Quinoa and Pepper Salad

img_4599tThis has become one of my staple lunch options. It’s straightforward and fairly quick to make, and you can switch the different items based on what you’ve got around. This recipe is based on Anna Jones’ ‘At Your Desk Salads’ (from A Modern Way to Cook) – which is an excellent chart of ingredients in six different categories that you can mix and match to create a salad. So the base of this is quinoa, with pepper, spring greens, cornichons, pumpkin seeds and a pesto dressing. I won’t list all of the various options here, but another variation I’ve done recently is brown rice with carrot, lettuce, sesame seeds, capers and a soy sauce/maple syrup dressing.

A Modern Way to Cook has rapidly become one of my favourite cookbooks. In the past I have bought recipe books and cooked one or two things out of them, and then they just sit on the shelf, very occasionally used. So for a while I have refused myself cookbook purchases because it’s not worth paying about £25 for a couple of recipes. This time though, I found the book in the library, and I took it for a test run before investing. For the longest time I didn’t even realise my library had cookbooks, and now I know I think I will always borrow before buying. We cooked out of A Modern Way to Cook pretty much solidly for a week, and I realised that it was going to be a worthwhile investment, because there’s so many new, different (and quick!) recipes to try. Not eating meat has meant I’ve had to invest a fair amount of time into looking at what else I can eat that is good for me, balanced and healthy, and this book is possibly one of the best I’ve come across (also Ottolenghi’s Plenty, which will be discussed at a later date).

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Banana & Toffee Cupcakes

The last month has been crazy, full on crazy. I went to Stockholm a couple of weeks ago, and it was glorious. I never get tired of visiting Scandinavia, it’s like this paradise where everything is just lovely and full of coffee and pastries, and they have museum exhibitions about brewing beer (yes!). It also looks like this:

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On returning, we had friends staying for the Bank Holiday weekend, and then had a huge pizza party which was great, albeit very messy, because when you make 3kg of dough, and get your approx. 20 guests to all make their own pizzas, it gets…ugh. My kitchen. It was the biggest clear up job ever, and mad props to Laura and Hayden who did loads of it whilst I was still at the pub. We had some cool pizzas though – including macaroni cheese pizza, potato pizza, and banana and harissa pizza (which surprisingly worked).

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Anyway, now that I’m finally less insanely busy, it’s time to write about those banana and toffee cupcakes I mentioned a while ago. I love banana cake, and I’m always looking for variations to increase its general awesomeness. This is a tale of first world problems, whereby the little Waitrose near my house stopped selling the banana and toffee cupcakes I had grown to love. They still sell them at the one 4 miles from my house, but that is no use to me. So I decided to try and make some myself. I’ve made these a couple of times, and I will say it’s still a work in progress. I think I’m basically hoping that one day they’ll taste exactly like the Waitrose ones, but in the meantime, these work pretty damn well as a substitute.

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Strawberry & Rhubarb Syrup

Summer is here! (It’s forecast to rain tomorrow, but 3 days of sunshine and 20+ degree heat is good enough in the UK). To celebrate all the sunshine and possibility of sitting outdoors without a jacket, I made some delicious, delicious syrup. It was one of those recipes you see and think to yourself “I need that in my life”. And I wasn’t disappointed. I took some rhubarb from my parents’ garden, bought some strawberries and a lemon, and a cute milk bottle, and after very little effort, I had this:

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It’s great as a summer drink mixer – use 2-3 tbsp of syrup and add sparkling water, or my personal preference, bitter lemon. If you’re feeling like you need some alcohol, add 2 shots of gin, and maybe a few crushed mint leaves. Beautiful.

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The Reintroduction

Welcome. It’s been about 18 months since I last did this properly. I’ve resolved now to reform the habit, and stick at this. During the time I’ve been gone, I forfeited my domain, and now find it taken away from me. That’s kind of cool though, because I’d been wanting to drop the ‘bakery’ part of the name for a while (we’re now theplumtree.co, in case you didn’t notice). Not that this isn’t going to be about cake any more, because that would be pure madness. But, maybe sometimes it’ll be about other things too. I also considered starting afresh in a new place, but then I thought, hey, I’ll have to go somewhere else to find the link when I want to reminisce about the time I made a crepe cake. That’s no fun.

So, here I am. I’ll be doing some baking, and then writing about it. I’ll be doing this at least once a week for the foreseeable future. I feel like it’s good to make a commitment right at the start, no shitting about. People have asked me a lot about doing this again recently, and now after all the moving about and having my mind consumed and zapped by postgraduate study, I am ready again.

