You may have noticed the tumbleweed rolling across the desolate silence of this blog, if you've been coming back to check. It's now been a good 9 months since my last blog post - long enough to have a baby, and that's not a good thing. I haven't run off forever, I promise. It's just been hard to keep up anything with regularity when there is a distinct lack of it in my life right now. This blog will be back, but even better, like Fawkes the phoenix being reborn. New Year's Day, 2014 - stay tuned!
Jewelled Quinoa Pilaf - I know that's a flowery name, but how pretty is it! Okay, I also know this is a really autumnal recipe, and trust me, I know it's a bit late for that. It's 4.30pm and it's dark outside. Dark! So yes, it is well and truly winter. But whatever.
Clothes and shoes, I can sell or give away. But it's the cookbooks. The sheer number of them, yes. The problem is that I cannot bring myself to get rid of them. Each one is unique, each one full of different ideas. I just can't let go of them, so I'm moving them, along with all my kitchen stuff. Wasn't lying when I called this blog kitchen hoarder.
Okay, so there's a lot of stuff, but it's also difficult leaving an entire life behind. It sounds dramatic, but it feels that way. I don't really know what the point of this post is, I guess I just wanted to say it. I think this post is a mess because my thoughts feel more than a little messy.
Let's just move on. When I found these cute little harlequin squashes, I had to get them! They stood up on their own so well, I just had to stuff them. So I made a quinoa pilaf and filled them up. But the truth is, the squashes were just too cute and small and could only really hold about two spoons of quinoa.
After removing the tops and seeds from the squashes, I roasted them cut-side down on a baking tray in an 180C oven for about 35 minutes. BUT since I had a friend over for dinner, I ended up cutting up the squashes and mixing them through the quinoa. Still so good.
Jewelled Quinoa Pilaf
Serves 3-4 people
1 cup quinoa, rinsed (Makes about 3 cups cooked quinoa)
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced into 1cm cubes
7-8 mushrooms, diced
A handful of walnuts, coarsely chopped
½ cup dried cranberries or raisins, soaked in hot water with a dash of sherry vinegar for 20 minutes
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cumin
Chopped coriander, to garnish
First, cook the quinoa. The best instructions ever for cooking quinoa are from The Kitchn - basically use 2 cups water for every 1 cup of quinoa. I use my rice cooker, and it's easy peasy. When the quinoa is done, let it cool lightly so it doesn't get soggy.
In a big pan, heat up two tablespoons of olive oil over a medium heat. Add the red onion and sauté until translucent and slightly golden. Add the spices and saute for a minute. Add the red pepper and mushrooms and stir, then add the cranberries or raisins. Cook for a few minutes, only until the veggies are slightly softened.
Add the cooked quinoa and walnuts and stir through. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then serve. Garnish with chopped coriander.
It's kind of scary how reliant I am on my computer. I like to think of myself as someone who would be fine in a paper and pen world, but last night, when my laptop decided to crash (temporarily, thank goodness) on me, I went into a full fledged tizzy. It's not like I had anything in particular I needed to do, but not being able to Google who exactly that guy in that film that's on TV is was oddly restraining.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those people who reminisce about some nostalgic past they think would be somehow better than their present. Often, things change for the better. I'm no technophobe. I mean, I'm writing on a blog right now. But I have to say that when it comes to my tastes in food, more often than not, old-fashioned wins. I suspect that plenty of you would agree.
It seems like 'comfort food' is now taken to mean a certain kind of cooking - fatty, creamy, carb-y, sweet, chocolate-y, etc. It implies food that is decadent and rich, and probably at least slightly guilt-inducing. But, you know, I think it's actually food from people's memories that qualifies as their comfort foods.
This banana cake recipe qualifies as both kinds of comfort food. Banana cake is something I remember eating when I was very young, and it has remained one of my favourite sweets. Over rich chocolate cakes, over fancy pastries. Banana cake is like a warm blanket - it's comfort at its essence. It reminds me of my family, of being home and sitting in the kitchen in the afternoon, talking and eating.
The caramel sauce I decided to pour on top of the cake certainly takes this into the realm of Comfort Food, the kind people expect. It's made with beer, in a cursory nod to Oktoberfest (I made this a while ago). I won't say the taste of beer is overt, but I think the hoppy ale I used gave the caramel an amazing malty flavour. The addition of orange and cardamom makes this a warm and spicy caramel, the best kind for a chilly autumn day.
p.s. I know this is what is called 'Banana Bread' in the States, but I think especially when it's smothered in caramel, there's no getting around the fact that this is a cake, so we may as well own it.
Banana Cake with Beer Caramel
Makes one loaf cake
For the cake: (recipe adapted from Dan Lepard on the Guardian)
200g unsalted butter
175g caster sugar
250g plain flour
4 eggs, preferably medium sized
Finely grated zest of one orange + 1 tablespoon of its juice
3 bananas, mashed with a fork (you want about 200g of mashed banana)
3 teaspoons baking powder
Preheat the oven to 160C (320F). Grease and line the base and sides of a large nonstick loaf tin.
