&N declared. "I'll put something together."The 5pm phone call to tell me he was leaving work early began not with a hello but with a declaration I wouldn't have guessed had I been given 100 chances. "Vietnamese", Mr A&N stated. "It's more traditional with pork chops but I think it will work. I'm picking up a lime and some noodles, but I'll be home to help with Baby A&N's feeding and bedtime and then cook dinner."He was of course as good as his word. Got home, set the marinade for the lamb going, pulled funny faces during Baby A&N's dinner and then played with him in the bath. Gave him his milk, bundled this very sleepy baby into bed, came downstairs and cooked me a wonderful meal. The noodles were treated to the marinade the lamb had been sitting in, and I stole irresistable mouthfuls from the wok as I set the camera up. The marinade had created very succulent chops thanks to the lime, with the slight sweetness to it melding seemlessly, and beautifully, with the chilli and soy flavors bringing up the rear. The Vietnamese know what they're doing with flavors, and so did Mr A&N when he put this together.Mr A&N and I had a discussion in the car this past weekend, after seeing some friends. "Why do you always tell stories when I'm the butt of the joke? Why do you tell people about when I mean to say or do something nice but it comes out wrong and seems like an insult instead? Why don't you ever tell the good stuff, like how I make you dinner and help around the house and get up in the middle of the night to deal with Baby A&N?""Because those stories are funny. You like being funny. If there's one thing I know about you it's that.""I like being funny," he admitted "but when it's me being funny, rather than me being insensitive. I'd like to be seen as the good guy sometimes.""You're right, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. You are the good guy. You're the great guy. I promise to do better. I'm sorry.""Okay." he said. "Thanks.""I promise." I said. "I promise to do better. And I promise I'll only tell those stories when I'm guaranteed a really big laugh."He accepted his victory with customary grace.Vietnamese Lamb and NoodlesServes 3 eating averagely, 2 greedily, 4 modestly6-8 lamb good lamb chops2 cloves garlic, finely chopped1 small chilli (more if you like it hot), choppedthumb of ginger, well chopped1 stalk or 2tsp lemon grass paste2 Tbsp granulated sugar4 Tbsp soy sauce2 limes, juicedchinese egg noodles, enough for the number of people you're serving2 stir fry veg nicely chopped - like carrot and broccoli, eggplant and zucchini, etc1 Tbsp seasame oil1 Tbsp olive or vegetable oilhandful of chopped corianderCombine the marinade ingredients (the garlic, chilli, ginger, lemon grass, sugar, soy sauce, and lime), mixing until the sugar is dissolved.Pour the marinade in a flat casserole dish that's just big enough to hold the lamb. Layer the lamb on top and let marinate for at least a half an hour (or over night, if you're very prepared), then turn the chops over and give that side of the chops as much time to marinate.Turn the grill on to 180C / 375 F. When ready, lay the lamb out under the grill and cook for 4-8 minutes each side, depending on the thickness of the chops. (This will give you chops that stay nice and pink in the middle; if you don't like pink, add a couple of minutes more to the cook time[...]

Everything-But-the-Kitchen-Sink Spanish Tortilla


A few disclaimers:This isn't a real Spanish tortilla. I repeat, this is NOT a REAL Spanish tortilla, normally an egg-potato-onion-salt concoction. I've gone off piste, but since it's my blog I'm stubbornly sticking to the name.I made this a couple of weeks ago, before I went on holiday. I thought I set the blog post to release, but it didn't. So sorry for the lack of posting and lack of vacation announcement. I ate this all, all by myself (though not in one sitting). Twas large, and I'm a pig, but the sign of a good dinner is that it didn't make me sick to eat all that. Before going away for a couple of weeks, it seems a wise thing to clear out the kitchen of anything that won't last til you get back (or anything that will tempt creepy crawlies into your cupboards and make them flourish, as my family once did with an open box of Frosted Flakes and roughly 500 of the neighborhood's ants). Normally when I'm faced with a motley crew of vegetables, meats, and cheeses, I indulge myself in a guilty pleasure of a fried rice, using day-old take out rice and all of the above. With a bit of ketchup on the side, it's hangover food that you didn't have to be drunk the night before in order to enjoy. An omlette, though, is an equally generous hold-all for food bits that need uniting. French omelettes, light and runny, and messily yet beautifully folded, don't seem to go well with chunky bits thrown into it too. An Italian fritata and a Spanish tortilla are similar in notion to each other, both being chunky wedges of egg wrapped around as many other things as you like. Both being thick, you have to find a way to cook both the bottom and top of the omlettes equally well, since if left to just simmer the will both burn on the bottom before cooking on the top. A fritata is finished off by being put under the grill, while a tortilla is flipped over so that the top becomes the bottom. The trick of flipping a tortilla is one that seems to be passed down with the Spanish gene, and it's a very hard thing to pull off without the right combination of factors (including Spanish ancestry, it seems). I saw my first tortilla cooked by two Spanish friends working in tandem, and they both still had to hold their breaths when this 12 egg goliath was thrown onto a plate and then slid back into the pan. I worked on my own, with just hunger to carry me through the hair raising moment of El Flip. Working in my super-sticky frying pan, it was never going to turn out well. It fell to pieces like a house placed over the largest crack on the San Andreas fault, but I pushed it back together with the flat end of the spatula and continued cooking. There was no one to impress but me, and I already know most of my short comings. I found the advice from Fine Cooking was excellent (and it's the top Google hit for the 'spanish tortilla' search, so it must be good), but sadly I went and did my own thing despite the advice. Part of the joy of a tortilla (or fritata) comes the day after, when you can eat it cold or a bit warm, slapped into a generously buttered baguette. Another day-old comfort food that might not rank high for beauty but is in other ways a beautiful thing. Everything-But-the-Kitchen-Sink Spanish Tortilla serves 3-4 for dinner4 small potatoes (about 200g) 1 medium onion about3 inches of dried chorizo, sliced thinly and cut into quarters 1 pepper (red or green), cut into small cubes 1/4 C frozen peas6 large eggs1/4 C milk several Tbs olive oil and a knob of butter Peel and slice the potatoes, first in half and then into thin, evenly thick half moon shapes, then peel and dice the onion into small, uniformly-sized pieces. Heat the oil and butter over a medium heat in a large, high-sided frying pan. Add enough oil so that the whole bottom is covered, plus a bit more. Put the potatoes in when the oil is hot enough for them to begin sizzling. Cook for a few minutes until they're nicely softened, then add the onion. Cook until the onion is softened, then add the chorizo, pepp[...]

Don't Pattypan-ic!


