Author Archives: thelostpenguin

About thelostpenguin

Writer. Sound Designer. Researcher. Film Maker. Photographer. Puzzling my way through my 30s and across the world in search of a way to combine my varied interests, from Astro-physics to Archeology to Animation to Architecture. A believer that ideological fundamentalism (whether political or religious) is the second biggest source of the world's problems. The first being greed. This blog serves as an online record of my writing.

Fried Food (Or a lack thereof…)

As a side challenge this month, I’ve doing something else from my Day Zero List, and trying not to eat fried food for a month. It’s been relatively successful actually, as other than one packet of crisps early on in the month, and pinching a couple of a mate’s chips in the pub one evening, I’ve managed to almost entirely avoid fried food throughout this month. I refuse to count sautéing mushrooms to make a sauce, largely because that that feels like taking things to ridiculous extremes.

I expected it to be a much more difficult challenge than it turned out to be. My reason for doing it this month, was that I felt that I’d eaten too much rubbish, what with travelling so much for work – and also being on holiday – and wanted to cut back on deep fried food in particular. I should perhaps have made it more specific – deep fried food – because while I felt the benefit of the desired decreased intake of chips in particular, what the challenge was, was inconvenient. I couldn’t have a stir-fry, or a curry for that matter. Most Mexican food was out of the window too. Many of my plans to try new ingredients were de-railed because it seemed like every cooked recipe I found, involved some element of frying, and the alternative methods of cooking I might have normally used to circumvent the prohibition proved too time-consuming with my current shift pattern. So really it’s proved to be more of a frustrating prohibition rather than a difficult or challenging one.

And it just dawned on me that the little portion of pumpkin katsu curry that I had at the sushi place where I ate dinner last night, was bread-crumbed and most likely flash fried. What a…nuisance. Which could equally well sum up this month’s food challenge. A complete nuisance.

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Beetroot Double Feature

This month I’ve been doing a mini-challenge, not just with food, but with a variety of projects. At the start of July I declared this month, ‘finish the things’ month. I’ve a bit of an unfortunate tendency to start far too many projects and not finish them, and while I’m certainly better at that than I used to be, it’s an on-going work in progress that needs regular stock-taking and attention. Mostly this month has involved finishing half-read books, watching documentaries I have book-marked in tabs and not starting new craft-projects. However, I’ve been trying to do it more generally in my cupboards, which has meant (alongside using up bottles of moisturiser & shampoo with tiny amounts left in the bottom) that I’ve been trying to cook up my cupboards rather than buying more things.

As part of my project to re-habilitate beetroot, I’ve taken to keeping one of those vacuum-packs of cooked beetroot in the fridge as emergency vegetables during winter. Quick and easy to use, lasts for months in the fridge. However, you do need to remember to actually use them, as it’s easy to forget about them once the better weather – and greater vegetable availability/variety – returns. Handily I discovered I had some giant couscous needing used up, so I picked up some feta cheese cubes, cropped some spinach from my container garden and made my summer variant of beetroot risotto. However, because I was only making enough to use up the remains of the couscous I was still left with half a packet of – now blended – beetroot. Which prompted the question: what else to make?

One of the major challenges that I’ve faced with my ’52 ingredients’ challenge, is that I end up with lots of new things to use up. It’s all well and good finding a recipe to try several new ingredients on, but I end up spending the rest of the month trying to use up the remains of said ingredients. (Most recipes involving tahini only require a spoonful or two, but it comes in a sizeable jar. I got to the point where I tried eating it on toast but that was a decidedly joyless experience so we’ll be giving that one a miss.) Which limits the options for making things with other new ingredients and so we get stuck in a vicious circle. However, while searching for other recipes for beetroot, I discovered a recipe for a selection of Summer picnic dips, one of which involved beetroot.