Melt the butter over a medium heat, and then let it cool slightly. In a mixing bowl, beat the melted butter with the sugar until well combined. Beat in 100g of the flour, until smooth. Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each.
Mix in the orange juice and zest, as well as the mashed banana. Add the remaining flour and baking powder, and mix until smooth and combined.
Transfer the cake mixture to the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for about an hour and ten minutes, but start checking the cake after an hour. If a cake tester or skewer inserted into the centre comes out mostly clean, it's done.
Cool in the tin for 2 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool fully.
For the caramel: (recipe adapted from The Food Network)
250g caster sugar
240ml double cream
30g unsalted butter
1 bottle beer, about 330ml
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed open with the flat side of a knife
Zest of an orange, in large strips - use a vegetable peeler
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt
In a deep saucepan, bring the beer, cardamom pods and orange zest to a gentle boil over a medium heat. Stir and cook until reduced to about 1 cup (240ml) - this should take between 10 and 15 minutes.
Add the butter and sugar and boil, stirring only if the mixture looks like it might boil over. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until thick and syrupy. It's done when it reaches 112C (234F) on a candy thermometer. Alternatively, drop a small spoonful of the syrup into a bowl of cold water. If it forms a soft ball that gives when pinched, it's perfect.
Slowly stir in the double cream, watching out in case it boils over. Cook for another 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens slightly. Remove from the heat, and stir in the vanilla extract and salt. Let the caramel cool slightly.
I waited till it was cooled to a thick but pourable consistency, and then basically drowned the cake in it. It then cooled further and set on the cake, like a frosting.
This caramel recipe makes much more than is necessary for the cake, so save it for topping ice cream, or just eating with a spoon. It should be fine for a week in the fridge, if it even lasts that long!
It's October already! I mean, what?? How has this year slip through my fingers like that? It is completely terrifying how fast time passes. I know that in theory, everyone knows this, but when you stop and think how sometimes it feels like you can't catch up with time, it is scary.
I remember New Year's 2012 like it was yesterday, and making all these resolutions and plans for the year. And yeah, I've had a pretty good year so far, and I've achieved a lot of what I wanted to, but I can't help but feel there's such a long way to go yet.
When I was young, I couldn't wait to grow up. Yes, I was one of those annoying precocious kids who thought they were an adult. Well, you know what, child-me, being an adult isn't all that fun. I wish I could just sit around in the garden, running around and eating ice cream, not caring about whether it was healthy, or whether I can afford my rent.
This is a nice little sorbet, but I must admit not very child-friendly, considering it's made with Korean rice wine beer, or Makkoli. But, alcohol is probably one of the best perks of adulthood, so let's hang on to that.
Dragonfruit makes a really refreshing sorbet - it's not tasteless, but lends a perfume rather than full-on flavour. It blends so well with the slightly yeasty, slightly fizzy taste of Makkoli. So in the spirit of trying to hold on to time a little more firmly, here's a resolutely summery Sorbet recipe.
Dragonfruit and Makkoli Sorbet
Makes enough for 4-6
This recipe is about volume ratios, so I've given what I used, but you can easily modify the amounts as long as you keep the ratio the same - 4 parts cubed fruit, 2 parts Makkoli, and 1 part sugar.
2 cups Makkoli
1 cup caster sugar
4 cups Dragonfruit, diced into 1-inch square cubes
In a blender, pulse the dragonfruit cubes with the sugar until blended, but be careful not to overblend, so that you keep most of the seeds intact.
Mix the dragonfruit puree with the Makkoli and transfer to a prepared ice-cream machine to churn for about 20-30 minutes. This makes a soft sorbet, so it will need to firm up in the freezer for another 2 hours.
I should tell you I'm a quitter. I've quit lots of things in my life. Things a lot of other kids give up, like swimming or ballet or whatever, but also bigger, more important things. But now more than ever, I'm trying my best to not give up, to learn how to keep going even when it looks hopeless. Keep on keeping on, as they always say in the movies. And you know what, I think all that internal training is paying off.
My persistence muscle is now strong enough that when the making of these blueberry muffins encountered problem after problem, I didn't throw away the entire mix in resignation. In fact, it's not just persistence, it's learning to relax. I have been known to throw away food because it didn't taste quite right - I am a perfectionist as well, believe it or not. I'm trying to teach myself that not everything has to be exactly how I planned, and that shit happens. And when shit happens, make blueberry muffins?
After getting home with blueberries in hand, I discover that we're out of baking powder. Okay, I'll make some myself - 2 parts cream of tartar to 1 part bicarbonate of soda, mixed together. Then, I get the amount of sugar wrong and find myself having to re-cream double the amount of butter, flour and everything else. Finally, I discover that my muffin tray is bigger than my oven (!!). SO I actually fashion individual muffin cups out of foil, and bake them in batches of three.
