I was having a gentle browse through my food cupboard the other day, as I often like to do on an evening, and I realised that have 5 different kinds of nuts. Not to mention two different kinds of nut butter. This strikes me as quite excessive. But nuts, in my opinion, are a great addition to any meal. I have always been a devoted fan of peanut butter. The wholenut, crunchy variety in particular. I’ve recently discovered the joys of cashew nut butter, which is a whole new level of amazingness. You can only buy it in tiny, and ludicrously expensive, jars. But man is it worth it.
This is yet another vegan miracle. Frozen bananas whizzed up in a blender make ice cream. No joke. It’s apparently quite a thing, and has it’s own hashtag on Instagram (#nanaicecream). This is what Paris and I made to go with our chocolate and beetroot muffins. The first time we tried it the bananas weren’t frozen enough, so it melted into a sloppy mush, and I remained skeptical. But on the second try, with really well frozen bananas, it worked. The bananas get broken up into small pellets, and then when mixed with the tahini and cashew butter they form a deliciously creamy ice cream – without any cream.
It’s quite a revelation to be able to wolf down copious amounts of something that greatly resembles ice cream without much consideration for calories. A liberating experience, as far as ice cream goes. Considering the ‘ice cream’ is ninety percent banana, there isn’t an overwhelming banana taste. The cashew nut flavour complements the banana really well, and the occasional crunch of a nut is all the more welcome. And it’s pretty much guilt free.
I got home from work one day feeling particularly frazzled. It had been a stressful day, for whatever reason, and I desperately needed a way to wind down and switch off from the day. I tried my usual technique of going for a brisk walk around the block, but this did nothing to calm me down. I tried watching TV to distract me, but this didn’t help either. After wandering around in a hapless manner for a while, I decided that the only thing that would relax me was baking. I wanted the soothing reassurance of putting ingredients together and seeing them transform into something else. And I decided that baking bread would do the trick. There is something about the process of mixing the dough, kneading it into submission, then watching it rise, that I knew would provide the calming effect I was after.
I read in a recipe book once that bread just needs flour, a yeast and a liquid, but these can come from all sorts of different ingredients. You could include things like beer for the yeast, and milk instead of water for the liquid. So when I make bread, I get tempted to chuck all sorts of things in. This time, I experimented with adding an egg to enrich the dough, and natural yoghurt for the moisture, both of which helped to make the dough silky and soft. I used several flours too – mostly wholemeal, but mixed with some plain flour to lighten it slightly. I also used a little bit of Emmer flour, made from an ancient variety of wheat, that gives an interesting nutty taste to the bread. At the end of the evening, the act of inhaling the wholesome, homely, comforting smell of freshly baked bread was exactly what I needed.
I wanted to make something to stave off the inevitable hunger pangs that reliably hit around 4pm everyday. I have started eating fruit when this happens, which helps to a certain extent, but I inevitably also follow it with random handfuls of dried fruit, nuts and seeds. So I decided to combine these into a snack that would give me energy, whilst also being substantial enough to keep me going until dinner. It is also a desperate bid to get rid of a jar of ground mixed seeds that I have hanging around, which I am not particularly fond of – I end up finding small pieces of hemp seed painfully lodged in my gums after sprinkling them on my morning porridge.
I tipped pretty much the entire contents of my food cupboard into these – beginning with oats and mashed banana, then joyfully pouring in the ground seeds, tahini, peanut butter, cashew nuts, ground almonds, and anything else that needed finishing off. I also found some dried sour cherries hidden behind the pasta that I had bought on a whim several months ago, then completely forgotten about. I opened them and discovered, after chomping down on one rather hard, that they still contained their stones. So I spent a rather tedious hour soaking the cherries in boiling water, then popping out each stone individually.
This sort of thing is all the rage among the nutrition and exercise obsessed, who see them as the perfect ‘post-workout’ snack. There are numerous versions of homemade ‘energy bites’ and ‘high-protein snack bars’ out there, with increasingly ridiculous names – the best one I found was ‘healthy almond joy protein bars’. No joke. This version is raw, which gets a whole host of people on board. ‘Raw’ food is seen as superior by its advocates, as cooking is thought to ‘denature proteins’ amongst other evil things. I’m not prepared to jump on that bandwagon just yet (well, never), but I simply wanted to see if everything would stick together without the need to cook it, more out of laziness than health concern. Turns out it did, although they were much easier to shape into balls than press into bars, leading to the dubious name of ‘seed balls’.
