Sunday, 30 November 2008


It's November 30th and I've posted every day for an entire month. There have been new recipes, old favourites, and the odd (to be perfectly honest) nonsense post just designed to stop me failing.

I have enjoyed focusing on NaBloPoMo and will absolutely do it next year but I'm not yet insane enough to post every day of every month of every year as, frankly, there have been times when there just isn't enough time in the day.

I had been planning a final celebration for crossing the finish line. Something to do with nice food and bubbles, a fitting end for a month when I have increased my total post count to over 100 (hooray). But life rarely works out the way we plan it.

Last night we had the delicious Turkish food which made me both very full and very very sleepy, then this morning I woke up to rain and a cold and a sore throat. Still in entertainment mode, however, we shivered our way to the bus stop to go and drop my sister's bag at Waterloo before taking her to Wagamama's for some noodles. All went swimmingly until I gulped some green tea and had to spit it back into the cup as it was scaldingly hot. Now I had a badly burned tongue, a cold, a sore throat, and, to top it all off, had lost my appetite.

All that to say I am now back at home, on the sofa, about to watch some suitably inane TV and will eventually make some soup.

I'll leave you now and will be back very soon, maybe not tomorrow, but very soon with plans for bread, Christmas pudding, Christmas cake...

Saturday, 29 November 2008


Gosh it's cold.

Today I made the grave error of leaving the house in not very thick tights and ballet pumps. My hat shod head was toasty, my sheepskin mittened hands were lovely and warm, but my legs and feet were abso-bloody-lutely freezing.

We eventually found ourselves sitting in a quiet pub beside a fire basking in peace and quiet away from the Christmas shopping hordes. So, if you're ever on Oxford Street and need an escape (so that would be every time you're on Oxford Street) take yourself off to a few streets back and find yourself a seat here for a well priced pint and a touch of sanity.

And now that I've wrapped myself up in more sensible Winter layers we're off for some chargrilled lamb in one of Stoke Newington's many good Turkish restaurants, this one to be exact.

Friday, 28 November 2008


It's the 28th of November, so close to finishing NaBloPoMo but it's quite hard to type...

My sister is staying for the weekend, we had lunch at the National Gallery, went Christmas shopping in Hamley's (hell), got the bus home, and then, well, we drank four glasses of red. Now it's a bit too fuzzy to type so I'm going to eat pittas and dips and maybe, oops, drink another glass of wine (or two).

See you all soon when the computer screen is a little less blurry.

Thursday, 27 November 2008


I would love to tell you that I was traumatised by mushy Brussels sprouts as a child.

I would love to jump on the ‘I grew up being forcefed watery stinky sprouts’ bandwagon.

I would love to wax lyrical about my conversion to the religion of the sprout.

But I can’t as it simply isn’t true.

Well the final conversion to the church of sprout lovers is true but the whole truth is this…

My Mum doesn’t mind sprouts but neither does she like them enough to try to force feed them to us. The same goes for cabbage. Over the past few years boiled sprouts have appeared on the table at Christmas to appease other people who insisted that sprouts were as much of a Christmas necessity as leaving a mince pie out for Father Christmas but most of us (me and my sister) would just act as if they weren’t there.

I had dismissed them as soggy, smelly, and stupid to prepare with their silly little crosses in the bottom. Chris tried to tell me that in his house sprouts were different but I may as well have been holding my hands over my ears and singing ‘I can’t hear you’ at the top of my voice for all the notice I took.

Then, last year, I made this pasta and, oh, it was good.

Then, at Christmas, I bought one of those pretty sprout trees (branches?) and gave the sprouts the briefest of boilings so they were a vibrant green and still slightly crunchy alongside the roast and, yes, still good.

So, I am now an enthusiastic sprout eater to the point where, last night, I cooked some sausages and to go with them melted a little butter in a frying pan, added some pine nuts to brown, then piled in lots of halved sprouts along with some salt and pepper and a little olive oil. I cooked them until they were just softening but still with a definite crunch. We ate up every one.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008


Last night, to continue the using up frozen bananas theme (yes, I have decided that there are enough bananas lurking to warrant a theme), I decided to finally get around to baking something from Baking: From My Home to Yours. There are so many things that I have wanted to bake from this that it is almost overwhelming. I have mentally bookmarked the rugelach, various bundt cakes, layer cakes, cookies, and well really it would be easier to list the things I don’t want to make.

So, an easy starting point when there is so much choice and I have bananas to use is banana bread. You can't ever go too far wrong if you start with banana bread, I'm sure it would work for lots of different situations, if only to cheer you up.

The banana bread of choice was a black and white banana loaf with some rum added to the bananas, melted dark chocolate, vanilla, and the fun of making my first ever marbled cake. So many questions. How much to dollop in alternate blobs to ensure a good swirly mix. How much to drag a knife through to marble rather than mix. How the slightly heavier chocolate batter doesn’t all sink to the bottom. But ultimately how pretty it looks when you cut that first slice.

