Saturday, 14 December 2013

Just a River in Egypt

See this sock?

It might fit a hobbit with swollen ankles. Wearing a cast. It will never fit a human being.

Frogged and tried again.

Denial ain't just a river in Egypt. -Mark Twain

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

After the Feast, Have Some Spiced Nuts

Hi there! There was meant to be another post about Thanksgiving but then I got wrapped up in cooking. Dinner was a good time, but I have only before pictures, like this one:

 In that picture is visible: rolls, foccacia, salad, stuffing, and mushrooms. There was a turkey, it was just on the other side of the room, cowering under tin foil. See?

I had fun and I'd like to share one of the most successful dishes of the evening.

One of the things I've noticed, in my limited but enthusiastic experience of throwing large dinner parties: food always takes longer than I think it will. This is especially true of dinners like Thanksgiving, where you slap a large chunk of poultry in the oven and hope the kitchen fairies are with you. When I invite people over, I want them to have a good meal and a good time. This is why I try to have something already prepared while the rest of the food gets ready.

This year and last, I relied on the geniuses at Fine Cooking and their menu planner. One of the suggestions for a nibble were these spiced pecans. They'd also be good for Christmas, so here you go!

Spicy Maple Pecans

(adapted from this recipe)

The original recipe calls for walnuts but I didn't have any. LEAVE THE GINGER IN. I took some of it out because I was dubious about it, and I wish I hadn't. A lot of the spice comes from those ginger pieces--despite its title, this isn't a very spicy recipe.

The baking time when I made these was only 20 minutes because the pecan pieces I used were quite small. Yours may take longer.

4 tbs unsalted butter
1/3c maple syrup
6 slices fresh ginger, the size of a 10p piece, cut small
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp salt
1/4tsp hot sauce
4c pecans

Preheat oven to 200C. In a large pot on the stovetop, mix everything but the nuts and stir for a few minutes until combined.  Take the pot off the stove, pour in the nuts, and stir to coat. On a greased baking sheet, spread the nuts in a single layer. Bake for ten minutes, then stir, then bake for another ten minutes. If they still look wet and untoasted, repeat the bake and stir step one more time.

Put the pan on a rack to cool. When the nuts are completely cooled, put them into bowls.

Makes 4 cups, which is good to feed 17 people with very little left over

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Seminar Wine Soup, or Preparing for a Foreign Thanksgiving

Late antique letter-writers had a dictum that a letter should not have more than a single subject, lest the lack of focus detract from the letter's quality. This post has two subjects, but they are hopefully interrelated enough to escape Sidonius Apollinaris' ire.

Like he even ever wrote about cabbage soup anyway.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we? Today is the Sunday before Thanksgiving and on Thursday at 7:30pm, after early medieval seminar, I hosting a meal for about fifteen people. That has meant several constraints:

1) Everything but the turkey has to be done before I leave at 4:40pm, from which follows
2) I am not allowed to make every dish on the menu
3) The turkey has to cook during the seminar

Yesterday I made a document called Thanksgiving Battle Plan, which is already altering in the face of contact with the enemy...since rather than the turkey crown I was planning to make, I went and bought a whole medium turkey (God bless Aldi. And yes, I thought about the large one but then realized it wouldn't fit in my fridge. The buck has to stop somewhere.) My plan is divided into: nibbles (spiced maple pecans); bread basket (two kinds, may go down to just one), salads (carrot salad and dump-green-leaves-in-a-bowl-and-make-dressing), stuffing (gonna get a housemate to put that in the oven), turkey, and two kinds of pie. I'm going to adapt a friend's rum and spice pumpkin pie to be vegan (cross your fingers for that one) and I'll be making my signature cranberry apple pie, because last Christmas I froze some cranberries and I can. Whoot!

This is still an insane amount of work so today I am making what will be my lunches and dinners for the week, which brings us to Seminar Wine Soup.

What do you do when the convenor goes round the room asking all the grad students if they want the opened, unfinished, bottle of white wine? Me, I wait to see if anyone else has strong wishes to claim it, and then I grab it, because I keep white wine on hand for cooking, and getting it free is always excellent.

