Sunday, January 22, 2012

In Which I Finally Learn To Spell Broccoli

Grown-upness comes upon me in stealthy little ways. One minute I'm writing a grocery list and the next minute I realise I spelled broccoli properly without thinking or wondering or doubting or googling. Now, I have no idea if the fact that I only noticed that Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day was an entirely vegetarian cookbook after two months of owning it is another sign of me being so grown-up that I don't panic if I eat a few meat-free meals (tenuous and dubious, I know, but it's January, I'm not going to be too hard on myself). Or maybe just me being a bit dim. I was wondering if there might be something interesting that I could do with lamb chops and I was having a good look through the index at the back when I noticed that there was no lamb in there at all. And then it slowly dawned on me that there wasn't a morsel of meat or fish to be had in the whole book. Ahem. Well, we can take that as a testament to the deliciousness of the healthy recipes in it, can't we?! That is definitely the conclusion we all should be drawing from that. Since I didn't find any lamb recipes in there, I figured that I would just keep it simple with my lamb chops and serve them up alongside a tasty salad. This Broccoli Gribbiche is an excellent example of why I never noticed the absence of meat from this cookbook: it's a delicious, substantial, filling and satisfying dish that will work equally well as a meal in its own right or a side dish to substantiate your particular choice of animal protein. From what I can tell, the book hasn't been published here yet, as you can't buy it from any European websites. I picked it up in New York, but if you're not looking to add to your cookbook collection you can get a taste of Heidi on her website 101 Cookbooks

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Going Pear Shaped

When I was compiling a list of pressie requests to pass on to my Kris Kindel this year, I faced the not-so-easy task of whittling the many cookbooks on my wishlist down to a more reasonable and less demanding one or two. I had been eyeing up Allegra McEvedy's Bought, Borrowed & Stolen ever since I read a review of it when it was first published, being, as I am, a huge fan of her wonderful, user-friendly Leon cookbook. BB&S is a really beautiful book to have on your shelves, more than simply a reference for recipes, but a chronicle of the celebrated chef's travels through the medium, not only of the food she ate, but also the knives that she bought in a variety of locations. I have found myself sitting down with this book on many occasions to pick some recipes to try out, and became diverted, each time, by her stories about the parts of the world she has visited and worked and lived in, as well as the snappy little fact files about each one. The reason why this book made the final cut was, apart from its aesthetic superiority, because the recipes encompass a breadth of cultures, mealtimes and occasions that make it extremely useable. Featuring slightly more unusual gastronomic destinations such as Malawi and Burma, as well as old reliables like Italy and the USA, the recipes range in difficulty and convenience so that you'll find something in there that will make a tasty, handy lunch for one, and also other dishes that you can show off with when you have friends over for dinner. Something that I find particularly attractive is that you can choose any of the chapters and in it put together a meal that will encompass a complementary starter, main course and dessert, something that I frequently struggle to coordinate. I had invited a friend over for brunch one morning for a bit of a catch-up, and chose the Panquecas de Queijo (sweet goats' cheese pancakes) from Brazil as something that is tasty, uncomplicated, hits a few foodgroups and doesn't take a year and a day to make. As I was heading out for my morning run, however, she texted to say that she was just in from her night out. Love it; not that I can do it so much myself anymore, but fair play to her for not being one of those annoying people who moans on about how it's January and they just can't do anything except inhale steamed vegetables and basically act entirely contrary to their nature for the month. I set out for my ten mile run and made this when I came back. Not an indulgence of the out-all-night variety, but as I am now in training for marathon number two I am in virtuous mode, so this may be as exciting as it gets for me for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Newsflash: Potatoes Are Not Actually The Devil

I heard the expression 'no carbs before Marbs' the other day and I nearly had a meltdown with the laughter, possibly pulling a stomach muscle, and hopefully fitting in some accidental, unintentional abdominal exercise in there as well. Apparently it's from some Only Way Is Essex fitness dvd and, to enlighten the bewildered among you, means 'no carbohydrates before Marbella', i.e. deny yourself delicious things like bread and pasta for a bit and you will be a confident, flat-stomached (if starving and cranky) creature by the time you hit the beach in Spain. Now, I know that this is January, traditionally the month of penury and self discipline. I know that we all tucked into the cheese and the Celebrations with wanton abandon there for a month, in between pickling our livers with wine and beer and eating leftovers from dinner the day before in between two heavily buttered slices of bread as a mid-morning snack. And I know that there are very few of us who aren't a little pale and wobbly after the excesses of the season, slightly disgusted with ourselves and determined to reform our unhealthy ways. But come on, now, lets have a little perspective, please. Lets be nice to ourselves. It's not the cheeriest of months, after all, and, personally speaking, there is nothing more likely to make me miserable than to have to deny myself food of any sort, not to mention an entire category of food. That silly Atkins diet business really gave some perfectly tasty and nutritious foods a bad name. Take the lovely spud, for example. Sure, if you smother it in butter and salt it's not exactly health food, but with a little less embellishment, it is full of extremely admirable qualities, in particular vitamins C, B6 and potassium. Now, would you put down that ridiculous exercise dvd, get yourself out for a big old walk in that lovely mild weather we're having and then reward yourself with this delicious potato soup when you get home.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A January Food Hug