The great banana quest continues, and so far, I have used up the grand total of four bananas. Oh dear dear dear, does anyone have a recipe that requires the use of more than 10 overripe bananas?

Tuesday, 25 November 2008


Having eaten jerk chicken once I am hardly an expert in what it should taste like. I figured I should get this disclaimer out of the way and add a (sort of) to the post title so there is no mistaking this post for any kind of jerk chicken authoritative knowledge.

Oh, and while I'm adding disclaimers, I know that rice and peas does not mean rice and English garden peas from the freezer but it's what I wanted and I like peas a lot more than beans and I think we have already agreed that this post is not starting from any sort of well researched knowledgeable base so I think we can let the peas go by unnoticed?

And, oh again, I've just remembered another one (the last I promise) the rice is basmati. I like it the best and it's what I keep in the house.

Right, now all that is out of the way here is a bit of background. Today all I knew was that I wanted to eat rice. That's not true, I knew other stuff today (thankfully) but the only thing I knew in relation to tonight's dinner was that rice was the way to go. Unfortunately my inspiration ended there and as I was trying to decide what to buy on my way home I trawled through a few recipe sections on my favourite blogs to see if anything jumped out. I kept pausing on promising looking recipes and then passing by for one reason or another, mostly just that they would take too long to cook, but then I paused, I read, and I found this on Gluten-Free Girl.

I read and I wrote down the ingredients and I substituted a few for things I already had and I came up with something that I am thinking of as jerk(ish) chicken.

Serves two

2 chicken breasts, boneless with skin on
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of paprika
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt
A generous grinding of black pepper
2 teaspoons of dried thyme
2 teaspoons of light brown sugar
1 teaspoon of honey
1 tablespoon of oil (or enough to make a thick paste)

Put the chicken breasts on a board and flatten them using a rolling pan so they are an even(ish) thickness. Mix everything (except the chicken) in a bowl and coat the chicken with the mixture. Heat a large frying pan over a medium high heat and place the chicken in the pan skin down, turn the chicken over after a few minutes. Cook for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of your chicken, until it is cooked through. Serve with rice and peas.

Monday, 24 November 2008


Following last week’s pasta I have been tasting those leeks again every time I think about them. Trust me this is a good thing. So, somehow, while reading a cookery book over breakfast this morning (Sophie Conran) I decided that this Monday night would be leek tart night.

Deciding what I want to make and working out how to make it happen is still relatively new territory for me. I have spent too long not trusting my food instincts and thinking that straying off the beaten (recipe written in a book or magazine) path will leave me with food welded to dishes, looks of disappointment all round, and a dash for the takeaway menus. Thankfully I have decided to abandon these wimpy ways.

On a side note I have been quite well known for wimpishness over the years. I was accused of it at school for not wanting to wiggle my bum in the middle of the playground (would anybody out there honestly go back to their school years?), by my Mum for screaming in terror at her reckless steering of a sledge in the Swiss Alps, and for generally just shying away from anything where the outcome could involve pain (apart from wearing high heels, although that’s better since discovering the tip of putting ibuprofen gel on the balls of your feet).

So back to the abandonment of recipe wimpishness and leek tart, it was good by the way...

Serves 2-4 depending on appetite (in case you were wondering tonight it served 2)

3 large leeks
50g of unsalted butter
Small pile of thyme leaves
2 tablespoons of cold water
6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon (optional, I just had some to use up)
About 50g of grated gruyere (I didn't weigh it and just grated enough to scatter over the top of the leeks and bacon, 50g is an educated guess)
250g of puff pastry
Salt and black pepper

Slice the white and light green part of the leeks in half along their lengths and then chop into rough 1/2 cm pieces. Melt the butter in a large heavy based pan over a medium heat, add the leeks and thyme and stir to coat in the butter, then add the water. Lower the heat and cover the pan. Leave this to cook over a low heat for about 20 minutes before removing the lid and leaving some of the excess water to evaporate.

While the leeks are cooking preheat the oven to 200˚C and place a baking tray on a middle shelf to heat up.

Chop the bacon and fry until cooked and slightly crisped. Roll the pastry out on baking parchment into a rough rectangle and score a border about 1 cm from the edge.

When the leeks have finished cooking spread them into the centre of the pastry and add the bacon and gruyere along with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Brush the pastry border with some of the buttery juices left in the pan that the leeks were cooked in.

Put the tart (including baking parchment) onto the preheated baking tray and bake for around 15 - 20 minutes or until the pastry is puffed and golden.

Serve with a green salad.

Sunday, 23 November 2008


Today began with the soft splat splat splat of snow hitting the bedroom skylight and ended with a very chilly bus journey home from Hyde Park so dinner needed to be a simple but warming meal. After deciding to remake the chickpea and tomato curry I am pleased to confirm that the forgotten garam masala is definitely a good addition, I'll keep remembering it from now on.

Unfortunately it was only when we were eating that I realised I could have easily made extra for lunch tomorrow, clearly this new lunch resolution needs some work...

Saturday, 22 November 2008


if I'm not feeling very chatty tonight.

