Posts Tagged ‘cookery’

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enter: 2013

January 2, 2013

I have found that writing a list at the start of each year has been a fairly successful way of realising at least some of my ambitions, as well as being able to look back at the previous year and seeing how far I have come. Since I started this blog back in 2009, each year has resulted in a lot of changes and accomplishments, which makes me incredibly happy!  So before I look at what I hope to have in store for 2013, I want to review my goals for 2012 and see how I did.

1. Learn to cook a new dish every month.

Tick… well, I got just over halfway before finally getting bored of this. I am just not one for cooking, and I really did not enjoy it. But after nine months’ worth of trying to make new dishes, I have learned some useful things and when I find myself in the situation of having to cook a meal, I can usually concoct something from whatever ingredients are in stock without resorting to a ready meal or pulling my hair out. So I think that that is progress!

2. Cut down on takeaways – to once a fortnight.

More or less! I think some weeks we do better than others, but we definitely have less takeaways than we used to. Hopefully we will renew our strictness with this rule over the coming year.

3. Move in with Toby.

Tick! This was one of the big achievements this year – we now are living together in our beautiful flat in Chiswick, and we are very happy.

4. Pay off my student overdraft.

Nope. Last time my car ate my money, this time the new flat and two wonderful holidays (to Paris and Prague) did it instead. But hopefully 2013 will be the year! Especially as I am being charged for using this overdraft now – so I’m fairly confident I will defeat it.

5. Learn Italian

Tick! In a couple of weeks, I will be starting my third term of learning Italian at the Italian Cultural Institute on Belgrave Square. My teacher Giuseppe is fantastic, and I really enjoy it.

6. Learn to sew

Tick! I think I learned this skill fairly early on into the year, and it’s been useful throughout. Now, I can repair holes and tears in tops, underwear, socks and trousers, and keep my wardrobe going a bit longer.

7. Finish my new album

Tick! Well, I finished 2526 – I had hoped it would be longer and wider in scope, but in the end the concept of the album dictated that I had to finish it in October. But nevertheless I am proud of it and I feel that the mood and quality of the songs represent another step forward for me musically.

8. Go completely digital with my music and film collections, and only keep physical copies of what I really love

Nope, not yet. I’ve managed to get all of my DVDs from Bristol to London, and the next thing is to get my CDs up here. I already sold a lot of the ones that I knew I didn’t want, but it’ll be easier to work out what I want to keep and sell once I have everything here in my flat, and can just put a pile aside for MusicMagpie or Cex or whatever. My iPod finally died in November after 4 years of faithful service, and though in previous years I would have had to run to the Apple store to buy a new one, this time I’m surviving with the (tiny) music library on my iPhone. Which I feel represents patience, maturity and restraint! As well as a concentration on what’s really important, and where my money needs to go. Eventually I’d really like another iPod but I can’t see myself getting one for another few months yet. So I feel that this aim is on hold for now – I’ll hopefully achieve it gradually, but in the meantime I prefer the tangibility of music and film purchases in any case. I am still learning to step into the future, I suppose!

5 / 5.5 out of 8 is perfectly reasonable, I think! And now, my list of goals and resolutions for 2013:

1. Quit smoking.

Toby’s never known me as a non-smoker, and I think it’s about time he did. It’s going to be difficult, and I don’t want cigarettes to have complete power over me to the point where I’m as much a slave to them having given up as I am being a smoker. I’ve already cut down quite a bit so now I just have to take the final leap. Going back to work will be difficult because I need the breaks and I will feel silly just walking around Notting Hill doing nothing, but I’ll work something out. I do enjoy a cigarette, and so perhaps every now and then I may have a cigarette socially – who knows. I’m trying to be loose about it at the moment, so that I don’t feel overly pressurised and that there isn’t a wagon to jump on / fall off of. But generally, this is the year I stop, and I know that I have the willpower (read: stubbornness) to do so. To muffle any temptation, I need to think of: the money I’m saving, my teeth not turning yellow, my blood pressure and life expectancy being improved, not smelling of cigarettes, and (most importantly) being healthy for Toby and showing that I value our love, life and longevity.