One of the things I made with the wine is cabbage soup. I've been trying to love cabbage since I moved to England, and I won't say I've succeeded yet. But this is a start, and it's what is going to keep me going this week while I (try to) finish off an article and cook a big dinner for medievalists and friends.

Seminar Wine Soup

(from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups by Brother Victor-Antonie d'Avila-Latourrette. He calls this Caldo Verde, Portuguese Cabbage Soup)

I imagine this would be excellent with some chorizo but I haven't tried that yet.

1/2c olive oil
3 onions, chopped
4-6 potatoes
1 small cabbage (I use Savoy)
8c water (or to cover the veg--I don't usually measure) + a veggie boullion cube or two
1c white wine 
salt and pepper as needed

Chop the onions and put the olive oil in a soup pot (you will need your largest one; the cabbage takes up a lot of space). Add onions. While those are cooking, keep an eye on them, and chop your cabbage. Peel the potatoes.

Add the cabbage to the pot and chop the potatoes. Then add the potatoes, and over them pour water to cover. (You can add chicken or vegetable bouillon cubes if you wish. I do.) Pour in your seminar wine. Add salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil.

Once it's at a boil. reduce the heat, cover it, and simmer for around forty-five minutes. Check to see if it needs more salt and pepper.

Turn off the heat and let the soup cool a little. Enjoy!

Makes 6 servings

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Please, God, Let Me Live

I got back to the United Kingdom this morning after flying via O'Hare. It was my first visit to that infamous airport and I'm delighted that it was uneventful--even if my flight from Boston landed when the one to Chicago started boarding, which is not soothing to the nerves.

You know what else tears my nerves, those fragile, fragile things, to pieces? Unexpected loud noises. Alert readers will realise that today is Guy Fawkes Day. For the past month, my local grocery store has had a MASSIVE display of fireworks right by the entrance. The racket started as soon as it got dark and it doesn't look like it'll let up for the next six hours. Meanwhile, I am so tired the world is gently bobbing up and down; I ate dinner (recipe to be posted soon; it makes a lot, tastes fantastic, and freezes) for dinner and jumped out of my chair when I thought someone had set my house on fire. I calmed down once I saw that the flickering light was just the neighbours parading around with sparklers but the whee of some fireworks and the bang of others are ongoing.

Hence, soup. When I first lived in England as a clueless twenty-year-old, I made a lot of soup. In part, this was because I lived in a shared flat with limited kitchen equipment and in part because I was living in one of my two beloved Expensive Towns. Behold, it was beautiful there:

Vegetables were cheap; meat wasn't, and soup lasts for the better part of a week. My sister sent me this recipe in one of her letters. It is good and soothes all manner of terrors.

Apple and Butternut Squash Soup
(adapted from Heartland by Marcia Adams)

Note: I'm going by my hazy memory of the last time I made this; adjust the spices to your own taste. 'Mixed spice' is a UK blend which includes cinnamon, cardamon, and a bunch of other good things--I used it because I don't have the ground cardamon the original recipe requires.

Further Note: England does not have nonalcoholic pressed cider as it is made in New England. Cloudy apple juice is the next best thing.

1 large butternut squash
1/4c vegetable oil
1 large onion
2 medium apples
3/4tsp curry powder
3/4tsp nutmeg
1/2tsp mixed spice
1c cloudy apple juice
1 cube vegetable boullion + 4c water
1/2c milk
1/2tsp salt
1/2tsp pepper

Turn your oven on to 200C. Cleave the squash in twain and scoop out the seeds. Put it on a baking tray and roast for forty-five minutes to an hour, while you do other things. For me this other thing was making dinner; I roasted the squash the day before I planned to make soup. You do whatever makes you happy. (This step saves you having to cut up and peel a butternut squash.)

Heat the oil in large soup pot. Chop the onion and add it, frying until soft. While that's happening, peel and cut up the apples.You will need to pause to stir the onions once or twice. Add the apples to the pot and stir a bit. When the onion and apples are soft, scoop the squash out of its skin, and dump it in. Stir it so that everything is coated with oil.

Add all the spices and stir to incorporate. Then pour in the apple juice and let it cook for a few minutes. Chuck in your boullion cube and your water. Simmer the soup for about half an hour, until apple and onion are tender.