I had an email from my friend/food guru Jill the other week, asking me about what I'd done with the pattypan squash in that week's veg delivery box. It was about 3 days after the box had been delivered, and sad to say I hadn't even clocked that vegetable yet. Carrots (check), beetroot (check), courgette (check), mystery yellowy squashy thing (hmm, check on it).The squash is small and doesn't look like it would have much flesh within (which, it turns out, it doesn't). Jill had searched high and low for recipes and recommendations, and concluded that what seemed to be the done thing with the pattypan is to cut it open and fill it with something rather more delicious. So off Jill went with her chorizo and white beans, off I went with sausages and roman beans, and we both cooked our pattypans and relayed each other the results.We independently discovered some of the same universal truths:Sausages in any form are wonderful, and sauteeing them with other good things make them even better.A pattypan squash doesn't taste of much, but it does give off an awful lot of water. Fairly tasteless water.The pattypan is nice to look at, but remains a curiosity in how it's survived as food for so long given it's pretty short short comings.Pattypan is a great word. The most fun I had in cooking and eating the squash was in trying to use the word in sentences ("Don't pattypan-ic, I know what I'm doing", "Well darn this pattypanning thing, it's just not cooking", etc). The makers of Sponge Bob Square Pants agree with me on this point.Our adventures with with pattypan are done for now, and I'm not sad to see it go. Mr A&N loved the filling (naturally, it contained sausages) but thought the squash was as pointless as a pair of high heels on a camel. I feel bad harboring ill will against my food and so didn't take as hard a stance on the pattypan as he did, but I'm not about to start a clandestine affair with it either. If you, too, get landed with a pattypan squash, just keep Douglas Adams in mind: don't pattypan-ic, it will be fine.Sausage and Sage Stuffed Squashmakes enough for 2-3 people as a main, though you should have a side dish too4 - 6 pattypan squashes, depending on sizeolive oil to cook (a tablespoon or two)1 onion, well chopped1 clove garlic, chopped1 stalk celery, sliced thinlyhandful of fresh sage, roughly chopped400g / 1lb of sausages (cumberland, simple pork, or something similar)1 tin of romanesco or white beans, drainedParmesean cheese for topping (optional)Pre-heat oven to 200C / 450 FCut off the tops of the pattypan squash so that you have about 1/4 of the squash as the lid, 3/4 as the bottomPlace the squash bottoms and top in the oven once it's heated, and cook for about 10 minutesMeanwhile, heat a frying pan over medium-high heat, and add the olive oil. Once that's warm, add the onions, garlic and celery to sautee, and cook for a couple of minutes until the onions are softened (make sure you stir every so often).Add in the sage and give it all a good stir.Add in the sausages, keeping them whole for now. Cook until the sausages are mostly done, then cut them up into bite-sized pieces.Throw in the tin of beans, give it all a good stir and let it cook for a further minute or twoSalt and pepper to taste.Take the squashes out of the oven, and stuff them full off the sausage mix. Top with parmesean if you want to, and put the filled squashes back in the oven for a further 10 minutes or until a fork inserted into the flesh goes in and out easily.Serve with some vegetables and something like a potato gratin or hash browns on the side. Subscribe[...]

Oven-Baked Skate


A skate – either in the ocean or on a plate – is a strange creature to look at. It’s a bottom-dwelling, pre-historic seeming family of fish with a large pointed nose, eyes atop its head, and wings travelling from the tip of its nose down to its body, looking almost like a baby elephant that has been flattened and sent to live on the ocean floor. It’s those large wings which are of edible interest in the skate, covered in tender meat on both the top and the bottom of the fronds of cartilage that give the wings their structure.I must have lived more sheltered a life than I realized, since skate is another food-stuff that I’d never come across until I was in my 20s (along with rhubarb and broad beans, gooseberries, and any kind of crumble). Like my other late-in-life food deprivations, I try to make up for lost time by eating skate whenever I find it. Mr A&N, more conversant in cooking skate wing than I am, has persuaded me that oven baking is the best way to cook it. The flesh is meaty, succulent and a bit sweet and always reminds me of crab. The oven baking keeps the tenderness sealed in along with its flavor. Oven baking is also an easy-as-anything way to cook the fish, as well as a healthy way of doing it. A strange looking creature, but an excellent dining companion.Oven-Baked Skateserves 22 skate wings (we prefer the biggest we can find, but then we're greedy)juice 1 1/2 lemon (2 lemons if your lemon isn't that juicy)1 Tbs capers, rinsed and roughly choppedabout 5 Tbs olive oil (bit more if your skate wings are on the large size and they're not being coated)handful each of flat-leaf parsley and basil, well chopped1 C dry white winePre-heat the oven to 180 C/ 425 FRinse and pat dry the skateCombine the lemon juice, capers, olive oil, herbs, white winePlace the skate in an oven-proof dish large enough to hold the two wings without overlapping.Cover the wings with the lemon juice mixture, making sure that the dish has enough liquid in it to cover the bottom completely with some of the mixture staying atop the skate.Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 15 minutes, then turn the fish overCook for another 15 or so, until the fish is cooked through (the flesh will come away from the cartilage fingers easily and will be opaque). Subscribe[...]

Spicy Spanish Prawns with Chorizo


I'm still reliving the night, 2 months ago, when Mr A&N and I went on a hot date to the local tapas place. No baby! No responsibilities! Fabulous food! It stands out not just for being a great evening but for being the one time my husband and I have been out alone in 8 months. Baby A&N is good enough with other people that he doesn't mind being baby-sat, but the babysitting chances are few and far between. Other friends have their own families to look after, and our parents live far enough away that when they visit, we spend the short time as an extended family rather than ducking out to grab an evening to ourselves. Boo hoo, poor us. We're a happy family, but sometimes you do long for those couple-only times, even if it's only to enjoy nice food without interruption.Mr A&N is evidently re-living the night out as well, since he came home with a batch of king prawns and an itch to do them up Spanish-style. Prawns pil pil is a regular on tapas menus, a spicy and garlicy dish easy enough to re-create at home. The prawns we had at our tapas place, though, were just that bit better and that bit different from the other versions we've tried. The memory of me returning to the ceramic plate, another piece of bread in hand ("My last bit of bread, I promise - I won't ruin my dinner") chasing around the last drops of oil in the lingers.We didn't know what went into the restaurant dish, so we had to riff on the idea of prawns pil pil. We wanted to make sure that even if we didn't recreate what we'd eaten, we'd at least create something we'd be happy eating, which we were. If you do make this, though, consider going through the trouble of shelling your prawns first. Sticky spicy oily fingers might not be everyone's ultimate dinner companion, but they do ensure that any bread you pick up to dip in the oil gets a good coating of flavor before it even reaches the bowl.Spicy Spanish Prawns with Chorizoserves 4 as a starter5 Tbs olive oil3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced1 lb prawns (shell off if you have the time and paitence)1 tsb spicy smoked paprika1 small red chilli, chopped or 1/2 tsp already chopped chilli1 Tbs butter and 1 Tbs olive oil4-5 inches of dried cooking chorizo, cut into small bite sizes (I prefer to quarter the circles)2 tsp cooking sherrysalt and pepperMix the 5 Tbs olive oil, garlic, prawns, paprika, and chilli in a bowl. Set aside for an hour or two to let the flavors marinate.Heat the butter and 1 Tbs olive oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat until the oils are mixed and well warmed.Add chorizo and stir around for a minute, until the chorizo just begins to cook and give off oil.Add the prawns mixture and stir well, then leave it for a couple of minutes to let the prawns cook on one side.Carefully turn the prawns over, and leave them to cook on this side for a couple of minutes, until they're good and pink.Add the sherry and give it all a good stir, allowing it to cook for a further minute or so.Remove from heat and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with some mighty good bread. Subscribe[...]