2. Pay off my student overdraft.

Third time lucky!

3 & 4. Get fit and toned, and write and record over half of my new album.

I was watching Skyfall with the delicious Daniel Craig, and I decided that I want his body. Except without quite so much effort, and my face shouldn’t be as aged as his. But he’s pretty amazing, physically. At the same time, I also decided that my new music has to be made with heart and soul, and in this way it will show my evolution. Hence my new life motto for this year is “Body and Soul” – I will look after my body and keep fit and hopefully lose some weight and tone up, and I will make music that is vibrant and true.

5. To sing live at least once, in front of an audience.

Because I haven’t done it in a long time, and I miss it!

6. Write a novel.

I already wrote a chapter of a novel a few months ago, but it trailed off and I haven’t done anything with it since. I have been inspired by Toby’s brother, who actually wrote a novel and got it published on Amazon and everything. I used to love creative writing ever since I was little, and so it’s a natural progression in a way for me to write a book. Watch this space…

7. Learn to moonwalk.

I love dancing, and I was watching the documentary for Michael Jackson’s Bad album and it suddenly occurred to me that learning to moonwalk would be something really fun. The only setback to this plan is that the floors throughout our flat are carpeted. But I wanted a goal that was quite light-hearted and fun, amidst all of the seriousness!

8. Pass Italian exam in the summer.

At the Italian Cultural Institute, at the end of each term you can take an exam to get a qualification demonstrating your proficiency in the language. By the end of this academic year (i.e. in July), I will have finished the upper intermediate class if all goes to plan – and so I think it would be good to have a recognised qualification stating my ability in the Italian language. So this is something that I want to achieve too. At the same time, I am hoping that I will continue reading literature in both Spanish and Italian to maintain my fluency in both of those languages (if I have to sacrifice one of my languages, I guess it would be French.)

9. Teach Toby how to play chess.

We have a nice wooden chess set on our coffee table, and I can’t believe that Toby is so intelligent and yet does not know how to play chess. So I will teach him – it’s an important life skill and keeps the brain active and from being rotted by episodes of 30 Rock and The Big Bang Theory.

10. Start saving up a deposit for a house.

I know, we only just moved into the Chiswick flat! Toby and I really like this area of London, and so it’s gonna be a long time before we can actually afford something here. But why not start now? This is something that will happen once I have finished paying off my overdraft (see number 2) but I hope that by the end of the year, I will have put some new money in my festering ISA that can be ultimately used for the deposit on a lovely flat or house.

Wish me luck, and good luck with your resolutions and goals for the year ahead!

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cookery: egg fried rice + veggies

November 1, 2012

Tonight Toby has been at a macarons class run by Edd Kimber, so I have been left to my own devices. I really couldn’t be bothered to go out, nor could I be bothered to spend any money when we have perfectly good things in the fridge and cupboard, so I decided to dive in and cook something. After typing the ingredients I had at my fingertips into Google, it suggested I might like to attempt some sort of rice and vegetable dish. So egg fried rice it was! I used this recipe, and also added some baby corn and sliced mushrooms to the mix. I am not sure what kind of rice I was supposed to use, but as the only thing we had was basmati, I ended up cooking that, letting it cool in a sieve, and then frying it – it seemed to work fine!  The most impressive thing was the egg – I was sceptical that after beating it with a fork, puddling it into the centre of a ring of vegetables and rice, and waiting a minute before stirring it all in would work – but it did!

