Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pea Risotto with Shrimp

Oh, so far behind with the blogging. Will jump to tonight, and catch up with the other stuff over the next days.

This was inspired by (a) lethargy (the strong desire not to leave the house to do any food shopping) and (b) Emily Weinstein's post on the NY Times the other day. She's great - just learning to cook (like me, but much younger), and a bit anxious about it all (like me, but braver). So, anyway, she valiantly cooks this risotto, and then has to put up with the chattering classes weighing in on how she didn't use a real fish stock, etc., etc. Life is cruel.

Not that I didn't have my own problems:

Mini-cat sitting on the recipe...

And popping up onto counters, sticking noses into parmesan, and other illegal activities that weren't captured on film.

But considering all that, it went pretty well.

The Recipe: Pea Risotto with Shrimp

Didn't do Emily's recipe - spotted this one on A Spoonful of Sugar. Can't remember how I got to her site - foodgawker? She's from Bristol (UK), and it was nice to read about how it's spring over there. It would have made me homesick, except that I'm going next week, and it'll be cold and miserable in the Midlands.

The recipe is great, highly recommended. She did it with scallops, but we had shrimp in the freezer, and I'm not scared of them any more. Wondered if Jack might think it a bit girly (we've been eating quite a few veggie-ish things recently), but he loved it.


Didn't bother simmering the stock, thinking it was kinda hot already. But I think that was a mistake, as the rice did seem to take longer to cook. Managed to use the right kind of rice this time, and only had to pick out a couple of burned bits.

Anyway, delicious. Simple and rich at the same time. Didn't have any pea shoots, obviously, so that's a bit of old parsley - artistic, huh?


Adding the pea puree

On the plate - have now found a "macro" setting on camera, so that may help a bit

Redemption: Leek & Parsley Pasta

This time I actually followed Mr B's recipe properly and... success! Very simple, and it used leeks and parsley that we already had in the fridge - handy, right?

The Recipe: Pasta with Leeks and Parsley
From How to Cook Everything (10th Anniversary Edition) by Mark Bittman

  • Salt
  • 4 tbspn extra virgin olive oil or butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed [used shallots instead, diced]
  • 2 or 3 dried red chiles or hot red pepper flakes to taste
  • 3 or 4 medium leeks (at least 1 lb), trimmed, washed, and chopped
  • Half red pepper or 1 tomato, chopped (optional) [left this out too]
  • 1 lb spaghetti, linguine, or other long pasta
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 0.75 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Serves 4

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Meanwhile, put half the oil or butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot or the butter is melted, add the garlic and chiles and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic browns, about 2 mins. Remove the chiles (and the garlic, if you prefer).

2. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 mins. Add the bell pepper, if using, and lower the heat; continue to cook, stirring once in a while, until the leeks begin to caramelize, about 5 mins.

3. Cook the pasta in the boiling water until tender but not mushy. When it's done, drain it, reserving about half cup of the cooking water. Toss the pasta and leeks together with the remaining oil or butter, a few sprinklings of black pepper, and all but a little of the parsley, adding a bit of the cooking water if the mixture seems dry. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Garnish with the remaining parsley and serve.


Maybe a little heavy-handed with the red pepper flakes. But it was remarkably tasty!


Beginning of step 2

End of step 2

On the plate - another fantastic shot, as usual

Friday, March 20, 2009

Shrimp Scampi

If you can call it that, when it hasn't got any garlic in it.

I got the idea to make this from browsing Half-Assed Kitchen (has to be one of the best blog names ever).

But then I thought maybe I should use one of my new cookbooks (see below) instead. So I followed Mark Bittman's recipe. Well, I should say, almost followed it, and that's where it went a bit wrong...

The Recipe: Shrimp Scampi

Will actually give you the link to Half-Assed Kitchen's version, because I'd do it this way next time, just cooking the shallots a bit on their own before adding the rest of the sauce ingredients.


Mr B. sautes his garlic (shallot for me) first, and I liked that idea. But he also uses what seemed like an enormous amount of oil. "Oh well, I can just use less," thought the big idiot. No, you can't. Everything just sticks, and the bits of shallot burn, and there's not enough of the good stuff to go on the pasta, and... and... WAAAAH!!