The evidence of things I’ve cooked over the last 18 months can be found on my Instagram, if you’re interested (lately it’s more pictures of pizza really), and I’ll probably keep putting other stuff up there too. A few days ago I made some not-photogenic banana and toffee cupcakes. This weekend’s task is to make some more photogenic ones. See, you already have something to look forward to, and so does my stomach. Good.

Laters.

On Trying

Last January I made a sort of vague commitment to reducing my meat consumption. I didn’t even dare use the word ‘vegetarian’, because, in my own words “I like bacon too much”. The last eighteen months or so have been a process of trying, and admittedly, occasionally failing, to cut meat out of my diet. It’s still a process. In the last month I have eaten chicken and burgers and sausages and bacon and even perhaps some beef. After a few weeks of eating meat a couple of times a week, I kind of start to forget why I wanted to do this in the first place. Then various reminders start popping up, like this excellent video, or writing my dissertation on why conserving the planet is impossible whilst we continue with vast and rapid economic development. Oh, and this highly comedic campaign to help California deal with its drought.

It’s not easy. Some people probably find it a relatively simple transition, perhaps they have stronger ethics than I do, or more of an abhorrence towards meat and the horrible industry it represents. I think there will always be days when I hate having to choose boring cheese ploughman’s sandwiches over chicken caesar salad, when I wake up and want a massive fried breakfast with bacon. But I suppose that is why I keep trying. At the end of the day, I feel relatively powerless to make any change that will positively impact the future of the planet. Giving up an environmentally damaging practice like consuming meat is one of the few choices I can make which will make a difference. It has other benefits too, like learning how to make delicious vegetarian food, and not gaining weight (even when spending significant amounts of time sitting at a desk doing research).

So here’s to a renewed commitment to trying. Maybe one day I’ll be able to call myself a real vegetarian. For now, I’m going to go eat my courgette fritters for dinner.

(full service will resume in about 5 weeks when I’ve finished my dissertation)

Carrot, Cumin and Kidney Bean Burgers

Carrot, Cumin and Kidney Bean Burgers

Gratitude for this meal idea goes to Laura, who I am sharing my quest for better cooking for one with.

After a previous bad experience making vegetarian burgers that contained kidney beans, I wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of these burgers. The gross burgers I made a year or so ago were dry and unpleasant, and so I was like “will this be more of the same?” NO. No it won’t. These burgers are excellent, cheap and straightforward to make. From Laura’s suggestions I made some additions to the original recipe, such as increasing spice and eating with halloumi. I also added some garlic, because if there’s one thing that Nigel Slater has taught me, it is that anything is greatly improved by the addition of garlic.

I think if you leave the mixture in the fridge for a bit you could probably put these on the barbecue. This I am keen to try because one of the few things I am not sold on for being fully vegetarian is not being able to have proper barbecues. I mean, there’s nothing like a beef burger or a sausage that tastes of delicious charcoally grill, right? So I’m hoping that these burgers might make a good substitute (or I will just continue with my occasional lapses back into eating meat).

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I also probably need to invest in a new grater. And a garlic crusher. I spent far too long trying to grate the carrot because we don’t have a box grater, which makes grating more than a small amount of something really inconvenient. Then when I was grating the garlic I managed to also grate my thumb. Genius.  It is useful to have effective kitchen tools.

Oh, and if you were wondering what my soundtrack to making these burgers was, it was this little guy chewing his cardboard tunnel: tiny rabbit

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Eating Alone

I remember watching the film Amelie for the first time, probably about 10 years ago now. One of my favourite parts is where it goes through things the characters do and don’t like. All of Amelie’s likes were somehow beautifully simple, like skimming stones. Every time I’ve watched it since then it’s something that’s always struck me, how it shows that we don’t need huge excitement or important life-changing events to bring happiness into our lives – it can be found in the smallest, simplest things, like skimming stones in a canal. I think this is something I always endeavour to recognise or take note of in some way, but it’s easy to forget.

So one thing I’m going to start doing from now is eating alone. I don’t mean in restaurants or in public. I mean at home, and not without people, but without technology. It has become my default setting to find something to watch whilst I eat. It might not be something I’m particularly interested in watching, but it passes the time. But I don’t really need to pass the time. This is the thing. Eating food that I’ve taken time to prepare, that I enjoy making should surely be given more time and recognition than a backdrop to an episode of the Inbetweeners I’ve seen about 20 times before.

This afternoon I got back to Norwich, and I bought asparagus and potatoes and red onions and I cooked them all and made a soft boiled egg to dip the asparagus in and it was delicious. And I appreciated it more because my eyes were fixed on the plate instead of a screen. This is something I want to do more of – carve out time when I don’t have to be looking at a screen, and relish it. If I’m starting this project to eat more wonderful and delicious food, then I should at least give it the attention it deserves when I eat it.