From start to finish, the whole thing (preparation – both mentally, and of the food) took about 40 minutes or so, which was fairly pleasing as it was a proper meal constructed from scratch! And aside from a couple of crispy bits of egg and rice (perhaps I could have stirred even more, but I erroneously chose to use a frying pan and not a wok, so I had to be conscious of not slopping half of the food onto the hob), it was pretty tasty! Tomorrow, Toby is giving a lecture at UWE and so I’ll come home late from my Italian class and have to cook something. Originally, I was going to treat myself to an easy ready-meal, but emboldened by tonight’s success I’m going to make something very similar to what I made at the beginning of the year – but instead of chicken, I’ll use bacon and there won’t be any roast potatoes (but maybe roast parsnips… we’ll see how energetic I am at 10pm!). I have this aspiration to be someone who can work full-time and yet manage to do all of the cleaning and all of the cooking; I am not sure why I want to push myself so much because it’s not necessary, but I think that proving to myself that I can do it all, even just in theory or for a short amount of time, would feel good. So I’m not going to give up on this cooking thing, and I may one day achieve a state of domestic bliss! 🙂

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bare necessities.

September 15, 2012

Now that Toby has returned from Aberdeen and payday is imminent, my thoughts are turning to the new flat we are going to acquire in the coming weeks. We are considering a range of locations, including Earls Court, Fulham, Kensington, Putney, Hammersmith, Barons Court and Chiswick, and a lot depends on the transport links and whether we can afford one or two bedrooms (two bedrooms would be nice so that we could have friends and family over to stay, but it’s not a necessity and we’d have to be willing to sacrifice a more central location). So I’m expecting us to have a flurry of viewings over the next few weeks in order to find a suitable place! I’ve therefore been thinking about what are the essential things I need in a home, and my experience of life both in Earls Court and Fulham has taught me some valuable lessons. To wit:

  • washing machine

Since moving into Toby’s flat in Fulham, the presence of a washing machine feels like a glorious luxury. When our clothes are dirty, I can just go upstairs and put them in the washing machine; I no longer have to keep them in a River Island bag (or two) which I cart down the road for a fifteen-minute walk or five-minute bus ride each weekend. I will never live somewhere which does not have a washing machine ever again. And if I can wangle a tumble drier too, even better.

  • wardrobe

However, in contrast, living in this new flat has meant that I’ve had to be creative about storing my clothes. In Earls Court, I had two little wardrobes, which was absolutely perfect – one for casual clothes and one for my work outfits. Here, I have a drawer and a half, and I have hijacked half of a clothes rail that frequently lists from side to side and occasionally dismantles itself. I detest folding my clothes and keeping them in a drawer, because they always end up creased and it takes me five minutes to find the garment I am looking for. I much prefer to have all of my clothes hung up and ready for selection, without fear that my choice will be rumpled. So I need a good amount of hanging space.

  • mirrors

I also miss that my flat in Earls Court was liberally furnished with large mirrors. One full length mirror and one square mirror in the living / bedroom, a small mirror above the sink in the bathroom, and mirrored bathroom cabinet doors. To be honest, even I (with my vanity) found it a little superfluous, but I certainly appreciated it. In Fulham, the only mirrors of a decent size are in the bathrooms. Nothing in the living room, nothing anywhere else; I have imported my tiny circular desk mirror into our bedroom so that I can moisturise and attempt to do my hair in the morning before work, but it’s not really sufficient – I have to keep going down the corridor in order to see myself and make sure I am presentable before I leave the house. It’s not ideal – I need mirrors!

  • proximity to a large supermarket

One of the few areas where Toby and I diverge is our preferred supermarket. Toby loves Waitrose (which I generally despise), while I am cheap and cheerful and frequent Tesco. But even the Tesco Expresses and Metros of the world are not really enough for me to get everything I want. I like basic orange juice in large cartons, coconut water, and small cartons of orange juice. I find it utterly mystifying that I cannot find these items for a decent price in anything other than a large-sized supermarket – but apparently this is the case, and so I need to be within walking distance of one of these.

