Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Miserable Meatless Monday

Rain rain go away!! Man, it rained constanly yesteday! Between that and the fact that I was in no mood to go out (I stayed in my jammies all day) dinner was a bit of a stretch last night.  By now you should all be able to guess my go-to meal when in a pinch or totally lazy...yup! you guessed it...Risotto! I had seen a recipe in a magazine last month for Creamy Leek Risotto and couldn't for the life of me find it yesterday in the house...I knew I didn't have any ricotta or goats cheese to make the creamy bit of the risotto, but I sure did have leeks...

I made this risotto a little bit differently from how I usually would, there was no soffritto, no sauteeing onions, garlic and celery...the base of this risotto is a bit of chopped garlic and sliced leeks sauteed in a bit of butter until just soft.  I added a good large glass of white wine to the leeks and let them simmer away to soften and cook.  Once the liquid has cooked away THEN the rice is added and the traditional risotto method (or my method at least) can resume.  Really yummy and satisfying!

Monday, 29 March 2010

WIld Garlic take 2

I've received many nice comments about my post from Friday night's dinner...and the introduction of new vegetables... so I thought I would share another way to use wild garlic.  Last night I used the last handful of wild garlic (before it wilted by its own accord) and made Penne with Crispy Pancetta, Portobello Mushrooms and Wild Garlic.

This was one of those simple suppers that I really should have saved for a work night but I couldn't risk leaving the wild garlic too long.  It is only in season for such a short period I didn't want to waste it!  By the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta the sauce is done, it is all tossed together and voila!


250g penne or other pasta shape (orecchiette works well too)
6 or 7 slices of thin smoked pancetta sliced into matchsticks
2 portobello mushrooms, cubed
handful of wild garlic
olive oil (i used chili infused olive oil)


1.Put water onto boil, add pasta when ready to start sauce (reserve a mug of cooking water)
2.While pasta is cooking sautee mushrooms in some butter.
3.When mushrooms are cooked, remove from pan and wipe the pan out to clean out any mushroom juices.
4.Drizzle some olive oil in pan, add pancetta and fry until crispy. **There is enough fat in the pancetta to cook without the oil, but you will find you need a bit more oil to hold the sauce together and flavour the pasta***
5.By this point the pasta should be cooked. If it isn't then remove the pan with the pancetta from the heat and return it to the heat when ready to drain the pasta and finish the sauce.
6.Add the mushrooms back to the pan with pancetta and place the wild garlic on top.
7.Drain the pasta and add to pan with the sauce, toss to combine.  **The heat from the pasta and pancetta oil will wilt the wild garlic**
8.There should be enough oil to coat and flavour the pasta, if not add a bit more or a splash of the reserved cooking water. 

Serve in big bowls with lots of grated parmesan cheese and cracked black pepper. 

You could always used spinach instead of wild garlic and just sautee some chopped garlic wihen you cook the mushrooms!

Enjoy! x

Homemade Cheesy Crackers

One of my all time favourite snacker crackers are Pepperidge Farm Goldfish...also one of the hardest 'American' prodcuts to find here in the UK.  When I first moved here Waitrose used to carry them, they had been re-branded FINZ but still had that salty fake cheesy taste (I am also a sucker for Kraft Mac & Cheese).  Waitrose doesn't carry them anymore.  My family has been fuelling my GOLDFISH habit for the last four years delivering them to me when they visit...but I am just not very good at rationing them!!

Last week my world was changed! I came across this post for Homemade Goldfish Crackers over at Cupcake Project and knew I just had to try them!

Little Cheesy Stars and Flowers.  Crunchy, savoury and cheesy.  Not quite like Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, but an excellent substitution!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

A Seasonal and Romantic Three Course Meal for Two

So I have been feeling a little bit pathetic as of late due to struggling a bit to work and feel motivated in the kitchen at the same time. I found some inspiration on Thursday with the arrival of our vegetable delivery, and vowed (secretly) to go all out Friday night and create a romantic meal to make up for a week of fumbles and uninspired meals. 

The arrival of our vegetable box also announced the true arrival of spring...no more parsnips, no more beetroots, no more turnips...just beautiful asparagus, wild garlic, jerusalem artichokes and new season potatoes all sitting there just begging to be used!

I've never cooked with jerusalem artichokes before.  The lady I lodged with at Kew Gardens grew them in her allotment and made me some soup once, but I have never actually cooked with them myself.  Jerusalem artichokes are rather sweet looking, like little artichoke shaped root vegetables...

