Summer Has Arrived (Finally)

Tags

, , , , , , ,

We certainly have been waiting long enough but summer is finally here.  It was gorgeous today, nearing 30C with bright, shining sun.  We took advantage of the good weather to go to the garden center and pick up essentials for the front garden.  When we first moved in, it was overgrown and dominated by a shrub/plant/monstrosity in the middle of the plot and it was surrounded by paving stones.

Gradually, we’ve been working our way through that mess and when my parents were here last, my dad cleared the last of the paving stones and he and S took turns with the pitchfork and shovel to get under the root mass of the thing in the middle.  They finally won – S struck the death blow – and we smoothed everything out and covered the area in wood bark mulch.

Last summer, we planted a bunch of hostas in the uppermost part of the garden and they came back with a vengeance this year.  Luckily, since it’s been such weird weather, the slugs haven’t chewed them to pieces.  That, and I am vigilant about spraying them with slug killer.  Since my parents left, though, there hasn’t been any movement on the garden and it just sits there, looking quite bare.  (Although I am sure the neighborhood cats are thrilled we’ve provided them with what looks like the world’s biggest litter box.)

Yesterday, we began to install a simple wooden border and today we added some hydrangeas to the mix.  I LOVE hydrangeas – I think the big, fluffy flower heads are gorgeous and they’ll do quite nicely, growing into a secondary border at the front of the garden.  When we were finished toiling away – I with the hydrangeas and S with the borders – it looked pretty nice. The plants, which had started to droop a little since I shocked them out of their plastic pots, have bounced back nicely.  Here’s a little peek:

We are finally making progress.

We are finally making progress.

Of course, the irony is that they will likely be in full bloom while I’m in the US over the next few weeks.  S has promised to feed and water them, and to continue our vigilance against slugs.

Since I am going to be away, I told S last night that I would make for dinner anything he wanted over the remaining days.  A big smile spread across his face and he said, “Risotto.”  I knew it!  Since it was almost as hot yesterday as it was today, I opted for the no-stir version and added some courgettes, tossed in seasoned flour and pan-fried, and crispy, crumbled pancetta to the mix.  Voila!

A classic, and so easy.

A classic, and so easy.

And so yummy.  It was even really good, cold out of the fridge this afternoon.

For tonight, S opted for aubergines.  A few weeks ago, we went to Yo! Sushi and they have a cold aubergine dish on their menu that really knocked S’s socks off.  Add that with a dish cooked up by Simon Hopkinson on his latest series and we had tonight’s winner.  It’s an Asian-inspired roasted aubergine dish and it’s simplicity in a bowl.  I served it over sushi rice (a new obsession of mine) and called it a day.

Aubergines over rice.  No mods to the recipe this time!

Aubergines over rice. No mods to the recipe this time!

We’re not yet sure what’s on tomorrow’s menu.  What I am sure of is this:  I will be alternately lounging on the couch, watching Wimbledon (go, Andy!) and running around like a chicken with no head as I try to get ready to depart on Tuesday.  As of right now, I still have three presentations to prepare for (the annual summer conference), a packing list to make, and a house to clean up (can’t leave S in disarray!).  I am confident everything will get done.  I’m also confident that it won’t be pretty!

German Potato Salad

Tags

, , , , , ,

It continues to not be summer here in Britain, but we are not letting it stop us. Tonight, we’re off to a friend’s for a BBQ, even though we will probably end up sitting in his front room, rather than around his new garden furniture outside. We may last for a short while out there, but I think Mother Nature is going to win.  There’s no rain in the forecast but the temps are only meant to go up to 14 or 15C and I don’t see any of us lasting too long out there, even with the fire pit going (although the lure of Fire Jenga might be too much…).

In any event, we are gathering up the requisite BBQ foods and I’m bringing potato salad.  We’ve got a friend in town from Shanghai (a former colleague of ours who is making her way back to the States via London and some other cities – Hi K!) and she doesn’t like mayo so the traditional was out.  Truth be told, it’s not my favorite either but it’s what I usually default to.

When Googling no-mayo potato salad recipes, German Potato Salad, in its many iterations, kept coming up and that’s when I remembered having it at swim meets and pool parties when I was growing up.  I grew up in a heavily Pennsylvania Dutch region (“Dutch” here is a variation of “Deutsch” or “Deitsch”, both meaning “German’) and this is a salad typical of the region. Instead of a mayo-based dressing, this uses bacon and its fat, vinegar, sugar, mustard and onions.  The beauty is that the dressing is poured hot over the hot potatoes and because everything is warm, it really lets the dressing sink into the potatoes.  And it has bacon, and bacon makes everything better.  Just ask Jim Gaffigan.