But it still tasted good (we put a bit of grated parm on top, seems to solve a lot of problems). And I'll know better next time.


Shrimp cooking, innocently enough at this point

Another murky picture of the end result

Cookbooks: The Big Kahunas

So last weekend I went out and spent the last of our wedding gift vouchers...

Yes, the Big Kahunas. And my first grown-up cookbooks - i.e. with no pictures (etchings don't count).

As The New Cook says, most cookbooks just give you recipes, they don't tell you how to cook things, or why you need to do things a certain way. These guys seem to be different.

I've made a few of Mark B's recipes already, and didn't know too much about Alice Waters, but her tone is nice. It's sort of like having your mum in the kitchen with you, looking over your shoulder. But without her actually being there. So the best of both worlds, really. (Just kidding, Mother, in case you read this!)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Foodgawker & a Humble Apology

Must share foodgawker, in case you haven't seen it. Found it last week, and have been entranced ever since. And humbled.

Not because of the cooking, though that's very impressive. It's the photos, of course. Especially because, though some of the people are professional food photographers, many of them are just regular old bloggers.

So now I'm really embarrassed about my pix, and am having to remind myself that my resolution was to learn to cook, not to be a food photog. Anyway, sorry about them, I know they're really bad.

Any advice would be very welcome. The biggest problem is lighting, really. (Though it would help if I didn't just randomly plonk things on the plate.)

And enjoy foodgawker, it's addictive.

Excellent Fish Pie Recipe

Slightly messed up by me. We spontaneously had a friend round to dinner on Friday, and I decided to do one of the recipes from January that I haven't recreated yet for the blog. I actually made it twice back then - the first time was a bit stressful because we didn't have a dish the right size, also the potatoes were a tad underdone. But the second time it was great. So I was pretty confident this time...

It wasn't a disaster, just a bit frustrating, because you're supposed to get better at making something the more you do it, not worse. Oy.

The recipe is from another UK book that my sister gave me for Xmas.

The Recipe:Fish Pie
from the Hamlyn All-Colour Cookbook: 200 Make-Ahead Dishes, by Sarah Lewis (seems you can get it over here too)

  • 12 oz salmon fillet
  • 12 oz cod loin [hmm, no idea what that is, I used fillet]
  • 20 fl oz semi-skimmed [i.e. 2%] milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced
  • 1.25 lbs potatoes, peeled & thinly sliced
  • 3 tbspn chopped fresh dill
  • 2 oz butter
  • 2 oz plain flour
  • 3.5 oz mature Cheddar cheese, grated [maybe more, and it should be strong]
  • salt & pepper

Serves 4

1. Put the salmon and cod into a large frying pan, pour over enough of the milk to just cover it, then add the bay leaf and a little seasoning. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 8 mins, until the fish flakes when pressed with a knife, adding the leeks for the last 2 mins.

2. Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in a saucepan of boiling water for 3-4 mins until just tender [I did it a bit longer to be sure]. Drain, rinse in cold water, and drain again.

3. Lift the fish out of the milk and flake the flesh into large pieces, discarding the skin and any bones. Transfer to a 2 quart ovenproof dish. Strain the milk into a jug containing the remaining milk, and discard the bay leaf. Arrange the leeks on top of the fish, and sprinkle with the dill.

4. Heat the butter in a clean pan, stir in the flour then gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to the boil, whisking until thickened and smooth. Season, and stir in three-quarters of the cheese. Pour half the sauce over the fish. Arrange the potato slices overlapping on top, pour over the remaining sauce, then sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

5. Allow to cool then chill until required. [This is if you're making it ahead of time].

6. Cook in a preheated oven at 350F for 40-45 mins until the top is golden brown and the pie is piping hot. Serve with green beans, if liked.


Well, actually, it was mostly OK, except that something went a bit wrong with the sauce. I think I just didn't cook it long enough, so it was runny, and a bit granular (not lumpy). Any suggestions gratefully received.

