Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Wholesome Good - Autumn Gratin

I recently received a veg box with chard in it.  Chard is interesting because it's so colorful, but other than the color, it's a kind of bitter, dark, leafy green that just doesn't do it for me. 
I mean, it's fine in moderation but I had a big ol' bag of it and didn't know what to do. 

So, I turned to trusty Google and once again Alice Waters was my guide.
You can find the original recipe on seriouseats.com.  I tweaked my version a bit due to a) having a lot of kale still in the garden b) being lazy and c) feeling the need to add cheese and garlic to everything I do. 

Here's what I did:

Get a bunch of chard.  The original recipe called for "three bunches" but unless you're buying in a grocery store and all grocery stores use the same measurements for sale, there's no way to accurately judge what is meant by "three bunches" so I just used what I had and tweaked proportions where necessary.
A bunch of kale - however much you want, or just leave it out.
Breadcrumbs - maybe about a cup.  I ran out to just used what I had.
Butter - the original recipe calls for 5tbsp but do what you want with it.  Use olive oil if you want for cooking the veggies, but I'd recommend sticking with butter to go with the breadcrumbs.
1 onion
2 cloves garlic 
1/3 C pine nuts (toasted)*
4 tsp flour
1 C milk
salt, pepper, parmesan and nutmeg to taste

Start by tossing your breadcrumbs in melted butter and set aside for later.  I didn't toast because I was putting it in the oven and figured that step would be redundant. 
Wash your chard and remove the stems - keep half or so of them and chop them finely.  Wash and de-stem your kale. 
Cook your onion and garlic in butter or olive oil until soft (5-7 minutes)- while this is cooking, toast up your pine nuts.  I usually do this in a frying pan.  Keep the nuts moving so they don't burn and toast until fragrant.  Set them aside when done.

Add your kale, chard and chard stalks in with the onion and garlic and cook for about 3-5 minutes until they're wilted to your liking.

You will see that I didn't pre-cook the greens.  I didn't think it was necessary to cook them three times (boil, fry, bake) but go for it if you really want to. 
Add the flour and cook for 30 seconds or so, and then add the milk and stir until everything is mixed.  Now add in your nutmeg, salt, parmesan and pepper to taste.  I like the addition of parmesan to give this a bit of cheesy-ness, but feel free to leave it out or put in cheddar or whatever you like.
When the seasonings are all to your liking, stir in your pine nuts.

Pop the mixture into a small casserole dish and top with your buttery bread crumbs.  Bake at 180C/350F for about 20 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are golden and it looks super tasty.

I would say this works equally well as a main or a side, but it's up to you. 

* I totally didn't add the pine nuts when I made this, but I served it with a salad that included pine nuts and we both agreed that the flavours went really well together.  Plus it was a good bit of nutty crunch for an interesting texture. 

Friday, 6 December 2013

Wholesome Food - Winter Salad with Pear and Blue Cheese

I keep getting lettuce in my veg boxes.  We really don't eat a lot (read: any) salads in the winter because it's cold and I want to eat things that are warm.  I think that makes total sense, but the veg box people just keep giving us lettuce, expecting us to use it.  

So, use it I am, and if I'm honest it's a handy way to use up a lot of stuff in the house.
The other day I had one pear that needed using up, along with some fabulous crumbly blue cheese, some pine nuts and some pomegranate.  Pomegranate is great for salads because it's colorful, tangy, and lasts in the fridge for aaaaaaaaaaaages.  
Anyway, back to me wanting hot food in the winter - I was sure I read somewhere about caramelized balsamic pears so I decided to give it a go.

I quartered the pear and removed the stock and seeds, and plopped it in a hot frying pan with plenty of butter.  Once I was happy with it's browning, I poured in about 2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and whacked up the heat enough to start burning the sugar (not the intention, but it got the job done). 
When I was satisfied with the browning on the pear I took it out of the pan and let it cool enough to let me slice it up without burning myself.
I added it to a mixed salad that included, as I said above, blue cheese, pomegranates and toasted pine nuts.  It made a great sweet (pears)/salty (cheese)/tangy (pomegranate) winter salad.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Wholesome Food - pizza sauce

Remember how I keep going on about tomatoes?  Well, I'm still going on.

In October I stripped all of the reasonably sized green tomatoes from the vines and put them all in a tray in my kitchen window, hoping that at least some would ripen before they started to go off.  I had NO IDEA how long tomatoes keep.  It's now the end of November and I'm pretty sure they're *all* going to ripen and we've been able to continue working our way through our own fresh home grown tomatoes the whole time.

We're kind of old people.  Every Friday we have a pizza night.  Up until a few months ago we would buy frozen pizza and put extra goodies on it.  One night I made pizza from scratch, and we've never looked back.

On our pizza from scratch, I put home made pizza sauce.  As I've waxed poetic in the past, tomato sauce made from roasted home-grown tomatoes is like nothing else.  Seriously.

So, here's how I do it...