It’s technically called Pink cannellini and beetroot dip, however, I didn’t have cannellini beans in the cupboard but I did have a jar of black-eyed beans. Black-eyed beans and Beetroot dip has a pleasantly alliterative sound, and, I’m pleased to report, a pleasantly mellow flavour. It was a four-fold success. It used up my left-over beetroot before it could go off, it meant I tried a new ingredient (black-eyed beans) and it helped use up one of last month’s ‘new’ ingredients (a generous tablespoon of tahini paste). Which in itself would have been good enough for me, but it was very tasty and I’ve been trying it with various different things for picnic lunches.

Based on that success, I’m definitely have a bash at their hummus recipe. I’m pretty sure I’ve got some pumpkin seeds in the cupboard to decorate it with…

Picnic lunch

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June Ingredients

This month has been quite successful on the trying lots of new ingredients. I managed to try five different ingredients this month – it would have been six but I couldn’t track down konbu powder. As I’ve been averaging one new recipe a month at the moment, I picked out one that included lots of different new ingredients that I either thought I would like or have eaten previously and know I like. White miso and tofu ramen with chilli garlic asparagus, had the advantage of being the kind of recipe that both looks and sounds exactly like something I would love, and has a pretty straightforward recipe. I love Miso/ramen soups but I’m always a little nervous of making my own, at least ones more complex than packet ramen with veggies and protein thrown in.

Edamame Beans
I had a bit of an adventure getting hold of these. The recipe blithely tells you that most major supermarkets stock podded and frozen edamame beans, and while that may be true in the south of England, here in the north of Scotland that is really not the case. I eventually tracked some down in the little Sainsbury’s (who actually proved to be a saviour for the recipe having many of the specific items that much bigger supermarkets did not) in the next town over. They are rather tasty lightly pan-fried as in this recipe, but overall I think I prefer them boiled. I love edamame beans, and I think I might make them a freezer staple as a more exciting alternative to peas. One of my favourite Yo Sushi dishes is a dish that appears to be essentially edamame cooked with sea-salt and spring onions so I fully intend to get myself some sea-salt and attempt to recreate it. Perhaps even with spring onions straight from my garden!

Soba Noodles

I generally prefer Udon noodles when I’m making or eating Japanese noodle dishes – my dad calls them worms, but the thick unctuous texture that puts him off, is my favourite part about them. Soba noodles do however work perfectly in ramen and these ones had a pleasingly whole-wheat flavour that I enjoyed and what worked particularly well in the soup.

Tahini Paste

I bought this with intent to make something from my Middle Eastern cookery book, but it turns out that it makes a good addition to soup base. I know some people who use it as a healthier alterative to peanut butter, but on its own I find tahini paste to be a bit overwhelming. I really like sesame seeds, but to me it tastes like when I’ve been cooking with sesame seeds and accidentally gone overboard with them? Perhaps I just bought the wrong kind, it was after all ‘light’ tahini paste

Soy Milk

I can’t speak to how well this does or doesn’t work as a milk substitute, but my goodness it makes a lovely miso soup. I suppose it shouldn’t really be a surprise that soymilk should work really well with soybean paste, but nonetheless it was a pleasant discovery that even before I had added any tofu – there’s a lot of soy in this recipe – noodles or veg it was strangely more-ish. I’ve only ever made miso soup with hot water; perhaps making it with soymilk instead – or perhaps going 50/50 – might be the key to more enjoyable miso soup. Also it has a decent shelf life, so once I have more shelf space I might take to keeping a carton of the cupboard kind for emergency miso soup!

White Miso Paste

My previous experiments with miso paste have been…uninspiring, but even before I put it in the blender to make the larger paste; it had a pleasingly mild taste. (I got some on my hand; I am not a tidy cook.) I still have some left over so I feel much more confident about making a basic miso soup with just the paste, some spring onions and a little tofu. Quick, cheap and easy lunches ahoy!

 

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April Ingredients

So March was a complete wash when it came to this challenge. I sort of have the excuse of having been sent to another city for work for a week and then having a horrible cold for another couple of weeks but ultimately it’s just proof of my procrastination that I didn’t get any new ingredients tried out last month. So this month I decided to try and get a jump on the month and start things off early doors. And it was a good job that I did, because after that first week of industriousness I didn’t actually manage to try anything else new, despite my best intentions.