In a rare move for me, I did nothing to the recipe but to nearly double it. Here it is.  And here it is in all of its bacony, mustardy, yummy glory.

German Potato Salad

German Potato Salad

Stuffed Tomatoes

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

As we often do, we were watching Saturday Morning Kitchen last weekend. Both S and I really only had half an eyeball each on the television but we both perked up when the final “foodie film” of the morning came on.  It was Raymond Blanc, and he was very excited (as he often is) about showing us how to make stuffed beef tomatoes.  S also got really excited about them and so they ended up on the weekly shopping list (we are gradually inching our way back toward behaving like adults, food-wise).

The recipe is linked here, and I made a few modifications:  I used parmesan instead of Comté cheese, oregano instead of tarragon, and dried breadcrumbs instead of fresh.  The mods were mostly based on what I had in the cupboard, with the exception of the cheese substitution (I was not feeling adventurous enough for a new cheese).

I chopped and then assembled the various ingredients:

Choppity Chop!  The new knife gets some action.

Choppity Chop! The new knife gets some action.

Into the Oven!

Into the Oven!

And then they went onto the plate with a simple tomato, basil, and oregano sauce:

Onto the plate...

Onto the plate…

They were fantastic.  A definite repeat – an easy summer supper.  They’d be especially good with really sweet, ripe tomatoes from the farmer’s market.

Nom, nom, nom.

Nom, nom, nom.

New Chapter

Hydrangeas

From my juniors…

Almost nine years ago, I got on a plane to London to take up my current job. At the end of this week, my current crop of seniors will graduate and so will I. Instead of returning in the fall, I’m making the leap to working in the private sector. In my work, there’s not  a good time in the calendar to leave since there’s always something in process.  My juniors were gracious and bid farewell with the gorgeous flowers above and kind words in cards and emails. The seniors did similar.  While it’s always a little bit scary to leave what one knows for the unknown, I am so excited about what’s to come: the work, the people, the change of pace.

Bring it on.

Returning to Adulthood

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

This year, my parents didn’t manage to bring the fabulous weather that usually arrives as they step off the plane from the US.  This year, the weather got the best of us and those of you who live in the London area know what I mean.  It’s been dismal this spring.  Leading up to their visit, it wasn’t such a big deal, as S and I were working against the clock to get various projects finished.  He was a superhero; he managed to get our room to the point where we could reinstall ourselves, therefore giving my parents the spare room for their stay.

The downside:  since we worked until all hours (from right after work until 8:30 or even later most nights), we do not have much food to be proud of from that time.  A lot of the time, we had brinner or a big salad or even (gasp!) frozen pizza to get us through the day.  However, since my parents arrived (and have subsequently left), we have gotten back on the wagon in terms of our food and started planning on eating like adults again.  Starting tomorrow.  Watching reruns of Nigel Slater this weekend, we saw him make a very simple sausage and mustard pasta dish and that’s on deck for tomorrow.

In the meantime, a little taste of how we spent some of the last six weeks.

We roasted a pork shoulder with veg from the St Albans’ Farmers’ Market, looked at trees for the front garden, spent a dangerous 45 minutes at the Japanese Knife Company in Baker Street (I swear, I really only needed my chef’s knife sharpened!), planted an herb garden, and longed for Spring.

Pretending it’s Spring

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

We continue to march through Spring Break.  S spent the day upstairs, making tracks through the master bedroom:  almost all of the nasty red paint is gone, there’s a new light pendant (complete with new junction box in the loft) in the center of the room, the light switch has been moved to a more intuitive position, and all the little nicks, bumps and scratches in the walls are rapidly being patched up to make the walls smooth.  We’re more than on track to put white (white!) paint on the walls over the weekend. [It used to be dark red. In such a small room, who puts dark red?  It just draws the walls in. Idiots. White and light colors in small rooms.  Makes the light reflect.  It’s Decorating 101.]

Meanwhile, downstairs, I should have been sewing curtain panels.  We’re putting Roman blinds in each of the bedrooms and the office.  Those panels are done and are awaiting the hardware – it needs to be cut to size so that I can put on the finishing touches (I may have already mentioned that.).  Two days ago, I started the panels for the curtains in the conservatory.  There’s only ten of them.  Ten.  Oy.  I got one finished on Monday.  I’ve been staring at the other thirty-three (!!) metres of the very nice linen we picked out for the room and I couldn’t motivate myself to cut the next one to start sewing. It’s fiddly, the dining room table I’m working on isn’t really big enough for the job and so I’ve been whining about it.  Last night, we hit upon the idea of creating patterns out of newsprint and that sounds like a really good idea. The problem?  No newsprint in the house.  Have to leave the house to get it and I can’t quite be motivated to do that.  Instead, I’ve spent the afternoon fiddling around in the kitchen again.  (Surprise!) (Since I wrote this draft, I found a solution, via Amazon, which will be delivered on Friday. That means I can knit tomorrow instead of doing curtains. Squee!)