I got up early this morning to go to Warwick for the day. I visited a friend and her two small children, we played, we chatted, we walked to the park and got very cold.

I got the train home and now, if you don't mind, I will make my M&S lasagne (I'm not feeling very much like cooking either), pull on my slippers, and watch The X Factor.

Good night, see you tomorrow.


Friday, 21 November 2008


I’m not a fan of regret but after filling in my list yesterday I couldn’t help but remember all those things I left out.

How could I have forgotten my beloved sweater dresses, the record shop scene in Before Sunrise, seeing the coastline of the country from a plane, the beautiful ban.dos, watching snow falling, thunderstorms, my daily dose of The Daily Nice, there are so many things. Well I suppose I had to stop somewhere, I’m sorry to all my forgotten loves, you are just as precious to me as blueberry jam and real butter slathered on real bread with a big glass of milk on the side.

So, anyway, back to the list of loves and more specifically back to number 61, good pizza, or as we call it, Firezza. It can be quite hard to find good pizza here. When I was little pizza was either frozen from the supermarket, made at home on a Boboli base, from Pizza Hut or Pizzaland, or, if you were a bit more posh (and I'm talking late '80's here), Pizza Express. Pizza Express still reigns supreme as source of decent enough pizza that you can eat in nice enough surroundings. We used to find ourselves going quite often.

But then we would go to New York and swoon over the wood fired bases, we would go to France and wish the pizza vans (with wood burning stove inside the van) would make it over the Channel, we would, in short, suffer from extreme pizza jealousy. Then we moved to London.

I, probably rightly, have developed a suspicion of leaflets for takeaway places that drop through the door. But one day we got a pizza leaflet through the door. We have a perfectly okay pizza place on our street but it is just that, okay. This place sounded, if all of their soundbites were to be believed, good. We looked, we ummed about the slightly expensive prices, we decided to order, we waited our 30 or so minutes, our pizzas arrived and the immediate judgement was that they were very very very good. We ordered again, and now they had our address which made it all dangerously easy. So dangerously easy that we have ordered pizza from Firezza at least every other week since first trying them, we are yet to be disappointed.

Tonight we sat, we enjoyed a bottle of red, we ate our pizzas, and we didn't cookalong with Gordon...

But for all this I still don’t trust leaflets for takeaways that come through the door.

Thursday, 20 November 2008


I saw this post on Pink of Perfection and knew immediately that I wanted to do it too.

I haven’t included the obvious things that I love, family, friends, you know the ones. This list is just in the order I thought of things. There are some that I love more than others, some that I may not love forever, but as of today, in no particular order, these are 100 things that I love…

1. Crisp Autumn days
2. Lazy mornings
3. Salted caramel ice-cream
4. A big glass of milk
5. Potatoes roasted in goose fat
6. Babies socks
7. Mittens
8. Felted wool slippers
9. Gin and tonic
10. New York
11. Bryant Park
12. Copenhagen
13. The light in Santorini
14. The view towards the Forth in Edinburgh
15. Hot chocolate in a bowl
16. Bacon sandwiches
17. The Glass Menagerie
18. Vapour Trail by Ride
19. Carols from King’s on Christmas Eve
20. Purple tights
21. Scarves
22. Havaianas flip-flops in black or white
23. American Apparel vests
24. Le creuset casseroles
25. Pistachio KitchenAid mixers
26. Microplane graters
27. Bakewell tart
28. Custard
29. Ottolenghi meringues
30. The bread at Moro
31. Lunch from Leon
32. Pierre Hermé’s shops
33. Nigel Slater
34. Nigella Lawson
35. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
36. Heston Blumenthal
37. Cashmere
38. Real butter
39. Real bread
40. Flapjacks
41. Bonne Maman blueberry jam
42. Goats cheese and honey
43. Bacon with maple syrup
44. Roast parsnips
45. Roast chicken
46. Kilted sausages
47. Home made cakes
48. Pedicures
49. Manicures
50. I Only Have Eyes For You by The Flamingos
51. Old fashioned roses
52. Lavender shortbread
53. Roald Dahl
54. iPod playlists from Chris
55. Dachshunds
56. Snowdrops
57. Crocuses
58. Bluebells
59. Blackberry bushes
60. Mini peanut butter cups
61. Good pizza
62. Prosecco
63. The train between Berwick and Edinburgh
64. Plockton
65. Ye Olde Tea Shoppe
66. Yorkshire puddings
67. Steak frites
68. Wispas
69. Fresh Moleskine notebooks
70. New pens
71. Long socks
72. Ballet pumps
73. My ring
74. Shake Shack burgers
75. Scandinavian hot dogs
76. Katherine by Anya Seton
77. The weekend papers
78. Long meandering walks
79. Brogues
80. ee cummings
81. Honeysuckle
82. Petersham nurseries café
83. Spoon
84. Velvet ribbon for wrapping presents
85. My little red knife
86. Toast catalogues
87. Proper croissants
88. Scallops
89. Scottish morning rolls
90. Satusumas
91. Christmas Eve
92. Anticipation of present opening
93. Mojitos
94. Looking through old photos
95. TripAdvisor
96. Quentin Blake
97. Margaret Atwood
98. Hoppy (my toy rabbit that has been cuddled since babyhood)
99. Beautiful book design
100. The smell of old books

Wednesday, 19 November 2008


I know I know, it's November. As if it isn't bad enough that I spend a disproportionate amount of time every year thinking about Christmas presents, Christmas food, Christmas decorations, and Christmas holidays, I have already picked a resolution for 2009.