Tinga Paste

Pretty much every American I’ve ever known has told me that Mexican food here is not remotely like Mexican food stateside, never mind anything like the food in actual Mexico. So I can’t remotely claim that I know if this is remotely a legitimately authentic Mexican ingredient. However, what it is, is delicious. Not having a high tolerance for chillies I wasn’t exactly going to dump an entire jar over some chicken – or in my case ‘chicken-style’ quorn – as per the jar’s instructions, however I did stick a couple of spoonfuls into my pot of veggie chilli and ended up with a smoky, mellow heat that definitely made me want to experiment with it further.

(I’m going to try making it into a marinade for quorn/chicken and put in quesadillas, or perhaps fajitas. Maybe I will finally achieve truly satisfying veggie fajitas…)

Frozen Smoothie Mix

For things other than smoothies, I might add. They actually make a great cheap and easy source of out of season fruit in bleak mid-winter (or as was the case for me, when spring is refusing to spring, you’ve got a lingering cold and a craving for fruit that isn’t apples or tangerines). I started making my own little fruit pots back when I started swimming before work, to fend of my muffin cravings, and finding myself on the early shift, I wanted a treat to motivate me through to my breakfast break. I’d made peach yoghurt in my yoghurt maker so I wanted to make the fruit puree with fruit that would compliment it. The frozen tropical smoothie mix proved a lifesaver, I picked out all the mango and pineapple – and most of the watermelon – cooked them down with some ginger, gently mashed them and voila – success! Breakfast was both cheering and tasty. However I was then left with a pile of frozen kiwis – and the remaining watermelon and stray pineapple chunk – that needed used up. Just sticking them in a smoothie seemed like admitting defeat. So instead they will be cupcakes! I know, I know, but do you know how hard it is to find recipes for kiwi fruit that actually involve them being cooked rather than acting as decoration/accompaniment? Many fruitless and frustrating hours were wasted.

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January (and February) in 52 Ingredients

Despite my best intentions, January was something of an inauspicious start to this challenge. I only managed to cook with two new ingredients. If we’re honest, February wasn’t much better, with once again only two new ingredients being tried. That’s almost a trend, but what it also is, is steady progress so we’ll count it as a win and resolve to do better this month. Mostly during February I was finding new and pleasing ways to use up left-over sour cream – I particularly recommend putting a generous spoonful of it into broccoli soup in place of blue cheese.

The problem I’m finding with this challenge is that because I’m only cooking for one person I tend to bulk cook and if you open a jar of something for a recipe it needs to be something that you will use up before it goes off.

Yakiniku sauce
This was a great success. I tried it in various guises in stir-fries throughout January and evolved a preferred method of using it. Two thirds sauce to one third water makes a good consistency for a stir-fry sauce that coats the rest of the ingredients well. It’s a fairly mild flavour, just strong enough to give your stir-fry an unusual but pleasant flavour, without overwhelming the taste of the constituent parts. A little goes a long way when you’re me, so despite being a fairly small bottle I got quite a lot of dinner out of it. Definitely one to buy again, in a bigger bottle next time.

Mediterranean Style Cooking Cheese
Probably the best thing that can be said about this cheese is that it comes in a tub, pre-cubed and with liquid that is surprisingly effective at keeping it fresh. Unfortunately, as I was using it as a feta substitute – some places do feta in the same way but not many of them and usually I loose about a third of my packet of feta – it is disappointingly bland.

Giant Tapioca
This one is a bit of a work in progress. Last year I fell in love with Bubble Tea – hot not cold, and yes, I know, about six years behind the curve – and, on discovering Giant Tapioca at the Chinese supermarket I just had to try making my own. I suspect that my problem is that its not actually the right kind of Tapioca for Bubble Tea because every recipe I’ve followed has turned out poorly. I may have to admit defeat and just make really chunky Tapioca pudding, but in the interim…I still have hope!