The Food Network Magazine continues to inspire and since the sun was out and it is warmer than it’s been recently (spring is trying to arrive), I decided on tacos, and specifically pork carnitas tacos.  Of course, it’s not a simple two or three step recipe, and I got myself into a long process. Happily, as I wrote this, the pork was simmering away on the stovetop behind me (the desktop is still on the kitchen table).  I’ve had two bottles of Keo (the Cypriot lager) in the fridge, chilling, to serve alongside the tacos and complete the illusion that the weather outside is commensurate with what one would expect from April 10.

In addition to the tacos (recipe below), I made a semi-roasted salsa from white onions, coriander, lime juice, fresh and roasted cherry tomatoes, and fresh and roasted jalapeños.

Salsa with Fresh and Roasted Tomatoes and Jalapeños

Salsa with Fresh and Roasted Tomatoes and Jalapeños

I also made a basic guacamole and pickled red onions.  The onions were the suggested accompaniment from the magazine.  It was a pretty easy recipe:

Combine 1 thinly sliced red onion, 1 cup cider vinegar, 1/2 cup water, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon each coriander seeds, mustard sees and cumin seeds, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a small saucepan.  Boil 2 minutes; let cool.  (Food Network Magazine, May 2013, p. 78)

The pickled onions were the hit of the night.  S, in particular, liked them and was making yummy noises as he ate his tacos.  At the end he declared:  “That was DELICIOUS!”  I completely agree.  The salsa had a nice bite from the peppers while the guacamole was smooth, cool, and creamy and the pickled onions offset the soft, succulent pork with a crispy tang.

Here are all the things needed to make supper:

Taco Ingredients

And here’s what it looked like in the end:

The finished product.  On the left, with salsa and guacamole and on the right with pickled onions and guacamole

The finished product. On the left, with salsa and guacamole and on the right with pickled onions and guacamole.

Continue reading

Exponential Chocolate

Tags

, , , , ,

It’s Sock Club time again, and along with the usual yarn and two patterns, there were two cookie recipes.  I’m not much a fan of lavender as a flavor, so the lavender shortbreads were out.  On the other hand, the Chocolatcookie is made from four different kinds of chocolate – dark, milk, cocoa, and white – and Cookie A writes that rather than it being a quadruple-chocolate cookie, it’s exponentially chocolatey (hence the superscript e).  It was the clear choice between the two options.

I dutifully gathered all of the necessary ingredients,

Exponential Ingredients

Exponential Ingredients

and just a short while later, these came out of the oven:

Exponentially Chocolate Cookies

Exponentially Chocolate Cookies

She was not kidding – Wow! these were good.  Not overly sweet (despite two kinds of sugar and black treacle) but intensely chocolatey.  As I typed this, S was taking his first bite.  I awaited a comment, but instead of words appearing, the cookie disappeared.   “I’m gonna have another one,” he mumbled.  I take that as a good sign.

Holiday Brekkie

Tags

, , , ,

So I haven’t been a total slug on this Spring Break.  One of the things I did make is a panful of cinnamon rolls, also taken from the Food Network Magazine (May 2013).  It’s a two day process, as the sweet dough calls for an overnight rise but it was worth it.  There’s a hint of nutmeg in the dough so as you’re working it, the delicate scent wafts throughout the whole kitchen and once you put them in the oven, the cinnamon just takes over.  Heaven!

The recipe calls for a glaze, but I find it to be really sweet; I could take it or leave it, to be honest.  Here’s a look at what was making the house smell so good this morning:

Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon Rolls

Continue reading

Ted Allen’s Brunch Tart

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve been enjoying Spring Break for the last week or so: we got out of school on the Thursday afternoon before Good Friday and I’ve been away from the building since then. It’s been lovely. We had the mother of all lie-ins that Friday morning and I spent the first few days of the break replenishing my sleep bank. You’d think that having two weeks off would mean that I had cooked and baked a variety of good things but in reality, it took me about that first week to adjust to a fairly free schedule (and to finally resist the pull of double-NCIS episodes in the early afternoon!).