The funny thing is I don't even like New Year as a celebration all that much. Yes I go out and yes I usually enjoy it but I can never fully shake the feeling that it is sad to say goodbye to another year, tears have pricked my eyes at midnight a few times.

So why am I even talking about it now? Simple really, it's all to do with lunch. More specifically lunch at work when there are too many sandwiches from Pret and M&S in your life and all you can blame is your own laziness.

Last night I purposefully cooked a little extra pasta, I took it to work, I queued for one of the two microwaves in the office, I heated it through, I ate and it was good. That was easy, time to do it more often. How hard can it be to make a little more food at night?

So, finally, what do you eat for lunch at work? Do you go out or eat in a canteen? Spend too much on usually pretty average sandwiches or bring food from home? Is it sandwiches or leftovers or do you make special lunch dishes?

Inspire me, please, it may just help me to keep a resolution for once.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008


After hearing nothing but good things (mostly on Orangette) about All About Braising by Molly Stevens I finally decided to buy it in time for making lots of good warming Winter food. I had a flick through it this morning and was starting to mentally mark recipes to try when I paused over a recipe for braised leeks.

I left for work (with this in my bag) and through the morning stayed focused (fixated) on the idea of leeks for dinner. I hadn't made a note of the recipe but decided to have a search around blogland to see if anyone had. No joy but then I remembered reading one of Molly's articles in bon appétit. She had made a leek tart using a recipe of leeks slow cooked in butter and sure enough there it was.

It was a method of cooking leeks which delivers a tangle of sweet buttery deliciousness. I added some thyme when I cooked the leeks, fried some chopped smoked streaky bacon, tipped it all into a pan of cooked fusilli, added some freshly ground black pepper and a little parmesan, and dug in. Twice.

I'm already planning on cooking a big dish of these and using them in any way I can think of, maybe starting with just standing over the hob with a fork. First though I have a dish of leftovers in the fridge and lunch tomorrow to look forward to.

Monday, 17 November 2008


After all the excitement of yesterday today felt very ordinary and I was this (holding thumb and forefinger very close together) close to just not posting.

But no, I will not be beaten, and if today was just an ordinary day then an ordinary day is what I will describe.

First things first. I got up, reluctantly, and had a bowl of muesli with skimmed milk (usually Jordan's although sometimes I'll buy Dorset Cereals) and a banana along with a cup of coffee (instant Fairtrade with skimmed milk and one sugar). While I ate my breakfast I enjoyed what was to become the least ordinary part of my day, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, which I started last night.

I almost always read something when I eat breakfast, a book, a paper, a magazine. As a child I would read the back of the cereal box over and over again because I couldn't not. I would read under the covers with my torch. I read so hard that my Mum thought I was a little bit deaf. The Doctor said I was just choosing not to listen, I still do that sometimes when I'm reading a book I love.

I left for work and the aforementioned book meant I didn't really notice my bus journey.

Mid-morning munchies struck and I was fully prepared with a couple of Saturday's cookies.

A baked potato for lunch and the rest of the book. The last few pages left me struggling not to cry at my desk (I'll be recommending it to anyone who will listen, so far my tally is my Mum and you).

The bus home, again with a good book. I love reading when I don't notice time passing and have to try and squeeze in another page before the bus door opens at my stop, before my lunch break is over, before my eyes won't stay open any more. When I am watching a programme I love and pick up my book to read in the ad breaks, when I am so absorbed in a book that the World around me ceases to exist, when I read walking around the house and while cooking and while eating. When I find something to weigh the pages open if both my hands are occupied, the edge of a plate, another book, a bottle of water.

A fresh batch of any veg soup (leek, potato, carrot, parsnip, chicken stock, seasoning) for dinner along with some walnut bread which I bought yesterday and a new episode of America's Next Top Model where I wonder, yet again, at Tyra's manic self obsession which seems to have become much more pronounced recently.

So an ordinary day for me, an ordinary day enhanced by a bit of tasty food and a very good book.

As Mondays go it wasn't at all bad.

Sunday, 16 November 2008


Otherwise to be forever known as...

the day I ate oysters for the first time...

and enjoyed them...

and, even more importantly,...

the day I met Nigella...

and managed to say more than my initial star struck, slightly squeaky, hello.

Saturday, 15 November 2008


I am in the habit of throwing blackening bananas into the freezer for future banana bread making. This works perfectly. There are always a few bananas handy when the craving strikes and I can defrost them by putting them in the oven while it heats up. Unfortunately this habit has backfired a little. One day this week we looked in the freezer and realised that scattered through the drawers were enough bananas to justify dedicating an entire drawer to them.

