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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baking, cake, Food, food blogging, Recipes, St Clements Cake

St. Clements Cake (Lemon cake with an orange glaze)

Slices of St Clementine cake with lemons

It’s a clichéd food blog trait to write a preamble about why you made a certain recipe. These are usually long and overblown, maybe a bit saccharine, maybe including a mention of the weather. I’m as guilty of these as anyone else – well, apparently it’s poor form to just say ‘I made this and it was great,’ – so, here are some reasons to make this cake.

Because it’s Sunday.

Because you feel like it.

Because you’ve had an orange and a lemon sitting in your fruit bowl for over a week.

Because you want to do something with them which doesn’t involve gin, or vodka or campari.

Because you’re hungover.

Because you’d been out dancing to techno until 3am two nights in a row.

Because it’s something to do which doesn’t involve Twitter.

Because you’ve got deadlines coming out of your ears and you’re procrastinating.

Because you want to show that baking isn’t just something done by posh twee girls in posh twee kitchens.

Because you fancy some cake.

Because life is always better with cake.

Because a lemon scented sponge covered in an orange scented glaze is always a delicious prospect.

Because this St. Clementines Cake tastes like the last gasp of summer.

Just…because.

Slice of St Clementine cake with yoghurt

ST. CLEMENTS CAKE 

You will need:

  • 3 medium eggs
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 170g caster sugar
  • 170g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (fat) lemon, juiced and zested
  • 4 tablespoons milk

For the glaze

  • 140g icing sugar, sifted
  • The juice and zest of an orange

Make It!

  1. Grease/line your cake tin (I used a medium sized springform tin, but this also works well when baked in a loaf tin), and heat your oven to 325°F/170°C/Gas mark 4.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs, and mix well, before adding the lemon juice and zest. (Don’t worry if the mixture looks slightly curdled. It will all come together once you add the flour.)
  4. Gently fold in the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the milk, and combine until you get a pale, smooth batter.
  5. Pour the mixture into your tin, and bake for 30 minutes. To check it’s done, insert a skewer into its centre for 4 seconds. If it comes out clean, it’s baked.
  6. Make a syrup by combining the orange zest and juice with the icing sugar. You want the glaze to be runny enough to get into every nook and cranny of the cake, but not so liquid that it runs right off. When you’ve taken the cake out of the oven, leave it to cool for ten minutes before pricking it all over with the skewer and pouring the glaze over it.
  7. Leave the cake to cool, and remove from the tin. This goes really well with creme fraiche, greek yoghurt or double cream.
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asparagus, Food, lunch, Recipes, salad, spring

Steak and Asparagus Salad

Steak and Asparagus Salad

Some recipes haunt you. They lodge themselves inside your head and remind you of your existence every time you open the fridge and wonder what you’re going to make for dinner that evening. I’ve not stopped thinking about Heidi Swanson’s Asparagus Panzanella since it popped up on my RSS feed. It’s the perfect Spring recipe – one which is simple, elegant and can be thrown together in half an hour. (Plus, she recommends topping it with a chopped hard boiled egg and – as we all know – everything is better when you put an egg on it.)

But, me being me, I had to tinker with it a bit. My bunch of asparagus didn’t look substantial enough on its own, so I added the leftovers of a box of mixed leaves I got in my Abel and Cole delivery. I had a pack of white miso lying unloved at the back of my fridge, so I decided to add it to the dressing to round it out a bit and add an extra ping of sweetness. And (while I never really need much of an excuse to eat steak), I’d had a bit of a crappy day, so lets throw a bit of medium rare rump in there too.

While it may not look as refined as the original, sometimes there’s no shame in being a bit rough and ready. This is a spring salad which satisfies, and the perfect way to celebrate English asparagus season while you’re at it.

STEAK AND ASPARAGUS SALAD

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

You will need:

  • 1 medium sized piece of rump steak
  • 80 ml buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon white miso (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 bunch of (English) asparagus
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large handful of good quality sourdough, torn into chunks
  • 1 large handful of mixed salad leaves (I used these baby leaves I got from Abel and Cole)

Make it!

  1. Cook your steak (make sure you oil the meat, not the pan!) I find that two – three minutes on each side does the trick to get it medium rare, although this will depend on the thickness of your steak.
  2. Make the dressing by whisking together the buttermilk, olive oil, mustard, vinegar, white miso, and a pinch of salt. Taste and adjust if needed, before setting aside.
  3. Melt the butter in a large skillet, add the cubes of sourdough bread and toss until every nook and cranny is smothered in melted butter. Continue to toss them gently on a medium heat until they turn crispy and golden. Transfer to a paper towel.
  4. Trim the asparagus and blanch in a saucepan of salted boiling water until just tender – around a minute or so. Add the blanched asparagus to the rinsed mixed leaves.
  5. Slice the steak against the grain into thin stripes. Add to the bowl, along with the toasted bread and a healthy drizzle of the buttermilk-miso dressing. Serve with a large glass of wine.
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