Also, might have been a bit heavy-handed with the dill. And maybe could have used more cheese.

One tip - I cooked the fish skin side up, because the first time I made it the skin got a bit stuck to the pan, and I had to pick some scaly bits out of the milk (we don't have a strainer).

And another one - we really couldn't taste the cod, so you might as well get salmon. (I think it's greener, depending on what you buy, of course.)

They suggest an alternative filling that sounds nice: smoked haddock (can you get this in US?) and bacon. Poach smoked haddock in milk as above. Grill 4 oz bacon until crispy, then chop roughly and add to pie with 3 tbspn chopped chives [presumably instead of the dill]. Finish as above.


Fish in pan

Before the topping went on


On the plate, not at all artistically

NY Times Says I'm a Healthy Cook (and That's Bad)

Had to post this article from the NY Times yesterday. It talks about the "nutritional gatekeeper" for a household - i.e. the cook - and how they affect the health of the family. Researchers interviewed home cooks and analyzed them into 5 types (giving, methodical, healthy, competitive, innovative). There's a pop quiz that goes along with it, which many people objected to as being overly simplistic. But if you like mindless quizzes about yourself (and I do) it's kinda fun.

Thought I'd be "methodical" but it turns out I'm "healthy"...and that's not good. Apparently they're too willing to sacrifice taste. Said the doc: "if you like food, then the healthy cook is not necessarily the person you want to hang out with." Based on the soup experience below, they maybe have a point. Poor Jack.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Edamame Corn Chowder (Blah)

Bland soup, anyone? With perhaps a slightly farty smell? Didn't think so.

Last week (and so far this one too) was a bit of a come-down from the tagine. Plenty of cooking has been done, just not very successfully, and the blogging has fallen behind too. Anyway, here's Monday night's effort - I'll post last week's cooking in the next couple of days.

It was another recipe from Everyday Food, and it sounded so good... (and could be made veggie, if you're determined to try it).

The Recipe: Edamame Corn Chowder


I pretty much followed the recipe, apart from using regular frozen corn instead of creamed corn (added in step 2) and blending the soup after step 2 was done. Not being American, I have no idea what creamed corn tastes like - would that have made the difference?

Didn't have Italian herbs, so threw in some tarragon, because I like it, but might not have been a good choice? A bit soapy?

Also added some fresh Italian parsley, because we had some sitting in the fridge, but I don't think that would have adversely affected the flavor?

I think the smell was the edamame. But might have been one of the cats. (Not us, of course.)

Anyway, the end result was bland, even though I added plenty of salt. Thank god for the bacon garnish. We weren't exactly excited about eating it again tonight, with no bacon bits to liven things up. But I had a small inspiration and grated some parm on top - perhaps some cheese was what it was missing all along?


For what it's worth...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Techniques: Preserving Fresh Herbs (Thanks Kate!)

What to do with all that left-over cilantro?

My friend Kate gave me a fantastic tip a while ago - chopping up spare herbs and freezing them in ice-cube trays with just a tiny bit of water. I've done it with sage (came out perfectly intact), dill (was soggy, but kept all its flavor), and ginger (haven't tried it yet). We'll see how it works on the cilantro.

A bit messy...

Chicken & Chickpea Tagine

And we go right into this week's posting.

This is another one from Mark Bittman at the NY Times, and it was a big hit, really gorgeous. He's right - it is much easier than it seems. Though you do have to concentrate when you're measuring out the spices as it uses so many.

Haven't made anything this exotic before, and it opens up a whole new set of possibilities - I'm pretty limited with ordering things like this in restaurants because they're always made with garlic (can't eat it). So am now thinking to try making some Indian dishes too.

Note: Some veggie people on the blog had made it using root vegetables instead of chicken, which seems like a great idea.

The Recipe


Was disobedient in a couple of respects:
  • Added at least a cup of water at the beginning - was using a stainless steel pan which tends to stick if you're not super careful, and was sure it would be doomed if I didn't add more liquid. Anyway, it worked out fine.
  • Used white meat instead of dark, because it's what we had (about 1lb, cut into small-ish chunks), though maybe should have browned it first?