As most banana recipes only need two or three bananas it may take a while to clear but these cookies should help reduce the numbers.

Makes between 25 and 30 cookies

2 bananas
175g of unsalted butter
175g of demerara sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
175g of plain flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
100g of rolled oats
150g of dark chocolate, chopped into small chunks
A little fleur de sel

Preheat the oven to 180˚C and line two baking sheets with baking parchment. Put the bananas, butter, sugar and eggs into the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Tip the mixture into a large bowl and add the flour, baking powder, oats and chocolate and stir until well combined. Put heaped teaspoonfuls onto the baking sheets spacing them out well. Sprinkle a little fleur de sel on top of each cookie and bake for 15 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown. Leave on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Friday, 14 November 2008


At the end of October I discovered that I was one of the unlucky 1,992,000 who didn't get a table, again. Well I suppose the odds were against me.

I can't decide whether my new book will ease the pain or just make it worse, I suspect the latter.

Thursday, 13 November 2008


Hmm, not many minutes left in the day to post so this will be a quick one as I am determined not to backdate.

Chris's sister is staying and I made a quick dinner of smashed butternut squash and potato gratin adapted from a recipe in Feast.

Just peel and chop one butternut squash and two large potatoes (I used baking potatoes but these should be floury for preference, you're aiming for about 1.25kg of veg). Melt 75g of butter and add the vegetables along with 750ml of milk (skimmed is fine if you're wondering), four whole spring onions, a tablespoon of sea salt and a good heavy grinding of black pepper. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer for 20 minutes. While this is simmering preheat the oven to 220˚C and butter a fairly large gratin dish that will hold all of the vegetables and milk. After the 20 minutes remove the spring onions and tip everything (carefully) into the dish adding some fresh thyme. Sprinkle a few spoonfuls of semolina or couscous over the top of the dish and dot with butter. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and bubbling and serve with a green salad.

This is also great just made with potatoes or with a few rashers of chopped smoked bacon added to the gratin dish.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008


I can date my recent fascination with chickpea based dishes to this year's August bank holiday. It was the Sunday and it had been a hot day. Janet offered to cook dinner at her house so that we could sit out in the garden to eat. She cooked up a huge dish of spiced chickpeas with brown rice and kale.

The chickpeas stuck in my mind, they were delicious and relied on ingredients I would probably have in my cupboard plus a few things that can be picked up at any small local shop, or at any small local shop round here at least. After last week's tagine I decided to recreate something a little closer to Janet's dish and set about trying to find a recipe online.

I trailed through lots of variations that sounded promising but decided on one, printed it out, wrote my shopping list, bought my ingredients, and got home to find out that I had forgotten to pick up the recipe. I tried to replicate my google search but nope, it didn't work, so with the ingredients and a vague memory of quantities I set to work and I'm glad I did. I think this one will be added to the list of tasty, quick, and, very importantly, reliable after work meals.

Serves 2

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, grated, crushed, or very finely chopped
1 cm piece of fresh ginger, grated or very finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon of ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 teaspoon of ground coriander
1 teaspoon of sea salt
400g tin of tomatoes
400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
A small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 teaspoon of garam masala (but see below)

Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan or casserole dish. Add the chopped onion and leave to cook over a medium heat until browned. Add the garlic, ginger, chilli, turmeric, cumin, and coriander. Stir this into the onion and add a little more oil if it looks dry. Leave this to cook for a minute before adding the tomatoes with their juice and the salt. If the tomatoes are whole just crush them with your wooden spoon. Add the chickpeas and fill the empty tin with cold water and add this to the pan as well. Leave to simmer over a medium heat for about 15 minutes and then add the lemon juice and most of the coriander. At this point I had also intended to add a teaspoon of garam masala but forgot so I'll leave this up to you. I'll probably try it next time. Leave to cook for a further ten minutes, taste for seasoning and serve with basmati rice.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


G&T is 150 years old this week. Why don't you join me in the celebration.

And while we're at it how do you like yours? Tanqueray, Gordon's, Hendrick's, or Plymouth? Schweppes or Fever Tree? Lemon or Lime? Ice?

You can see how I like mine.

Monday, 10 November 2008


I thought I knew my food writers. I know all about Elizabeth David, Claudia Roden, Anna del Conte, and Jane Grigson. I read cookbooks until I know them back to front and inside out. I subscribe to the Donna Hay magazine and whenever I find a well stocked newsagent the latest issues of Gourmet and bon appétit will inevitably come home with me (and more often than not Martha Stewart Living, one of my guilty pleasures). But somehow, I had never read any MFK Fisher. In fact I had never even heard of MFK Fisher until Gourmet became a regular rather than an occasional purchase, until Orangette became one of my favourite blogs, until I had read and loved all of Ruth Reichl's books. A few weeks ago I bought The Art of Eating from a seller in the States. I have been picking out sections to read one at a time. Taking time over each one and absorbing her writing. I can now see why she is a legend in the States the question is why isn't she better known here?