  • coat tree

This returns to the issue with the wardrobes, and with the unreliable clothing rack that I am now using. We hang our coats, hoodies and jackets on either end of the rack to balance its weight, but this isn’t really ideal – and it makes the whole thing ultimately heavier anyway. Back when I lived in Bristol with my parents, we had a wooden coat tree which would periodically topple over from the weight of the coats on it. My mother once exhorted me to get rid of some of my coats – this escalated into a debate where my parents and I made three piles of each of our coats. Embarrassingly, my pile was larger than both of my parents’ combined. Hence, even after purging some of my outerwear, I do like a nice coat or four and thus need a coat tree to keep them all on.

  • piano

Today Toby and I went to Westfield to meet up with his parents who’d come down to London to spend a lunchtime with us. At one point, I was in the Village and there was a very talented pianist playing, whom I stopped to listen to. The beauty of the music came close to bringing tears to my eyes. I miss my piano, and while this isn’t strictly a necessity right now (it will be when we buy a place), I would love to have space for a piano in my new flat so that I can play and compose music.

  • a large kitchen worksurface

I realise that at this point, my cookery project (which lasted an impressive 7 months out of 12) has come to an end / gone on hiatus (depending on whether I end up restarting it or not). I guess I did well enough; although I did think that sheer stubbornness would carry me through to December. I detested cooking; I detested choosing a recipe, hunting down the ingredients, and then all of the preparation and stirring and waiting and checking and tasting, only for the finished product to last about 10 minutes on the plate before I’d finished eating it. All of that effort, and for what? I’d much rather have a necklace. But Toby’s kitchen has got a larger work surface (and a hob that’s at arm level rather than eye level, which is pleasant), which makes the occasional moment when I do decide to make food a lot more tolerable. So I need a reasonably spacious kitchen.

  • library

During my time in the Royal Borough, I joined the library. Libraries are such a good resource; not only do they provide access to the internet for the elderly and run a range of semi-interesting events, but they have a wealth of media and books that you can borrow, read and then give back. You can enrich yourself (academically and personally) without spending a fortune or permanently cluttering your house. They also have a small but useful section of foreign language books which I have started utilising to keep my Italian vocabulary alive between terms (I start again at the end of the month, yay!). I really appreciate the library and I want to live near one.

I am unsure whether I will be able to have all of these things in the forthcoming flat, but as many as possible would be wonderful, and some of them are indeed necessities. But in the years to come and the homes I come to make my own, I hope to have all of these things!

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Cooking in 2012 – July: Brazilian pork and rice.

July 28, 2012

I must confess that I nearly gave up on my cooking project this month. As July ticked by, I thought “oh, I really can’t be bothered to do this cooking thing anymore. I genuinely hate it, I can’t think of what to cook, so why put myself through it for another 6 months?” Even typing that sentence, the words resonate with me to the extent that I will probably have the same inner monologue for the remaining 5 months.  Luckily, I am fairly stubborn so I’ll probably make it through the rest of the year just to avoid the guilt of not fulfilling a goal I set for myself. Plus it does make me feel more self-sufficient and provider-y. Nevertheless… roll on 2013!

Anyway, the conundrum of what to make this month was finally solved last week when I was in Peterborough with Toby’s parents, who had the Times weekend edition. One of the supplements had a couple of interesting articles – one was about a diet (I don’t believe in diets unless they are sensible enough that they could become a lasting fixture of everyday life – in which case, they probably don’t count as a “diet”. But I digress.) that claimed to boost one’s energy at the same time as helping to shed the pounds. The other was about Brazilian food being “the food of the summer”. There were 6 recipes (plus a couple of cocktails) that all seemed to be pretty appetising – I ended up taking the whole supplement back to London with me, and this weekend I finally decided to bite the bullet for July’s meal and make some marinaded BBQ pork and rice.  Or, as the Times called them, “Brazilian fried biro biro rice” and “Pork tenderloin on a churrasco”. I presume that a “churrasco” is a barbecue; I’ve not the foggiest what “biro biro” refers to (perhaps the crispy shallots?). But anyways, here are the recipes:

I did a few things differently – we altered the measurements, nearly halving everything because I was only cooking for Toby and myself. I didn’t use parsley because I’m not a big fan; I didn’t make the crispy shallots because it sounded like too much effort and I was using the rice as a side rather than a main in its own right; instead of pork tenderloin, I used pork medallions, which meant that I didn’t have to butterfly them (conveniently enough, as I don’t know what that involves). I used white wine vinegar instead of red wine vinegar, and paprika instead of dried red pepper flakes. We didn’t have a barbecue available, so we fried the pork medallions on a gas hob instead.

