Autumn is here. I tend to forget how quickly summer can end, how the chill in the air appears overnight and the nights start to draw in. The weather is wetter this year, but the same change comes, the trees are turning shades of orange and gold, which spells time for a slightly heartier cake that warms you on cooler days.
This is that cake. A wonderful nutty cake with warm fruit and a crumble topping. It’s basically two puddings combined into a joyous concoction that will warm your soul. There had to be some self-control to stop us demolishing the entire thing in an afternoon.
I’ve rarely used hazelnuts in a cake before, almonds are usually the recommended nut of choice. After this, I will be making more cakes with hazelnuts in because, seriously, wow! Forget hazelnuts and chocolate in your cake, hazelnuts with fruit is where it’s at. This is destined to become a staple cake, one that I make again and again throughout the autumn and winter. Continue reading
Falafel is a labour of love. It always takes longer to make than I anticipate, but is wholly worth it once it is done. This recipe is adapted from the Guardian’s ‘how to make the perfect…’ series, and whilst I’m not entirely sure it’s perfect, it’s pretty damn good. This recipe uses a mix of chick peas and fava beans, but if you’re struggling to find fava beans (or dried broad beans, to go by their other name), I don’t see why you can’t just use all chick peas. I can’t say I understand enough about the intricacies of falafel making to understand why one is preferable over the other.
I spent much time searching around various shops to find fava beans, to no avail, so (as previously recommended) I went to Hodmedod’s and found them there. Hurrah!
Unfortunately a mishap occurred with this batch – possibly not blended for long enough, or the beans weren’t dry enough, but they were a nightmare to shape into balls, and after they immediately fell apart in the pan once I started frying them, I gave up, smushed them all down and made a different sort of falafel, one that looks like a giant bowl of brown sugar. This was achieved by pouring all of the mixture with a few tablespoons of sunflower oil and baking at 200C for about 20-25 mins (turning the mixture occasionally). It’s better in this form if you want to make wraps, because unlike when they’re round, it doesn’t all collapse so easily. So, accidental discovery, would recommend. But you can also follow the correct traditional method below.
One final recipe note: I have to split the ingredients in half and make in two batches because my blender doesn’t fit all of it in at once – at least not for it to effectively blend. If you too have a not-huge-blender, you may want to consider this.
This 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).
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:
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).
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.
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).
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:
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.
Cooking for one. It sounds like something sad and lonely, someone without a partner, family or friends to cook for, but often it’s just a fact of life. For the last 2.5 years I’ve lived with housemates, but we haven’t cooked together or for each other, so I have cooked for myself every evening. I love to cook, I love making the effort to cook a delicious meal even if it is just for myself. Over that time I’ve also stopped cooking meat for myself, which has presented a challenge in finding new things to make. My friend has recently moved, and she, like me, lives with someone else, but is cooking for herself. We’re in our mid-20s, don’t earn much (or anything at all, in my case), but we want to eat well and we don’t have the luxury of spending a lot on food, nor can we afford to waste it.
So few recipes cater for cooking for one. I know the obvious thing is to just reduce the quantities, but so often that means using bits and pieces of vegetables and trying to work out something inventive to do with the leftovers, or having to eat the same thing several nights in a row, which is tedious. Recently I ate tomato and lentil soup for lunch four days in a row because I had vegetables to use up and I was trying to save money. By the third day I was truly sick of it. This is how things often are when you’re just cooking for yourself. But it shouldn’t be. Food should always be awesome, even when cooked in smaller portions. This is what I’m looking for, for my food to be exciting every day, even when I’m trying to use stuff up.
I’m going to start writing my dissertation in a few weeks, which means a stretch of about 3 months where I have plenty of work but no pressing deadlines. I’m going to start thinking a lot more about how I cook for myself, and because it will be almost summer there will be loads of amazing vegetables coming up soon. This will be my new challenge – to find more variety and excitement in cooking for one, and writing about it here. Watch this space.