It was once S was off for his week of break that I finally got my butt in gear. Yesterday, I made a bunch of salads (and salad components) and put them in the fridge so that we could have easy lunch on hand while we’re at home working on the house. Did I mention that this is a DIY week? It is. S has stripped off all the awful red paint in the master bedroom (we’ve moved in to the spare) and I have sewn all the curtain panels for the Roman blinds in the upstairs rooms. They still need to be attached to the hardware, but that bit’s easy. This week, he’ll continue to work on the master bedroom and I will begin sewing the panels for the curtains in the conservatory.

But I digress. In the fridge are the following: an orzo salad with mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes; a black bean salad with avocado, coriander, tomatoes, lime and roasted corn; and some salad components. We’ve got cooked barley, roasted butternut squash and fennel, chopped cucumber and carrots, and a simple white balsamic vinaigrette. We can mix and match in whatever quantities and combos we want.

Tonight, for supper, I made Ted Allen’s Brunch Tart from the May 2013 Food Network Magazine and it was a winner. As we talked about it after we ate, neither S nor I could come up with any amendments we’d make to it next time. Of course, I went off piste with the recipe in the first place, but that’s nothing new. Here’s what it looked like:

Ted Allen's Brunch Tart

Ted Allen’s Brunch Tart

And here’s how you make it (my amendments in red, as usual):

  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 fat leeks (white and pale green parts only), coarsely slices and washed
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 8 ounces (225 grams) baby spinach
  • kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 15 ounces (425 grams) ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, picked
  • 1/2 cup halved pitted olives (we left them out)
  • all-purpose flour for rolling
  • 1 sheet all-butter puff pastry
  • 250 grams mushrooms (we used shiitake)
  • 10 slices pancetta, cooked to crispy
  1. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the leeks and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the spinach and cook until wilted and tender, about two minutes. Remove from the heat, taste and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk the ricotta, 2 eggs, thyme and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Fold the cooled vegetable mixture into the ricotta.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375F/190C. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry until it’s 12 inches square. Cut a 12-inch circle and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Lay eight of the pancetta strips in a star pattern in the center of the pastry. Crumble the rest of the pancetta into the ricotta mixture and stir. Spoon the tart filling into the center, leaving a 2-inch border of pastry all around. Lift the pastry edges and fold over filling, creasing the dough as necessary and leaving the filling exposed in the middle. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining egg with 1 tablespoon of water and brush egg wash onto exposed pastry.
  4. Bake until pastry is golden brown, 40-45 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

–From Food Network Magazine, May 2013

There is Wisdom Here

Tags

, ,

Right here, in this post over at Dinner: A Love Story.  I found it from Food52‘s twitter and only just got around to reading it today.

Click this link.  You won’t regret it.

While I don’t agree with everything (and some of it just doesn’t apply to me, as I have not written a book, nor do I have children), there is wisdom all over that list.

Pretty Flowers

Tags

, , ,

Last night, on the way home from the station and while waiting for our car to take us home, we stood outside the local flower shop and for the I-don’t-know-how-many-nights-in-a-row, I saw a striking green vase. Normally, I just look in the window but last night I went in and bought it.

It’s an interesting piece with a speckled-green ceramic glaze and a low profile. Rather than having one opening for the flowers, it’s a cluster of pods – actually 18 or 19 of them – to hold the flowers.

Originally, I thought it would work with a sparse design, but after putting the pink and white roses that I had bought into the vase, it just didn’t look right. On our trip to Tesco this afternoon, I grabbed some purple, pink, and white lisianthus and some freesias of the same color. I cut everything down to the right length, pulled out the roses and started again. I’m pretty pleased with the end result and they will make quite a lovely centrepiece for our dinner tonight.

20130323-155051.jpg

20130323-155121.jpg

Chocolatey, Oatmeal-y, Cinnamon-y Cookie Goodness

Tags

, , , , ,

I have said it before but it begs repeating:  I have a recipe crush on Smitten Kitchen.  I have not made anything of hers that wasn’t at least good, if not great.  One of the recipes that falls into the “great” category (and most of them do) is her Thick Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.

Of course, I can’t leave well enough alone, so I swapped out the raisins (which I hate – texture!) and the walnuts (meh) for a mix of chocolate and cinnamon chips and pecans, respectively.  I use the raisin amount as a gauge for how many chips to use (2:1 ratio between chocolate and cinnamon) and do a straight swap of pecans for walnuts.  I also blitz the oats in a blender before adding them to the mix; I think it makes for a slightly chewier cookie in the end.