Sunday, 9 November 2008


Picture this. Gemma, 16 years old, looking for ways to pass the time in a small town.

Weekend evenings mean a drink or two in the pub owned by a notoriously oblivious landlord.

Daytime involves meeting friends in town. There is one high street, a couple of banks, bakeries, a small supermarket, a library, lots of charity shops and not much else. So we meet, as do the other teenagers, the old ladies, the families, at Ye Olde Tea Shoppe. We spend hours sitting, talking, and drinking tea. My favourite is a teacake tea, one buttered toasted teacake and a pot of tea, sometimes it's a crumpet tea, sometimes a jacket potato with chicken, sweetcorn, and mayonnaise. We go there a lot, we always sit in the conservatory (the old ladies sit in the front room), we usually hit the charity shops afterwards. These are not the amazing charity shops of our fondest imaginings, these are charity shops with jumbo cords and comfortable sandals designed for our Grandmothers, we still go at least once a week and somehow we still spend money.

13 years later and a visit to Ye Olde Tea Shoppe is still a must. The menu is exactly the same, the prices have proved inflation resistant, it still has the same mix of customers. The only change is my order. Now it is usually a welsh rarebit with a pot of English Breakfast tea. This weekend it was a buck rarebit because eating a perfectly cooked, and perfectly round, poached egg on top of cheesy mustardy toast can only be a good thing.

Saturday, 8 November 2008


I will be out of the office on Saturday 8th November and will be busy sleeping, eating my Mum's cooking, and going for walks in the Sussex countryside. I will respond to any comments on my return and normal service will resume, with photos and words, on Sunday 9th November. For urgent blog reading requirements please go to my links.

Friday, 7 November 2008


The very friendly Jeanne over at cooksister tagged me for a meme. Well I guess I actually tagged myself as she had to tag the last ten people to comment on her blog. Memes are funny old things, some I love and others I have been known to ignore, sorry if that was one of yours. This one is, I think, a great idea. It shows commenters that you actually give a damn about seeing them and their comments and about finding their blogs. So, I have a tiny request for you all, please come out of the woodwork and say hello if you’re there. I like my readers and I want to know who you are. And to my ten tagged commenters, I'm looking forward to seeing your lists soon.

The rules:

1. List the last ten people who have commented on your blog
2. If you’re on my list then you should do the meme on your blog too

Who were my last ten commenters? Well Jeanne should be one but as she tagged me already I can’t really tag her back. So…

1. Amanda from Little Foodies
2. Freya from The Cocoa Lounge
3. Solnushka
4. Kelly-Jane from Cooking the Books
5. Sarah from Sarah Cooks, Sarah Discovers How to Eat, and Sarah's Coffee of the Week
6. Maria Rose from Little Things are Big
7. Sam from Antics of a Cycling Cook
8. Lorna from Lorna at North Hill
9. Zarah Maria from Food & Thoughts
10. Carine from ...and other recipes

Now for the questions:

1: What is your favourite post from number 3's blog?

Her ‘About Me/About Solnushka/About You/About Blogging’ sections are inspired. I went straight to them on my first visit and felt like I really got to know her. I was hooked by her humour and by the fact that there are plenty of Russian nuggets on the site.

Little known fact about me: I went to Russia on a school trip when I was 13, it was 1993, the first McDonalds had just opened, and Russia felt like part of a very different World, it was exciting and at times scary but I want to go back. Plus I love the sound of Russian, all those soft consonants give me shivers.

2. Has number 10 taken any pictures that have moved you?

Carine’s photos are always beautiful and give me a little taste of Edinburgh now that I’ve moved away.

3. Does number 6 reply to comments on their blog?

I don’t know but I just had a quick look at some of her commenters and it seems like she has a lovely band of blog followers.

4. Which part of blogland is number 2 from?

At the moment she seems to be in chocolate heaven but normally I don't know. Freya, where are you?

5. If you could give one piece of advice to number 7 what would it be?

Selfishly my advice would be to please keep sending me lovely comments. It’s great to hear from people who read my blog as it is all too easy to feel like you are writing to yourself so it gives me a real boost to know that people are interested. Thank you Sam.

6. Have you ever tried something from number 9's blog?

No, sorry. I’ve only just started reading her blog and was partly drawn in because she is in Copenhagen, another favourite city, but all of the food bloggers I read give me great ideas for meals.

7. Has number 1 blogged something that inspired you?

Frequently. She and her children go on culinary travels while staying in the kitchen. I think it’s amazing that she introduces Little and Small to so many wonderful flavours and they seem so excited about discovering new cultures.

8. How often do you comment on number 4's blog?

Regularly. She has an enviable cookbook collection so it is great to see what she has been making from her books.

9. Do you wait for number 8 to post excitedly?

Yes, she is a very good friend who now lives on Orkney. I rarely get to see her so I want to know more about what she is getting up to.

10. How did number 5's blog change your life?

Sarah’s blog was the first I started reading regularly after meeting her on so it was her that gave me the idea to start my blog, thanks Sarah.