You can peel them if you like, but the skin is perfectly edible.  I ended up making a simple soup with them.  Onions, jerusalem artichokes and stock all cooked and then blended.  I added a little bit of whole milk and some mild cheese at the end.  Jerusalem artichokes have quite a strong flavour, which to me is a bit salty, meaning very little seasoning is needed.  In fact I didn't use any. 

Another vegetable in the box that was new to me was Wild Garlic. I've had it before in dishes, again cooked for me...but I have never used it myself.  Wild garlic is related to chives but has a distinct and often strong garlic flavour.  It doesn't have a very long growing period and is often hard to buy in shops...so you can imagine how excited I was to see it in our vegetable box on Thursday!

Simply wilted in a bit of butter or stirred through a pasta sauce seem to be the best ways to use this amazingly flavoured leaf.  It can even be used in pesto instead of basil (yum!).  David and I love garlic and often add slivered garlic to sauteeing spinach and other greens, so these gorgeous green leaves are just up our ally! In the end I paired the Wild Garlic...wilting it in a little bit of butter...with simple oven baked salmon steaks, baked in a little olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper. 

Last night was truely a night of firsts! First time cooking with jerusalem artichokes and wild garlic...and dessert was no exception! I have been drooling over a chocolate pots recipe in The Williams Sanoma Bride and Groom Cookbook generously given to us by my friend Emily in Toronto.  I haven't made anything in ramekins since we moved in...mostly because we didn't have ramekins...but we received two volcanic orange Le Creuset ramekins as wedding gifts.  So no excuses!!!

Pure Romance!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Working Wednesday Mid-Week Meal

I know that this is going to sound pathetic, I mean women/wives juggle work and home all the time....for decades...why oh why is it so hard for me?? Maybe it is because I have been 'retired' for all these months...I don't know...

There are a few things that I am going to have to start getting my head around...mainly using the freezer and meal planning.  The first isn't too difficult...other than the problem that there are 18 cupcakes taking up most of the space in the tiny freezer we have...meal planning on the other hand...while fun in theory it is something that I don't all together like doing.  Mostly it is because I really love taking my time and pottering into town daily to browse and choose what to make for dinner...possibly not the most economical option but the most fun for me...not to mention there is minimal (think itty bitty) space to store a week's worth of groceries in our kitchen. 

I did my best this week though...I tried...and David helped...the funny thing is that we were both soooooo hungry by dinner time Monday and Tuesday that I didn't even think to take any photos...although I was proud of both of our meals...and of US! Meatless Monday was a return to Canadian Maple Flavoured Mushroom Burgers with oven baked fries (easy peasy)...Tuesday David goes to the gym after work leaving a little more time to cook so I baked chicken legs smothered in dijon garlic and lemon with boiled potatoes and salad...I will definetly be making it again so Watch This Space!

Last night was a bit of a hodgepodge and by mid week (actually the end of my working week) I was totally exhausted so together we created this totally easy veggie pasta with a cream sauce...I suppose it was a cheat's primavera...watch out Delia!

We basically used the veggies that were left in the fridge...a couple of huge portobello mushrooms, left over asparagus spears, a couple of handfuls of baby spinach and peas and about 300ml of creme fraiche.  While the pasta was cooking I sauteed the musrooms with half a chopped shallot and a clove of garlic in a little oil and butter, added the asparagus and then the creme fraiche and a ladel or so of cooking water from the pasta.  Once the sauce had combined I added the spinach, turned the heat down and let that wilt into the sauce.  Meanwhile the peas went in with the pasta about 5 mins before that was done cooking. Drain the pasta, add to the sauce (or vice versa) and serve with loads of parmesan cheese and black pepper! Not the most attractive of dishes, but it sure was yummy.

I've got 5 days off now so will have to think of some meals to make in batches and freeze...we can't have easy pasta every night...although I would really love to!!!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Got the work blues...I miss my kitchen!!

I started a part time job last week. ugh. It is funny...I was itching to have something steady to do, but seriously I am not finding it easy to get back into the swing of it after being off from work for the last 6 months! I think that the part I miss the most about being at home is planning my day around doing the chores and most importantly taking the time to make a really nice dinner for me and David.  Working now means that I will have to be a bit better at planning my meals, making batches of things to freeze and well....it will just be different adn I will have to learn to SHARE.  

On Saturday I worked a full day leaving David at home and when I returned????

