Tuesday 27 January 2009


It was New Year's Eve 2007 and together we ummed and we aahed about how to celebrate before deciding on dinner for two and a late night visit to a friend's party.

We went to Waitrose for ingredients but the armageddon preparations required for a Scottish New Year meant the shelves were bare.

We drove on to Sainsbury's where we had more success but with a few substitutions.

We came home and we cooked and we ate and I mentally planned a blog entry in my head and then the phone rang. The other two, unnamed, people who were supposed to be with us for the bells had been a little over enthusiastic in their New Year celebrations and had to duck out due to premature drunkenness.

Midnight came, we opened a bottle of cava and realised that we could see the fireworks by leaning out of our sitting room window. It took us three years to figure that out even though there are fireworks every night for a month during the Edinburgh festival. It's sad that we only noticed on our last firework watching opportunity in that flat but at least we experienced it once.

We listened to Panda Bear and kissed while leaning out into the cold clear night. Then we wandered up the road to the party for a few hours.

I would love to say that it was a bit of a blur but actually I can remember it perfectly.

It was lovely until the next day when we woke up. I had a banging head yet was, somehow, still very clearly drunk.

If you have never experienced this then, I promise, it is not a good sign. The only way the day can go is downhill. So 4pm on January 1st 2008 found me bent double over the hob trying to fry bacon. All memories of our delicious dinner had vanished to be replaced by a desperate urge for fried food and a later, but equally desperate, urge for Chinese food.

So, back to 2009, we find ourselves back with Moro East propped open but in a different year and in a different flat and in a different city. I chopped and stirred and fried and ate and reminded myself to cook more Moro recipes.

Due to my unwillingness to buy Kenyan spring onions and a lack of cabbage in M&S at 6pm I used a leek and about 300g of brussels sprouts instead (after deciding that the density of sprouts meant we needed less and I thought it may be sensible to impose a sprout limit for other, more smell based, reasons). The leek was obviously sweeter than spring onions would have been but it worked. I forgot the parsley and had to nip back out to our Turkish mini supermarket to buy bulgur where (I love this shop) they had both coarse and fine bulgur in abundance and when I thought the man was asking whether I wanted a plastic bag, 'no thanks', he repeated 'no no, what are you making?'. 'Oh, pilaf' I said, 'but with bulgur not rice'.

Cabbage and bulgur wheat pilaf
Taken from Moro East by Sam & Sam Clark

Serves 4

75g of unsalted butter
8 spring onions, sliced in 1cm rounds, green and all (or 1 leek)
50g of pine nuts, or 80g of walnuts (I have only ever used the pine nuts)
1/2 rounded teaspoon of ground allspice
600g of white cabbage (or spring cabbage or Brussels tops), shredded (or sprouts, I used 300g but it you want to use 600g then I wish you and your nose luck)
200g of coarse bulgur, rinsed in cold water and drained
300ml of vegeteable stock
2 tablespoons of sumac (optional but delicious)
1 small bunch (about 20g) of parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped (I forgot this but don't recommend leaving it out)

To serve (I'm including this here as it is in the book but have never actually included it, my usual accompaniment is simply cooked white fish and a little squeeze of lemon)
1/2 garlic clove, crushed with a pinch of salt
200g good-quality Greek yoghurt, such as Total

Melt the butter in a saucepan on a medium heat. When it begins to foam, add the spring onions, nuts, allspice and a pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes. Then stir in the spring greens and after 5 minutes, when they have wilted, the bulgur. Cover with the stock and season with salt and pepper. Lay a circle of greaseproof paper on top and bring to the boil over a medium to high heat. Put a lid on the pan and cook quite fast for 5 minutes. Now turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for anther 5 minutes. Stir in the sumac and parsley, switch off the heat and let the pilaf sit for 5 minutes.

Stir the garlic into the yoghurt and serve with the pilaf.

Sunday 25 January 2009


Isn't it ridiculous that something that should be made with care and cooked softly over a barely there heat could be reduced to such a throwaway name?

I suppose it fits the Dolmio vision of bringing the Italian out in you through opening a jar but the slow and steady approach is so much better.

What an understatement.

Among all the other childish food likes and dislikes I have already introduced you to mince was right up there with strawberries. It probably doesn’t help that it was usually paired with something tomato based but I think it was the texture that really got the gag reflex going. One traumatic experience left me at the dinner table having eaten the pasta that had been untouched by the dreaded ragu and piling the foul stuff into a roll to try and eat some of it in a cunning disguise. It didn’t work.