Daring Bakers: Chocolate Covered Marshmallow and Milan Cookies


The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at sweet tooth . She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of thefood network. Each month, I seem to find less time for cooking things, and each month I hope the next will be better. Surely, since all of the Universe operates cyclically (what goes up must come down, history is doomed to repeat itself, all of this has happened before and all of this will happen again), I should just need to exercise a bit of patience and wait for that calmness. The month of July wasn't the month during which peace and free time freely reined, though. Mr A&N has started working a second job, and so evenings and weekends are being eaten away with his work and with me watching over Baby A&N. But maybe August will be better, yes?Without oodles of time to myself, I very much appreciated that the Daring Bakers challenge for the month, as set out by Nicole at Sweet Tooth, had an estimated prep time of 30 minutes for each of the two cookies recipes (one for a chocolate covered marshmallow confection, the other for a milano style cookie). That was an appealingly short length of time that made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could pull off a bit of cookie prep while also ensuring there were no big baby bumps on the head or limbs in need of mending. I planned on tackling the milano cookies first since they seemed more straight forward, and would ramp up the effort level to marshmallow making as and when I was allowed. Sadly, the predicted 10 minute prep time was 10 minutes plus about an hour. Baby A&N was placed in his walker and dragged into the kitchen with me to watch all the exciting goings on. But the child who showed barely a lip quiver at his injections, who didn't even flinch earlier on when he slammed his head into the side of his cot with a thud loud enough to be heard through closed doors, started crying like, well, a baby as soon as the hand blender turning on. Delicate sausage. And poor mother, who had to carry on with the mixing using only the power in her arms to get it done. It turns out her arms aren't as strong as they used to be (despite lifting a 25lb baby all day long).The batter looked a bit curdled in a frangipane-esque fashion, but I kept the faith and created a couple of dozen uniform pastry fingers, looking perfect on their entry into the oven. To say they didn't keep their shape once they exited the oven, though, is to say that Delta Burke had a bit of trouble keeping hers during the progress of Designing Women. They expanded. They ballooned. They bled into one another and formed one Uber Milano from which individual forms were hard, nay, impossible to discern. Oh well. I'd just have to practice my best surgery skills and cut cookie shapes out of this vanilla-scented beheamoth.I made half the cookies with the traditional orange-flavored chocolate spread, and the other half I spread with a bit of melted raspberry jam and dipped them in chocolate. Both sorts were lovely, but it was a shame to have to call half the batch a loss because of the oozy batter. Perhaps a higher oven temperature or a bit of baking powder in the mixture would have helped them keep their shape. I've decided to hold off on having a failure with the marshmallow cookies until I have more time for an afternoon of baking disaster. You can find the recipes for both cookies at Nicole's blog, and thanks goes to her for setting the task this month. Subscribe[...]

Chickpea Puree


My mind is turning to mush. Figuratively - I've been away from work for 8 months and I can feel that I'm not as sharp at holding on to thoughts and ideas. I'm still doing bits of work while on maternity leave, but half the time is spent me trying to remember the brilliant idea I'd had the previous week/day/hour. It's a different sort of mental gymnastics, keeping lists of groceries and grocery lists of to-do things in your head, than it is gathering together strands of ideas and weaving them into a long-term intentions. I worry about this mushiness when I'm back at work in a couple of months time.My mind is also literally turning to mush, what with Baby A&N barreling forward with his solids eating and me trying to come up with interesting variations of mush for him to eat. Some are actually pretty tasty even by adult palates: courgette, roasted red pepper and basil; sauteed onion and spinach with cauliflower gratin; garlic, lentil, courgette, carrot, and tomato. Sometimes the only format for them seems to be mush (beetroot, sauteed spinach, dollop of cream cheese) which is a bit of a shame since the only way Mr A&N or I can enjoy these flavors is to steal the sloppy seconds away from any unfinished meals.There are some adult mushes that Mr A&N and I hold dear and which baby A&N won't be able to enjoy for a while. Our favorite is a chickpea puree from the Casa Moro cookbook. It starts with the heady smell of garlic, cumin and onions gently frying together, and results in a warm, warming, rich dish that stands in for the moistness of gravy when there isn't one. It's very easy to make, and makes a different starchy side dish to mashed potato. We normally have this with lamb, which is the Moro suggestion, but it would also work well with a well-flavored chicken or sausage meat course. In some ways this is more of a winter warmer, but when mush is on the mind this is a very comforting way of seeing the mush through.Chickpea Puree, from Casa MoroServes 4 - 62 400g of chickpeas, drained and rinsed4 Tbs olive oil1 onion, finely chopped3 cloves garlic, finely chopped1 1/2 rounded tsp cumin seeds, roughly ground30 threads (large pinch) saffron, infused in about 2 Tbs just-boiled water2 Tbs roughly chopped flat-leave parsely (optional)salt and pepperPuree the chickpeas (using a blender/food processor) until they're smoothAdd water to them until they're the consistency of wet mashed potatoHeat the olive oil over a meadium-high heat using a medium-sized frying panAdd the onions, garlic, and cumin and stir, cooking and stirring until things turn golden brownMix in the chickpeas along with the saffron infusion and stir, then lower the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.Add salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with parsely if you want to get fancy. Subscribe[...]

Roast Forerib of Beef


Popularity isn't a cause that much worries me, mainly because 'popular' wasn't a label that came near being coupled with my name during the teenage years. At the time you're acutely aware that you're so low down on the totem pole you'd first have to dig your way up to the surface to get some face-time on that wooden mast, but unpopularity can be liberating once you wrap your mind around it. You don't have to worry about keeping up appearances, or about tweaking your personality or preferences in order to maintain some standard. At least from my observations as a teenager, the un-popular saved a small fortune in designer clothes and handbags, and trips to the salon and manicurist (and fake tanning, these days).The same money-saving ethos holds for your unpopular cuts of meat. You're not going to be dipping in to your savings if you get a hankering for liver or want to tuck into a side of goat. Forerib of beef is a cut of meat that has fallen off the popularity wagon, but can still be a sumptuous bit of meat. I first fell in love with forerib at the Marquess Tavern which serves it up as part of a family-style Sunday lunch, succulent and slow cooked and dripping with rich flavors and juices. At our local butchers this weekend, with forerib hanging in the window and golden memories of long Sunday lunches playing in our minds, there was no alternative but to wrap that rib up and bring it back to its new home.The forerib is a cheaper cut of meat because there's a bit more fiddling about to get beauty from it - athough beauty is very possible. You can either brown the meat off and then roast in the oven until nicely cooked (though still rare, please), or give it the slow-roasting treatment to really concentrate the flavors, as Johanna at The Passionate Cook did recently. We opted for the brown-and-roast method, adapting a recipe from Anthony Worrall Thompson that used paprika, mustard, and dried herbs to give the meat flavor and to create a glorious gravy which nearly became the star of the meal itself. A topside or silverside of beef is a much more popular roast dinner: easy to whack into a pan and cook to preference, but also easy to over-do because of its lack of fat. Even though the forerib is less simple to carve and to pick the meat from, the efforts are rewarded by the flavor of the meat itself. Since it's not as popular as it once was you will probably need to go to a butcher to get some (and the better the butcher, the better the meat will be), but the double pleasure is that it costs less than other cuts of beef and will give a nice stock from boiling up the bone. If you ever needed an argument to show that being unpopular is a rewarding experience, this is it. Roast forerib of beef, adapted from Anthony Worrall ThompsonServes around 61.3kg/3lb piece forerib of beef, on the bonehandful of roasting vegetables, such as carrot, onion and leek; use 1 of each if mainly using to add flavor to the gravy, more than that if you are roasting the vegetables to eat2 Tbsp Dijon mustard1 tsp dried thyme 1 tsp dried basil2.5ml/½ tsp cayenne pepper1 tsp paprika1 tsp garlic salt2.5ml/½ tsp dry English mustard powder or wasabi powder4 Tbsp olive oil (for frying the meat)600ml/1 pint fresh beef stock150ml/¼ pint red wine3 Tbsp olive oil (for cooking the vegetables) Heat the oven to 200C / 400FCombine the dried herbs (Anthony warns that the recipe will only work with dried rather than fresh) cayenne, paprika, garlic salt and English mustard powder/wasabi. Spread a thin layer of the Dijon mustard all over the fat side of the beef and stick the herb mixture into it. If you have time, wrap in cling-film and put to one side to allow the beef to marinate. Chop up the vegetables and place in the roasting tray the meat will go into, along with the 3 Tbsp olive oil. Cook for 20 minutes until c[...]