Coconut Milk
No, not that kind of coconut milk. I cook with the traditional kind that you get in cans all the time. (Often enough that I know exactly where to go to buy it cheapest and consider it an essential cupboard staple.) This is the milk substitute kind, that you buy in cartons and that is mixed with rice and various other things to turn it into something that works as a substitute for cow’s milk. I’ve been trying it as a milk substitute in various home-made lattes. Particularly in my continuing attempts to master bubble tea. (I tried cooking the giant tapioca in it – that was less than successful.) I doubt it’ll ever replace cow’s milk for me, but it’s a reasonably pleasant substitute if I’m cooking for a dairy intolerant friend, and I prefer it vastly to almond milk.

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Emergency Back-Up Dinners

Back in December, when I rescued dinner disaster from jaws of defeat with a Tortilla Pizza, I mentioned that I was adding that particular recipe to my Emergency Back-up Dinners list. After finding myself making emergency back-up tortilla pizza for my dinner this evening, I thought it was probably high time that I actually wrote about emergency back-up dinners.

I am, and indeed have, if not always been, certainly been my entire adult life, a chronic procrastinator. I can procrastinate anything, some people merely procrastinate on things they don’t want to do or things that are hard, I procrastinate on things I want to do and enjoy. As a student I tried to use food to motivate myself, which was a truly terrible idea, as I’d end up procrastinating eating until I started to feel nauseas. Hence why I ended up turning food prep into a self-care routine. I make detailed plans on what I want to cook, because otherwise I’m capable of standing staring at a cupboard full of food for the best part of an hour, frozen by inertia, unable to figure out what I want to eat and getting ever hungrier. While as an adult, my relationship with food is much healthier, if I’m having a bad day, I’m entirely capable of procrastinating on making dinner until its two late to make whatever I actually wanted to make.

So for those days, I have Emergency Back-up Dinners. Simple, straightforward dinners, that require minimal prep, short cooking times and only a few ingredients. They almost always involve some variety of cupboard staples that I almost always have in the cupboard and can use as a base. Also, because, often once I get started on cooking I’ll feel inspired to do something more adventurous, they’re also recipes that can be easily made more complex if you find yourself with extra energy or ingredients.

Melting Sunshine Rice
This was the very first of my vegetarian appropriate emergency back-up dinners. I’ve made so often over the years that it never even made it into my hand-made recipe-book, instead its ingrained in my brain. It came from a ‘Low-fat cooking’ recipe book I found at the back of a drawer in my mother’s kitchen over a decade ago. I think, technically, it was probably meant to be an accompaniment rather than the main dish, but its pure sunshiny comfort in a bowl all by itself. The main theme of the recipe is yellow. Cook the rice with a generous teaspoon of turmeric. Throw in a couple of handfuls of frozen sweet corn. Chop up half a yellow pepper into small pieces – I don’t think that’s actually in the original recipe but it does taste good – and depending how crunchy you prefer your peppers either add while the rice still has few minutes of cooking left or once you’ve drained your rice. Once you’ve drained the rice, return to the pot and tear up some mozzarella cheese (or any other suitably melt-y cheese you have in the fridge) and stir through the rice so it gets nice and melted. Spoon into bowls and enjoy. (You can put leftovers in a box in the fridge for an edible hug for lunch on a cold day, or eat straight from the pot if it’s been that sort of day.)