11. Do you know any of the 10 bloggers in person?

I was at university with Lorna, we were in the same halls and then shared a flat in second year. I know Carine through Chris and his sister and we recently shared organisational duties for a surprise hen party that involved Carine making delicious cupcakes and me making quite disturbing masks of the bride's face for us all to wear.

12. Do any of your 10 bloggers know each other in person?

I don’t think any of them have met but I might be wrong?

13. Out of the 10, which updates more frequently?

I’m not sure. I want to say Sarah but I think everyone has bursts of activity punctuated by lazy weeks!

14. Which of the 10 keep you laughing?

I have only just found Solnushka’s blog thanks to NaBloPoMo but I think she will give me a few giggles.

15. Which of the 10 has made you cry (good or bad tears)?

Not so far, I hope none of them ever make me shed sad tears.

There you go, a little bit about my commenters. Go and look at their blogs and see who they have on their lists.

Thursday, 6 November 2008


You can blame Nigel Slater, not in a bad way of course, but he is definitely to blame. I remember reading about lemon, Dijon mustard, and honey as a good combination for grilling chicken in Appetite (I think). I added some thyme, marinaded chicken with the mix, cooked it in the oven, and always enjoyed the slightly caramelised, charred, sticky end result.

Then, one evening, I fancied a break from the ubiquitous spicy lamb burger (and when I say ubiquitous I just mean in our flat). I bought some pork mince and when it was time to cook I quickly mixed it up with some lemon zest, thyme, and mustard, as we almost always have all three, and a new burger star was born. We occasionally still eat the lamb but this has absolutely become the favourite. It is an after work staple because I can buy all the ingredients in the small supermarket near work, make them in about five minutes, sit down and watch some relaxing nonsense on TV and be eating a decent meal 30 minutes later. I’m sure we all have an easy, reliable, throw it together after work favourite up our sleeves so what’s yours?

Oh, one last thing, these aren’t attractive enough to warrant any kind of photographic effort, and I assumed you didn’t need to see a picture of pork mince because, really, who does.

Enough to fill four pitas, for us that means two servings but that’s just us

500g of pork mince
Zest of one lemon
A pile of fresh thyme leaves
A heaped teaspoon or two of Dijon mustard, depending how much you like it
A generous grinding of ground black pepper and similar of salt

All you need to do is mix everything together thoroughly with your hands. Form it into eight small burgers and bake in a hot oven for about 30 minutes. I could make it more complicated but that isn’t really in the spirit of completely brainless post work food.

To serve we slice these up and pile them into toasted pita breads (if you are lucky enough to be able to buy fresh pitas then do, one of the great benefits of living in a heavily Turkish area is access to amazing pita bread in all the local shops and they are only 35p for five, I can’t get enough). So for an entirely inauthentic pita filling – slice up two pork burgers, add mayonnaise, some Dijon mustard, a sprinkling of sea salt, salad leaves, and finally some sliced cornichons just because I’m hooked on them, and enjoy.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


Over the last few weeks I have been witnessing the slow spread of Christmas through the shops. But this week, post Halloween, it has sped up noticeably until, yesterday, while buying some satsumas and water in M&S I noticed something previously unseen, packs of two mini yule logs sitting innocently beside the bottles of water just begging to be slipped into my basket. Oh the cruelty. I can kid myself that flapjacks are healthy (with difficulty, but I can) but I cannot convince myself, much as I might want to, that little packs of thickly chocolate coated chocolate sponge rolls with chocolate cream inside are a good idea for anything other than a very occasional treat.

So, to strengthen my resolve on mornings when all that chocolate may seem like a very good idea indeed I decided to inject a little chocolate into my breakfast. This recipe is from Feast and is a variation on Andy’s Fairfield Granola that has been pretty uniformly raved about. The chocolate version uses dark cocoa powder for its chocolate kick so you can almost, almost, convince yourself that this is a virtuous thing to be eating while watching BBC breakfast news and drinking coffee.

Makes enough to fill a large jar, about 2.5 litres

450g of rolled porridge oats
120g of white sesame seeds
120g of white sunflower seeds
250g of raw peanuts
100g of light brown sugar
25g of unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of sea salt
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
175g of apple sauce
120g of golden syrup, brown rice syrup, or rice malt syrup
4 tablespoons of runny honey
2 tablespoons of sunflower oil

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl then add the wet and mix thoroughly, I usually use two large spoons, before pouring into two large baking trays. Bake for approximately 40 minutes. I check it every ten minutes and move the granola around every time so that it all has a chance to toast. Take it out of the oven and leave to cool. It will harden into chunks that need to be broken up before it is poured into a jar for storage. I had some leftover dried cranberries from my last batch of granola so added those once the granola was cool. I like this in a bowl with milk but have been known to get excited by a bowl of granola with Greek yoghurt occasionally as well.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008


I have a long list of blogs that I read regularly, some are friends, some are fellow food bloggers that I have met online, and then there are the others, that list of bloggers who just do it better. I am hooked on Shauna and Molly's writing and photography, inspired by Heidi's delicious ingredients, and that is just for starters.