Tomatoes - preferably larger ones
Olive oil (optional)
Basil (optional)
Anything else you think would be nice like chili, onion, other herbs (optional)

You see it is obviously a complicated recipe.

Wash your tomatoes and remove the stems.
Drizzle with a little olive oil if you want to, pop on a baking sheet and bake at about 180c for about 20 minutes or until the tomato skins have split and started to brown, and some of the liquid has evaporated.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool enough to touch. 
Remove the skins and put the tomatoes into a pot.  Use a potato masher or other to mash them up a bit.  Cook off the liquid until it's the desired consistency.  While it's cooking add your garlic, or onion or chili or whatever else.  If you're using fresh basil I'd recommend putting it in at the end to maintain the fresh flavour.  Salt to taste. 

Et voila, simple, fresh and tasty pizza sauce. 

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Wholesome Food - Lemon and Blueberry Loaf Cake

 I'm totally a chocolate girl.  I'm that person who is totally miffed when going out to eat and there isn't a chocolate option on the menu.  

So, nothing against chocolate, but sometimes there's nothing quite like a citrus cake. 

Adopted from a recipe I found on Tasty Kitchen, here's my lemon blueberry loaf/bread/cake recipe:

For the cake
113g (1/2C) room temperature butter
3tsp lemon juice (the real kind, not that fake squeezy kind)
The zest of 1.5 lemons
150g (3/4C) sugar
1 large egg
1tsp vanilla
256g (2C) flour
2tsp baking powder
1tsp sea salt
118ml(1/2C) buttermilk - I make mine by adding in 1/2 Tbsp to my measuring up and then topping up the milk to the full 1/2C or 118ml.  Allow it to sit for a couple of minutes, and you'll haver a good buttermilk substitute without having to buy a whole container of it.
Fresh blueberries - I eye it but usually add more than one punnet (150g).  The original recipe calls for 2 cups.

For the glaze
Lemon juice
Lemon zest
Powdered sugar 

Preheat oven to 180C/350F.  Butter either two small loaf tins, or one square or rectangle (9x9in or 7x11in) cake tin.  Or be crazy and make it round.  It all tastes the same anyway. 

Measure your sugar into a bowl and zest your lemons into it.  Rub the two together with your (clean!) fingers, mixing all of those tasty lemon oils into the sugar.

Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy, mix in egg and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  

Add the dry mixture into the creamed butter mixture, alternating with the buttermilk, until just combined.  Fold in the blueberries carefully, to keep as many whole as possible.

Spoon your batter into your tin(s) and bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on how you've decided to divide the batter.  It took 30 minutes for my two loaves to cook.  

Once the cake has cooled (though you can do this while still a bit warm), mix up your glaze by adding lemon juice and zest to powdered sugar to form a thin, but not watery, mixture that can be either poured/drizzled over the cake, or brushed. 

Mmmmmm... cake. 

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Wholesome Food - Autumn Black Bean and Squash Tacos, with kale and feta and other tasty business

We were recently in the States for my brother's wedding, in DC.   We decided to make a bit of a holiday out of the trip so after the wedding we went north to Boston to visit my friend Katy.  Katy, being world-wise, took one look at us on arrival and asked if we wanted to stay in for a home cooked meal on our first night with her.  

YES PLEASE, we responded.

She then asked if we would be ok with something vegetarian, suggesting black bean and squash enchiladas.  

OMG, we responded.

Katy and her husband Kevin contribute to a CSA (Community Support Agriculture) which means they pay a lump sum in January towards supplies for a local farm, and spend most of the rest of the year picking up weekly (or fortnightly?) boxes of tasty produce.  Very similar to our veg boxes here, except that we pay for each box individually.

Katy and Kevin have become very creative in how they use their glut of produce, treating us to fabulous pickled carrots and showing us a drawer full of jarred tomatoes for future sauces, and inventing brilliant recipes like black bean and squash enchiladas.  

They also mentioned a favourite recipe involving kale and goats cheese tacos.  So, with a glut of kale in the garden, and some gorgeous kabocha squash in the store, I got to thinking.

Up until my eye-opening experience with Katy, I have to admit that my squash adventures were limited to the butternut variety.  Butternut squash is great, but kabocha appealed to me due the description of a less sweet, nutty, almost chestnut flavoured skin.  It seemed ideal as a main component to this dish.  

However, I also knew that roast squash and fried onions are two sweet ingredients, so I thought that feta and sour cream would provide a good bit or salt and sour to balance the sweet.

I purchased whole wheat tortillas because I really wanted corn but couldn't find any - they were a bit on the large side so made these more burrito-ey than taco-ey, but actually the whole wheat was another great flavour addition.

