Comfort food, Food, food bloggers, food blogging, Pasta, personal, Recipes

Eating Your Feelings

spanish-chip-buttie

A Spanish Chip Butty from The Pen Factory in Liverpool. Unquestionably, one of the best things I’ve eaten this year.

I haven’t felt much like writing recently. I started 2017 with so many great plans and amazing intentions. This, I told myself, would be my year. But so far, things haven’t been going according to plan. Work has been slow and my many (many) hustling emails have mostly been met with a ‘no’ or – even worse – no reply. Numerous opportunities have fallen through. The sink is blocked. I broke a nail. I pulled my favourite necklace out of its box last week to discover that it had snapped in two. Trump is president and seems to be on a mission to cause as much damage as possible. And my Dad had a heart attack.

There was no prior warning, no prep time. Just an unexpected phone call from my brother one Friday night informing me that my Dad was in surgery. It’s not my Dad’s first medical emergency, or even his first heart attack, but no matter how many times you find yourself in this position, it still comes as a shock. As I write this, he’s recovering from a heart bypass and growing increasingly weary of being stuck in hospital. I can’t say I blame him. Thankfully, he’s recovering well. Hopefully, he’ll be discharged by the end of this week, but in the interim, I spend my time flitting between Liverpool and Manchester. The house I live in, the house I grew up in and the hospital adjacent to where both of my siblings were born.

fullsizerender

It would be a lot to deal with even if it wasn’t all happening during January, that long dark Monday of the soul. So, I cope with it in my own way. I switch Twitter off. I read. I go on long bike rides around the wild, ragged coastline near my house. I watch an unhealthy amount of ‘America’s Next Top Model’ (while simultaneously praising and cursing Amazon Prime). And I cook.

I read this Bon Appetit piece yesterday about the joy that can be found in cooking for others. One paragraph in particular really leapt out at me. Mincing onions, making stock, kneading dough, and setting a table with care shouldn’t, and can’t, replace volunteering, protesting, and other forms of activism. But building and caring for community is absolutely vital right now. My hope is that this kind of nourishment—real food, made with love, for myself and for my friends—will better equip me to engage in the long fight ahead.’

I tell myself that I am cooking for the people I love – lunch for my husband to take to work with him, dinner for my Mum so she has something warm and nutritious to eat when she comes home late from the hospital. But I am also cooking to heal myself. I cook because cooking is an all consuming process. You follow these steps and (usually) something delicious will result in the end. I cook because cookbook writing is an art, and because a good cookbook can be read in the bath like a novel and transports you to places you never even knew existed. I cook because butter always makes things better. And I cook because in the hardest of times, we need to look after ourselves and others. We need to nourish our bodies and minds for the struggles ahead, to provide ourselves with comfort and strength when the obstacles feel almost insurmountable.

It is easy to dismiss thinking and writing about food as being a frivolous act when huge events are taking place in the world. But I place just as much importance in ensuring the people around me are well fed as I do in other radical activities. We still need full bellies and comfort food in dark times, whether that be brownies warm from the oven, an enormous plateful of Shepherd’s Pie, or just a giant bag of Doritos and hummus to munch on while watching your favourite film. Today, I will be heading over to Manchester and making a pot of bolognese sauce for myself and my Mum – some for tonight, and some to freeze for later when the thought of cooking from scratch seems like an impossible task. Food is good. Food is important. Sometimes it’s OK to eat your feelings.

Some Comfort Food recipes I’ve been cooking recently:

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asparagus, baking, food bloggers, food blogging, lunch, Quiche, Recipes, spring, vegetarian

Recipe: Asparagus and Feta Quiche

Asparagus

On Saturday, I went for a long walk around Liverpool city centre and gloried in the fact that spring is finally here. The sun was shining, I had my sunglasses on and – for the first time in months – I didn’t feel as though I was trapped in the depths of some hideous endless winter. I’ve lived in the North West of England long enough to know that this could all change by tomorrow, but for the moment, I’m revelling in the return of short sleeves and balmy afternoons.

Another place which is happy to see the return of spring is my kitchen. After months of opening my veg box to discover piles of root vegetables (I’m still ploughing my way through all the beetroot, carrots and parsnips), I was overjoyed to see asparagus in last week’s Abel and Cole delivery. English asparagus season is short, so I love to eat as much of it as I can while it’s here. I wanted to do something a bit more exciting than merely grilling it and serving it with hollandaise when the idea hit me to pop it into a quiche.

This quiche is inspired by two excellent female food writers, Ruth Reichl and Delia Smith. I’m currently cooking my way through Reichl’s My Kitchen Year which discusses how she used cooking as a means of coping with the grief she experienced when Gourmet – the magazine she edited for a decade – suddenly folded. Reichl’s writing can be a bit flowery at times, but she has a wonderful recipe for a basic quiche (‘a custard in a crust’ she calls it) which has been rattling around my head ever since I read it. Delia Smith is (arguably) the queen of custards and crusts, and it would be remiss of me not to credit her for some of the methodology behind this one.