Sesame Hot Noodles
This has been in my repertoire almost as long as the Melting Sunshine Rice, and is a recipe firmly in the ‘that shouldn’t taste as good as it does’ genre. Cook a nest (or two) of egg noodles according to the packet instructions. Mix together a couple of tablespoons of sunflower and sesame oils, with a tablespoon of peanut butter and a crushed or finely chopped garlic clove. Once smooth, add finely chopped chilli to taste, three tablespoons of sesame seeds, four tablespoons each of soy sauce and lime juice and mix well. Drain your noodles, dump the gloopy disaster into the pan and stir through noodles until heated through. Serve and wonder aloud why on earth this tastes so good. If you’re feeling fancy, you can always stir-fry some spring onions, mushrooms and the protein of your choice and them to the pot, but its pretty satisfying just the way it comes.
Sesame Chilli NoodlesSesame Hot Noodles
Apparently some people have couscous in their cupboard that isn’t quick cook? I’m not one of those people. Couscous has always been an emergency food for me, whenever I go on holiday or other long journeys I take an emergency packet of lemon and coriander couscous with me in case of food disasters. In more civilised circumstances, I just dump a few ounces of couscous into a pint of vegetable stock, leave until its drunk all the stock, wilt some spinach in a pan with some feta cheese and stir through that and a couple of generous teaspoons of harissa paste. The best part of this dish – aside from being, as far as I’m concerned, the tastiest way to eat couscous – is that when you take your leftovers to work for lunch the following day, your colleagues will act like you’ve made the fanciest of lunches. Especially if you used the giant couscous they sell now. Unless your colleagues are actually from either side of the Mediterranean, then they’ll be on to you…
Harissa Couscous with Spinach & Feta
Emergency Back-up Ramen
Packet noodles – with those little sachets of flavouring – were a staple of my student days that I look back on with mix love and loathing. However, more recently I’ve discovered some in the world food section of the supermarket, that actually lives up to the name. They do in fact attempt to make a semi-decent basic noodle soup. So for ages I kept them in the cupboard as an emergency dinner, when I looked in the fridge and thought, that’s an odd assortment of veggies, and I’ve got some cooked meat and I really can’t be bothered making a stir-fry… These days I can only use the sesame flavoured ones, which handily makes a nice noodle soup all by itself, and I now have to throw in a handful of frozen quorn pieces in a the small frying pan, with a couple of spring onions, and a mushroom or two, and maybe half a pepper you’d forgotten was in the fridge. And suddenly you’ve got enough food for two, and can divide the noodles and accompaniments in two, have noodle, quorn and veg soup for dinner and noodles, with quorn, veg and whatever stir fry sauce has been lurking unloved in the fridge. (In a true emergency mix a tablespoon each of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, lime juice, corn flour and Chinese five spice together in a pot heat through until it thickens and pour over your leftovers. Despite almost never buying it, I almost always have sticky plum sauce in the fridge. It keeps well.)
Ramen!

Not Remotely Mexican Quesadillas
I love quesadillas. I do not, in any way shape or form, make remotely authentic quesadillas. Generally I make them with leftover veggie chilli and lots of cheese. However I have also been known to fill them with anything that fits the bill of thick, unctuous and spicy. Almost always, when I’ve made a stir fry or a curry in bulk, will end up with a three decent sized portions and one, awkwardly small sized portion. A portion that, if it were chilli, would be the perfect size for quesadillas. And honestly if you’re using up leftover korma or goan curry, and you happen to have some paneer in the fridge, its amazing in fake quesadillas.

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The Joy of Brunch

I love brunch. Possibly the most millennial statement I could foreseeably make, but, as I am both a foodie and a millennial – and, as such, a foodie on a budget – it’s one that I feel comfortable standing by. One of the great discoveries of last year for me, partly, though not entirely, a product of both working shifts and giving up alcohol for several months was the joy of brunch dates. There are specialist places now – a bit hipster, but my goodness the food is great – which makes the whole process feel more like a treat and less like an apology for all involved. A great deal of my foodie-ness is a product of learning self-care as a student – I do a great deal of bulk cooking both because it works out cheaper and also because it makes my life easier in the future. But there are few greater joys for me when I have a day to myself or even just a free morning, than putting together a really nice breakfast or brunch.

In summer I love to make my own yoghurt and find all kinds of tasty and adventurous ways to use it up. My favourite being to make my own little compote pots, gently cooking some summer fruits and berries with a little ginger, toasting some oats and flaked almonds and perhaps adding some to a smoothie that needs thickened up a little. I must confess that when I was younger I always thought that muffins – the American style muffins, not the English ones, those have always been in the category of ‘posh toast’ for me – were too sweet for breakfast. However, once I learned to make my own there was no stopping me. The fact that the second variety of muffins I successfully pulled off were savoury – spinach and three cheese muffins are things of glory, especially if you perk them up in the microwave for 30 seconds before eating – undoubtedly helped.

