hiatus or finally starting the year

If you are any kind of observant person, you would have noticed that I have been on a bit of a hiatus so far this year. The reason is not nearly as exciting as it usually is with these kinds of things; no, I haven’t been working really hard because I got a book deal or a segment on the Food Network or anything, I’ve just been busy and everything has fallen by the wayside.

Arriving back from overseas has kind of put a stop to all my creativity and I am experiencing a real lack of inspiration; I don’t have any trips planned and I can’t speak all day pottering about in the kitchen as I would like.

But as we enter into the fifth month (!) of the year, I think it’s high time that I get my A into G and get back to it all. I’m sure I made some promises about ongoing challenges I had issued myself last year, I can’t really remember them but here’s to hoping they come back to me.

But in the meantime, I have some planning to get to, some failures to rethink and a very large stack of cooking books to get reading!

 

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have you heard of salsa verde?

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned how I was planning a trip to Argentina. I had this revelation at about the same time that I started planning my Christmas menu and thought it might be a nice opportunity to try my hand at another quintessential dish. Bringing us to Christmas condiment number 2; salsa verde.

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Salsa Verde is Spanish for green sauce, it is packed full of fresh herbs which give it a punchy flavour, great for enhancing any meal!

Like I said the other day; our Christmas meal was a beautiful rack of lamb, and what is a traditional, go-to side to roast lamb? Mint sauce! Salsa Verde is essentially mint, basil and parsley which makes it not only delicious, but quick and hassle-free to make, and perfect for the summertime!

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All you will need for this tasty accompaniment is:

2 handfuls of parsley leaves
1 handful of mint leaves
1 handful of basil leaves
2 tablespoons of capers
2 large gherkins
1 tablespoon of wholegrain mustard
3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
the juice of half a lemon
8 tablespoons of olive oil
a big crack of pepper
1 handful of cashew nuts

I know that ‘handful’ isn’t exactly a scientific way of measuring anything but I think it works here – if you’re picking the herbs from your garden you can wrap your hands around as many stems as you want for each of the three. I bought mine at the market and just made one bunch the equivalent of a handful and the ratio worked well for me!

Cashew nuts are not in any recipe I have seen online but I added them for two reasons; I thought their subtle nutty flavour would mellow the harsh zing of the herbs, and I have come left over from when I made my stollen.

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Give the leaves a rinse under cold water and discard the stems, whiz all of the ingredients up in the food processor and you are good to go! The herbs retain a little bit of their crunch and absorb the sweet spiciness of the golden, pale green olive oil – it’s a feast for the eyes and the tastebuds, so irresistible that I may or may not have mopped the remnants from the food processor with a piece of bread!

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Served alongside the lamb and a pile of new potatoes, the green smattering of sauce gave my plate a needed burst of colour and brought the flavours to a whole new level!

 

i would like to thank my mom and my dad and everyone who has supported me…

liebster

Last week I was nominated for the Liebster Award by Jen at www.adventuroustraveltales.com (go and check out her blog, she has got some pretty great pictures!), I remember seeing this when I first started my blog and thought it was such a great idea. For those of you that don’t know what the Liebster Award is, it is a really cool way of getting new blogs out into the blogisphere and to get people connected.

The rules are pretty straightforward, you link the person who nominated you into your post and answer the 11 questions that they gave you. Then you nominate 11 blogs with less than 200 followers and give them 11 new questions to answer. Let the new bloggers know that you have nominated them and the cycle continues. So, basically it is like a big chain letter.

Here are my answers for the questions Jen gave me:

-What is your blog about?

The idea behind my blog was originally to be a travel diary documenting my life as I moved to Europe; the places I visited, the food I ate, the people I met. The concept has evolved over time to feature more of my own recipes that are inspired by things I have eaten on my travels.

-Salty or Sweet?

Oooh, this is a hard one. Sweet… I think. I depends if I am cooking it or if I am eating it. Sweet if I am eating it but salty if I am making it. Or salted caramel because it means I don’t have to choose one! (That’s also a shameless plug for this recipe!)

-What is something that people would be surprised to know about you?

I hated cooking until very, very recently. I could not cook anything until I was about 20 years old, and had no interest in being able to cook. I couldn’t cook much more than pasta, and my mum wouldn’t even let me use sharp knives or the gas elements if I was home alone out of fear I would burn the house down!

-What are your top three blogs to read?

I have always loved PostSecret. I like The Sartorialist for fashion and style and 101COOKBOOKS always has amazing recipes.