As I type this, the second batch is in the oven and there is a lovely scent wafting across the kitchen from the oven to me at the computer – notes of vanilla, cinnamon, and a slight hint of molasses from the light brown muscovado sugar.  Absolute heaven.

As soon as one of the cookies was cool enough to handle, S and I did a “poison” test – we’ve got to make sure we won’t bring any harm upon tomorrow night’s guests.  Heaven.  Perfect for the blustery, cold, snowy/rainy weather we’re having this late-March weekend.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Pecan Cookies

My Favorite Thai

Tags

, , , , , ,

My favorite thing to eat at Thai restaurants is Pad See Ew, a mild flat-noodle dish, usually done with chicken and broccoli. I think I like it so much because when I first moved to New York in 2000 and tasted Thai food for the first time, this was the first dish that I ever ordered and I just loved it. I’m finding it harder and harder to find on menus these days so I was happy when I saw it on Pinterest and tucked it away. Tonight, it had its debut and both S and I thought the end product was fantastic.

Pad See Ew

I couldn’t find the truly wide, flat noodles that I remember but did get the traditional rice noodles so it tasted very much like I remembered. As always, I used chicken thighs as I think they are more interesting, flavor-wise, than breast fillets. In the end, too, the recipe was really easy to make, provided you chop everything ahead of time!

(The photo isn’t the end product, but rather about mid-way through the cooking process; once it’s all done, it is darker from all of the soy and the scrambled egg.)

CookieFest 2012: The Final Chapter

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

March 13 seems like about the right date to write about Christmas cookies, yes?

During one of the days leading up to Christmas, I spent a good chunk of time in the grocery store local to my parents’ house (as an aside:  oy, American supermarkets!).  I gathered up all the stuff I needed for the various recipes I decided upon.  It looked like this:

Cookie Prep

Then, I set up the production line. At several points over the two days it took to produce all the cookies, my mother asked, “are you crazy?” but I think we have already established that the answer to that question is “yes.”

I can’t for the life of me remember what order I attacked the list in (given that it’s March 13) but that’s not relevant. What is relevant is that they all got made.

First up, the Snickerdoodles. Always a favorite of mine, these were very good; I’ve made the Martha Stewart recipe before and knew that they would be.  In the end, the cinnamon flavor was strong and the cookies had the contrast of a crispy outer shell surrounding a moist, crumb inside the cookie.

Snickerdoodles

Similar in texture to the Snickerdoodles, here are the Chocolate Peppermint Crinkle Cookies. They don’t look like much but tasted exactly like Thin Mints (iconic Girl Scout cookies, for our non-American readers).  Over time, though, these didn’t hold up as well, texture-wise.  Still tasted good, but if you decide to make these, do so as close to consumption as possible so that they maintain their chewy texture.   Excuse the lack of contrast between the cookie and the kitchen island’s worktop.

Chocolate Mint Crinkles

Next on the docket, Chocolate-Cherry-Walnut Thumbprints. When I explained to my mum that I was making these, she was surprised, given that it included both vegetable shortening and tinned cherry pie filling but I liked the idea of something reminiscent of Black Forest Cake. In the end, while these got good reviews from my aunts and uncles, they were my least favorite of the bunch and the recipe I’d modify most. I’d use dried cherries, dark chocolate, pecans instead of walnuts, and monkey around with the cookie dough itself to get rid of the shortening. Still, they were pretty. Look:

Chocolate Cherry Thumbprints

Also pretty were these Colorful Spiral Cookies I found at Sprinklebakes. Ultimately, a slice-and-bake sugar cookie, they were very festive.  And honestly, a little bit of a pain in the ass, with the sprinkles.

Spirals

Chosen for the nostalgia value as I have very distinct memories of my Italian grandmother baking hundreds of these (and then, once we were no longer local, sending them to us), are Italian Christmas Cookies. They can be flavored in a variety of ways – vanilla, anise, almond, lemon – and I chose an almond-vanilla blend because that’s how I remember them. In the end, mine didn’t quite look like Grandma Santa’s but they tasted like hers.

Italian Christmas Cookies

And last, I present the Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies with Pecans and Cherries.  I admit, these are the least Christmassy of all the cookies but were far and away my favorites.  Chewy, chunky, fruity, oaty, chocolatey.  Oh. My. God.  They were good.  They don’t look like much; you wouldn’t necessarily know from your first look that they had oats and cherries and pecans.  Don’t let that fool you.  Behold:

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Pecan Cherry Cookies

After two days of furious baking, I boxed everything up in these cute display boxes I found at Target (please come to the UK, Target!) and white cake boxes I had found online somewhere.

Cookie Box

And so finally concludes CookieFest 2012.