Monthly Archives: April 2020

CCC Catchup Post

I’ve fallen a bit behind in making these posts. I somewhat hit the wall the other week, both with isolation more generally and cooking specially. Probably exacerbated by having planned a bunch of filling a warming meals and being faced with an unexpected warm weather spell. I struggled through with some nice but unadventurous pasta salads until a colleague happened to make the most amazing smelling curry and the desire for curry of my own kicked me mostly out of my cooking funk. At least enough to get a batch of sweet potato and lentil korma made and eaten.

This week, however has been much better. On Sunday, I finally got round to making a big pot of chilli, while on Monday I made a generous – if less substantial than the chilli – pot of rice. This proved to be one of my better plans, as I ended up on the road for work unexpectedly and having a quick and easy tea already to be microwaved was a life-saver – there would be no stopping off for chips on the way back from this trip.

After having hit the wall so decidedly, I decided to retrench completely and focus on making old favourite recipes. I’ve been increasingly drawn to the earlier pages in my home-made recipe book, but this week I’ve mostly been cooking from the recipe books that I haven’t looked at in years, the ones I used when I was first properly exploring my culinary passions. The rice dish I ended up making is called Melting Sunshine Rice and is both super straight-forward and super comforting. Basically cook some rice in vegetable stock and with a teaspoon of turmeric, once cooked, add a chopped pepper, a couple of spring onions, a small tin of sweet corn and about 100g of cheese, preferably edam, put the lid back on for a few minutes so the cheese gets all melty and serve. There are few things more satisfying than realising exactly what you most fancy making/eating and then discovering that you do indeed have everything you need for it in the fridge or cupboard. I tend not to keep tinned sweet corn on hand – I generally prefer frozen sweet corn – and I rarely have edam – Babybels are normally travelling snacks rather than cooking supplies – so it felt extra serendipitous that they were all there to hand.

I’d been meaning to bake properly for weeks, I’d even bought some duck eggs off a colleague with a croft, specifically for the purpose, but I kept putting it off. So after the success of my old school cooking, I dug out my Ainsley Harriott cookbook – in all it’s battered ex-library copy glory – and looked up the old faithful that is his blueberry muffin recipe. I was going to make it with raspberries as I knew I had some in the freezer, but when I went looking I found some cherries which got me thinking and somehow blueberry, coconut and lemon muffins became wholemeal cherry and almond muffins, as I had both ground and flaked almonds in the cupboard. It’s the kind of recipe that comes in three different options with tips on substitutions and encourages adventurousness, and everything came together perfectly. I haven’t made muffins in ages, and this batch reminded me why for so long they were my go-to baked goods.

Next up, another old favourite, some English muffins, though these ones get cooked on the stovetop rather than in the oven.

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Food Based Media

For the purposes of virtual film club, I’ve recently signed up for a Netflix account who have an entire rabbit-hole of food programming to get lost down. My first, and favourite, discovery was the series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, which is based on the book of the same name by Samin Nosrat, who also presents it.

As a child, I really enjoyed those travel/food programmes that were all the rage in the 90s, but I hadn’t realised until I watched this series how much I missed that genre and how much it still being dominated by white guys of a certain age annoyed me. There was something so delightfully refreshing about listening to her converse with local specialists in Italian and Spanish, and the way she used her Iranian food heritage to relate to the other cuisines that were talked about in the show, made all the difference.

It’s a lovely and informative little series, and ten years ago I could really have used it – in fact I’d like to give my younger self a copy of the book to work through. There was a lot in the salt and acid sections that I was already intimately familiar with, but that knowledge was acquired piecemeal, largely through trial and error, with occasional helpful pointers from episodes of Gastropod. (I’d learned from experience that lime juice could rescue a stir-fry sauce if you’d overdone the soy sauce component, and a really fascinating episode of Gastropod had opened the world of vinegar as a flavour enhancer to me.) Nonetheless the series gave me lots of ‘huh, interesting’ moments, largely by explaining why elements worked in certain ways, some things that I knew to be true from experience but didn’t know why they were that way, are now much clearer to me than they ever where before.