The recipe, serves 2-3 with no sides:

1 kabocha or squash of your choice.  You can eat the skin, so be sure to wash well.  Alternatively, remove the skin before roasting.
1 large red onion   
2-3 leaves of curly, or other thin-leafed kale
1 small tin of black beans
Whole wheat tortillas
Feta, avocado, and sour cream/creme fraiche to taste

Start by quartering your squash and removing the seeds.  If you don't want to eat the skin and it's a thin-skinned variety, remove the skin using a veggie peeler, before cutting.  If you use a thick-skinned variety you can just leave it on during roasting and scoop out the insides when it's done.

Drizzle olive oil over your slices and roast at 180c for about 20-30 minutes, flipping to ensure maximum caramelizaion half way through.    

While the squash is roasting, assemble your other ingredients.  

Fry off the onion -I prefer thinly sliced into crescents - for a few minutes, then add your (drained and washed) black beans and torn up kale.  Remember to separate out the tough stalk of the kale before adding it in.  

When your squash is ready, take it out of the oven and allow to cool enough so it's comfortable to handle, then dice up and add to the onion/bean/kale mixture.  At this point you will want to start heating your tortillas as well - either in the microwave, on the stove top, or however you like to do it.

Add your squash/black bean/kale/onion mixture to your warm tortilla and top with avocado, feta and sour cream/creme fraiche.  I decided not to add salsa but that would probably be a nice addition.  You can certainly play around with the ingredients.  

I thought the dish was brilliant, though also found that the creme fraiche addition was absolutely necessary as it would have been rather dry without.  Rab liked it but this is definitely an "Emily meal" more than a "Rab meal" 


Sunday, 17 November 2013

Skin: when I hit 30, went off the pill, and all of a sudden started getting pimples (The Oil Cleansing Method)

I'd been on birth control since I was 16.  I came off the pill now and again for a few months at a time in the 14 year period between then and now, but always went back on because my periods were never regular and there's nothing worse (in my opinion) than not having a clue about when your period is next due.

I went off birth control (for obvious married person reasons) in February of this year.  Beyond all of the mental, hormonal and emotional issues that will prevent me from taking it again, about 5 months after getting off the pill, I started to break out. 

Having been a pill taker for so long, I breezed through high school with great skin.  I didn't know how to deal with the fact that, all of a sudden, I was going to have to come up with a skin care regimen.

My new-found aversion to the bad things they put in lots of products these days had me surfing the 'net to find some alternatives.

I decided to start with the Oil Cleansing Method.  It made sense, and everyone seemed to say that it was the BEST THING EVER.  After a long search (ending with Amazon) I got some castor oil and started giving it a go.  Crunchy Betty has a great bit of info on it including a "Trying and Troubleshooting" guide found here

I *really* like it.  I use about 50/50 castor oil and sweet almond oil, with a few drops of tea tree essential oil thrown in.  I don't have a pre-mixed container so just mix as I go.  Once I get a small empty container I think that will be a better method.  I found that the key is HOT (without burning yourself) water on your steaming cloth.  If the water isn't hot enough, you won't get clean enough.  Some websites suggest steaming in the shower but the one time I did this, I ended up with a super oily face.  I think the shower just doesn't get hot enough. 

It is actually amazing how well this cleans my pores, and my blackheads are greatly reduced.  It also helped the super freaky bizarre extra oil extravaganza that started going on on my face a couple of months ago.  My skin is soft and hydrated without being oily, and it's super clean.  I follow this with a toner.  I have no idea if it's needed but it's my special made-it-myself toner and it's not doing any harm.

If I was less lazy, I would do this every other day.  I agree with Crunchy Betty that it's probably not required every day, but I don't do it enough.  I use OCM once or twice a week, and make extra effort if there is an event coming up.

Some people have reported an adjustment period for their skin, and others broke out and stopped the OCM altogether.  I guess we're all different, though this could be down to not steaming fully and/or using an oil that's maybe not great for your skin.

I would highly recommend giving this a try for a week or two, and would be interested to hear what people think.  

Friday, 15 November 2013

Organic Veg Boxes

The blog has not been as neglected as it seems - I've been filing recipes away in my head but the kitchen was such a dark and horrible place while it was under construction, my head is firmly where most things stayed.  

A few weeks ago we found the light - in that the windows finally went in.  It's astoundingly fantastic and I'll have to try to get a super cool picture of the house at night, with the glass box illuminated.  
We had a woodburner installed at the start of this week and the guy who did it assumed that we were designers because he thought our house "wasn't an ordinary punter's house" - I felt very proud.  

Now that the cooking is back in full force, I am getting pictures in on my proper camera.  Adventures in food to start back up again soon.

In the mean time, I wanted to share my newest excitement: 

We got an organic veg box (in-season veggies delivered to your door by a local producer) for the first time the other day and so far I’m loving it because it’s giving me veggies I’ve never used before – specifically in this case, chard, eggplant and fennel.

I’m going to put the eggplant in a moussaka but for the chard and fennel I took to the internet to find something.  Very interestingly, both times have come up with Alice Waters recipes, which is what I’ve followed. 

The fennel was caramelised and topped a salad.

The chard was combined with kale in a gratin - Alice's recipe with my tweaks to follow soon.