Boo! The cold weather is back. We were so nearly through February too.
I hate February. It’s the month when new year’s resolutions crumble and fall, and yet spring still feels so far away. A cold, grey month with a backdrop of misery.
Boo! The cold weather is back. We were so nearly through February too.
Brr! It’s getting cold now, even in the city. And the rain this past month has been welcome for the water table, but not so much when I’m out and about. (Rain, stop driving in my face please, that’s just rude.)
(Also I lost my coat. Or maybe left it at the dry cleaner’s. Can’t remember tbh and I didn’t like it much anyway. Stop nagging me, Christy, I’ll get a new one at some point.)
A couple of weeks ago, I fancied a hearty lentil soup for supper. Ted got all excited, thinking I meant a dal soup. I didn’t, but compromised, and as so often with compromise we ended up with something better than either. (Hmm, maybe there’s a lesson here for all of us, are you listening world?)
Things I love about this soup:
It also only takes about half an hour to get to the point where you can put it in the slow cooker and forget about it for a few hours. I love that – the flavours mingle together in this magical way, scenting the kitchen with the promise of tastiness to come.
(Anyone else watching the Sabrina reboot? It’s all gone a bit weird, hasn’t it …)
So it’s one I put on at lunchtime and then leave to bubble away until supper. But you can totally simmer it on the hob for about 40 minutes (or until the lentils are soft).
Hummus isn’t the kind of thing you can get passionate about, really, is it? Or so I thought until Simon, quite a few years ago now, dragged me to Hummus Bros for lunch. I thought he was being a bit weird, tbh – no one gets that excited about chickpeas.
Boy, was I wrong. Nutty, heavy on tahini, scented with cumin, it’s a completely different thing from the cold, beige pots of supermarket gunge – so I mainlined it once a week or so, and had major withdrawal symptoms when work took me elsewhere.
Thus, the search for a replacement recipe began. I looked at Ottolenghi’s (don’t you love Ottolenghi? His food, his writing, his determination to dirty every receptacle in your kitchen whenever you make one of his recipes) and it was deliciously familiar, but it involved so much faff (cooking chickpeas from dried – lovely, but for a simple lunch it just takes.too.long) and I ended up with about two litres of hummus at the end. (I mean, I love hummus, but …)
So here’s a cheat’s version. It uses one tin of chickpeas, so there’s no boiling for hours, and you end up with, hmm, about the equivalent of 2-3 supermarket tubs. That’s enough for Sunday pre-dinner snacks, then lunch on Monday and Tuesday. But it’s way nicer, and faster to make than popping to the shops.
There comes a time in every cook’s life, no matter how competent she thinks she is, when the holes in one’s repertoire start to show.
So it was with me and tomato sauce.
For many years, I’d got by with frying onions, adding garlic, tomatoes and herbs, and cooking it for a bit.
But none of these attempts resulted in the thick, savoury, hyper-tomato flavour that one gets from a simple plate of spaghetti al pomodoro in any half-decent Italian family joint. To be honest, it was all a bit … studenty.
So a couple of years ago, I embarked on a mission to fix this. But it proved much more difficult, with far more experimentation, than expected.
Thus, a dead end had been reached.
And so it was that I found myself in Mark and Niki’s kitchen, telling my sorry tale over a cup of chamomile tea.
Sometimes there are days when you want to be transported to somewhere else. Somewhere exotic. Somewhere far away from the sadness in your city.
But maybe in these times, it’s a case of putting one foot in front of the other. Of picking ourselves up and being resolutely normal.
Today I was determined that everything would be normal.
So I started thinking instead about what I could cook to take us away from the awfulness of last night, and remembered I had a pork fillet in the freezer and a small jar of pork and green peppercorn pate in the cupboard.
Which means one thing:
I’m delighted to introduce Ted’s first appearance in the blog! He went to the farmers market today and found the first asparagus of the year – cause for celebration indeed. He teamed it with the most lovely homemade lovage pesto – his own delicious invention – and made us the most gloriously green spring lunch. I begged him to write up the recipe and he did. Here you go.
What to do with lovage, the world and Joe want to know. It’s a vigorous herb which produces lots of big green fronds that look suspiciously like flat-leaf parsley. Unlike parsley, however, lovage is not mildly-flavoured. Its taste is not unpleasant – like a very strong celery leaf – but I’ve always struggled to know what to do with it as it always seemed like it would overpower most other flavours. So I’ve been left with a herb that grows unchecked and unharvested until it kicks out its flower spike in mid-summer and finally dies back.
Then, while gardening one weekend and looking again at the rapidly expanding lovage, I had a brainwave – what about making all those leaves into pesto? It turns out that other people have had the same idea and there are several recipes already on the web. See here and here.
While it does sound a bit ridiculous to keep puréed, roasted butternut squash stashed in the freezer, it does come in handy at times. Like when your husband stumbles in, as he did last night, exhausted from a really tough day at work and needs some comfort food, stat, but you’d planned some healthy, crunchy, veggie wraps.
The poor celeriac.
He’s an ugly beast.
This soup turns him into a beauty, though.
My consumption of tea rockets as soon as the temperature starts to fall. But the choice of black teas is very limited if you avoid caffeine – it’s basically builders or Earl Grey. This year, I’d been craving chai, but couldn’t find a decaf blend so decided to have a go at making it instead.
Cardamom is at the heart of most chais, for good reason: It’s incredibly fragrant, with a spiced, almost citrusy scent. The flavour can be overpowering, but when used with care, it’s gentle, soothing and quite heavenly.
Spiced chai is usually made by boiling it on the hob, which is delicious, but a bit of a faff. Then it struck me that using ground spices might work, too – and because they release their flavour more easily, perhaps a stew in the teapot is all it would take.
This is super easy and makes a fragrant and gentle spiced chai that’ll chase away the chills on even the coldest nights. The recipe below will make a small jar, enough for several pots of tea.
This is a hearty, warm autumn salad. The butternut squash caramelises gently and soothingly – its sweetness sets off the sharpness of the pomegranate dressing. Creaminess from the goats cheese and toasty crunch from the croutons and hazelnuts make for a midweek vegetarian supper that Ted will happily eat.