Tuesday, 14 December 2010


...you might be asking. Or you might not be asking that, as you know where I've been. Or you didn't really care in the first place. But I'll tell you anyway.

Summer of 2010 was a crazy one. I had a baby on the last day of July. Out came lovely Margot, a very "healthy" 9 lbs 3 oz. I put that down to the daily doses of toast with peanut butter and nutella during my pregnancy. The last two months before I gave birth weren't particularly culinary, thanks to rampant heartburn. But I very clearly remember my last dinner pre-Margot. Mezze. Gotta love it.

The first few weeks after Margot arrived I mostly ate tinned soup and bread. And drank loads of water. I did virtually no cooking for the first month. In fact, it's only been in the last month that I've gotten my cooking brain back, starting with cooking a birthday dinner for Pete in November - steak au poivre with homemade chips and sauteed mushrooms. It was gorgeous.

This past weekend was my first foray back into three-course cooking, when friends came over to dinner. On the menu: winter salad (a Valentine Warner salad of shaved carrot, jerusalem artichoke, celery, chicory and red lettuce with a creamy anchovy dressing); pot-roast pheasant with celeriac mash (a Nigel Slater recipe from Tender, so AMAZING) and creamed spinach; and poached pears in red wine and ginger (simple, a bit overcooked, but still tasty, and very Christmassy).

I really enjoyed cooking again, I have to say. My approach thus far though has been very different. In order to get everything ready, I needed to pick recipes that involved some 'do-ahead' work - ie shaving the veggies and letting them sit in ice-cold water. Or recipes like pot-roast, which don't involve constant stirring.

I also have not been worrying (as much) about the exact health content of my recipes - measuring out the oil, for example. That may or may not come back in time, we'll see. I think it probably will return once I start cooking for three - which is at least a month and a half away. Then come the adventures in weaning - and then the name of this blog will permanently wrong!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

My first two meals at the new digs (recipes included)

I'm still too embarrassed to show you pics of my new kitchen, cluttered as it is. You'll have to wait for those. But I will divulge my first two Clapton creations in the meantime, and perhaps you can look forward to a kitchen pic at the end of the weekend. Perhaps.

Things didn't quite go as I'd planned them for dinner, but close. As I said in my last post, I was planning a herby pea soup for dinner one night and salmon w/ Ottolenghi's asparagus and salsa (sans crumbly cheese) for the other.

That might have gone to plan, but a mixture of forgetfulness and Tesco let me down. First, I left frozen peas off my shopping list - KINDA important for pea soup. Second, no English asparagus to be had in the horrors of Hackney Central's Tesco, despite its bang-on seasonality at the moment.

It's okay, don't worry, I regrouped. For Monday, I went with green bean soup with parsley, mint, dill and basil, using green beans out of the freezer, with some rather yummy freshly-baked (but not by me) cheese rolls.

Here's that recipe:

Green bean soup with herbs
(serves 2)

400 g frozen green beans
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large handful of parsley, chopped
1 small handful of mint, chopped
1 small handful of dill, chopped
5-10 basil leaves, chopped OR a spoonful of pesto
1 tbsp bouillon powder + 1.5 litres of freshly boiled water
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in the pot, and add the green beans and garlic. Saute for about 6-8 minutes. Add the bouillon/water, bring to the boil, then allow to simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add half the chopped herbs before blitzing with a hand blender. Then stir through the other half of the herbs before serving. I put a dollop of low-fat Greek yogurt on top and served with those cheese rolls.

It was really yummy and no doubt less than 250 cals (minus the cheese rolls). Very filling too.

Moving on. Lack of asparagus threw a spanner in the works for my idea of baked salmon with Ottolenghi's asparagus and salsa recipe. I still had all the ingredients for the salsa, though, so decided instead to have baked salmon with tomato-mint-dill-cucumber-onion relish (salsa, though technically correct, is misleading here) and yogurt, served with boiled baby new potatoes and a baby gem salad. It was damn tasty too.