Spinach and 3 Cheese Muffins

However, it’s in winter – especially wintery Sunday mornings – that I make the truly decadent brunches. Egg-heavy cooked breakfasts have always been associated with Sundays for me. When I was a kid, my dad used to make brunch for us on Sunday mornings and all his brunch recipes involved eggs. (Looking back on it, this was probably largely because we kept our own chickens and if you have plenty of fresh free-range eggs at your disposal, why on earth wouldn’t you?) And what I wouldn’t give to figure out his old ‘toad-in-a-hole’ recipe that he hasn’t made since I was in single digits and therefore can’t remember how he did it. Even in my earliest student days when I barely cooked at all, on a Friday morning, when we’d all been out the night before, I would gather up all the left-over eggs and bread and make French Toast for anyone that wanted it. Cooking eggs for breakfast will always be an act of care and indulgence.

One of the first pieces of kitchen equipment I bought myself after I moved to Inverness was a small omelette pan. It felt like a ridiculously indulgent purchase at the time, but it’s proved surprisingly useful for a variety of things – my other frying pan is a large heavy-duty, oven-safe frying pan – and is the perfect size to make a one-person omelette. Mastering the art of a good omelette and eggs scrambled exactly to my liking were both moments – years apart though they were – that felt weirdly like milestones of adulthood.

Fancy Scrambled Eggs

An awful lot of fancy brunch recipes have the unfortunate tendency to revolve around either salmon – I didn’t eat fish even before I was a vegetarian – or avocados – I like guacamole just fine, but getting ripe avocados here is more trouble than its worth – so I when I find a fancy egg based brunch recipe it is a thing of joy. Eggs in purgatory are decadence personified, but really needs a friend to make cooking it worthwhile. Baked eggs in halved peppers are a slightly precarious but ultimately delicious proposition, while spinach, feta and egg muffins are decadently glorious. Even just treating myself to some soda bread or cheese muffins to toast, butter lightly and serve with scrambled eggs is somehow soothing to the sole. And frankly adding a little paprika to most things makes everything feel that bit classier.

DSC_0387Omelette muffins!

I do sometimes make brunches that don’t involve eggs. I don’t often make my own (English) muffins, or my own lemon curd, but when I have both on hand there are few greater joys. I’ve never quite mastered making my own crepes, so I prefer to leave those to the professionals, but nonetheless I’ve had some fun trying! Just the other day I made what I insist on calling ‘posh cheese on toast’ where you toast some fancy bread (a nice roll, soda farl or muffin halved is particularly good for this) under the grill, then spread with either tomato paste or pesto, and then layer on some nice cheese (those slices of smoked cheese are the perfect size, but any cheese with a low-ish melting point will work, mozzarella is good if you’re in a hurry and/or really hungry) and stick it back under the grill to melt. If you’re feeling fancy you can put a couple of cherry tomatoes on the side or a sprig of parsley on top. While this morning, I made my own take on breakfast burritos, a recipe I concocted out of what I happened to have in my fridge and freezer one Saturday morning, when I needed something reasonably substantial and was distressingly out of eggs. I know that for some people waffles are sweet things, but for me the default setting of waffles is potato, and I like to keep emergency waffles in the freezer – normally the mini ones for both space and versatility reasons.

Breakfast BurritoPosh cheese on toast!

So my breakfast burrito consists of the following, cook half a dozen mini waffles by your preferred method, take one soft flour tortilla and warm lightly, then spread with sour cream, prep a handful of spinach and arrange on the tortilla. Once the waffles are cooked pile them on top of the spinach and sprinkle over whatever cheese you have to hand, and stick the whole thing back in the – now off, but still warm – oven or under the grill for a minute to let the cheese melt. Fold the whole thing up like a burrito and voila! Breakfast of champions! I had some chopped red pepper left over from dinner last night, so I sprinkled them over the waffles too, and they added a delightful crunch. You can replace the sour cream with cream cheese if that’s what you have in the fridge, but I made a big pot of chilli last week so sour cream it was.

