Thursday 29 April 2010


As I write this I am licking my lips. I am drinking a glass of wine and watching the American Idol results show instead of the final leaders debate because, on a Thursday evening, I would much rather wonder once again just what Ellen is bringing to the panel or how American Idol could possibly carry on without Simon or, how, how, Siobhan could have been the one to leave this week.

But I digress, smacking my lips...

I was on my own for dinner tonight. Chris is out. I knew I wanted to make something nice but I couldn't decide what.

I have been tossing around the idea of a quinoa salad for a few days but want to make that when we can both enjoy it.

Then I thought back a few years, to solitary evenings in Edinburgh. If Chris was out I would indulge my love of steak, dinner would be decided on with no more thought than a lunchtime trip to Crombie's. I may have told you this before but I am definitely the red meat eater in our flat. Chris enjoys it but he doesn't crave it and he is unlikely to be tempted by steak frites on a menu in the way that I, with apparent wearying predictability, am. And when I order that steak frites and he orders, say, fish it comes to the table and the plate with the fish hovers over my place while the steak hovers over his.

So, steak then.

And, in the meantime, I had been thinking about asparagus on toast with an egg on top and couldn't quite abandon that idea either. And, if I'm mentioning influences, I should really say that I've been rereading the 'wichcraft book that I bought in New York last June.

What to do? All of it apparently. Steak, asparagus, bread (I thought the egg would be overkill but I would be lying if I said I didn't consider it). I might change the bread if I make it again. The Poliane loaf was delicious but a little too dense to properly absorb all of the juices. Maybe ciabatta so that all the salty juices pool in the generous hollows. Other than that all I have to say is yes. And now to resume the lip licking.

Serves 1

One steak (I used sirloin because there was a beautiful marbled piece at the butcher's counter)
Asparagus, quite thin stalks, as much as you like (I used about 10 pieces and ate a couple before they reached the sandwich)
Leaves (Lamb's lettuce here but use spinach, rocket, watercress, whatever)
Dijon mustard
Good mayonnaise
Olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180ºC and put your asparagus onto a small tray. Drizzle with a little olive oil and use your hands to smear it all over the asparagus. When the oven is hot put the asparagus into the oven to roast for about 10 minutes.

Once your asparagus is in, heat a frying pan on a medium-hot hob and, while it is heating, rub a little olive oil into your meat and season lightly with salt and pepper on both sides.

When it is hot place the steak in the pan and cook for around 3-4 minutes per side (for medium) turning just once when the first side has had its allotted time.

When the steak is cooked the asparagus should be ready so just take it out of the oven and put the steak on top of the asparagus to rest.

As it rests slice some bread and, if you want, soak up the pan juices from the steak with the sides that will be on the inside of the sandwich. Spread one side of the bread with dijon mustard, slice the steak and place on the bread, add leaves, then asparagus. Drizzle over any juices remaining in the asparagus dish. Finally spread the second slice of bread with mayonnaise and seal your sandwich.

Now just try to eat without the whole thing disintegrating...

Sunday 25 April 2010


This isn't the the cake that I was trying to make last week. It isn't made with semolina, it isn't heavy with syrup, you wouldn't buy it from a Turkish or North African bakery. It isn't the type of cake that would be served with sweet mint tea and you don't need to eat it tiny square by tiny square.

But it is a cake that I have been meaning to make for some time.

A cake I would read about on blog after blog and think, yes, that sounds like my kind of cake, must make soon. And then time after time I would forget until the next blog rolled around. But this time, when I read about it for the, oh, millionth time, I was in the mood to bake. I read the recipe and I thought I want that cake but I want it with olive oil and lemons and pistachios and I thought yes, tonight, finally. So I got home from work and I made some dinner and I stirred some ingredients together in a bowl, this is a low effort high reward kind of a cake, I baked the cake, left it to cool, and have been enjoying slice after slice after slice since.

My top tip for the day? Don't wait.

Lemon and pistachio yoghurt cake (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

1 cup plain yogurt (I used 2% Greek yogurt because it's what I keep in the fridge for breakfast)
1/3 cup olive oil (or vegetable oil)
1 cup caster sugar
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 eggs
1 2/3 cups plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup pistachios, chopped roughly

Preheat the oven to 170ºC (350ºF). Grease the sides of a 20cm (9 inch) springform pan or cake tin with oil. If you aren't using a springform pan line the base of your cake tin with baking parchment.