So, when did this all change?

No idea.


I think I had lasagne and realised I liked it and then gradually realised that mince was not the devil's work and that, while raw tomatoes may still be an abomination, in cooked form they are actually quite palatable. From there it was only a small leap into the unknown to say, hey, maybe I'll cook us bolognaise for dinner tonight. I remember the day and I remember the internet search. I remember finding this article online and knowing, because when has Nigel ever steered me wrongly, that this was the recipe I would make. I made it and the conversion was complete.

So when the recipe appeared in The Kitchen Diaries I was delighted. I used to have just about enough time to make this from scratch after work. Now that my journey to work is no longer a short ten minute walk this sort of post work cooking is, sadly, not realistic. Instead, in a rare moment of ultra organisation, I made this on Monday evening. I got home from work and chopped and cooked and left it to bubble away slowly. I popped it into the fridge overnight and on Tuesday we had a quick dinner of a slow cooked dish. In a rarer moment of ultra organisation I even had the forethought to cook a little extra linguine so that I could have more for lunch the next day.

Now the trick is to remember how easy this was..

Monday 19 January 2009


On the most depressing day of the year (official statistic) I was woken up at an ungodly hour by rain hammering against the skylight above our bed. The day continued on its rubbish way with an aborted bus journey caused by North London gridlock, my late arrival into work, and the sort of endless mindless repeated tasks that make you wish you had stayed in bed. On the slow bus home I tried to read and think about food for tonight. I knew that I would be making a ragu to eat tomorrow and had been planning to roast some squash and beetroot to eat with feta for an easy dinner. Somehow though the midwinter misery made me long for the fresh tastes of sunnier days and while contemplating the squash I moved away from this and towards an old favourite.

Two years ago I blogged about my very unseasonal (bad Gemma) couscous salad which has been a standby tea for a few years. Since then the general theme - couscous, lemon juice, dried mint, cucumber, peppers, red onion, halloumi - had remained the same but with one key, and to my mind very important, adjustment. When the couscous is cooked fork it through and add the lemon juice first.

That's it. I know it's a tiny detail but but I suppose it makes sense. Adding the lemon first means it soaks into the couscous before you coat it with oil. If you add the oil first it just creates a little barrier to that all important fresh taste.

Oh, and for me a couscous salad, a glass of red wine, and lovely Heston Bluementhal making over Little Chef makes the most miserable Monday of 2009 just a little better. Although, based on the first episode, if that's really what the senior management of Little Chef are like he should have just left them to it.

Wednesday 14 January 2009


So I, at least in the world of blogs, turned two years old yesterday. Last year this was marked with this, this year it was marked with an Ottolenghi recipe for chicken with sumac and za'atar and an Ottolenghi inspired dish of roasted beetroot with baby spinach just moistened with olive oil and lightly seasoned. Ottolnghi seemed the obvious choice, it's always a good choice for a delicious dinner, the food usually looks beautiful, and since moving to London Ottolenghi has swiftly become a firm favourite. Even with 30 minutes marinading instead of 24 hours and chicken breasts instead of a whole chicken quartered and left on the bone it didn’t disappoint. Oh and memo from last night, roast more beetroot.

In the last two years I have learned a bit about blogging and a bit about myself through writing down my thoughts on food:

1) It is possible to have too many frozen bananas.
2) A dark kitchen with no natural light makes for a frustrating photographic experience.
3) A little bit of light pressure is good for motivation (and minor cuts).
4) You can waste a lot of time reading food blogs and getting blog envy.
5) I respond well to pressure so if there is ever a too long quiet period just shout at me or give me a deadline (see 3).
6) My list of things to make is getting longer rather than shorter but the growing (groaning) shelves don't help.
7) My go to dinners are oven cooked marinated chicken or meatballs in pitta.
8) When I'm tired I can easily succumb to the joys of potato waffles cooked in the toaster and made into sandwiches with cheese and ketchup, waffly versatile indeed.