Let the soup cool a bit and then blend with an immersion blender. Stir in the milk, salt, and pepper.

Makes 5-6 servings. Freezes well.

(Title of this post taken from Sherlock.)

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Shipping Out to Boston, or What to Do With all the Food?

I'm headed to a conference in New England for a week. Soon. Cue my favorite music for my favorite international airport:

As is usual when I have to go away for a bit (a rant on the joys of academic travel is for another time), I try to clean out my refrigerator. I've found that no matter how much you try to tell your housemates, 'I'm going away, please help yourself to the carrots in the bottom of the fridge', you will inevitably get back to the evolution of New Life. Since cleaning the refrigerator ranks only above ironing on my list of most despised household chores, I've been trying to use up all my veg. Here's how I did:

  • Four apples went into a cake, along with an egg, and the rest of the butter, which I brought to a knitting group meeting
  • Three nectarines and two eggs went into a cake, and ended up at a Halloween party
  • A butternut squash, two apples, and an onion went into a soup. I should post the recipe for that, it's good.
  • The bananas went in the freezer. I don't really like fresh bananas (except with peanut butter on toast) but I love to freeze them for future baking
  • The swede (the vegetable!) got chopped and stuffed in the freezer for future soup
  • I picked all the tomatoes from outside and asked a housemate to use them, please
  • The potatoes will go in the refrigerator to prevent sprouting
  • All the satsumas have been eaten
  • I made kale, carrots, more onion, some garlic, the rest of the eggs, and some of the cheddar into a quiche
  • The rest of the cheddar was grated and shoved in the freezer
  • I handed the leeks to my Vegan Housemate and told her to use them
  • I attempted to make kiwi jam, with five kiwis and half a remaining lemon, got distracted by picking tomatoes, and invented Caramelized Kiwi Candy. That mess went in the trash.
I still have enough leftovers from this frenzy of activity to have a nice meal tonight and a good breakfast before shipping out tomorrow. I've also frozen a lot of soup, so I won't have to worry about shopping when I get back, which is good, since I don't sleep on flights; that makes me wander into traffic when I try to go grocery shopping after I get home, which is bad.

How do you prepare for leaving awhile?

Sunday, 13 October 2013

In Principio there were Raspberry Brownies

Um. Hi! Pleased to meet you.

I've been wanting to start one of these things for several months and am just now brave (and avoiding writing with enough intensity) to give it a go. So here we are.

The purpose of this blog is to share recipes for food which fits, in terms of cost and ease of preparation, into the life of a PhD Candidate. It may also support occasional reflections about the academic life. Pictures of medieval buildings, cute puppies, and my knitting will probably appear as well, even though I suck at photography.

But have a picture of some delicious brownies anyway:

I made these this afternoon because I was waiting for lunch to cool down enough to eat. I had raspberries from the reduced price section of Morrisons and they sat in my fridge for several days while I was too busy to use them up. Enter this afternoon, when I had time on my hands, and was looking for recipes for muffins. The muffin idea got scrapped after I saw the BBC Good Food recipe for raspberry brownies. Here is my version, I hope you enjoy!

Raspberry Brownies
(adapted from BBC Good Food, original recipe here)

300g semi-sweet chocolate chips*
250g Butter
220g light brown sugar
4 large eggs
50g cocoa powder
140g plain flour
200g raspberries (or thereabouts, I didn't measure mine)

Heat oven to 200C. Put the chocolate, butter, and sugar in a medium-size pot on the stovetop. Melt over medium heat, stirring, until everything is smooth. Take it off the hob.

While that's cooling, find your 8x8x2.5 inch square baking dish and grease it. Add the four eggs to the chocolate mixture, stirring after each. In a small bowl, weight out the cocoa and flour. Stir into the liquid stuff. Pour into a square glass baking dish and sprinkle the raspberries over. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until it feels set. You test whether it's done with a toothpick in if you want (it should come out clean) but aim for the parts without fruit because they're going to stay damp.

Let cool and then cut into small squares.

Makes 16 brownies

*I used these because they were what I had. Use whatever chocolate you have and it'll work out fine.