A Summer Salad


You'll excuse me for my brevity - it's summer. It's hot. The days are long and we're all reveling in it. Especially baby A&N, who wakes with the sunrise. At 4.30am. Full of the joys of life, which is nicer than being a misery guts, but by 9am we're all flagging and in need of a long perfumed bath (or perhaps that's just my tonic).Dinners have needed to be cooling (no ovens, please), quick and easy (god we're tired), but without sacrificing taste. Cookbooks could be written and sold by the hundreds based on those criteria. But we're too tired to find the right cookbook, so after a bit of head scratching and repeated staring into the fridge for ingredients on hand, this is the result.A flexible summer salad, adapted to whim/what's available. The key ingredients are an anchovy dressing, a grilled vegetable of some description (aubergine in this case, but just as easily courgette or pepper), and a bit of something from the bacon family (we used some lovely pancetta, from a specialist Italian organic farmer, having a pedigree better than I do. Probably wasted in this salad, but did I mention we're too tired to think creatively?). It was salty and wet, filling and fresh, meaty and crisp. It will make an appearance again, probably in a slightly different guise, probably later this week when we're too tired to think. Again.A Summer SaladServes 2 as a main course with left over for 1 lunch1 aubergine, cut into thin slices(touch of olive oil for the aubergines and pan frying)70g of pancetta or bacon1 small gem lettuce or 2 handfuls of baby spinach100g green peas100g broad beanshandful of sundried tomatoes, rehydrated and roughly chopped (or just chopped if using ones in oil)250g pasta3 anchovies, very finely chopped2 Tbsp sherry vinegar5 Tbsp olive oil (or 4 Tbsp if using tomatoes in oil)1 clove of garlic, very finely choppedLightly sprinkle the aubergine slices with olive oil, then grill at 180C for about 15 minutes or until tender. Set aside to cool slightly, then cut into bite-sized pieces.Pan fry the pieces of pancetta or bacon until nicely crispy, then set aside to cool slightly.Briefly boil the peas and broad beans until just tender, then quickly put in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking a preserve the flavor. Drain.Boil water for the pasta, and cook until desired consistency. Drain and cool down under some cold running water.Chop the lettuce and place in a bowl, and add in the peas and beans as well as the chopped tomatoes. Add the aubergine and pancetta once cooled, as well as the pasta.Make the dressing by stirring together the anchovy, vinegar, olive oil and garlic.Pour the dressing over the salad bits and adjust for flavoring. Subscribe[...]

Daring Bakers: Bakewell Tart


When I joined the Daring Bakers a year and a half ago, I was on the vanguard of a Daring Baker deluge. Because of being the 300th something member at the time, I was due to chose the month's recipe in around 2012. As numbers kept growing and newer members found out that due to the waiting list, their recipe-choosing turn was a legacy they would have to leave to their great-grandchildren, people began pairing up for recipe challenges.Lucky for me, my good blog friend (and just friend all around) Jasmine had a more reasonable 2009 recipe challenge date, and invited me to share the month with her. We were both interested in doing something from another country and something that didn't just encourage people to take on a new skill but to look again at something they might never before have considered. I thought a recipe from my adopted country, Britain, might fall into that category. British food still has a bad reputation (particularly in America and Australia...and probably other places too) that I think is due a lot to post-war rationing and deprivation but isn't really a deserved reputation any more. British food from the 1950s until the 1980s and 90s was rarely something worth seeking out, but modern British food has more than come into its own, drawing on traditions of using good quality fresh produce and a range of herbs and spices. I've become a British food convert and fight its corner whenever the fight is brought to me. The Bakewell Tart, and English dessert from the 19th century, hasn't been changed much over the years since it hasn't needed to. You do have to like almond to stand a chance of liking the tart, but I've always appreciated the balance of sweet jam and spongey mild frangipane, crisp crust and soft topping, and how it can grow sweeter or milder depending on your tastes. A classic Bakewell Tart should have a cherry or strawberry filling, and though those are Mr A&N's favorite incarnations of the treat, I broke free a bit since Mr A&N wouldn't be able to share in the tart because of his diet restrictions. My jam element became a rhubarb, apple and ginger jam, another classic English dessert flavor that I thought might enjoy being introduced to its compatriot. Mr A&N called it a travesty against both the rhubarb and the tart, but since he doesn't have any say in this one, I shan't regard him.Thanks for the recipe itself must go to Jasmine, who worked hard doing the testing and the tweaking, and only needed me to step in every so often and say 'yum'. I love the crust she's come up with and will use it whenever a shortcrust is needed, now. I also love how easy and adaptable the whole recipe is and it will now be a standard dessert for me to put on show. Thanks also to Ivonne and Lis for the massive undertaking and success of the Daring Bakers, and for all of you for joining in. I hope that you've (mostly) all enjoyed the tart as well, and at least used it as an opportunity to try out another classic British treat: to enjoy a slice of cake while having a nice sit down and a cup of tea.Bakewell tartMakes one 23cm (9” tart)Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)Resting time: 15 minutesBaking time: 30 minutesEquipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows) Bench flour250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadabilityOne quantity frangipane (recipe follows)One handful blanched, flaked almonds Assembling the tartPlace the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rol[...]

Rosewater and Mint Fruit Salad


This is a recipe adapted from my friend Jill a la Jill Dupliex (not the same Jill though the mistake is an easy one). Friend Jill is an excellent host and cook, and when she has you round for food you can be sure of dining on 3 (or more) wonderful courses of food. On a recent trip around hers, we ate strawberries in rosewater essence with a chocolate sorbet, and the memory of the dessert lingered.The original recipe uses rosewater essence and sugar to create a sweetened syrup for the strawberries to bask in. The rosewater isn't directly tasted, but adds an 'Ooh, what is that?' flavor to the fruit which ratchets up their appeal. So so far so good with the strawberries and rosewater, it would seem. When making it myself, I decided to throw in a couple of more ingredients for a bit of further interest and to use some of the abundant fruit I had bought from the local market (when a bowl full of anything costs £1, it's not hard to wind up with more peaches/peppers/persimmons than modesty would allow).In this, I used equal parts strawberries and peaches since both turn out a good syrup is allowed to sit in sugar for a while. The rosewater stayed put, and was joined by mint to add additional freshness and flavor. Really, you can play with the fruit and sweetness levels as you see fit, but sticking with a strawberry base and other fruits that are juicy is the best bet. With a bit of cream on top, it's a different way of enjoying strawberries and cream and a slightly sophisticated way of getting your summer fruit salad in. You won't work up a sweat from making this, but you should still enjoy it with a cool glass of Pimms or a dip in the swimming pool (even if it's just an imagined one).Rosewater and Mint Fruit Salad makes about 6 modest-sized servings about 1lb strawberries, topped and cut in two (or quarters) if largeabout 1lb peaches, diced into bite sized pieceshandful of fresh mint, chopped finely about 3 heaped Tbs confectioner's sugar (more if the strawberries are on the tart side)2 Tbs rosewater essence Combine the strawberries, peaches, mint, sugar and rosewater in a large bowl. Taste for tartness, adjusting as needed but keeping in mind the salad will be a bit sweeter after a while.Stir well and allow to cool for a few hours so the flavors can come together.Enjoy. Subscribe[...]