One of the other blogs I always check is Luisa's and this week she has also signed up for NaBloPoMo so I am enjoying the daily read. Yesterday she caught my attention with cheese on toast with thyme and mustard. It popped into the recipe corner of my brain and may have stayed there lost and forgotten among the endless stews, cakes, and cookies if it hadn't been for Chris saying he fancied soup and toast for dinner tonight which brought it sharply back into focus.

I bought a glorious smelling loaf of roast garlic bread, some cave aged gruyere, and fresh thyme on my way home. A short while later I pulled a tub of last week's soup out of the freezer, put it into a pan with a little extra water to defrost and got on with the toasting. Four slices of bread were grilled on one side then turned over, I spread a smidgeon of butter onto the untoasted side along with a scraping of dijon mustard, sprinkled on some thyme leaves and then finally added a blanket of grated gruyere. This was put back under the grill until the cheese was melted and bubbling. This will be made again and I'm already trying to think of a reworking with goats cheese and honey, one of my favourite cheese combinations. Thanks Luisa.

Monday, 3 November 2008


I found myself thinking about tonight's dinner rather a lot through the day. Not that this is unusual but tonight I knew just what I needed where often my thinking can be a little unfocused and finding a main ingredient to work around can be a hard enough decision. I needed some comfort and some warmth and that, coupled with Monday evening tiredness, usually spells soup. But I have recently been pondering different ways of using both squash and chickpeas more and this became a choice between something curried with rice or something vaguely North African with couscous. The soft blanket of a bowl of couscous won. I found a vegetable tagine recipe in How to Eat and tweaked a little to fit what I wanted. It was softly fragrant but tasty. It could take a heftier dose of spice and maybe another day that would be what I would choose, adding a good bit dollop of harissa at the end of the cooking rather than the mere teaspoon that I used tonight. As with the spices just use more or less of what you like.

Serves 2 (with leftovers for tomorrow's lunch)

2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of coriander
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of paprika
1 pinch of saffron
1 large butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 2 cm chunks
1 400g can of chickpeas, drained
1/2 can or 200g of chopped tomatoes
zest of 1/2 a large orange
500ml stock (I used marigold vegetable bouillon)
Salt and harissa to taste

Heat the olive oil in a heavy based saucepan over a medium heat, I used a le creuset casserole, and add the onions leaving them to soften for a few minutes. Add the garlic and all of the spices, stir together with the onion and leave to cook for a few more minutes. Put the squash into the pan and stir it so that the spices, onion, and garlic evenly coat the squash and allow this to cook for about five minutes. Add the chickpeas, the tomatoes with their juice, the orange, and the stock. Leave this to simmer over a low heat for 25 - 30 minutes until the squash is cooked through and starting to collapse around its edges.

If you are eating couscous with this and want to make it the lazy way then put about 300g of couscous into a bowl and cover with just boiled water. Cover the bowl tightly with tin foil and leave for about ten minutes. Uncover the bowl and fluff up the couscous with a fork. I like to add dried mint and a little salt to my couscous and it worked well with the flavours in the tagine.

Taste the tagine and add salt. If you want a little extra heat stir in some harissa. I would say just add it half a teaspoon at a time as harissa can vary a lot. The one I used was quite mild and a teaspoon just brought a little warmth, others may blow your head off.

Serve the tagine with some of the couscous and sprinkle over fresh parsley if you have some.

Sunday, 2 November 2008


Cold and wet and a friend from Edinburgh to stay

Clicia for breakfast - garlic salami, fried halloumi, olives, mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumber, a fried egg just perfectly runny, a hash brown

A bus down to St Paul's

A blustery walk over the Millennium Bridge to Tate Modern

Cildo Meireles

Mark Rothko

A couple of drinks on the 6th floor

A table by the window looking out at the rain

Back to N16

Takeaway from Rasa - spinach and paneer curry, lemon rice, uzhunappam

All good.

Saturday, 1 November 2008


Name: Gemma (you knew that already)

Lives: Edinburgh via London via Edinburgh and Sussex with a craving for spending a few years in the US

Loves: Chris

Works: 9-5pm, Monday-Friday

Wants: a miniature dachshund and two cats, or the other way round

Wears: lots of sweater dresses with thick woolly tights and moccasins, jeans with checked tops or vests in summer and cashmere crew-necks in winter, a cheap gold casio watch, a gold and turquoise engagement ring and slim gold wedding band on my left hand, a small stack of rings on my right hand, and earrings that are mostly gold and if I had my way would all be from here

Wishes: I could enjoy more lazy mornings, oh and win the lottery (it would help with the lazy mornings)

Watches: rather too many cookery programmes (with an ongoing weakness for Gossip Girl)

Likes: long walks on bright but cold Autumn days

Dislikes: offal, pineapple, scary dogs, comic sans

Cooked: jam tarts as a child, of course, followed by pancakes, scones, shortbread. It was definitely all about the baking.