After the success of my food based television binge, I decided to seek out more food programming to comfort watch. I went searching in the iPlayer and found an old favourite of mine. Fuine is a very gentle baking programme from BBC Alba, where the programme goes round to local ‘star bakers’ kitchens and they teach the presenter how to cook their signature bake. I started watching it years ago when I was studying Gaelic, as a low stress way to learn more of the kind of vocabulary that I did get in class. They changed presenter for the most recent series – the new presenter is a chef who had been on the programme as a guest baker on a couple of occasions – and I realised that while I’d heard good things about it, I hadn’t actually seen any of it to judge for myself. This latest series has more of a balance between sweet and savoury dishes, which is great for me as I love a savoury bake. (There was also an episode dedicated to ‘free-from’ baking, but throughout the series they were good at saying ‘substitute this to make it vegan’ or ‘this recipe is actually gluten free’.) It’s very much a series where the intent is that you can make the things at home yourself – a lot of the recipes are on the website if you prefer it written down – and I’ve now got a whole list of recipes that I’m keen to try. Those crackers for humus looked both tasty and easy to make!

The Netflix algorithm is still learning what I like at the moment – to start with I was only watching Studio Ghibli films and fairly violent martial arts movies so it was a little confused about my household – but my decision to watch Salt. Fat. Acid. Heat. has caused it to give me all the food recommendations. There is a whole world of food documentaries and cooking programmes that I never knew existed – Hindi-language series about the different food cultures of India anyone? – but given that the current situation has mostly nixed my usual appetite for documentaries I am ready to head down that rabbit-hole.

This week I’ve been watching a series called Street Food: Asia (I presume that means there are companion series about street food on other continents, or at least that they plan for there to be.) It is definitely food to watch with snacks, because all the food and cooking made me so hungry – I definitely hold it responsible for my decision to make sushi this week, along with everything I’ve made involving tortilla wraps. I have such a craving for noodles now, every kind and variety that you could imagine.

The decision to – mostly – focus on cities other than the capital cities of the countries in question, was one I really appreciated as I felt it gave a much better sense of there being different food cultures in different regions within a country rather than one homogenous food culture in the entire country.

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CCC Week 3

One of the unexpectedly useful things about writing these posts is that they help keep track of how long this whole strange situation has been on the go. Sometime it feels like there’s some kind of weird time dilation field over everything so that things simultaneously feel like it’s been forever and no time at all. Writing what essentially amounts to a lockdown food diary helps keep track of things. We’re now into the fourth week.

Week three of lockdown didn’t really produce much in the way of exciting cooking. I did, however, manage to cook the two meals I’d planned for at the end of last week. I made some slight tweaks to the recipe for Matar Paneer to suit my own tastes but it turned out delicious, exactly what I wanted to eat at the start of last week. Towards the end of the week I made my sweet potato and kale bubble and squeak, even though I had to pick up more sweet potatoes as it turns out to not actually be a ‘use up your leftovers’ sweet potatoes recipe as you need pretty much a whole bag of them. On previous occasions that I’ve made this recipe I’ve always felt I had either too much or too little for the oven dishes that I have, but I now have one of my gran’s old pyrex casserole dishes which is both the perfect size and has a lid. No need to faff around with cling film for the leftovers! In an unusual point of connection between the two dishes, hot paprika was the hero of the hour ensuring that both dishes were the correct amount of spicy.

The weather is now mild enough that soup feels excessive, so realistically unless I need to break into my freezer stash, that’s it for soup for the next few months. (I don’t think I mentioned it in the previous blog entries, but at the start of this whole situation, I made several pots of soup and frozen a couple of portions of each kind for emergency, mostly in case I got ill. Most of the top drawer of my freezer is now given over to tubs of soup.)

Several of my cooking plans lately have been scuppered by the newest thing to be in short supply in the shops – eggs. There are over-ripe bananas in the bowl, I could make banana bread – no eggs. I’m not really eating soup so no point making soda bread, I could use up that buttermilk in pancakes – no eggs. I’ve got spinach and feta needing used up, could make those egg and spinach breakfast muffins – no eggs. I was so pleased that I’d succeeded in getting chopped tomatoes – and passata – at a reasonable price, only to be stymied by no eggs.