Whisk the yogurt, oil, sugar, lemon zest and juice together in a large bowl and then add the eggs one by one, whisking well after each one. Sieve the flour, baking powder, soda and salt together, into the batter. Stir with a spoon until it is just combined and then gently stir in the pistachios.

Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a knife or skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let stand for 10 minutes in the tin. Then remove the cake from the tin and leave to cool on the rack. Serve slightly warm or once it has cooled. I prefer it cool but try both.

This cake will last happily for a few days. I made this one on Thursday and it is still good today, Sunday.

Wednesday 21 April 2010


So after the asparagus and after the sun and after the mint tea and after the cake came the evening, came a gin and tonic, came nightfall, came roast chicken with olive oil, sumac and lemon, came a pilav so green, so fresh, so vital that we could have eaten it for dinner on its own quite happily.

Give Chris a bowl of rice and he is happy, mix that rice with lots of spinach and herbs and he is happier still. For me the crunch and nutty sweetness of the pistachios was unequivocally a good thing for Chris they were nice but unnecessary. I'll leave them in.

We sat at the table and spooned out the pilav and carved the chicken and poured prosecco and after we were done we sat some more and listened to Trembling Bells. Have you heard them? I'll warn you now you might cry as I did and then you'll have to say stop, play something happy, stop making me cry with beautiful music.

And when we were done with the pilav and the chicken and the prosecco and the music I wrapped up the leftovers and decided that the best, the only way, to use them up would be to do it all over again.

Pistachio pilav with spinach and herbs (from Turquoise by Greg and Lucy Malouf
Serves 4-6

200g long-grain or basmati rice
400ml chicken stock or water
80g butter
1 onion, finely diced
550g spinach leaves, washed and shredded
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
80g unsalted shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
½ cup shredded mint leaves
½ cup shredded flat-leaf parsley leaves
½ cup chopped dill

Put the rice into a large bowl and rinse well under cold running water, working your fingers through it to loosen the starch. Drain off the milky water and repeat until the water runs clear. Cover the rice with cold water and leave to soak for 10 minutes. Drain the rice and rinse a final time.

Bring the stock to the boil, then lower the heat and keep at a simmer.

Melt half the butter in a heavy-based saucepan. Add the onion and saute over a low-medium heat, stirring continuously until it starts to soften. Increase the heat, then add the spinach and stir well until any moisture has evaporated. Add the rice to the pan, then season with salt and pepper and pour in the simmering stock. Return to the boil, stir briefly, then cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook over a very low heat for 12 minutes.

In a small saucepan, melt the remaining butter. Add the pistachios and saute over a medium heat, stirring continuously until the butter foams and the nuts start to colour. Tip the browned nuts into the pan of rice with the herbs. Don't stir! Replace the lid and return the pan to a very low heat for 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and use a fork to fluff up the grains and stir through the herbs and nuts. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Cover the pan with a clean, folded tea towel, then replace the lid and leave it to stand for 15-20 minutes. To serve, tip the rice onto a serving platter and fluff the grains up with a fork.

Sunday 18 April 2010


When we moved to our flat just over a year ago there were a few things that we were very clear on.

The kitchen is small.

Five flights of stairs is a lot.

The view is incredible.

And, a biggie, we would have a balcony all to ourselves.

Our balcony isn't a pretty balcony with railings and patio furniture. It looks robust, functional, like somewhere to hang your washing rather than dream away hours. But, and it is a big but, it has that view.

When we moved in we sat and looked at the view and drank a beer in the sunshine. We did that a lot last Summer.

On New Year's Eve we watched fireworks go off across London. We saw them exploding around the Eye, we saw the entire spectacle that people had waited for hours to see on the banks of the Thames. Closer to home, we saw paper lanterns with candles inside. And then, as if fireworks and paper lanterns were not enough, we saw snow. It was magical.

But normally Winter is not balcony time.

It is not the time to appreciate that view with Canary Wharf to the left, then the City, St Paul's, the Eye, the BT Tower, and, finally, the close up spire of a church. The church is one of my favourite parts of that view. I'm not religious, at all, but the rest of the view vanishes as if it never was when we sit down on the sofas or at the table and the only part that remains is that towering spire that is lit up at night. It is something to gaze at against the sky.