But did use a real vanilla bean - though looking at the comments on the Times blog, someone raised a question: she just stuck it in there, and so did I, but should we have done something different with it? (e.g. cut it open or something?)

Almost didn't bother with the fresh cilantro, but it was worth it - gave the dish a lift, brought out the other flavors, and looked great too.

As usual, was cautious with the salt (just added a little towards the end) and substituted shallots for the garlic.

We served it with Israeli-style couscous, again because that's what we had on hand, but I think the regular kind would have been a bit nicer.


End of step 1

About half-way done

On the plate - cilantro looking pretty

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Easy Paella-ish (with Scary Shrimp)

Turns out I'm as scared of cooking shrimp as I am about chicken. And here was dealing with frozen shrimp, which made it even scarier. What if they weren't defrosted properly, so didn't cook right? And we both got horribly sick and were found in the bathroom ten days later, with our heads in the toilet and our pants round our ankles, half-eaten by the cats?

The Technique: Defrosting Shrimp
The interwebs, as always, provided the answer on this. The consensus was that you just soak them in ice cold water (not hot, you don't want to start the cooking process) for about 15-20 mins, changing the water a few times. What's Cooking America has some useful tips on shrimp in general.

The Recipe: Easy Paella-ish

I'm no expert, clearly, but this really seems like a fake paella to me (it was more like a risotto). And I hadn't realized that Everyday Food is a Martha Stewart thing - gack! (Apologies to any Martha fans.) But it tasted fine and, after all that panicking, the shrimp came out perfectly.

Will try a more authentic paella recipe at some point, though.


I used Portuguese linguica instead of the chicken sausage, because Jack is Portuguese-American and brought some home when we last visited his family. It has a pretty strong taste, so probably overpowered the rest of the flavors a bit.

Halved the recipe (it serves 8) and only did a few shrimp as we were going to have leftovers the next day, and didn't think the shrimp would reheat very well (would probably get chewy).


Step 3.

Almost done.

Parsnip & Apple Soup (Delicious)

The first of this week's new recipes - another one from the Around Britain Dairy Cookbook, a parsnip and apple soup. It's deliciously sweet and parsnippy, and very easy, of course. They say "it originates from East Anglia, where root crops thrive in the fertile soil."

The Recipe: Parsnip & Apple Soup
(Around Britain Dairy Cookbook)
  • 1 oz. butter
  • 1.5 lbs parsnips, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cooking apple, cored, peeled and sliced
  • 2.5 pints (US) vegetable stock
  • 4 sage leaves (or half tsp dried sage)
  • 2 cloves
  • 5 fl. oz. pouring cream [I used half & half, but they also say it's optional if you want a lower fat soup]
  • 1 dessert apple, cored, peeled and sliced, and fried in 1 oz. butter till browned, for garnish
Serves 4-6; suitable for freezing

1) Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the parsnips and apple. Cover and cook gently for 10 mins, stirring occasionally.

2) Pour the stock into the saucepan and add the sage and cloves. Bring to the boil, cover and then simmer for 30 mins, until parsnip is softened.

3) Remove the sage leaves and cloves, then puree the parsnips in a blender or food processor.

4) Return to the saucepan and reheat gently, with the cream. Season to taste. Serve hot, with crusty bread, and garnished with the fried apple slices.


My only concern was finding the cloves in all that parsnip, but it was actually easy.


O Blogger...

O Blogger, how easy and yet also how difficult thou art! Regular readers (all two of you) may notice a redesign. I was kinda fond of the old template, but it didn't allow me to have my own header graphic without doing some coding. (My coding days are very, very long ago.)

And the picture is so cute, but takes up too much real estate, but I don't have proper editing software, etc., etc. And there's extra space for some reason round the photos in the pork chop post, no idea why, and can't get rid of it.

But you folks don't worry about all of that, I'm just moaning. Will now get on with doing some actual food posting...