David had totally tidied the house AND made this gogeous meat lasagna with creme fraiche.  It was so so so nice to come home to a lovely home cooked meal, but in all honesty...I would rather be the one MAKING the meal! :)

We've sat down and planned our meals for the week so we shall see what works and what doesn't!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

St Patrick's Day Risotto

Normally I would post this in the morning but seeing as David has abandoned me to study and I am off to work (gak! more on that later) tomorrow morning I am using the most of my "alone time" tonight...until he comes downstairs to watch tv and eat cupcakes!!!

To celebrate St. Patrick's Day today (not that either of us is Irish) I created a Risotto Verde with asparagus, zucchini, peas and parsley all brought together with crispy salty bacon, some ricotta and just a hint of chili flakes.  Hardly dancing a jigg in the street funneling Guiness down our throats, but a nice Italian twist on green food for this holiday!

A little hint if you haven't made risotto with asparagus before...chop the stalks up into rounds about 1/2 a centimetre and put them in when you add the stock, this will cook the tougher bits of the stalk while cooking the rice (and a bit of the flavour will seep out into the rice) and then put the tender tips in closer to the end of the cooking process so they don't over cook and get mushy (ick!!)

Smoked Haddock & Leek Chowder aka Cullen Skink

My experince with smoked fish is pretty much limited to smoked salmon in its many forms... Recently I had some smoked halibut, which was totally mild and devine...but that is about it.  There is a huge selection of smoked fish here in the UK and it is used in many traditional dishes and from what I have observed it is mainly purchased by the older population (at least in Chelmsford).  I don't know if it is the yellow dye that has put me off until now, or a fear of the unknown...but a recent recipe "find" for smoked haddock chowder had me searching high and low for UNDYED smoked fish yesterday. 

It isn't easy to find undyed smoked fish here in Chelmsford.  For some reason (and probably due to the older population being the market for the fish) there is an abundance of dyed smoked fish.  I've been told that the deep yellow colour is something that was origianally created through the dyeing process and then later on an actual dye was added to maintain the image of the smoked fish, and now it is added purely to make the fish "look like it always has"...basically to provide comfort to the older generation who grew up on the stuff.  Luckily the fishmonger in the covered market had some lovely (albeit pricey) UNDYED oak smoked haddock!!

Armed with my gigantic piece of smoked fish I headed home to make this simple, and from what I have found out traditionally Scottish, meal...CULLEN SKINK.  The translation in my recipe calls this soup a chowder (yum! I love and crave a good new england seafood chowder!) but it isn't really like a north american chowder...no bacon, no thickener...

I don't usually post recipes, but I really think that this is one worth sharing and worth trying!!  On reflection, if I hadn't been able to find undyed smoked haddock I could have just used fresh haddock and cooked it a few minutes longer.  The taste would have been different...the milk has an almost sweet smokey flavour from poaching the fish...but I think it would have been equally as nice!

Smoked Haddock & Leek Chowder

15 g butter
3 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
500g potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 litre semi skimmed milk (or whole milk if you want it a bit creamier)
400 g undyed smoked haddock fillet, skinned and cubed (You could use unsmoke haddock and just simmer for a bit longer when you add the fish)
3 tbsp chopped chives

1. Heat the butter in a large stock pot and add leeks.  Cook over low heat for 6-7 minutes until really soft, but not browned.
2. Add the potato cubes and cook, stirring for abotu 2 minutes.
3. Add milk, bring to boil and simmer for about 15 mins until potatoes are just about cooked through.
4. Add fish and simmer for about 5 minutes until fish cooked through.
5. Season and stir through chives.  Serve with crusty bread or Scottish Oatcakes.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Meatless Monday Returns with Homemade Pasta!

Over the weekend I tried my hand at making my own pasta.  This has been something that I have been waiting to try for a while, but it was only recently that I received that tool through which to make it...My amazing cousins, Miles and Curtis, gifted me (and David) a pasta making attachment for my (our) Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer as our wedding gift!!! WOOOOOOWWWWWWEEEEEEEEEE!!!! 

It is totally gorgeous! Three different rollers to make lasagna, fettuccine or spaghetti...and the best bit...your arm doesn't get sore/tired from turning the crank on a manual machine!!!!  Together they weigh a heck of a lot so a BIG thank you to Auntie Sandi who, again, dragged some ridiculously heavy kitchenware across the Atlantic to me!!!  