Yesterday, after eating my plate of asparagus, after realising that Spring was here at last, I took the paper and I took my book and I sat. I sat and I read and I forgot that the sun in April can be hot. I got a pink nose but I drank it all in, the sun, the view, the warmth. And from my vantage point I could hear the music blaring out of cars, Don't Blame it on the Boogie, the unfamiliar strains of a Turkish singer, Empire State of Mind, I could hear people who had decided to celebrate the sun with all day drinking, I could hear gatherings in gardens for the first barbecues of the summer, I could hear birdsong.

And when I got too hot I went inside and I made a cake. I made a semolina cake scented with lemon zest and rose petals. I poured over orange blossom water flavoured sugar syrup. I went back outside and I pretended I was in the garden of the Paris mosque where you can drink a small glass of mint tea and eat baklava and semolina sponges and watch tiny birds fly about amongst the tiles before they eventually alight on your table to steal a few crumbs. My fantsy was slightly compromised by the big mug instead of the dainty glass and the recipe that was undeniably tasty but not quite what I had envisaged. Not quite there on the texture of the crumb, not quite drenched enough in the sweet fragrant syrup, not quite there enough for sharing with you but there enough for me to enjoy.

I'll let you know when it's there.

Saturday 17 April 2010


I had planned my day so neatly.

I would drink my coffee and chat to my Mum.

I would get ready and go out to buy ingredients for a semolina cake and tonight's dinner.

I would come back to the flat and make a slice of toast topped with a smear of soft goats' cheese, leeks, a fried egg.

I would bake a cake and sit in the sun. I would enjoy the strange but lovely sight of the London skyline with not a plane in sight and no vapour trails hanging above. I would try, but find it hard, to reconcile the images of a big swirling cloud of ash with today's lovely reality of clear blue sky and warm sun.

I would eat a slice of cake and drink some mint tea.

I would make dinner and we would drink prosecco.

But then something happened.

I spoke to my Mum and went shopping. I bought big bunches of mint, parsley and dill. I went to buy milk and some yoghurt and that's when I stopped in my tracks.

Asparagus. Lots and lots of asparagus.

In less time than it takes to say 'first asparagus of the season' my lunch plans had changed and a bunch of asparagus was in my basket.

Goodbye toast, goodbye leeks, goodbye cheese, goodbye fried eggs. Hello plate full of asparagus with melted butter.

Spring, you are properly here at last.

Wednesday 14 April 2010


A few simple things have been cheering me up in the morning this week...

A new mug and bowl from here

A dollop of Total 2% Greek yoghurt

A very good granola recipe from here

A final topping of dried fruit

I really really recommend the granola recipe. I left out the coconut, used mixed seeds, almonds, and a mix of maple syrup and honey. So good. So making it again.

p.s I'm going to this in May and will be at Food Bloggers Connect in June. Anyone else?

Tuesday 6 April 2010


And as quickly as it deserted me the urge to blog is back.

Maybe it's the occasional sunny day, or a post Easter mental Spring clean, or the need to eat something other than pasta with leeks and bacon or soup with bread and cheese, or maybe it is just the natural rise and fall and ebb and flow of the year...

I'm going with Winter being rubbish and my energy levels rising in direct proportion to the temperature and the hours of daylight.

What a surprise.

This morning I walked to work in my new pair of white converse (confidence to wear white converse and hope they won't be rain sodden grey converse within five minutes is surely up there with crocuses and daffodils as a sign of Spring) and caught up with podcasts and reminded myself to do it on as many mornings as the sun shines.

Gosh I love Spring.

After all that you would think it would be salad for dinner wouldn't you?

But for now it is soup, again, but with good reason.

One of Chris's colleagues has parents who own a Cantonese restaurant in Sheffield. Her Dad visted her and she very sweetly gave us three of his homemade pork buns so we are steaming those tonight. And, as they don't quite make a meal we will follow them with soup, bread, and cheese. Or, to be more specific, potato, leek, carrot and parsnip soup, Cropwell Bishop white stilton, and Sussex Yeoman hard goat's cheese. It may not be the most balanced meal in the world flavourwise but I'm looking forward to tucking in.

And, as a final aside, have you seen this?

You should.

Russell mentioned Fire & Knives to me when we were in Edinburgh a few weeks ago and I promptly ordered the first two issues. I may be too susceptible to suggestion (particularly those of the book/magazine/bag variety) but I don't see that changing and sometimes it is a very good thing. I'll wait for the next issue to pop up and then I'll be subscribing.

Here's to reading the printed word.