Liver and Sage Pate


It was my birthday this past week (happy birthday to me). Even more momentous than turning the age Jesus was when he was killed was that Mr A&N and I went out with each other on a hot date. That's right - a friend gave me the greatest gift she could give me (along with a nice book) by offering to baby sit Baby A&N. We jumped at the chance, booked ourselves into the local tapas place, and pathologically checked our phones every 20 minutes just in case we missed any messages coming in as we slowly got tipsy on the wine.The tapas, and the freedom, were wonderful, and my favorite dish of liver and onions in sherry (which was rich, sweet, and entirely too easy to eat too much of) reminded me of my love of liver. In a bid to re-create some of the magic of having dinner with my husband, I bought a batch of chicken livers from my local butchers. Buying them reminded Mr A&N, though, that he has a definite liver threshold, and he'd had enough liver-shaped liver for the week, thanks very much.Luckily, cooking and sticking liver through a blender disguises the true nature of the meat for him and results in a rather good pate. The inspiration for the pate came from Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall, the execution via Mr A&N and so the recipe has changed slightly to be both of theirs. Sadly, the magic of our evening out wore off within 24 hours since Baby A&N has now decided that he doesn't need to sleep on through the night anymore and he'd rather say hi to us at 3am. At least the pate is tasty.Liver and Sage Pate2 tbs butter1 large onion, chopped8 rashers streaky bacon, cut into pieces5 cloves garlic, chopped1 lb chicken liver, trimmed of sinew bits and cut into chunkspalmful of fresh sage (about 20 leaves), roughly choppedglug of brandy (about 1/2 C)1/2 a nutmeg, grated75g oats (or breadcrumbs)Melt the butter over a medium high heat in a large pan. Add the onion and bacon and sautee until mostly cooked, then add the garlic and cook until lightly brown.Add liver and brown on all sides, then add the sage and give a good stir.Add the brandy and nutmeg and cook over a medium heat until the liver is cooked through (about 5 minutes).Throw in the oats and give a good stir so that everything is combined well, then turn off the heat.Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until smooth (we like to make ours slightly rustic so that it's not toothpaste smooth but a bit chunky).Place the mixture in a pate dish or loaf dish. Cover in plastic wrap and place a weight on top (or even just a container with some water) so the mixure is pressed. Once it's cool enough, place in fridge and leave for a couple of hours before serving. Subscribe[...]

Lemon and Basil Sorbet


Summer has arrived this week. Please don't check your calendars, just go by my word. Hayfever, sunscreen, over-warm public transportation. But also long days, pea shoots springing up in the garden, and hours spent sitting in parks with Baby A&N and the other local mummies and babies. It's intoxicating (or that may be the hayfever medication), and I'm beyond happy that I'm still on maternity leave rather than sitting in an office chair, projecting my disembodied spirit outside the window and sending it frollicking barefoot through greenery. And now summer has gone. The past two days have been cold - heating intermittently on, hat on the baby, a few extra minutes standing in the shower to take up the warmth of the water. And grey grey grey. The summer fruits and flavors that have started to come out at the market don't seem to fit with the steely-skied gloom outside. But I am thankful for the embarrassment of sweet and juicy things that are suddenly on offer and which I am buying up by the bag-full and eating with closed eyes, hoping the skies will brighten by the time I'm finished. I have trouble each year with deciding which is my favorite summer fruit - peaches! cherries! strawberries! watermelon! - and always risk filling myself to the point of sickness in the attempt to find the winner. Healthier than gourging yourself on chocolate, but still an act that can result in a something of a sweetness bellyache. An antidote, then, is a summery sweet thing that doesn't send you into hyperglycemic shock: a lemon sorbet.Refreshing in both a cooling and tongue-invigorating way, I made this sorbet with a bit of basil thrown in for extra interest and a different dimension to the sweetness. A good twist to a classic, keep it in the freezer for those hot summer days. Or those days when summer disappears and you need a reminder of how the season ought to be enjoyed. C'mon back, summer. Whatever it was that we did to upset you, we're terribly, terribly sorry. Lemon and Basil Sorbet makes 1 and a bit liters / 4 1/2 cups 750ml water500g caster sugar300ml lemon juice (8 or so lemons)zest 1 lemongood handful of basilGently heat the water over a medium heat, adding the sugar and stirring until dissolved.Simmer for a couple of minutes, then add the lemon juice and zest. Taste for tartness and add a bit more sugar/lemon juice if desired.Cool completely.Finely chop the basil then add to the cool mixture.Add to an ice cream maker and churn for about 20-30 minutes or until smooth. Subscribe[...]

A Trip to Wales


Mother-in-law A&N moved to Wales a few years back. The lure of endless fresh air, a vegetable garden the size of most London flats, and plenty of large hills up which to hike and jog during dangerously inclement weather proved too much for her. She and her husband now live in a beautiful valley with their 4 ducks and the cows and sheep in the next field over singing them off to sleep. The biggest shame about Wales (and the biggest factor in preserving its beauty) is that it can be mighty difficult to get to. A 60 mile as-the-crow-flies stretch of road can take two stomach churning hours of dipping up and down hills and rocking to and fro around endless bends in the road, often stopping or reversing since the road isn't wide enough to hold two cars at once. We haven't visited them in two years since the thought of taking the 5 hour trip when pregnant made me immediately queasy. Mr A&N last week found himself with a few days off between his freelance projects, so we packed up the car and set off for a week's holiday at his mum's. Being with baby doesn't make the traditional early morning hikes easy to negotiate, and Mr A&N was glad for the excuse to take it easy. We instead had gentle walks around ruined castles and several tours of the vegetable patch with Baby A&N taking delight in the ducks and the butterflies that stopped by the say hello. I came away from our castle trips with a build-your-own castle book that I'm trying my best not to rip into until Baby A&N is old enough to do it with me, even though I so desperately want to build a while medieval city on our dining table. Our dining in Wales always takes place at home, with Mr A&N's mother picking things from the garden that are fresh and balancing them with meat or fish from her local farm shop. Ambling about in the same fields as your sheep and seeing them wandering in your church yards brings me closer to the reality of what I'm eating, so I appreciated the chance to buy some well reared meat from the source. Eating lamb these days does give me pangs, thinking that I'm tucking into some sheep's own Baby A&N. Thank goodness it's delicious enough to help me swallow down that guilt with a slight garlic aftertaste. At the farm shop, the farmer explained (first in Welsh, then in English as I gave him polite but empty smiles) how he had some goat meat going cheap. He was given two goats, and while letting himself have a day to decide what to do with them (cheese? milk? sell them on? grow a herd?) they managed to eat through two water butts and some important wiring. And so goat was now being served up at the shop. Mr A&N's mother and I happily offered a home to the bargain meat, only scratching our heads on the way out over what to do with 2 racks of goat rib each. Eat them, is the short conclusion, but anything more than that and we're both stumped. Any suggestions, anyone? Subscribe[...]