I've helped my mum make fresh pasta before.  She makes it often enough at home...especially in the run up to Christams.  She makes a bunch of fettuccine batches then bags them up and gives them as gifts...classy, homemade and totally unique! Anyway, from her I learnt the basics of making fresh pasta by hand but I've never really done it solo (and especially without her nearby to step in and save the day). 

I think I bit off a little bit more than I could chew. I thought that I would be able to do this no problem.  I had seen my mum and grandparents make pasta with their eyes closed, it is in my blood...so no problem at all! However...that is not quite how it played out. 

My mum makes her pasta dough in her Cuisinart, my grandparents make it by hand...I wanted to use the dough hook in the Kitchen Aid...I flipped through some of my cook books for recipes for the dough as I was a little nervous using my mum's since her's is specifically for the food processor, and settled on Jamie Oliver's simple pasta recipe (Jamie Oliver...reliable and satisfactory results the majority of the time).  In the end, after the ordeal I think the dough was a bit too wet...it stuck every so often in the rollers etc. etc. etc. 

I wont bore you with the tears and thumps and Julie Powell-esque moments...Needless to say the yummy roasted eggplant and ricotta ravioli filling I made ended up as a sort of open ravioli dish with yummy tomato and white wine cream sauce (the proper ravioli I made all stuck to the FLOURED board and couldn't be saved to cook)...I was so disappointed with my failed homemade ravioli that I couldn't bring myself to take a picture of what turned out to be an innovative and surprisingly tastey supper. 

Having since spoken to my mum about the pasta disaster we have come up with a number of things that might have contributed to the ruined supper...mostly though my mum thinks that I need to practice making the pasta BEFORE I attempt anything crazy like ravioli....Well, I don't mind practicing!!

I had only used a quarter of the dough to make the ravioli so I decided to turn the rest into fettuccine

The fettuccini worked pretty well (except for a few bits that got folded over and squished)...and we enjoyed it last night for our Meatless Monday Meal..Homemade Fettuccine with Tomato White Wine Cream Sauce topped with soft ricotta cheese!

Originally, I had wanted to make a tomato vodka cream sauce, but we didn't have any vodka in the house and I didn't really want to buy a bottle seeing as we don't drink it anyway, so instead I used white wine and it was pretty tasty. 

Monday, 15 March 2010

It is Officially SPRING in my backyard!

NO blooming flowers or baby animals...BUT it is finally warm enough for the laundry to be hung out to dry!!
What a happy housewife I am!!

Friday, 12 March 2010

Crunchy Beetroot and Carrot salad topped with Creamy Goat Cheese

My parents came by this afternoon en route to London to off load their surplus food and toilet paper and paper towels etc. I scored some really nice cheeses and some smoked salmon and some other yum yum yummy goodies...but I had to find space for it all in my already packed to the rafters fridge and cupboards!! While squeezing and stuffing and mangling things I found two gigantic beetroots that I had completely forgotten about...Not only were they taking up valuable space needed for half finished bottles of milk, and juice and wine...but they also desperately needed to be used up (before any more show up in this week's delivery) so I made a HUGE bowl of raw beetroot salad to be eaten this weekend, and over the next week. 

This is a totally easy, albeit messy, salad to prepare (and even easier to devour!).  Just peel and coarsly grate a few carrots, and a honking big beet (or a couple of smaller ones...basically you want a good ratio of carrot to beetroot) and add a huge handful of chopped parsley.  The dressing is equally is simple...2 TBSP olive oil, 2 TBSP orange juice, 2 TSP honey, salt, pepper, 1 cloved pressed garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Mix it all together with a couple of shakes of sesame seeds (toasted).  I topped with with a bit of soft goat's cheese, which we all knows goes perfectly with beetroot!!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Spring has Sprung! Pasta Primavera for our first meal

While not technically our first meal as newly weds, last night was the first night I have felt like cooking (we had chinese take away sunday night and ate out at my parent's monday night) and I threw together a quick pasta primavera...to celebrate spring and our new life!!

You can make primavera sauce with or without cream, I happen to like it creamy and with lots of parmesan cheese.  Any vegetables can be used, the best are the stronger veggies like broccoli, peas, carrots, bell peppers and onion.  Some recipes suggest that you blanch the veggies first, but I prefer to just pop them in the boiling pasta water a couple of minutes for the pasta is finished.  Also, I like to sautee some mushrooms with onion and garlic before adding double cream and boiling up until thick.  I like lots and lots of freshly ground pepper and tons of parmesan cheese to season the sauce and then just mix it all up together! Last night I shaved some long strips of carrot, thiny sliced some broccoli and leeks, and I also added some chopped tomatoes to the sauteed mushrooms.  Oh! And don't forget a couple of HUGE handfuls of parsley!