Here's that recipe:

Salmon with tomato-dill-onion-cucumber-mint relish and yogurt, served with potatoes and salad
(serves 2)

2 fillets of skinless salmon (140 g each)
1 tsp olive oil to coat

4 medium tomatoes, chopped well
75 g cucumber, chopped fine (about an 1 inch portion)
1/2 medium red onion, chopped fine
2 tsp red wine vinegar
small handful of parsley, chopped fine
3 sprigs of dill, chopped fine
3 sprigs of mint, chopped fine
salt and pepper

2 tbsp low-fat Greek yogurt (optional)

400 g baby new potatoes
1/2 head of baby gem lettuce or round lettuce

Bake the salmon in a preheated oven for 25 minutes. While that's cooking, prep the relish - keep everything as finely chopped as possible. When the salmon's done, spoon a generous portion on one side, and drizzle the yogurt over. Serve with freshly boiled new potatoes and a handful of baby gem lettuce on the side (the generous amount of relish will go well with the lettuce).

This was again really easy to make (done in under 30 minutes) and very tasty. Don't know the cals on it, but you could easily cut them down by swapping the potatoes for asparagus, if you're lucky enough to have a bleeping grocery store that stocks seasonal produce. (Grrr.)

I'd recommend both to a friend, and will happily make it again (especially that salsa, which reminded me of my favourite dish in the world, tabbouleh). I was a little worried about how the dill would go down (especially two nights in a row, considering that Pete's often not crazy about my liberal use of the herb), but he was very happy with both - I think the other herbs tone it down, especially in the salmon recipe, where the red onion all but knocks it out.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Moving food

No, not food that gets you exercising... I'm talking about food that you eat when you're moving house. This past weekend we moved about a mile up the road from London Fields to Clapton. My diet consisted of pastries and (decaf) coffee from a local deli, packaged sarnies and fish and chips from the pub. And although I'm as yet unpacked and will be for at least the next few days, I vow to do a bit better than that.

First stop - sort out an online delivery. Ocado's been tempting me with 20% vouchers for the past few weeks, so I've taken them up on their offer and have a delivery arranged for Thursday. I stuck mostly to ordering meat, fish, dairy and frozen stuff and plan on packing the freezer VERY full and doing the fruit and vegetable shopping more locally.

Second stop - figuring out what to eat until Thursday night. I'm in the mood for light springtime food, even though in May it still feels a bit like March. Asparagus would be good, and I really like the sound of Ottolenghi's recent recipe for asparagus with salsa and cheese . The addition of mint and dill to that salsa sounds TO. DIE. FOR.

For tonight (Tuesday), I'm thinking a soup - perhaps a nice light pea soup with the mint and dill I was just drooling over. With ridiculously hearty portions, of course.

And tomorrow night (Wednesday), I need something full of asparagusto - perhaps I will try out that recipe. (I will have the mint and the dill already). Though I'm not quite in the mood for cheese, so will probably drop the cheese and serve with salmon - with perhaps a drizzle of yogurt to make up for the lost cheese.

And I'll eat it all in my garden.

Friday, 7 May 2010

The night-before-a-flight dinner party

So I just returned from the States yesterday after a whirlwind 9-day trip. It should have been closer to 14, but thanks to the Iceland volcano, it was cut short a bit at the beginning. So instead of flying out on Tuesday, we didn't get to fly out until Saturday.

All that aside, we had a great time celebrating my dad's 60th and our impending July arrival. We succumbed to gluttony a few times - hot chicken wings and queso dip spring to mind - but also scoffed many of my fresh favourites such as yellow squash and raspberries.

But flash back to the night before our flight out of London - we had some friends over for dinner before our trip and to show them our new place, which we'll be moving into next week. I needed something simple, fresh, and ideally easy to prepare ahead as we were doing lots of work at the new flat. I also needed something that wouldn't leave leftovers, and since the weather was so nice, I wanted something summer-inspired but in keeping with mid-spring availabilities.

Here's what I settled on:
  • sticky lemon chicken (served cold)
  • purple-sprouting broccoli and herb pasta salad (served cold)
  • prawns in carrot sauce (served cold)
  • mixed leaf salad
  • fresh sun-dried tomato bread
  • a round of camenbert (I abstained, pregnant as I am)
  • white wine (spritzer for me)
I think it turned out well - we ate around 7:30, with it still light outside and the windows and doors open. It was a Friday, so everyone was in a good mood, and I wasn't in the least bit stressed thanks to the early preparation.