I have been verrrrrrry neglectful of my blog in recent months, which has made me realise why I enjoy it so; obviously I love to write, and this gives me a focus and an outlet; it makes me branch out a little more with my cooking; it means that I entertain more. So, here I am, back to my extensive-eating ways, full of good intentions for 2012. And what better way to get stuck right back in than by sharing some January-friendly food from one of my lovely Christmas present cookbooks? I have been coveting Lilly Higgins' lovely baking book, Make, Bake, Love, for quite a while, but when it first came out couldn't justify buying it - even for the usual myriad reasons that I use to justify buying cookbooks. I flicked through it on numerous occasions, my greedy beady eyes looking at the recipes and each time finding one that I could slot into a specific feeding point in my future. Not enough to justify spending the money or adding to my collection at that particular time, however. Oh but not until Christmas, that is - the season of justifying pretty much anything. Brillo. Down on the list it went for my Kris Kindle and when I found it in my pile of goodies on December 25th I was overjoyed. It really is pretty much the perfect baking book. It covers all bases; cakes for special occasions, cakes that you can have in the house for a few days to offer with tea to any guests, treats you can bring in to work, dessert-y bakes for when you have friends over for dins, small bakes like scones and buns, healthier bits, inexpensive get the picture. Also, the design is pretty without being cloying, and the writing is whimsical without being irritating. You can get it on the Gill & Macmillan website for only €15.99

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Make. This. NOW!

Up until this point I would definitely have said that I love Mexican food, but I would not have known how very limited my experience of Mexican food actually was. My experiences of the genre until very recently would have leaned more in the direction of the watered-dow Tex-Mex type of dishes that have adapted/travelled from that country to many, many others around the world. All, in themselves, decent representations of that particular food culture, but offerings really don't do it justice, not when you begin to delve a little further into a rich and frequently healthy food tradition. Thomasina Miers was the first winner of British Masterchef, and a spell in Mexico fostered a great love and enthusiasm for Mexican food. Her restaurant, Wahaca, brings the joys of Mexican market food to London, and her bright, inviting book Mexican Food Made Simple was a little present from me to me on a recent mooch through TK Maxx. And, guess what? It features recipes using ingredients other than minced beef and tortillas! I KNOW - crazy!!!!! From soups to sweets, it has a ton of fruit n veg-loaded delights inside. But, of course, the first recipe that my greedy little eyes zoned in on was probably the least healthy one in the book. A no-hassle, Sunday night plate of perfection that uses black pudding in the way that you might ordinarily use minced beef - a new one to me, and a meaty revelation. Black pudding polenta is a flavoursome comfort food that won't be making it into the Weight Watchers cook book any time soon, but once you taste it you really won't give a fiddlers.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

An Egg Dish: Too Many Cheesy Puns, Frankly

Cooking a good curry fills me with glee. Ever since the very first time I made a curry - which, if I recall quite correctly, was Jamie Oliver's Thai green chicken curry back in autumn 2004 - I have not failed to amaze and delight myself with the ability to create from scratch something that I used to only get occasionally from a take away. Something else that I really love: buying a food magazine and settling down to tuck into the lovely mix of bits and pieces on offer. You get a generous fraction of the recipes that you would get in a cookbook at a very justifiable fraction of the price. There is also a lovely, life-friendly mix of types of recipes. In most good quality food magazines there will be a variety that offers speedy dinners, nice lunches, a bit of baking; perfect for a lil foodie fix, particularly as the seasons change and the contents adapt accordingly. Delicious magazine is a firm favourite of mine. It's not as glam and fancy as Donna Hay or Jamie mag, but it really doesn't need any of that suave business, it's a warm, friendly publication, jam-packed with reliable, normal person-friendly recipes. And you can't always say that about cookbooks, can you? I know that you can get tons of great recipes online, but really nothing compares to sitting down with a magazine, or pulling it off the bookshelf if you fancy some inspiration. I generally cook a few recipes from issue, and among the ones that I tried from the September issue was sambal telur. But just so we can use our brains for cooking the dish and not trying to remember the name of it, lets just call it egg curry. I know, I know - stinkus maximus. But seriously worth it if you can convince your co-diners that if you're all honking you'll cancel each other out. And I totally promise that if it is a bit whiffy...well I certainly didn't notice, such was the extreme tastiness.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Chill-Busting Chilli

I do like chilli, I really do, but it lacks adventurousness and, while not particularly unhealthy, doesn't really pack much of a punch in the nutrition stakes. Don't get me wrong, I'll never turn down a big steaming bowl of chili, but when picking something of a hearty, inexpensive nature to cook, it tends to get sidelined by other dishes that have a little more, well, personality. This vegetarian version, on the other hand, I feel will become a regular fixture in my eating schedule, and one I'll turn to again and again in the winter months when I need nutritious warming up from the inside on the cheap. It is absolutely rammed with health-givingness, thanks to an abundance of pulses and veggies. It isn't invaded by any (relatively) sneaky, treaty ingredients like cream or cheese - though obviously it is entirely possible to make these additions if you so wish. For me, it's the loveliest kind of healthy food, that which leaves you feeling neither cheated nor empty, but, rather, full and satisfied and not wanting of any further addition or embellishment. It's from the kitchen of one Gwyneth Paltrow, a recipe she conceived to feed her vegetarian daughter. The recipe says that it serves four. I put away the lot within 24 hours, initially scoffing it down with basmati rice after a cycle, and then I finished it off the following day in a pitta to quell the devious hunger brought on by wedding celebrations the night before. A more ladylike and decorous appetite than mine should find that it will serve up four to six portions. This is definitely one for the athletes among you: it does that essential task of refueling after a training session and allowing the option of further portions in a healthy manner, significantly reducing the urge to tell yourself that you have earned the right to recompense your body's efforts with empty calories.