I've already told you about some of my plans for 2009 but here are a few just for my third year of blogging (can you tell I'm in the mood for a few lists today?):

1) Practice taking better photos. I tend to get frustrated if I can't do something perfectly immediately (if anyone can tell me how I managed to crochet so that all the stitches were upside down then I would be delighted to hear from you) so am determined to practice this photography lark.
2) Write without any huge chunks of absence, to be fair there was a reason for this in 2008 so assuming we don’t move to the other end of the country again I should be okay.
3) Make new recipes. Don’t just pull Nigel Slater off the shelf whenever a roast chicken goes in the oven, more of a comfortable habit than a recipe requirement but anyway…

There, I think that's enough to be getting on with, after all I am still just a toddler.

Tuesday 13 January 2009


Happy Birthday to me
Happy Birthday to me
The blog's two years old
I'm cooking something yummy for tea

Back tomorrow to tell you what x

Thursday 8 January 2009


Apparently we have been in the grip of severe weather conditions.

Now, to me it just feels like a cold winter but I suppose there is nothing better for avoiding the economic crisis than wasting news time debating how parts of the UK are colder than Greenland and warning people to wrap up.

It is still cold though, I won’t and can't deny that, and I cursed myself more than once this week for wearing stupid ballet pumps. My big toes are still recovering from the cold. I just need to go and get some thermal tights with sheepskin lined feet instead. Do they exist? No? Well they should.

Aside from the fantasy shopping opportunities such chilly weather brings there are cheaper options for keeping warm. Soups and stews come into their own in January, like the edible equivalent of a hot candlelit bath and a good book they suit the gloom of the New Year when spring seems to be a long way off and there is little to look forward to. Every so often, usually when the weather changes, I pull The Kitchen Diaries off the bookshelf and see what Nigel recommends for the time of year. This time his 1st of January dish became my 6th of January dish and I made a pot of squash and dal soup with a spiced onion topping. It was warming, just spicy enough, and left me with enough leftover to freeze and the remnants of the onion and squash to mix with some feta for lunch. The packed lunch project rolls on and dinners like this make it so much easier.

Dal and pumpkin soup
From The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater

a small onion
2 cloves of garlic
a walnut sized piece of ginger
225g of split red lentils
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1 teaspoon of ground chilli
250g of pumpkin (I used squash and roasted the whole cubed squash in the oven so that I would have leftovers for lunch)
small bunch of coriander, roughly chopped

For the onion topping:
2 medium onions
2 tablespoons of groundnut oil
2 small hot chillies (or large mild ones if, like me, you are pathetically intolerant to the heat of chillies)
2 cloves of garlic

Peel the onion and chop it roughly. Peel and crush the garlic and put it with the onion into a medium sized heavy-based saucepan. Peel the giner, cut it into thin shreds and stir that in too. Add the lentils and pour in one and a half litres of water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to an enthusiastic simmer. Stir in the ground turmeric and chilli, season and leave to simmer, covered, for twenty minutes.

While the soup is cooking, bring a medium-sized pan of water to the boil. Peel the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and fibre, then cut the flesh into fat chunks. Boil the pumpkin pieces for ten minutes, until they are tender enough to take a skewer without much pressure. Drain them and set them aside.

To make the onion topping, peel the onions and cut them into thin rings. Cook them in the oil in a shallow pan until they start to colour. Cut the chillies in half, scrape out the seeds, and slice the flesh finely. Peel and finely slice the garlic and add it with the chillies to the onions. Continue cooking until the onions are a deep golden brown. Set aside.

Remove the lid from the lentils and turn up the heat, boiling hard for five minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, then add the drained pumpkin. Put the soup through the blender (for safety, a little at a time) until smooth (I used a hand blender and kept it in the pan, much less treacherous), then pour it into a bowl. Stir in the roughly chopped coriander and check for seasonng. Nigel says he finds this soup likes a more generous than usual amount of salt.

Serve in good deep bowls with a spoonful of the spiced onions on top.

Makes 4 good-sized bowls.

Tuesday 6 January 2009


Doesn't that sound nice? Like it's planned and organised and destined to succeed? Haven't I bought lunch boxes and thermos flasks with good intentions before? Yes, yes, and yes. But this time is different, this time I will conquer the packed lunches, this time I will be the cause of envious lunch based glances at work.


Well it was a close call this morning but somehow, out of the blue, while eating my granola I decided to make myself lunch. My morning routine is very firmly established, it revolves around eating breakfast and watching BBC breakfast news, it does not include any lunch making time.