There’s just something about having made myself an excellent brunch that sets me up right to have a productive weekend, like a big comforting hug in food form. A reassurance, that no matter what else I may or may not manage to achieve over the weekend; one thing at least has been a complete success.

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52 Weeks in a Year, 52 New Ingredients to Try!

The New Year is upon us, and with it the time for a new challenge to work on here on the blog. I’ve spent the last couple of years working my way through various recipe books, which has been rather fun, but despite having acquired another two recipe books over the festive season, I couldn’t quite face doing the challenge again this year. So instead I’m going for something completely different.

I spotted a challenge a while back that I quite fancy, which is to cook with a new ingredient every week for a year. Knowing the way that my life actually works, I’ll actually qualify that in practice with an aim to cook with 52 new ingredients over the course of the year as some weeks will be too busy to do anything adventurous in the kitchen and other weeks I’ll cook something complicated and adventurous that will require 3 new ingredients. Hopefully that way it will all balance out!

A couple of months ago, when I was down visiting my parents, we took a wee trip to the big Chinese supermarket, so I could stock up on the kind of ingredients I struggle to get up here. (Or are just really expensive, the big 100g bag of dried lime leaves I picked up there costs approximately a pound more than a 10g tub of the same from Tesco.) Naturally, I came back with a selection of shelf-stable ingredients to try out that I haven’t got round to yet, so that should give me a head start on the year while I figure out what else I want to try. For the sake of my own accountability they are: Tapioca Pearls – for making my own Bubble Tea, or failing that, pudding – Za’atar – which I need to decant into its own tub as the packet has a slow leak! – along with some Miso sauce and Yakiniku sauce in hope that I can finally figure out some exciting Tofu recipes that aren’t Thai Green Curry.

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Cooking the Book – The Final Installment

In an odd confluence of events and cooking motivation, I ended up cooking both November and December’s recipes within a week of each other. Making November’s recipe on pretty much the last day of November in a last minute resolution to a culinary disaster and December’s being made the following weekend in a more relaxed state of mind.

First up we have November’s recipe, the tortilla pizza. I’d started the evening intending to make a big pot of veggie chilli and in a comedy of errors (involving picking up essential ingredients on the way home from work that I already had in the house and failing to pick up essential ingredients that I didn’t have) my plans ended up entirely derailed. Finding myself standing in the middle of the kitchen staring mournfully at a packet of flour tortilla and feeling uninspired, I suddenly remembered the Tortilla Pizza recipe in Lorraine’s book. So I grabbed that and was able to knock together something similar from what I had in the fridge, using up sundry left overs – half a yellow pepper, the end of a tube of sundried tomato paste, some tinned pineapple and several kinds of cheese. It tasted surprisingly good, no doubt assisted by the seasoning of triumph that came from rescuing dinner from disaster.

Tortilla Pizza

At the time it felt a bit more like failure of adulting, but various friends have since assured me that it was in fact an adulting success! I rescued successful dinner from the jaws of defeat. Making the point that any aftermath of culinary disaster that ends with something both tasty and homemade – in fact that doesn’t end in either packet noodles with baked beans or a visit to the chippie – should definitely count as a success. So I will be attempting to take the lesson to heart and I’ve added Tortilla Pizza to the list of Emergency Back-up dinners.

Feeling buoyed with my recent culinary success, the following weekend, planning to make soup for my visiting parents, I decided to be adventurous and make a new soup. I’d recently discovered that my landlady has a slow cooker at the back of the cupboard, so I made an attempt at Sweet Potato and Lentil Slow-Cooker soup. The five-six hour cooking time is a bit of an awkward duration as its really too long for an evening or morning around shifts and too short a time to be left cooking while I’m either on shift or asleep. However, I solved it by prepping everything the night before, getting up early to put it on and going back to sleep for a bit before doing the rest of the necessary prep for having guests, while the soup simmered away gently in the background.