A mere hour’s work in the kitchen will reward you with crisp asparagus, salty pops of feta and a gloriously wobbly, savoury custard. This quiche was made for picnics, parties and long lazy lunches in the sunshine. When was the last time you said that about a Pret sandwich?

Quiche

ASPARAGUS AND FETA QUICHE (Serves 4 – 6 people)

You will need:

For the crust

  • 280g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 150g cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • Handful of grated cheddar cheese (optional)
  • A pinch of salt
  • Ice water

For the filling

  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • 40g feta cheese, diced into cubes
  • 1 tsp grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 large eggs, beaten well
  • 284ml single cream
  • A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt and Pepper to season

Make It!

  1. Start by making the crust. Rub the flour and butter together until it has the consistency of breadcrumbs. Add the cheese, salt and ice water – a tablespoon at a time – until the dough comes together. It should be smooth yet tacky to the touch. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
  2. When you’re ready to make the quiche, roll the dough out until it’s about the thickness of a 2p coin. Use your rolling pin to lift it up and drape it over a tart case. You want the dough to hang over the sides as it will shrink when you’re baking it. Prick the base of the dough with a fork, cover it with baking paper and fill it with baking weights. (You can get these from Lakeland, or alternatively, just use some dried beans.)  Bake on 150 degrees c for 20 minutes. Take it out, remove the weights and paint the crust with a bit of beaten egg. (You can use some of the egg you’re using for the filling.) Let it cook in the oven for another five minutes.
  3. Make your filling. Snap the asparagus spears in two and remove the woody ends. Blanch them for two minutes in boiling water. You want them to be barely cooked and have plenty of snap. Arrange them and the feta cheese at the bottom of the pastry case.
  4. Beat the eggs and cream together and season well with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Pour this mixture over the asparagus and feta. Sprinkle the grated parmesan over the top.
  5. Bake at 200 degrees c for 30 minutes until the pastry is puffy and the filling is barely set and golden. Allow to cool and serve. This keeps well for 2 – 3 days and goes really well with a crisp green salad.

 

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Food, food bloggers, food blogging, Healthy eating, Kale, Pasta, Recipes

Recipe: Spaghetti with kale, anchovies and chilli

Kale pasta 2

For someone who is so vehemently anti January food bullshit, I feel a bit guilty about my first post of 2016 involving kale. I mean, it’s kale. The poster child for all things ‘healthy.’ But (and hear me out here), I feel that kale gets a bit of a bad rep. Primarily because people don’t bother to use it properly. They add it to smoothies (NO), they use it raw in things like Caesar salads (DOUBLE NO) and they think that they can make it more palatable by giving it a good old massage. (Yes, that’s really a thing).

Kale is not a premier league footballer. It will not become more palatable if you give it a thorough rub down with some olive oil and whisper sweet things into its ear. However, it does become absolutely delicious when you blanch it, fry it with some anchovies, garlic and chillies and throw it into a big pot of pasta.

This recipe for spaghetti with kale, anchovies and chilles is one of my winter staples. It’s quick, it only involves one pot and it is pretty much impossible to mess up. The leftovers also make a cracking lunch which is great if (like me) you’re trying to save money this month by ignoring the siren call of Pret.

I can’t remember where I first discovered this recipe, but it must have been from somewhere because originality with kale has never been my strong point. (Out of interest, if the person who invented this recipe is reading this, please leave a comment so I can find you and buy you a pint.) While it may not make you love kale, it may help you to at least make a truce with it.

Quick note: This blog is now a whole year old! Thank you so much to everyone who is reading this, both old and new. I hope you enjoy reading my rambings about food and fashion as much as I enjoy writing them. 

Kale pasta

Spaghetti with kale, anchovies and chilli (Makes two decent sized portions)

You will need:

  • 140g spaghetti (I prefer to use wholemeal here, but I’ve used white spaghetti to make this too and it works just as well)
  • 1/2 bunch of kale, ribs removed and sliced into strips
  • 1 tin of anchovies
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1 teaspoon of dried red chillies
  • 1 lemon
  • A good handful of grated parmesan
  • Salt and black pepper

Make it!

  1. Cook the pasta in a good amount of salted boiling water. When the pasta is just about ready (roughly 8-10 minutes into cooking), throw in the kale. You want it to just be blanched so it’s not too tough.
  2. Drain the pasta and kale, reserving a tablespoon of the cooking water for the sauce.
  3. Thoroughly dry the pan you used to cook the pasta and kale (this step is important – water and oil DO NOT mix.) Heat two tablespoons of oil and add the anchovies with the oil they’re packed in. You want to break the anchovies up as they cook so they form a paste. Add the sliced garlic and fry for 30 seconds. Then add the dried chillies and cook for another 30 seconds.
  4. Add the cooked pasta and kale to the anchovy, garlic and chilli mixture and mix thoroughly to combine. Grate the zest of the lemon over everything (I like to squeeze the juice of the lemon over the pasta as I think this adds a nice bit of pep. However, this is totally optional.)
  5. Serve topped with the grated parmesan, salt and black pepper. Feel free to add a touch more chilli to the mix if that’s your thing. After all, it’s January and it’s cold out there.
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Chocolate, Christmas, Food, food bloggers, food blogging, Recipes

Recipe: Chocolate Baileys Mousse

Mousse 1

We are now in that hinterland between Christmas and New Year. It’s a period where you’ve consumed most of the leftovers and the dreaded diet talk is creeping into conversations. Quite frankly, I don’t have the time or inclination to listen to Weight Watchers and their ilk when there’s still a good few days of feasting and fun left. If anyone dares lecture you about healthy eating, stick your fingers in your ears. This is no time for a guilt trip.