I hope you'll forgive this break in the normal recipe posting schedule in lieu of me talking a bit about Baby A&N. If you're of a delicate, non-baby disposition, do look away now (and return next week, please). Rather than thinking of what to make for Mr A&N and myself this past week, my efforts have been concentrated on Baby A&N since we have begun feeding him solid foods. Hooray! He's a fair sized boy, in the 80-something percentile for weight and 90-something percentile for height, and has been jealously eyeing anything that went into anyone's mouth for several weeks now. I didn't read any childcare books before Baby A&N was born since I didn't want to tie myself in knots about what I should or shouldn't do, but I felt that weaning did probably contain some shoulds and shouldn'ts and so I ought to look through a book or two before tackling solids. But the books I looked through only confused me more, and didn't always help answer what I thought were basic questions (How much should I feed him? If he wants more solids, should I give it to him or should I guide him toward his milk? At what age should the solids replace the milk during particular feeds? How do I get him to enjoy food rather than just eat it?). So we've decided to invent our own weaning method. We're doing a bit of puree to sate his appetite and a bit of baby led weaning to help him start enjoying food (and we do our best not to panic if Baby A&N has a gagging moment while munching on his stick of cucumber/banana/broccoli). We're also trusting in Baby A&N's palate to guide us through his meals and aren't waiting to introduce strong flavors - anything goes and so far, so good. In one week, he's tackled: Sweet potatoButternut squashCarrotBroccoliCucumberMangoBananaApplePotato BeetrootPear The only mildly unsuccessful taste so far has been the potato, but I'm sure he'll come around since I can't see him living a life without potato chips and french fries. And I'm sure I'll learn a bit more too - such as not feeding him beetroot just before heading out to meet people. "He looks like he slaughtered a cow with his face" commented Mr A&N on seeing the beetroot aftermath. True, but he wanted more - and in my book of weaning, that's a good thing. Subscribe[...]

Matina's Roasted Pork With Fennel Seeds and Lemon


Food has been a troublesome matter in the A&N household for the past two weeks. Mr A&N has been put on an exclusion diet by his Doctor to try to isolate what food (if any) causes him stomach pains. He's been plagued by trouble for years, so any possible easing of that pain would be worth the hassle in the mean time. But in the mean time, it's a hassle. Among the foods that he can't eat are:Wheat EggsDairy PotatoCornCitrus foodsBeefHamAlcoholGarlicOnions I've fielded more than one lunch-time call from him, desperately roaming the supermarket aisles for something to eat that isn't brimming over with banned substances. He's ableto reintroduce one food at a time starting from next week, and he stays awake at night thrilling over what to bring back first (wheat would let him have bread and pasta again, but my we have guests next week so perhaps bring alcohol in first...garlic and onions, though, are a staple for most other flavors, so maybe they should come before anything else...). Going out to dinner would be difficult veering toward impossible, but luckily Baby A&N is an automatic restaurant eliminator so we don't have much to worry about. Going around to friend's houses for food is equally challenging, and filled with many apologies as we turn their menus into a pile of dust or try to postpone our get-together. Our ever-accommodating Greek friend, Matina, saw the challenge head on and produced the planned roast pork main course for us normal mortals along with an improvised grilled sardine course for Mr A&N containing nothing but approved ingredients and a bit of Greek magic. Mr A&N cooed and ahh'd over the sardines which were full of the tastes of sea and sunshine that you would hope (I tasted, I can verify). But really, the action was where the pork was. Matina used fennel seeds and lemon to flavor the meat and the crackling, and it worked incredibly well. It worked so well that it sent me into a reverie of the different times I've eaten wonderful foods containing fennel seeds, and how I ought to pay the fennel more respect by using it more often. The slow-cooking treatment rendered the pork very soft and moist, and a bit of gravy on the side helped complete the desire to drown yourself in the flavors. A perfect Sunday lunch. Shame Mr A&N couldn't join in for now, but I'll make sure he adds this to his list of Food Deprivations - To Be Rectified for when the diet is done.Matina's Roasted Pork With Fennel Seeds and Lemon Good for 1 1/2 - 2 kg of pork shoulder or leg joint, preferably with skin on to make crackling3 tsp of fennel seeds2 cloves of garlic3 tsp of coarse sea salt1 tsp of peppercornsrind of one lemon 2 Tbs of olive oil 1 kg leg or shoulder of pork1 pint of dry apple cider (about 250 - 300ml)1 bramley (cooking) apple, cut into 8 or so slices1 large onion, cut into 8 or so slicesFlour and water (for the gravy) Turn the oven on to 200 C / 450 FScore the pork skin to help it go crispy, and dry it well with paper towels. If you want to make extra crispy crackling, separate the skin from the meat before scoring, then score and blot dry with paper towels.Mix fennel, cloves, sea salt, peppercorns, lemon, olive oil in a pestle and mortar until it is thick paste.If you have removed the skin from the pork, spread half the paste over the top side of the pork meat, then place the skin on top as it originally was and spread the other half of the paste on. Tie loosely together with string. If you haven't separated the skin, rub the paste into the skin quite well.Put the pork in the and oven tray and add the pint of cider, apple [...]

Mushroom and Cauliflower Soup


I've been meaning to blog about this soup for a while, but I kept forgetting to take pictures in my eagerness to eat it. There's everything going for this soup: easy to make, relatively healthy, needing only a few inexpensive ingredients, and a meal in itself (if you want it to be). It's an improbable sounding combination, but it is also improbably delicious and has become a quick staple in our household.The soup almost didn't exist except for me strong-arming Mr A&N into trying it out. He had had a sudden hankering for mushroom soup, and set out on a mushroom-fueled shopping trip. He came home with a rash of mushrooms and an itch to get started on the soup immediately. In stepped me, with unloved cauliflower in hand, begging him to add it to the mix since it had been sitting in our vegetable bin for a week and we couldn't think of anything to do with it. Although the man looked like I was asking him to shoot, cook, and serve his puppy to his mother, he dutifully obeyed and threw it into the soup pot.The soup that emerged was a surprise to us both. There was the worry that the cauliflower would overwhelm the mushrooms and leave its pungent calling card behind with each mouthful. Instead, it helped lift the taste of the ordinary mushrooms and make it seem as if the soup was based around garlicky, rich, specialty mushrooms. The minimal stock and the cream created a heartiness, and the small bits of mushroom and cauliflower that remained after blending helped stopped the soup from being so velvety that it became cloying. We've also tested the soup with guests who loved the depth of flavor and thought it rescued the ordinary mushroom soup from being too 'mushroomy'. We've just finished the last batch today, and have two more cauliflowers lined up, waiting for a box of mushrooms to come along and create sweet music with it. Mushroom and Cauliflower Soup makes 4 hearty bowls of soup 2-3 Tbs of olive oil or butter 700g / 1 1/2 lbs of button mushrooms1 head of cauliflower1 small handful of thyme2 bay leaves3 1/2 C / 825ml of vegetable or chicken stock or water if no stock is handy1 C / 250ml of single cream (or milk if you're watching the fat content)Clean and roughly chop the mushrooms and cauliflowerSimmer the olive oil or butter in a large soup pot over a medium heat, and add the mushrooms when the oil is hotGently cook the mushrooms with the thyme and bay leaves, stirring occasionally, until they have begun to soften and give off some liquidAdd the cauliflower and stir wellCover and cook at a low heat for about 20 minutesUncover and add the stock or water, stirring and waiting until the liquid comes to the boilTurn off the heat and blend together the ingredients using either a hand blender or a full blender. Remove bay leaves and thyme stalks before blending.Add the cream or milk, and cook at a low heat for another couple of minutesAdd salt and pepper to taste and serve with nice crusty bread Subscribe[...]