-Do you listen to podcasts, if so, which ones?

I am way too technologically inept for that!

-Describe your perfect day.

-Sleeping in, coffee in bed followed by a long breakfast, spending the day at the beach; swimming and lying in the sun. A long Mediterranean dinner is also a must – the simple things!

-Drink of choice?

This is a hard one! (Can you tell that I am not good at making decisions?!) I don’t think you can beat an ice cold mojito, it is perfect in basically any situation. I love the sweet and sour combination of the sugar and limes, and the freshness of the mint.

-Favorite Movie?

Almost Famous, directed by Cameron Crowe; I can quote the entire movie and watch it at least once a month.

-How do you keep being inspired to write or photograph?

I don’t think it is hard to keep inspired to run my blog, I think it is more a question of finding the time to think and plan for it. I think it definitely takes time to find a balance between writing and my day-job.

-If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

An island in the tropics or the middle of the Med; I hate winter and living in a continuous summer by the beach is my ideal lifestyle!

-What is your biggest fear?

Going bald. Fo’ sure.

The blogs I am nominating are:

https://eveningpeony.wordpress.com/

https://fromcali.wordpress.com/

https://amberrosemcintyre.wordpress.com/

http://thecookinmama.com/

https://skepticspoon.wordpress.com/

http://ayaexchangestudents.com/

http://saffronandhoney.com/

https://pablovilas13.wordpress.com/

https://gladysjaime.wordpress.com/

https://jacquiwithacue.wordpress.com/

https://emmelula.wordpress.com/

Here are my questions:

What would be your last meal?

What made you want to start a blog?

Who is your ideal reader?

If you could live in any country, where would it be and why?

If you were a flavor of ice cream, what would you be?

What is a book that you could read over and over again?

What was your dream job when you were 5 years old?

What is your dream job now?

What is your favorite season, why?

Are you spontaneous or move of a planner and organizer?

What’s one random fact about yourself?

Good luck bloggers, I look forward to reading your answers!

forgotten things

It has been a number of weeks since I last updated this blog. Life has been a bit hectic; I found a new apartment to move into and then at the last minute they decided to give it to someone else, so I was a little in limbo for a while and not becoming homeless was my main priority.

But all is well now, I have moved into a new place with a lovely view of the river and a nice, big kitchen.

So, in theme of things being lost and forgotten I thought I would make this classic French breakfast; French Toast. You may ask what the connection between French Toast and lost-ness is. Well, let me explain. Ironically, if you talk to any French person about French Toast, they will have no idea what you’re talking about. That’s because in France French Toast is not called French Toast, it’s not even just called toast. It’s called pain perdu, which translates to lost or wasted bread.

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While elsewhere in the world we would generally just use a regular loaf of bread to make this dish, in France it is made with baguette- more specifically, baguettes left over from the day (or two) before. So for this recipe you will need a baguette that is at least a day old, two is better. The point of using old bread is that it is not as soft as when freshly baked so it absorbs the eggy milk mixture without going soggy and collapsing.

Because I was cooking just for myself I used half a baguette. Firstly, cut the baguette into thick slices, then in a bowl mix one egg and half a cup of milk for each half of baguette you’re using. I added a teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon as hot chocolate powder, this is completely optional but gives it a nice flavour.

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Whisk this all together and then add the chunks of bread, flipping them after about 30 seconds so they absorb the mixture evenly throughout.

Melt a knob of butter in a pan and add the pieces of bread. Spoon the remaining mixture that was not absorbed over top of each piece for good measure. After a few minutes the  pan will really start to sizzle, check the underside of the bread to see how cooked it is, when it is a nice golden brown or cooked to whatever degree you like flip it over and repeat on the other side.

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Remove from the pan and leave to cool for a moment, sprinkle with sugar or icing sugar and drizzle with a bit of honey or agave nectar (what I used). Usually I would eat this meal with bacon but it is extremely difficult to find proper rashers of bacon in France; it basically only comes in the form of lardons. And besides, the idea of eating something so salty as bacon as a breakfast food would make any French person’s stomach turn.

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Serve hot with a cup (or two) of fresh coffee and a newspaper- the perfect Sunday brunch!

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when life gives you lemons

   So, this week I moved. I packed my bags and hopped on a train, how exciting! However, before this excitement could happen I had to leave my house, which involved finding a way of using all the ingredients I had that I couldn’t or didn’t want to take with me. The trouble with this was that I didn’t really have enough of anything to make anything, so I had to do some tweaking.