And besides, what better way to use up any leftover Christmas chocolate than using it to make this delectable mousse? This is light and airy, with a nice smack of Baileys to give it a bit of edge. A few years ago, I made a chocolate ice cream which (accidentally) contained half a pint of Baileys – something which I have never lived down. I’d argue that this is twice as delicious and definitely won’t give you a hangover afterwards.

This can be thrown together in a mere half hour and makes enough to feed a streets worth of people. (I found myself filling numerous pudding receptacles trying to use this up. Then, when I ran out, I just ended up eating it out of the mixing bowl in front of the TV.) Make it for a New Year’s party, or just as a delicious indulgence for yourself.

Mousse 2

Chocolate Baileys Mousse (Makes approx 6 servings)

Based on this recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi

You will need:

  • 3 medium free-range eggs
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 200g milk chocolate, broken into small pieces
  • 100g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 500ml whipping cream
  • 2 shots of Baileys
  • Milk chocolate shavings, to finish

Make it!

  1. Put the eggs and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk for ten minutes until they are light and airy. (An electric mixer works best here unless you have robotic arms!)
  2. While the eggs are whisking, put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and melt in a microwave. I recommend blasting the mixture in 40 second bursts, and stirring with a wooden spoon until they’re melted completely.
  3. With the mixer running on medium speed, add the chocolate mix to the egg mix in a steady stream – it is important to combine the two gradually but continuously, with the chocolate going into the eggs and not the other way around.
  4. Add the two shots of Baileys to the whipping cream, and whisk until it begins to firm up (when you lift the whisk, the cream dribbling off should create ribbons in the mixture before disappearing).
  5. Gently fold the semi-whipped cream into the egg and chocolate mix, and pour into serving bowls (e.g. ramekins or wine glasses). Chill for at least an hour to set.
  6. Shave some milk chocolate over the top of the mousse before serving. It should be good for 2-3 days (if it lasts that long.)
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courgette, Food, food bloggers, goats cheese, lunch, preserved lemon, Recipes, salad, vegetarian

Courgette Carpaccio with Goats Cheese, Preserved Lemon and Chilli

Courgette Carpaccio with Goats Cheese, Lemon and Chilli

I know that it’s a bit of a cliché to moan about the weather, but seriously summer, where the hell are you? I’ve been reliably informed that a heatwave is on its way, but I remain sceptical. Then again, I work in one of the rainiest parts of a rainy country, and I often wonder if it would just be cheaper to get myself laminated rather than spend another tenner on an umbrella which – inevitably – breaks.

So, I am forced to search for summer in my vegetable box. At the moment, it’s bursting with glorious green vegetables – big bunches of spinach, plump broad beans and crunchy courgettes.  Usually I like to throw them in pastas, ratatouilles and stews, but sometimes I feel like getting a bit more inventive, which is how this courgette ‘capaccio’ came about.

This isn’t a conventional carpaccio, given that it comprises vegetables rather than meat, but it’s still prepared the same way. Paper thin slices of courgette are dotted with goats cheese, preserved lemon zest (my new favourite ingredient), red chilli flakes and a good glug of extra virgin olive oil. Don’t have any goats cheese to hand? Ricotta or feta will do just as well. Served with a roast chicken, a hunk of bread and a glass of crisp white wine and you can almost believe that summer is here…even if you have the central heating on.

COURGETTE CARPACCIO WITH GOATS CHEESE, PRESERVED LEMON AND CHILLI (Serves two people as a side, or one person as a large salad)

A version of this recipe was originally posted on Little Red Courgette (my old blog!)

You will need:

  • 2 small courgettes
  • The juice of a lemon
  • The peel from two preserved lemons
  • 50g soft goats cheese
  • 1 tsp red chilli flakes
  • A large glug of extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to season

Make It!

  1. Top and tail the courgettes and slice thinly. You may wish to do this using a mandoline but I just used a sharp vegetable knife.
  2. Slice the preserved lemons in half and scoop out the flesh (you can either discard this, or reserve it for another recipe.) Chop the peel finely.
  3. Place the courgette rounds into a medium bowl and (carefully!) toss with the lemon peel and chilli flakes.
  4. Arrange on a plate in an overlapping pattern, and dot with the goats cheese.
  5. Drizzle over the lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Season with the salt and pepper and serve immediately.
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