I woke up at 7am as usual, shivered my way to my dressing gown and slippers, came downstairs and made my usual bowl of granola and mug of coffee. I read for a while while I ate and then my coffee drinking was accompanied by Molly's latest post on Orangette, so far so Tuesday morning. While reading about the joys of celeriac I remembered back to the chickpea salad that I had read about and forgotten, and remembered and re-read and forgotten, but this time I remembered and I re-read and I knew we had the required chickpeas, oil, lemon juice, parmesan, and salt so I drained, rinsed, grated, and mixed, and, there wasn't that easy. I packed it up in one of my new 'I'm going to make my lunch' plastic containers and brought it to work with a pita for scooping the juices.

At 1pm I sat myself down in a quiet spot with the end of my book and I ate and I enjoyed and I felt very virtuous and very interested in repeating the experience.

This, as it is or a variation, will be on regular lunch rotation. Maybe I'll replace the parmesan with a little crumbled feta and throw in some red pepper and capers or some artichokes , maybe I'll add some roasted veg if I feel up to the extra effort or have some leftover.

So, if you are reading this and thinking 'mmm, that sounds good maybe I'll make it one day', then just remember that if I could be bothered to make it at 7.30am then it must be a good idea.

Monday 5 January 2009

SO LONG 2008

I know the 5th is a little late for New Year greetings and 2008 round ups but it’s back to normality (work) for me today so back to writing, back to cooking, and back to thinking of life outside the charmed existence of the extended Christmas and New Year break.

Christmas was great, dinner a success, cake and pudding unharmed from their late preparation. Unfortunately I was too busy eating to take any photos so all I have to share is our mini pre-Christmas Christmas.

Boxing Day was as Boxing Day is, or should be, a long walk, leftovers for lunch, then a sofa each and lots of films with the occasional stretch to the chocolate box.

New Year was fun, drunken as usual, with a hellish quest for hangover food on the 1st which eventually lead us to the s&m cafe at Angel and fish finger sandwiches. I'm not sure why we hadn't been here before but I can safely say that its particular brand of comfort food, chip buttie anyone, will suit any future fragile heads.

By the 3rd we were back in Sussex trying to extend the holiday feeling with a few long walks in the crazily cold weather. Maybe this will be the year I finally buy a proper weather appropriate winter coat rather than making do with a pretty but insufficiently warm wool coat. Somehow when it gets to January I never feel it is worth bothering even though I know the coldest months of the year are yet to come. Resolution, learn from past mistakes.

Now the 5th is here my thoughts are dominated by what happened in the year just passed and what is yet to come in 2009.

2008 was dominated by our big move to London and the big stress over making the wedding cake. New jobs, finding a flat, and seemingly never having the time to stand still all characterised 2008 for us. Now we find ourselves thinking, along with the rest of the country, about what will come this year. 2009 will undoubtedly be the year of the credit crunch (I hate this term, any better suggestions?) and while I don’t want to go on about it (no one likes being depressed), it is bound to affect us all in some way. For the time being this will mean more enthusiasm for vegetable heavy dinners, home made soup for lunch, and lots of water to drink. A sensible way to start the New Year that may be sustained for at least the next few months.

What else will 2009 bring? For a start Chris and I will both turn 30. I’m not thinking about that too much just yet, the grey hairs that have started appearing are traumatic enough. I plan to ease the pain by eating lovely food, drinking lots of fizz, and making a spectacular cake (in other news I am hooked on Ace of Cakes at the moment and enjoying the start of a new series of MasterChef. When Oz and James start their British booze adventure and Channel 4 begin airing their new food season my TV viewing schedule will be complete).

We’re also planning our biannual trip across the Atlantic (trying to limit ourselves to every two years), this time it will be Toronto, New York, and Boston in May, or maybe June, so here’s hoping the exchange rate is kind to us. Next time I’m pushing for San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle but that will have to wait.

In the short term I'm going to try and clear, at least some of, the freezer, I'm angling for another meal at Moro as their winter menus have been sounding incredible, and finally, and most importantly, I am going to try to breathe a little. You may have noticed that my last few posts were nothing but long lists of where I had been, where I was going, what had been done, and what was still to do? So, I am saying to myself STOP. At least for January, breathe, cook, eat, read, write, hibernate and enjoy a little peace before it all starts again. After all what else are we supposed to be doing in January?