Anyway, at 4.30 in the morning, I finally get to try a muffin, and you know, I swear it was all the more satisfying for every baking hurdle I had to jump. I'm not going to share the recipe (from here if you're interested), because to be honest, I don't think this is a particularly good muffin recipe. They're more like little blueberry sponge cakes, but whatever, they're delicious. I will tell you that I topped them with a cinnamon-oat-maple syrup streusel with demerara sugar.
Okay, I realise that without a recipe, this entire post seems rather pointless and vain, but you know what? I'm posting it anyway. Keep on keeping on, right?
Okay, there's no way of avoiding this - I realise this blog has been all but dead for the last three months. There really isn't much of an excuse. I guess the best I can do is say that I've been busy finishing up university.. and, well, not much else. And now? I suppose I'm in life-limbo. I don't know what it is, but maybe upheaval and cooking don't really go well together.
I read recently that strawberries and tomatoes have the same flavour profile, chemically. I don't know how true that is. I certainly wouldn't say they taste the same, but both fruits are a delicious, red sweet with a tang. A Caprese salad is probably my boring old favourite, but only when it's done right. Unfortunately, most tomatoes you get in the UK aren't particularly appetising, tasting and feeling more like styrofoam than the plump, juicy fruit one always hopes for.
I had a surplus of strawberries and a few of the aforementioned sub-standard tomatoes, so I set about making a revised Caprese salad with strawberries and mint. It would probably have been ah-mazing with some balsamic vinegar, but I had run out, so made do with red wine vinegar. At least the colour stayed pretty! I have to admit that I amped up the natural sweetness of the fruits with some sugar, but this is completely dependent on the taste of the produce you're working with.
In fact, with perfect tomatoes and strawberries, I'd probably leave both vinegar and sugar out. But the salt, that little sprinkle of salt, is necessary. It takes what might have been a wimpy fruit salad into the realm of punchy, savoury food.
I'm being really loose with the recipe here, because I have to admit I find strict salad recipes really strange. Salads are the most flexible kind of food, and should be adjusted according to personal taste. I mean, I used cherry tomatoes and bocconcini - small balls of Mozzarella - here, because I like them, and because of some desire for size-symmetry, but feel free to use whatever great (or not-so-great) tomatoes you can find.
Tomato and Mozzarella Salad with Strawberries and Mint
One punnet strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
One punnet cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
Small bunch of mint, thinly shredded
Pinch of salt
Around one tablespoon of red wine vinegar
Around one teaspoon of caster sugar
One bag of Bocconcini or one ball Mozzarella cheese
A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of ground black pepper
Toss the cut strawberries and tomatoes with a pinch of salt in a bowl. Let it sit for ten minutes, allowing the juices to come out from the fruits. Add the mint, vinegar and sugar and let sit for another ten minutes, allowing all the flavours to marry.
Tear, slice or cut the Mozzarella however you prefer, if using. Toss the Mozzarella cubes or Bocconcini with the marinated strawberries and tomatoes. Drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil and top with a grind of black pepper. Serve!
Hi! It's been a while, I know. The thing is, it's been one thing after another over here. I injured my back a week or so ago, which really destroyed my essay-writing schedule. So now I'm knee-deep in the unpleasant job of finishing two long essays, and then studying for an exam. It must be because it's been (or feels like it's been) so long that this time has been more difficult than in previous years. I just feel so tired of it! Four years (!) of university education, and it's all coming to a head. I know, light at the end of the tunnel and all - but it's taking a damn long time getting out of this tunnel.
Everyone says that you'll miss school once you're not in it, and of course I will. But for now, I just want to feel like I'm free!!! Until I'm done with my exam, I don't foresee myself having the time to blog, so this will be the last post for a while - a month or so, maybe. I just need to buckle down and do it.
I'm pretty bad for stress eating while studying/writing, but I find the best way to avoid stuffing my face with jam donuts just because I can is to eat relatively healthily anyway. I saw this recipe for Avocado Pesto on A Cozy Kitchen and I was intrigued! I really love avocado, and I really, really, really love pasta but I had never thought of putting the two together.
I didn't follow her recipe exactly, because I didn't have all the ingredients. Actually, I basically had an avocado and some pasta, so I had to make do. I just mashed up one avocado, minced one clove of garlic, chopped up some rocket finely and mixed all those up together. I squeezed on the juice of half a lemon and seasoned with salt and pepper. I boiled up some wholemeal pasta (told you this was healthy), reserved a little of the cooking water, and then drained it. I returned the pasta to the pan, stirred in the avocado pesto and a glug of extra virgin olive oil. I poured in just enough pasta water to loosen it, and then I ate it with a few extra rocket leaves on top. Delicious! Not for everyone, I guess, but if you like avocado, DO IT.