Monday, 8 March 2010

WEDDING SPOTLIGHT....one pic of the bride and groom (and the dress)

I don't want to bore you with all sorts of pictures from the wedding, but I know that some of you are curious about the dress etc.  So, I am posting this ONE picture of me and David...

WEDDING SPOTLIGHT...the cakes!!!

Years and years and years ago...pre David (and pre Sex In the City) I knew I wanted to serve cupcakes at my wedding (if there was going to be a wedding).  Luckily, David has the sweetest tooth I have ever known and he didn't have to think very long about the options of dense icky fruitcake...vs...sugary, iced, and yummy cupcakes.

We ordered our cakes from an amazing bakery in North London called Lolas Kitchen.  I was fortunate enough to work very close to the bakery last year and Lolas Cupcakes were the treat of choice for staff birthdays so I had become very well versed in their selection and could testify to their amazing quality!!! They were hands down the obvious choice for our wedding cakes....PLUS they make reasonably priced layered cakes as well...making it easier to "cut the cake"!!!

Our wedding day was totally different to anything I have been involved in in North America.  We were married at County Hall by the Registrar at NOON, took many many many photos in the park (cold, but sunny and dry) and then headed to the hotel for a 3 course lunch with 30 guests.  After the meal we hung out in the bar and mingled and rested and took more photos in preparation for the evening reception at 7, to which all of our friends were invited to celebrate with us (and enjoy a BUFFET).  Because the day was split up like this we decided to "cut the cake" at the end of lunch and then put it out with all the cupcakes in the evening for the buffet. (Two of my favourite words....buffet and cupcake....mmmm what a perfect day!) 

In keeping with the un-official colour scheme of the wedding (and my all time favourite cake flavour) we had a perfectly sized 9" Red Velvet Layer Cake. 


The cupcakes for the evening, however, were a mixture of flavours...with a handful of red velvet ones!


I've been able to freeze about a dozen cakes (and a slice from the actual cake) so we will be enjoy this day for MONTHS to come!!! Although....all the chocolate covered ones managed to be eaten...hmmmm?


Mr & Mrs!!!

The best party I have ever been to! Relaxing but still buzzing with excitement! More when I return to reality! xo

Thursday, 4 March 2010

WEDDING SPOTLIGHT...table centrepieces

It is 15 minutes to midnight Thursday night...leaving 36 hours and 15 minutes until our wedding ceremony will officially be underway!!!  It has been a busy busy busy day, and thank GOD my bestie Alice and my bro Charles have been here to help me! Today we picked up the loose flowers I ordered to make the centrepieces and got to work! Luckily we only have 9 tables to decorate...oh and the BAR of course!! 

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Retro Hors D'Oeuvres for Auntie Sandi

Saturday morning mummy and I went to Heathrow airport with David's mum to meet my Aunt Sandi off the plane from Toronto.  It was a very early start to the day but I had a great little snackie waiting at home for her (and us) to re-juvinate us all and get the party started for this final week of madness and mayhem. 

I had been thinking about something special to make Sandi (something as exciting as the quinoa pudding I made for mum) and it really had to be JUST RIGHT.  My Aunt, like my mum, is a great foodie and is totally in love with everything to do with food and making food and enjoying food and just experiencing fantastic flavours and textures.  This presented QUITE a challenge for me!! 

On Friday mummy and I were wandering around the Waitrose in Marylebone when I spied a package of mini croustades and I just knew I had to use them to make a little treat reminiscent of family get together's at my Nonna's house cira 1985...
My Nonna used to make a tray of these gorgeous little crispy cups filled with cream cheese and topped with half a smoked oyster...totally divine and totally inexpensive! When I spied these little croustades on the shelf I knew I had found the perfect treat to accompany the smoked salmon we were already planning on munching on.

When I was assembling this easy and totally yummy hors d'oeuvres I was immediately taken back to my childhood and family parties at my Nonna's house.  How fantastic is it that a single whiff of smoked oysters can transport me back 25 years?!  My grandparents aren't able to travel to the UK to celebrate the wedding, so it was really special to toast them with cream cheese and smoked oysters!! And my aunt was totally surprised when I brought out the platter...she said she would have never guessed that these were her surprise...not in a million years! A true Nonna special!!

PS did you spot that I used a whole oyster for each croustade? Half an oyster is just not exciting enough !!