BTW, the picture came from a great site with free stock images - Stock Xchange ( This particular image is by a user called "rrss". (Another user called "woodsy" also had some nice ones, in case you're interested.)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Two Months Down, Some (Mini) Goals

It's been two months now, and have been musing that, rather than cooking aimlessly, I should have some things to work towards. There’s going to be no grandiose overarching schema – e.g. I don’t have an aim of being able to walk into the kitchen, look into the fridge, and spontaneously concoct something delicious. The only overall aim is just to get more comfortable in the kitchen.

But there are some mini-goals I’d like to achieve at some point during this year…

Things I want to make, in no particular order:
  • A cake (frightening)
  • A pie, with homemade pastry of course (terrifying)
  • A soufflĂ© (horrifying)
  • A meringue (alarming, especially if combined with pie-making, e.g. lemon meringue pie)
  • Some other desserts (we don’t normally eat dessert, through inertia rather than healthiness, so will need to make a special effort to include)
  • Cookies (ditto)
  • Salad dressing (very sad not to know how to do this)
  • Gruyere cheese gougeres (I once had a very glamorous French roommate, who used to whip these up at a moment’s notice, and have never eaten them since; they were light and fluffy cheesy perfection, probably not to be achieved by me, but who knows?)

I’d also like to make a Thanksgiving/Xmas Dinner for Jack where I’ve actually made the stuffing, cranberry sauce, red cabbage, gravy, etc., myself, rather than opening cans and packets like a maniac.

And I’d like to have an actual dinner party, for maybe six people, with multiple courses, and appropriate side-dishes, all made by me, and produced without any visible panic or weeping.

Any other suggestions? They will be taken under advisement.

Pork Chops with Apple & Red Onion Chutney

Well, it's March 1, the clocks go forward next week, and some migrating geese came over our house today. So even though it's actually snowing right now it suddenly feels as though there maybe won't be too much time left for hearty winter dishes. This is a lovely one.

I first made it last year, so it isn't part of the resolution thing. It's from a book called Quick Food: Easy Everyday Ideas for Busy Cooks that I picked up because it looked pretty, but turns out to have some great recipes.

They serve it with sauteed green cabbage, which sounds nice, but we did roasted veggies instead as we had some parsnips and squash to use up. I've provided info for both here.

The Recipe: Pork Chops with Apple & Red Onion Chutney
  • Quarter cup butter
  • 2 small red onions, sliced
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, then cut into quarters and sliced
  • Quarter tsp ground cloves
  • Third cup honey
  • 4 8 oz. pork loin chops
  • For cabbage: 1.5 lbs green cabbage, thinly shredded; 1 tbsp butter; half tsp caraway seeds
  • For roasted veggies: 2 parsnips; quarter butternut squash; 2 carrots; 1 large potato; 1 tbsp dried rosemary. [This is a guess; I think I did about half this amount tonight for us.]
Serves 4

1) If you're making roast veggies: Peel and cut into pieces about an inch square, put into a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil. Season with plenty of salt, ground black pepper, and dried rosemary, and toss to make sure they're covered with the oil. Roast in oven at 425F, turning occasionally, for about 45 mins, or until tender and browned to your taste.

2) To make the chutney: Melt butter in a saucepan, then add the onions, apples, cloves, and honey. Simmer, covered for 10 mins over low heat. Increase the heat to medium, cover, and cook for another 20 mins until the liquid is reduced to a thick chutney.

3) Season chops well on both sides with salt and ground black pepper. Saute the chops over medium-high heat for 6-8 mins on each side, or until browned and cooked through. Remove pan from the heat and allow chops to rest for 2 mins.

4) For cabbage: Melt butter in large saucepan, add caraway seeds and cabbage, and cook, covered, over medium-low heat, tossing a few times with tongs, for 12 mins or until tender.

5) Serve, with spoonful of chutney on each pork chop.


The recipe makes up into a lot of chutney, as you can see from the pics. I made half the recipe for the two of us, but it could be enough for 4 people (my red onion was a little large, though).


The chutney

The pork chops (Jack's handiwork)

The veggies (cooked a little long, but that was fine by us - we like them a bit blackened)

A rather murky picture of the finished product, with a huge amount of chutney, and some peas for color