So this is my adaptation of Vadani Kaval Gheta’s vegan lemon almond cake. I love lemons. And a few years ago I made Nigella’s lemon polenta cake (very good, do try it!) and this cake is quite similar. Although unlike Vadani’s version of the cake, mine was not actually vegan… I had no soy milk, but I had normal milk and the only reason I had looked for a vegan recipe was because I had no eggs and I didn’t want to go and buy any. So I did what I could with what I had, when life gives you lemons, bake a cake!

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Between two and four lemons, depending on how lemony you like it
1 cup of milk, from a cow, a soy bean or anything really
1/3 cup of almond meal or ground almonds
1 1/4 cup of flour
a dash of salt
a dash of baking powder
1/2 cup of sugar
1/3 cup of oil, from an olive, a sunflower etc.
a dash of vanilla

First things first, zest all the lemons that you choose to use, squeeze the juice out of them all and add half of it to the milk, set the other half aside. Leave the milk to curdle a little, which I know sounds gross but it helps to thicken the mixture later on.SAM_1411

Mix the almonds, the flour, the baking powder and the salt in a bowl and set aside.

Mix the oil, the sugar, vanilla and all of the lemon zest in another bowl, you can blend it if you want but I didn’t, I doubt it is an essential step. I also added a little bit of cinnamon.SAM_1416

Add a third of the milk slowly and mix it in thoroughly, add another third and another third like so.

Add the dry ingredients and mix together, again thoroughly. Then pour into a cake tin and pop in the oven (which you should have heated to 190°C before the first things first) for 20 minutes.

While that’s baking, mix the remaining lemon juice with  a little bit of sugar to make a nice glaze, you can heat it to thicken it up if you would like but what I did was wait until the cake was done, I took it out of the oven and poured the sugary juice straight over the cake and put it back into the oven for a couple more minutes at a low temperature. This way it seeps through the whole cake to keep it nice and moist.

This cake was a success in my opinion, although it didn’t make a lot and I ate it within the hour. It is best enjoyed hot I think! The sugary almond base to the cake is nicely contrasted to the tart flavour of the lemons which I adore!

A very easy cake, almost as easy to bake as it is to eat!

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la dolce vita

AUTHOR’S NOTE: There is not really anything sweet in this post as the title would suggest. If anything, my recent trip along the coastline of Liguria, in Italy, was completely salty. The Mediterranean Sea, the fresh focaccia bread, the cured meats; essentially it was perfect.

Our trip was somewhat spontaneous, aside from the fact that it had kind of been in the works since February, we had planned very little else. All we knew was that my friend was going to be in Florence on this day and I found a cheap ticket to Genoa for the same day, so we knew we would at least be in the same country. So the day before I was set to leave we Skyped to make a bit more of a plan; we would meet the next day in La Spezia, I would send out some requests on the website CouchSurfing and hope that someone replied and would let us stay with them. My friend had no phone and I would have no internet access until unless I managed to find some McDonald’s wifi or something, so we really had to just hope that the other person would be there when we arrived.

So, feeling a little nervous about the whole situation I headed to the station at 6am and headed to Genoa, where I got a train to La Spezia. A train that was meant to take 90 minutes but ended up taking 2 and a half hours, thanks Italian train system, you’re a winner! But that was okay, we found some free wifi and were disappointed to find that no one had replied to our requests, maybe it was because we sent the requests about 18 hours before arriving, oops.

Luckily, my friend remembered that she once met this guy who lived nearby, we contacted him and we could stay with him and his family from the next day. We then happened to find two Norwegian backpackers who were in the same situation as us and the four of us managed to find a nice little hotel we could stay at for the night at a very reasonable price. It looked like everything had really fallen into place!

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The next few days were spent lying in the sun, swimming in the sea (which was at a perfect temperature), eating a lot of amazing food and struggling to communicate with our friend’s family who spoke no/very little English.

LA Spezia is the gateway town to Cinque Terre, ‘Five Lands’; a collection of five isolated little towns on the coast, overlooking the sea, full of beautiful old buildings and amazing views. The towns are linked by little paths which you can walk if you have the time and energy, otherwise the train goes past every town pretty regularly. Each town has it’s own unique feel and attraction. Montorosso is the biggest, the most touristy and has a proper sand beach.

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Vernazza is know for having a beautiful church that overlooks the water, it also has a collection of nice little boutiques and shops. However, I would recommend climbing across the rocks past the marina area and swimming there, it is less crowded than Montorosso and the water has less limestone in it, so it doesn’t hurt your eyes so much.