I suspect that the packet of flour tortilla wraps that are currently the sole occupant of my bread bin might be this week’s lunch-time heroes. So far they’ve already housed the last of my mini potato waffles – I’m trying to make space in the freezer – on a bed of cream cheese and spinach. A pot of chilli is almost always a good shout, there could be burritos, or quesadillas or even enchiladas quite easily, and that would definitely lend itself to freezable leftovers.

This week has started off well, with the yoghurt-maker doing it’s thing and veggie sushi for tea tonight, I usually make far too much rice but I made enough for three rolls of maki – one pepper, one carrot and one mixed – which seems much more manageable. I don’t remember now what I opened the Ketjap Manis for but it’s that much thicker than soy sauce so it’s ideal for dipping sushi into.

So while I’m on a roll, this coming week I also want to make, bao buns with mushroom filling – I found pre-made bao buns in the reduced chiller and I’ve a recipe for a tasty sounding filling – English muffins, as I may not have eggs but I do have plenty of flour and banana pancakes, because Jack Monroe to the rescue I’ve found a way to make pancakes with buttermilk but without eggs, all while using up my over-ripe bananas – victory!

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Covid Cooking Week 2: The Bag O’ Carrots Edition

As mentioned in my last post, I got a bunch of vegetables for ridiculously cheap on my last grocery run. Which was excellent, but also left me with a bunch of vegetables that were nearer to their expiry point than I’d like. For reasons I’ve never quite figured out – it’s probably that the room is too warm, but the only cool dark place is the meter cupboard and they’d just get forgotten about there – carrots have a really short shelf life in my kitchen, so they were the priority.

First up I made a big pot of brown rice, carrot and cashew pilau. This has been a long-term favourite recipe of mine, since probably about the time I first moved up here – it’s one of the few recipes I have in my hand-written recipe book that doesn’t include the recipe’s providence so I can’t date it more exactly than that – and is a super straight-forward, but super satisfying meal. It’s also the reason I always have nigella seeds in the spice rack. I generally double the recipe so that it ‘serves four’ as the leftovers make a filling and easy dinner to take to work with me on backshifts. Especially if served with a generous handful of tortilla chips.

Next up, well I’d opened those tortillas anyway, and it was film club night so I needed some dip. I knew I had a couple of tins of chickpeas, a new jar of tahini in the cupboard and the end of a jar of harissa paste in the fridge so humus seemed a good plan. One of the recipe books that I have out of the library at the moment has a recipe for roasted carrot humus that I’ve made previously but found to be an awful faff, so I decided to just grate all the broken bits of carrots I had – it was a bag of ‘wonky’ carrots – and be a bit heavier handed with the cumin and harissa paste and see how that went. It turned out the humus could have stood a heavier hand with the harissa paste, but it works nicely with a little topping of pine nuts. I had the sense to decant it into small portion sized tubs immediately so I can always spice those up with extra harissa if I feel the need.

I finally managed to track down some Nori sheets at the health food store of all places – now that I know they’re still opening, they could be a good shout for getting lots of the more unusual ingredients I like in the coming months – which meant I could make veggie sushi again. To which end I made carrot batons of the remaining broken carrot bits and alternated carrot and cucumber maki. I ended up batoning far more carrots than I needed for sushi, but actually once they’re chopped and put in a handy tub somewhere obvious in the fridge they’re surprisingly versatile. Much like with bell peppers – half a pepper in a tub will go off before I remember to use it, but if I chop it up first it’ll get used up a handful at a time in pasta or noodles or omelette or as a side vegetable with something else without me really noticing – so it is with carrots. But then that sort of thing is at the heart of my food prep philosophy, making life easier for my future self, as an extra few minutes one day with save an exponentially great amount of time, energy and oft-times wasted food, later on.

I also needed to use up my 10p cauliflower, so I ended up making cauliflower and leek soup – generous seasoning with za’tar a must – and used up another couple of carrots – that I had admittedly put aside specifically for the purpose – in that while I was at it.

Which brings me pretty much up to date with my cupboard cooking adventures. This coming week I’m planning on making soda bread to go with the soup, Matar Paneer to use up those frozen peas that have been lurking, and some sweet potato and kale bubble and squeak, as my soup making revealed that I have plenty of both that could do with being used up.

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