I suppose it is proof of my slow but acknowledgeable growth in cooking that I was able to take a fair amount of both recipes in my stride. Things that I didn’t know and have now learned include:

  • Pork is cooked when the meat is the same colour all the way through. You don’t want any pink in the meat; unlike a steak, ‘rare pork’ isn’t a thing.
  • The reason why one is supposed to wash rice before cooking it is apparently it makes it less starchy, and thus clings together in the pan a bit less.
  • Washing spring onions is quite an involved job, because mud and earth can hide quite deep down in the stalks.  If, like me, you are impatient, wash the onions quite roughly and thoroughly, and then if there is still residual mud, just cut the damn stalks off too. You’re still left with plenty of decent onion.
  • When frying, the definition of “enough oil” is so that the bottom of the pan is coated in oil.

In the picture above, the last tiny bit of the recipe has been missed off by my camera, so it basically says: melt some parmesan on top of the marinaded pork just as it’s finishing cooking. Then, when you serve it, spritz some lime on it – the lime actually adds a really summery feel to the whole dish. Here is the rice and pork as it was cooking, followed by the finished product:

I was quite pleased with the exotic, yet rough-and-ready aspect of the dish. I also liked that the burnished taste of the marinaded pork added something to the rice as we ate. It was pretty yummy!  I guess that I admit that I am getting better at cooking, and in that sense I am fulfilling the goal of this whole project. My confidence is growing in the kitchen – although Toby still offers me help, support and a sense of urgency as and when required! Next month is Jack and Katie’s engagement party, and we are expected to “bring a plate” (sadly, this means bringing a plate which has food on it for guests to share – I found it odd that one might randomly bring a plate to a party, until Toby explained the concept to me.  I have only hitherto been familiar with bringing a bottle. Perhaps this says more about the kinds of parties I have previously frequented!) – so if I’m smart, I will help out during the preparation of this dish and that will be August done. Let’s see what happens!

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Cooking in 2012 – June: Chocolate crackle cookies

June 10, 2012

During a week off in Bristol and Peterborough, I failed in my attempt to make millionaire flapjacks. And my failure mainly resides in the fact that I let Toby do everything while I did a crossword. But today, we successfully baked some chocolate crackle cookies, courtesy of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood’s Great British Bake-off Cookbook:

Here is the recipe, which we followed more or less to the letter:

Pretty foolproof, even for me! Measuring everything accurately with a digital scale, and stirring the various mixtures (smooshing the lumpy bits where necessary to get an even, smooth texture) was the key. This is how the cookies are supposed to look:

And this is how ours turned out:

Simples! And totally delicious – I am bringing some into work tomorrow to impress my colleagues, and Toby is doing the same. It was my first time making something that wasn’t a main meal, and it was quite fun.

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Cooking in 2012 – April: Cordon Bleu Burgers.

April 12, 2012

See, I caught up! I spent today’s day off relaxing at home, preparing for a possible telephone interview that never happened (onto the next!), watching movies and doing lots of cleaning. Suffice to say, my attention span is too short to be content with being a housewife – I still found myself getting bored. It was nice to have a rest though, and feeling boosted by my omelette cooking experience (quick! largely stress-free! yummy!), I was ready to cook Toby a meal after his day at work. So I scoured the internet (i.e. googled “30 minute meals”) to find something suitable – and thanks to Rachael Ray, I did! Chicken cordon bleu burgers.