Riomaggiore is full of little pathways so it is the easiest to explore, it is also full of little restaurants and takeaway places specializing in seafood, such as the Mamma Mia! Takeaways which was a personal favorite, mainly based on the name. It is also the starting point for the Via Dell’Amore, or the Road of Lovers, the shortest, easiest and apparently nicest walk. Unfortunately it was closed so we could only look at the walk.

This path joins Riomaggiore with Manarola. This was the last town we went to, after a five minute stop at Corniglia, so we arrived as the sun was beginning to set. The sunlight reflecting off the water was amazing and I would say this was probably the most beautiful of the five towns.

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Liguria is the birthplace of pesto and focaccia bread, so obviously the food is amazing, and we were staying with an Italian family so everything we ate was authentic! We had a Sunday afternoon picnic in the sunshine, at a 300 year old house with a 90 year old grandfather up in a small mountain village but the absolute highlight was discovering panigacci.

Panigacci is a dish that is traditional to LA Spezia, you will find it nowhere else in Italy. It is essentially a pancake but it can also be boiled at eaten like any other kind of pasta. When I first saw it I thought that it looked pretty easy to make and I mentally added it to my list of things to attempt but I was then warned that not only is the batter extremely difficult to get right, the cooking process involves heating terracotta plates in a fire and then layering the mixture in between them all, and knowing how long to leave them without burning it, so I decided to just enjoy it this once and not make it ever.

It was truly a versatile dish, we ate a three course meal with each dish containing panigacci. First we had it boiled and served with a variety of sauces, then the crispy pancake version with cheese and cured meats and even as dessert! The crunchy pancakes served with nutella was delicious!

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Such deliciousness topped off with a nice glass of limonata, perfection!

If anyone is brave enough to attempt making panigacci I would love to hear about it!

 

heartburn, bed and a godess: the world’s best pasta dish

After making my quiche the other day I was faced with a bit of a dilemma: I had used up half of my eggs but I still had five left over and nothing to do with them. I also had some leftover lardons and I was hungry.

Obviously, my first thought is to turn to Nigella Lawson, whose culinary genius and extravagant recipes usually contain the answers to any question. I remembered seeing a segment on Nigella Bites where she made spaghetti alla carbonara and it seemed unbelievably easy, and also used up my leftover ingredients.

heartburnShe describes this meal as an ultimate midnight snack based on the fact it is so easy to whip up and you can eat it right out the pot back in bed, just like in the movie Heartburn, with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. If you haven’t seen the movie it’s kinda fun and it also has Rizzo from Grease (Stockard Channing) and the dad from Fly Away Home (Jeff Daniels). As I am writing this I am also realising that I talk about Meryl Streep far too much, that woman just seems to be in every movie that has any relevance to anything I cook.

Anyway, enough dillydallying and on to the actual recipe. It will only take you as long as the pasta takes to cook.

Boil a pot of water, add some salt and when it is nicely bubbling away add as much spaghetti as you think you can eat. Nigella’s recipe uses a whole packet; it is designed for two people plus some for the next day so I have augmented it a little to make it just right for one. In  a large pan that will fit the pasta after it is cooked as well, heat a dash of olive oil on a medium heat and the add the lardons. Cubed pancetta with the fat removed would also work in this situation, I used a little over 50 grams and also added a clove of crushed garlic. I have also tried it with some diced onion, it will fry in the lardons’ fatty juices and just burn, so if you want to do this then sauté it first, set it aside and re-add it later.

Nigella being Nigella, she adds a dash of vermouth when the bacon-y bits are crispy but before they are crunchy. I don’t own vermouth, nor do I imagine I will own it in the near (or not-so-near) future, if you have some white wine you can add this and let it bubble until it makes a nice syrup. Or you can just skip this step. The next step is to add a dash of milk or cream (that is what Nigella uses) and this mixes with the fatty goodness and makes a nice saucy liquid.SAM_0822

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By now, the pasta will be ready, you will know the pasta is ready when you can throw a piece at the wall and it will stick (see above). And yes, I do do this every time I cook spaghetti. And yes, the paint will come off the wall if you leave it there to dry before picking it off, you have been warned.SAM_0825

Basically it is now done, mix through some parmesan, crack some pepper over it and grate some nutmeg on top if you so wish. If you are being romantic, take the pot back to your bed and share it with your lover but remember the pot is probably still hot. If you are being a normal person you can still eat it out of the pot if you want, or you can eat it out of a bowl. I kinda want to say that eating it out of the pot will make it taste better, but if you are against being so unruly and wild, it will still taste amazing!SAM_0827

quirky quiche (or another q adjective?)