If you like any of these ideas, I've put general recipes for the ones in bold below. Check 'em out and let me know if you want more info, and I can surely provide it.


Sticky lemon chicken
I only had an idea in mind, not a recipe, so after a bit of browsing I came across this recipe from Notecook and this one from Good Food, which I picked the best bits from.

To make:
  1. Cut slices into the fat of drumsticks and thighs (maybe 10 pieces total?) and season. 
  2. In a casserole dish, add the juice and zest of 2 large lemons, 1 tbsp of honey, 1 clove of garlic (chopped), 1 tbsp of oil, a pinch each of paprika/salt/pepper and whisk with a fork. 
  3. Add the chicken and rub the juices into the chicken. Roast for 45 minutes or until done at 200 C / 400 F. 
  4. Allow to cool, then refrigerate until you're ready to serve. Some chopped herbs on the top would look pretty here.

If I'm honest, it didn't end up quite as 'sticky' as I would have liked - I think I would have needed to add more honey or a little sugar to make it stickier. But the citrus aromas were lovely - I'd probably amp that up a little more too.

Purple-sprouting broccoli and herb pasta salad
This one was also an idea in my head - I was initially thinking asparagus, but couldn't get any British asparagus at the store. Purple-sprouting broccoli from Herefordshire looked good, so in the basket it went.

To make:
  1. Blanch 400 g (14 oz) purple sprouting broccoli (regular is fine, just not as pretty) and then plunge into cold water to cool. Set to the side.
  2. Boil 300 g (10.5 oz) fusilli pasta, rinse with cold water, then set to the side.
  3. To make the dressing, use the juice of 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon olive oil, a handful of chopped fresh parsley, a handful of chopped fresh dill, and 3 tablespoons of basil pesto. (If you don't have basil pesto, use a handful of basil and 2 more tablespoons of oil).
  4. Combine the broccoli, pasta and herb mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more lemon juice or herbs if you like, and topping with lemon zest is a pretty touch.
Makes enough for 4 people with leftovers (so probably 6, if you're serving the chicken too).

Prawns in carrot sauce
Okay, so this one was a total cheat - my mother-in-law brought me back some carrot sauce from the Canaries, which I've been meaning to try out. It was actually quite nice - had the essence of cumin, onion and red peppers in it in my mind, though one site lists the ingredients as "oil, garlic, paprika, salt, vinegar, pureed carrot, thyme or other herbs". Anyway, it was good (though I did set the smoke alarm off in the middle of the night when I stir fried these bad boys up).

Sun-dried tomato bread
Okay, so kinda another cheat. I'm not perfect! This was a pre-mix that I used in the breadmaker - my breadmaker's not well equipped to take additions to the mix after the start, so if I want anything "fancy" I have to go pre-mix. The smell is fab. I'm sure with a little planning I could try doing something on my own, but my mind was on flights and ash clouds. Deal...

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Easter inspiration please

I'm feeling incredibly lazy at the moment.

Lately, to come up with recipe ideas for any given week, I'm just looking back at the last three years' worth of posts and my paper diary to see what I ate at the same time. Then I rip my ideas off my younger self and move on. To be fair to myself, I suppose, that's kinda what I started the blog for - it's like an online version of those cute old-fashioned plastic boxes that we used to stick our recipe cards in.

Anyway. I need ideas for Easter. I'm thinking lamb, perhaps with a nice nutty crust of some sort. And maybe some smoked salmon. And something lemony. But isn't that what people always have for Easter? (I just checked back and yep, we had leeks vinaigrette and smoked salmon tartar for starter, roast lamb and veggies for the main course, and I neglected to write down the dessert. Wow, I am really not in the zone.)

But I want NEW things, and I want NEW ingredients! Can someone please invent some new ingredients please? And I'm not talking about that horrid trend of making brands into ingredients, as Tim Hayward talked about a couple of weeks ago. I want that exciting feeling of using a parsnip for the first time (which it may or may not surprise you to know didn't happen until I was 23).

Should I just get over myself and accept we live in a cyclical world and that it's not going to be possible to reinvent the wheel every year? Or am I just in a rut, and do you know just the thing to inspire me? And please don't tell me to eat a bunny. Okay, rant over...