The recipe and the ingredients are all there, so you know what I did. I did have to make a couple of adjustments, however:

  • We weren’t able to find chicken mince in the supermarket, so I used pork instead. I am not sure what makes the burgers “cordon bleu”, but I have retained that in the title – otherwise they’re just burgers, right?
  • I used 1 pound of pork, rather than 2 – because there was two of us rather than 4. We still made 4 burgers out of 1 pound of meat, and I thus presume that the measurements suggested in the recipe are intended for giants. Rachael Ray is clearly a feeder.
  • I used British bacon, because we are in the UK and not Canada.
  • I used a paprika and red pepper mix, which gave the burgers a really nice kick, so I didn’t feel the need for all of the other seasoning that the recipe suggests.
  • I chopped half an onion instead of a shallot, and I used cheddar that I already had in the fridge, rather than buying Swiss cheese.
  • Instead of mixing mustard with regular mayonnaise, I bought a squeezy bottle of garlic mayo which complimented the burgers perfectly!
  • I didn’t bother with tarragon, and I try and avoid tomatoes where possible so I didn’t use that either.

But other than that, more or less the same! And very easy. This is how they turned out:

Nom nom nom. (Yes, I have finally joined the Instagram craze – just in time for that pesky Facebook takeover!)  I am scared to get ahead of myself, but I must confess that I didn’t curse or lose my patience or do anything blindingly stupid during the cooking of this meal – perhaps I am starting to improve at cooking? I rather enjoyed the experience this time. Toby taught me how to chop an onion sensibly, and how to fry burger patties without splashing oil everywhere, so I have learned those skills too. Apparently he is similarly buoyed by my recent successes, because he has asked me if I want to try baking something on Sunday. I have tentatively said yes… what is happening to me? Could I finally be embracing the art of cuisine?!?!?!?! Surely not! Watch this space…

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Cooking in 2012 – March: Omelette.

April 2, 2012

I know, I know, so technically it is April. But after the traumatic making of the lasagne in February, I needed a great deal of recovery time! And I will attempt to catch up and do another dish this month to bring me back on track.

I must first and foremost give thanks to Starbucks (mi amor cafeinado!) for providing me with the app that made the omelette possible: How to Cook Everything. Since I cannot cook anything (by this point you should be well aware that I am not exaggerating), when I saw this app available as the free download of the week instore, I had to get it. You search for what you want to make, it comes up with a list of ingredients you need, a step-by-step recipe, and away you go!

Also, after the first couple of meals that I made, I felt that I wanted to do something simpler and more essential (read: quicker). An omelette is a very basic thing – you don’t need many ingredients (eggs, milk, a bit of cooking oil – and then I added chopped ham and pieces of mozzarella), and it takes about 10 minutes. Essentially, what you do is:

  • Break 3 eggs into a bowl,
  • add a tablespoon or so of milk,
  • beat them together with a fork until the mixture looks of a uniform colour and texture (i.e. not blobby),
  • put in a hot frying pan,
  • fry until the side of the omelette facing up at you is no longer wet,
  • throw in your ham and mozzarella,
  • use a fish slice to fold the omelette in half and over the filling you’ve just added,
  • smoosh it down and fry it a bit longer so the ham is warm and the cheese gets melty

– et voilà! Omelette ready. This is what it looked like:

Om nom nom. Add some salad or some bread on the side, and away you go!  Although it wasn’t up to the standard of Balan’s (but then, little is), it was pretty tasty, quick and easy. Just how I like my cooking to be! Plus, it wasn’t too expensive, and I didn’t end up left over with loads of ingredients that would ultimately end up in the bin. Although part of me feels I should learn to make scrambled eggs with the remaining eggs. Seriously, they should sell eggs in packs of 2 or 4 (if not singly). But after February’s severe erosion of my confidence and patience, I am feeling a bit stronger and more satisfied with myself – this was a good success under my belt. Toby helped me, as usual, but this time I did not lose my temper and I don’t think I made him bang his head against the wall!  Progress!