Daring Bakers: Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake


Part of the fun of the Daring Bakers is that each month hundreds (thousands?) of people around the blogging globe are cooking up the same recipe in the same manner, and that one day a month the blogosphere is assaulted with impossible numbers of pictures of lasagnas, cinnamon buns, and yule logs - looking slightly different, but otherwise the same underneath. This month, though, we were tasked by Jenny from Jenny Bakes with being creative and inventing our own twist to a basic cheesecake recipe. So today, there will be hundreds (thousands?) of cheesecakes to look at and, like snowflakes, each will be different. Where has my Daring Baker security gone?

Cheesecake is known to be fabulous with fruits on it, but I didn't want to be predictable; why play it safe when you can go risky and fail? And fail is what I came close to doing. I made my cheesecake with a nutella swirl and hazelnuts on top. The swirl looked lovely, the hazelnuts were a crunchy top to complement the slightly-crunchy base, but the overall effect was to create a very, very sweet slice of cake with the nutella elbowing the cheesecake out of the pole position in the flavor race.

I was making my cheesecake to bring around to a friend's Greek Easter celebration. She also happens to be pregnant with twins and has had an incredible sweet tooth throughout the pregnancy, even if she's also been sick after nearly every meal/snack/sweet treat she's eaten. So though my oh-so-sweet cheesecake wasn't going to change to world of cheesecake eating as we know it, it went down very well with the woman eating for 3 sugar-hungry people.

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

Abel and Cole


Wednesday night is football night. Every week, Mr A&N drives across North London in order to play a different bunch of 20-40 something year olds in football, and to return home every 3rd week with an injury that has yet to be life-threatening. In my previous, pre-baby life, this meant Wednesday night was girl's night out. Now Wednesday night is either early bedtime night, or blog night - sometimes both in one evening, which shows you how I still like to walk a bit on the wild side. My Wednesday night dinner routine has returned to what it was like when I was single, since I don't have anyone to share big meals with. It means that I'll do things like dine on a whole head of broccoli (on the theory I haven't had enough greens for the day) or have a large bowl of popcorn with a side of salad for balance. Curious habits that I wouldn't want to inflict on a loved one (though perhaps I should examine why I don't love myself enough not to eat in such a way). I know these eating habits ought to change, and this week they've been given the chance to do so because of some outside intervention. I was contacted last week by Abel and Cole, my weekly vegetable box people, to see if I wanted to try a couple of other things of theirs for this blog. I've spoken more than once about the challenges (all positive, I promise) of working through a box of vegetables and making them an interesting center piece of the meal. I've also spoken of my love for their excellent pies and how they've been seeing us through the aftermath of having a baby, for which I'll always be both a little bit greatful and a little bit teary. Abel and Cole offered to send me another of their ready meals, an individual cottage pie, as well as a free range chicken, both of which I accepted. The chicken (roasted with some thyme, lemon and garlic) had the succulence and flavor that you hope a free range chicken would, with skin that crisped up nicely but didn't leave you with a roasting pan full of fat or water. And if it matters to you (which it does to me), their chickens come with some rather lovely credentials, of being raised slowly indoors for the first month until they can bear the British weather, and being given a nice varied feed from week to week, a good portion of which uses local UK produce. It's chicken that you feel does the right thing both ethically and palatably, which is really the sort of meal I most enjoy eating. The cottage pie had me hoping for the best but fearing the worst. Cottage pie is a simple dish of ground beef, carrot, and onion, with some beef stock, tomato and spices to round off the flavor and give a bit of moisture to the mix. It's then topped with mash and baked so that it turns crispy. A simple dish, but one that people can cut corners on - the biggest crimes against a cottage pie are too much tomato (giving a sickly sweet, Chef Boyardee tang to it), mince that's so ground up and processed you begin to doubt that it even came from an animal, and a too-generous coating of mash to cut the overall cost but keep the tummy-filling potential high.The Pegoty Hedge pie from Abel and Cole isn't afflicted with any of these problems. To my surprise, it was pretty near the sort of pie you would make for yourself; good mash-to-filling ratio, well seasoned but not too salty or peppery, and more meaty tasting than fake tomato tasting. I was especially reassured to see the first ingredient was beef (30%) and to find actual beef chunks in it. The only problem with it is that it's a single serving size, whi[...]

Jerusalem Artichokes in White Wine, Rosemary and Cream


Mr A&N is not a huge fan of artichokes - he'd like you to know that from the start. The regular sort of artichoke has too many leaves and takes too much effort, in his opinion. He's much happier eating some nice marinated artichoke hearts, all the effort taken out and replaced with sharp vinegar and slick olive oil. Jerusalem artichokes are only artichoke by name, instead being a tuber vegetable akin to a potato. They still taste enough like an artichoke to put off Mr A&N, each bite presumably bringing back shuddering memories of having to work for his food when I last made him eat a proper artichoke. I'm used to being the vegetable refusnik, so it always takes me by surprise when I'm willing to eat something that Mr A&N isn't. My memories of vegetables from childhood are of my mother opening a can of peas/carrots/anything, microwaving them on high for tens of minutes in all their watery canned liquid until they came out grey, limpid, and somehow tepid (despite them having been endured the Chernobal School of Cookery). Unsurprisingly, I disliked vegetables for years until I began cooking for myself and realized that I was missing out on a major food group that could also be made tasty. Mr A&N can be a good vegetable eater - his mother is almost self-sustaining with her vegetable plot and often brings us gifts of food - but he'll still dig his heels in on ocassion.Abel and Cole, from whom we get our weekly vegetable delivery, also have recipes online and on seeing their suggestion of cooking jerusalem artichokes with white wine, rosemary, and cream, I knew Mr A&N would grudginly try it. He's not alone in feeling that those flavors can bring splendor to most foods, so giving that treatment to the artichokes meant he was almost looking forward to trying them. The result?"The flavors are great which is no surprise. It's just a shame you can still taste the artichokes underneath." Baby A&N starts weaning soon. I'm crossing my fingers he'll take after me rather than his father, otherwise feeding both men in my life may be a bit of an uphill journey. Jerusalem Artichokes in White Wine, Rosemary and Cream, from Abel and Coleserves 4 2 Tbs olive oil450 g / 1 lb jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed well, thinly sliced into rounds2 garlic cloves, minced1 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary120 ml / 1/2 C + 1 Tbs white wine60 ml / 4 Tbs double creamsalt and pepper to taste Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the jerusalem artichokes and garlic and fry for 2 minutes.Add the rosemary and wine, and cook over a high heat until the wine is reduced by half.Cover and simmer until the artichoke is just tender, between 1 and 5 minutes.Remove the cover, add the cream, and reduce the sauce for a couple of minutes until thickened.Salt and pepper to taste. Subscribe[...]