  Next week will mark three months since I arrived in France, wow it has gone so quickly! The other day I realised that in those three months I had not yet eaten a French quiche, a dish that I have always automatically thought of when I think of French cuisine.

Luckily, this was about to change as I am the only one in the apartment for the next week weeks and was given a carton of eggs the other day, and I don’t eat eggs by themselves and quiche is an easy way to use up a lot of eggs in one go.

There are literally a million different variations of quiche (okay, maybe not literally but there are a lot) so the first step after acquiring your eggs is to decide what else your going to fill it with. So I was bumbling around on the internet looking for a recipe that would use the ingredients I had waiting to be used in my fridge and I found a recipe for a ‘Rainbow Quiche’ which 1) looked delicious, 2) mainly used most of the things I had, and 3) was obviously a sign that this was meant to be a celebration quiche to celebrate the overturning of DOMA and Prop 8. And boy, this sign was delicious!

As you can probably guess, a Rainbow Quiche is a quiche full of colourful ingredients so feel free to pick and choose whatever vegetables you want. The recipe called for three small capsicums, each of different colours and finely diced, half an onion some broccoli and a cup each of spinach leaves and sliced mushrooms. I personally had a big issue with this part of the recipe, why measure mushrooms in cups? You can’t go and buy a cup of mushrooms or measure it out, so why say it? By the way, a cup of mushrooms is two medium sized ones.

I could not find any spinach at the grocery store and I hate broccoli more than I hate anything in the world, so I omitted these ingredients and replaced them with a diced tomato and half of an avocado. I also only had two kinds of capsicums so I switched the orange one for 100 grams of lardons (bacon bits) because they are almost the same colour and they are yummy.SAM_0803_edited

So here is what you need to do to make your Rainbow Quiche Lorraine…

Line a pie dish with savoury pastry, shape it nicely, poke it all over with a fork and put in in the refrigerator to chill.

In a large pan or skillet, heat a bit oil or butter (depending on what vegetables you plan on using, or really to your own preference) and add the onions. I also added some crushed garlic because I love it, and have recently discovered all of its amazing nutritional properties. If you are using lardons then add them when the onions start becoming slightly translucent. You know that the lardons are cooking nicely when they start to release all of their juices, the onions will start to absorb this and become full of flavour!

Next add whatever vegetables you have decided to use, sauté them until they are tender before seasoning with salt and pepper and some dried herbs. I added the tomato after I did this so they hadn’t gone too mushy when I assembled the quiche. I also didn’t add the avocado, along with a few sprigs of fresh parsley until just before putting the vegetables into the pastry. Remove the mixture from the pan and leave on a plate to cool slightly, this is so it doesn’t melt the pastry. I almost stopped right here, because it already looked amazing and I wouldn’t have minded eating it just like this!

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The recipe that I was loosely following called for 6 eggs and 1 3/4 cups of milk or demi crème whisked together with a dash of salt but I was scared that this would be too much for my little dish, and I also had a lot of vegetables so I used 5 eggs and 1 1/2 cups of milk knowing that I could always whisk another egg if I didn’t have enough. Spoon the vegetables into the pastry mold and spread evenly. Cover with a cup of grated cheese, basically any kind will do; mozzarella, nacho cheese, I wish that I had used crumbled feta but instead I used Emmental. I would probably advise not to use this as it didn’t go nice and gooey like I would have liked but rather went all crusty and crunchy.

Pour the milky egg mixture over top and place in the oven for 45 minutes on about 180°C. It is lucky that I used only 5 eggs because the mixture was this close to overflowing as I placed it in the oven!

You know it’s ready when you can stick a knife in it and pull it out without any egg sticking to it, it should be nice and golden on top. Leave it to sit for about 10 minutes before serving. I served mine with a nice rainbow coloured salad. And ate half of it in one sitting, but it is supposed to be 8 servings, I guess for people with no appetites. Enjoy!SAM_0809_editedSAM_0814SAM_0817_edited

aubergine, roquette and lemon risotto for one

aubergine, roquette and lemon risotto for one

aubergine, roquette and lemon risotto for one

Okay, actually the recipe is for two but I ate it all for myself…
Adapted from a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, the smoky eggplant was a great contrast to the lemon’s zing!