It’s a good thick soup, soup you can in fact stand a spoon up in, tasty and stick to the ribs stuff. Though I strongly suspect that Ms Pascale has a rather larger slow cooker than we do, I had to cut down the recipe a bit to bit it all in and I still had gallons of the stuff!

SlowCooker Soup

Overall, despite my initial misgivings that the recipes in this book were a bit too fancy for the kind of cooking that I do, its actually proved a great recipe to work my way through. I’ve really enjoyed most of the things I’ve made from it and had great fun adapting the recipes, both to my preferences and to reflect what I happened to have in the fridge. I’m not sure that it has, as its title claims, made me a better cook but it has made me a more adventurous cook, one more willing to both try new things and to adapt familiar things to incorporate new and exciting flavours and tastes.

Whatever shall I do for a challenge next year?!

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Latte Explorations

It wouldn’t be nanoblomo on this blog, if I didn’t squeeze in a wee entry on hot beverages. Last year, when the annual, parental cry of Christmas present hits went up, I dredged up the idea that I’d like a milk steamer. I’d gotten slightly obsessed with coffee lattes – the only kind of coffee I actually enjoy – over the last few years and had recently discovered the odd sub category of tea lattes, especially the ones that shouldn’t really work. (I know from unfortunate experience that milk in green tea is vile, so why on Earth is a matcha latte so darn good?) Being able to make my own seemed a good way to save myself both time and money of a morning. I got myself a little insulated mug – its got owls on, its very cute – picked out a little milk frother – try to find a non industrial milk steamer outside of a coffee machine proved to be an exercise in banging my head off a wall – and bookmarked a whole bunch of recipes for my favourite odd tea lattes and planned to beat the January blues with them.

Of course, life happened in January and I didn’t have a commute to need to make lattes for, so my careful plans fell by the wayside. Other than a couple of uninspiring attempts at better hot chocolate my milk frother has been gathering dust in my cupboard. However, November has arrived, with driving rain and gloomy grey skies, and in the aftermath of a grinding cold, my commute has been in dire need of a cheer up. So I decided to break out the milk frother and bring myself some much need seasonal cheer.

A while ago, I came across a tub of the instant matcha sachets – on one of those, end of line shelves in the supermarket – and made grand plans to have a go at making my own matcha lattes. (They can be rather hit or miss, either divine or a little…dusty, depending on which barista you get in the coffee shop.) I had delightful plans for comparing and contrasting between those made with the ground matcha and different kinds of green tea bags. Would a Tokyo Fog turn out to be more my thing? What would you call the same thing made with Jasmine tea? (A Beijing Fog? Given the air pollution issues in that city that doesn’t sound entirely appetising.) Yet, once again, I didn’t get around to actually doing anything about my exciting plans until gloomy mid-winter came to call. I’ve been glorying in a seasonal special at my favourite tea shop called a Matcha Maker, which is essentially a white hot chocolate matcha mash-up. It’s utterly heavenly, so once I master the straight forward matcha latte, I need to perfect that one. Though first I’ll have to figure just how they make it!

This week I have, for reasons that don’t need explored at this juncture, been working on perfecting my London Fog. I’m not entirely sure what it is about a well-made London Fog, but there’s something deeply comforting about drinking it. Somehow it brings out the best of the Earl Grey, that deep aromatic flavour and almost floral scent. I suppose in certain ways its my ideal form of tea drinking. My preference when it comes to standard tea is strong with lots of milk (several of my colleagues just leave the bag in for me when they make my tea – as does the lass in my favoured tea shop when she makes me a London Fog) and when you make a London Fog you make the Earl Grey into a highly concentrated brew which you then top up with a decent serving of hot frothy milk. It’s hot, soothing, flavoursome and just a little sweet. Perfection.

Categories: challenges, feeling philisophical, kitchen gadgetry, nablopomo | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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