Japanese Style Slow-Cooked Fish


"What did you get for dinner, then?" I asked Mr A&N when he returned from the food shopping. "Salmon. Can you pop it in the fridge while I unload the car?"The salmon didn't take much hunting around for, since it wasn't just salmon, but a credit-crunch-busting, half-price whole salmon, head et al. Popping it in the fridge wasn't possible since this beast was strapped to a heavy piece of cardboard and more than spanned the width of the fridge. Freezer bags and carving knife would have to come out before we could think of putting this salmon away, as did our Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall book on Fish to help us figure out the appropriate way to honor the beastie. As Mr A&N did his best to carve away with a dull knife and pick bones out with my best tweezers (no wonder proper sushi chefs aren't allowed to touch a blade for their first 2 years of study), I flipped through and read out recipes. It might have been the Japanese frame of mind we were in, but we settled on the slow-cooked Japanese style salmon, which (Hugh assured us) could be prepared with whole mackerel, trout, sea bass, or scad as well. The fish is slowly cooked in a sweet-and-sour sauce, which then has the flexibility of being adjusted for taste at the end, so that you can get the right combination of sweet and sour to set your taste buds pinging in the right direction. Although the clue was in the name (SLOW-cooked fish), I didn't let the cooking time sink into me until it was 7pm and I just started the fish on its 3 hour journey. Hugh told me 'not to be tempted to move the fish until the 3 hours are up' but hunger got the better of us at 8.30 and he wasn't there to slap our wrists for our disobedience. Even with the shortened cooking time, the flavors had worked their way into the fish and making it tender (though not so much so that it fell apart, as Mr A&N feared) and authentically Japanese in flavor. We tried to balance the sweet with sour for the sauce so that none of the individual flavors stood out, and once reduced it made the perfect topping for the rice and veg we served the fish with. A surprisingly professional taste for relatively little effort and (if such things matter to you) a very healthy meal. I can only imagine what heights the meal would have been taken to if we had listened to Hugh and left it cooking for the full 3 hours. Japanese slow-cooked fish, from The River Cottage Fish Book poaching liquid can cover 6-8 mackerel, or equivalent amount of other fish. I recommend making the whole amount and using any left over sauce for pouring over other items in the same or a later meal. 2 large, hot, dried whole red chillies1/2 fist-sized piece of fresh ginger, cut into very thin slices3-4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced75ml soy sauce40ml / 2 1/2 Tbs apple cider vinegar20g / 1 1/4 Tbs soft brown sugarabout 400ml apple juice3-4 salmon fillets or 6-8 whole mackerel, or equivalentCombine the chilli, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, and half the apple juice in a small pot. Simmer gently until the sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally.Pack the fish into a heavy-bottomed sauce pan so there's not much room left in the pot, and pour the sauce mixture over the fish. The fish should be fully covered (though only just) so if it's not the case, add more apple juice and stir.Bring to a very gentle simmer, then turn the heat down so it's only just bubbling but not boiling.Cover and cook for 3 hours, adding more apple juice [...]

Daring Bakers: Lasagna of Emilia-Romagna


"A lasagne is a whole meal in itself" Mr A&N commented while helping with this month's challenge. "The only problem with it is that it takes about three meal's worth of time to make." In between a fussy Baby A&N and tired A&N parents, the lasagne took a while to make and gave us our latest night dinner in months - 9pm, our now-normal bedtime. The grandest element of this lasagne, as hosted by the triumverate of Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder, and Enza of Io Da Grande, was the spinach lasagne sheets. Made from scratch and involving a whole load of finely chopped spinach, the pasta turns you into the Incredible Hulk during the 10 minutes of kneading, as the green of the spinach seeps in to both the flour and egg mixture, and on to your hands.The requirement was to roll the pasta out by hand, and frankly this was the most time consuming part, both to perform the task as well as to understand the instructions and get the hang of what you ought to be doing. I was covered in flour and pasta dough for what felt like several hours, and Mr A&N had to step in and make the meat sauce to prevent a midnight dining time rather than a 9pm one. The meat sauce was our own bog standard variety (onions, garlic, bit of celery and carrot, beef, tinned tomato and tomato pasta, and a dash of balsamic vinegar and worcestershire sauce for a bit of extra flavor) because, as Mr A&N likes to remind me, he's not one to follow the rules (except that he is, but I indulge him sometimes). It was a joint effort to assemble and bake it, and by the time it was in the oven we both felt we deserved that 40 minute slouch back on the sofa.But all's well that ends in lasagne, and the finished product is a definite I'll-have-a-second-helping-even-if-it-means-a-later-bedtime wonder. Fresh pasta makes a huge difference to both texture and taste, giving a softer and richer final product. Not one you can make every weekend (unless the kids are behaving themselves and you're feeling particularly spry/hyped up on caffeine), but certainly worth the effort once it's done.The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge. Subscribe[...]

A Winter Hash Brown/Latke/Rosti


Mother Nature in winter can be a harsh mistress, not least because of the abbreviated vegetable selection that she doth giveth. And giveth. The strawberry or the fresh pea season begins and ends before you have time to harvest them, but your root vegetables - I'm looking at you, turnips, swedes/rutabagas, parsnips, carrots and celeriac - mock you week after week, making you feel you're imagining the days growing lighter and the weather warmer since the winter vegetables show no sign of halting their assault. It's about February time that we start growing tired of mash in all its forms (parsnip and potato, celeriac and potato, carrot and get the idea) and another batch of roast vegetables or a giant stew stops being able to satisfy. Looking through the blog world to find inspiration for what to do with a spare khol rabi and celeriac, I found this recipe for a rosti using both ingredients. Mr A&N was beyond skeptical, not being a big fan of the khol rabi to begin with, but his opinion was transformed with the first bite. They were nutty and comforting, and just a little bit naughty because of the pan frying. Perfect winter food.Since then, we've been coming up with lots of variations on that theme, all using our unloved winter vegetables left over at the end of the week. We've found that potato versions (where potato is the primary vegetable) crisp up the best, and that a combination of oat and cornmeal, put through the blender until it is smooth, brings that slightly nutty flavor to the pancakes that we both found so comforting. A recipe with about as many variations as it has name, in fact. So call it a rosti, call it a latke, make do with thinking of it as a hash brown, it's a great method of bring a bit of life back to the winter vegetables. Winter Hash Brown/Latke/Rosti makes around 10-12 fritters Basic proportions:about 1 lb of grated vegetables (potato, celeriac, parsnip, swede/rutabaga, khol rabi)1 large egg for binding it all together1/2 C / 60g flour (you can get interesting with your flour, and add in some oats, cornmeal, etc to a blender and whizz it until it's flour consistency and add it to/have it take the place of the normal wheat flour)salt and pepperolive oil for fryingGrate your vegetables, either using a blender or the large grating section on your graterIf using potato, be sure to drain it of excess water by squeezing the grated potato out. Since the potato may go brown in the mean time, you can add a squirt of lemon juice to the gratings to prevent this (if the browness offends you).Mix in the egg and flour, and a bit of salt and pepper, stirring it all well.Heat some olive oil in a pan - if you want to be a bit naughty, add enough so you'll be shallow frying the pancakes. Otherwise, add just enough so the pancakes don't stick.Shape the mixture into patties between your hands. Try to get them as flat as you can (though they can be flattened further in the pan).Add the to the pan, not shifting them until they're cooked half way through (5 minutes or so, depending on how large or thick they are).Turn over, adding a touch more oil to the pan if needed.Serve warm, with dinner if you're in need to starch, or with breakfast if you're in need of a treat. Mixture can be kept in the fridge for 24 hours if you want to make some more for another meal.  Subscribe[...]