Well, how do I begin to describe my love for pesto? The smell of the basil, the slight grittiness of the parmesan, the smoky creaminess of the toasted pine nuts. It seems such a miraculous harmony of delicious ingredients. I would go as far to say it’s my favourite food. Savoury food that is – my favourite pudding is a whole other (lengthy) conversation.
I make pesto relatively regularly, and yet this is the first time I’ve actually measured the ingredients before throwing them in. Usually I just add things bit by bit until it tastes like it has the right balance – and I always need to make more than I need because all of these ‘tastes’ are, inevitably, large spoonfuls. This meal, of pasta with pesto and pancetta (or bacon), is both my default comfort food and my default quick, easy yet impressive dinner party food.
As I was taking photos of a dish so dear to my heart, I decided to trawl the local charity shops to find a suitable plate on which to show if off. I found this retro, fluted triumph at a very unassuming charity shop for a very reasonable £1.50. It’s the sort of plate that would have once been a proud member of a set to grace a dinner table back in the day, but now has been discarded in favour of more minimal, neutral patterns. However, it works perfectly for this dish, as the red patterning complements the bright green of the pesto.
The last few weeks have been oddly chaotic, given that I now don’t have a job. I have been frantically trying to fill my time – visiting friends in London and Brighton, and my Dad in Cornwall- so I don’t get too bored. I have also started looking for a place to live in Bristol, which involves rushing up at a moment’s notice to do a house viewing. I now understand that thing retired people say about not knowing how they ever had time to work.
On the odd day where I’ve not got anything else planned, I work on a blog post. I’ve really enjoyed taking more time over them. This one, for instance, was the product of an afternoon set aside specially to play with a new ‘prop’: a piece of slate. It’s not quite big enough to be a full background on its own, so I laid it on a chair, then arranged things on top. It’s surprisingly difficult to make pecans look like they have been casually scattered– whatever configuration I arranged them in seemed to look, well, arranged.
I am an avid granola fan, consuming it for breakfast almost every day. I pair it with some thick greek yoghurt, and sometimes some chopped banana. I keep expecting to get bored of it, but when I vary my breakfast by having toast, a little part of me wishes I were eating granola. So I thought it was high time I tried making some. There are no rules here – feel free to add any combination of nuts and seeds that you fancy. The maple syrup can be substituted for something else syrupy, such as honey, agave syrup, golden syrup or date syrup (actually, I might try that one next time..).
I was sent a link recently to a series of images where the photographer had recreated meals from all their favourite books. This got me thinking about books that I had read and remembered particular things that the characters ate, or meals that were vividly described. From childhood, I can recall exactly the pie that was eaten by Danny in Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World, wrapped in greaseproof paper, and containing whole eggs in amongst the filling.
I have just finished reading The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver. In this book, two worlds run side by side. In one of them, the two characters seem to incessantly eat popcorn. There are many passages devoted to their choice of topping, how they cook it, and so on for a surprisingly long time. When I finished the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about popcorn. So I decided to make some.
I experimented with both a savoury and a sweet topping, these being smoked paprika, and cinnamon and sugar. There are many others you could use – some options I remember from the book are parmesan, thai five spice powder, and mixed herbs. There is a certain amazement in these dry yellow things suddenly magically transforming into the stuff you get at the cinema. It took me a few tries to get the temperature just right, as the oil can’t be too hot as it will burn the kernels, but it needs to be hot enough to make them pop.
I have been going slightly quince crazy over the last few weeks. I had a surreptitious, under-the-counter deal with the greengrocer for a 4kg crate of quinces. Not that I really wanted that many, but they seem to only come in such a quantity, and she was confident that, were I to only take half, the rest wouldn’t sell. No one really knows what to do with the cumbersome fruits that look like a cross between an apple and a pear on steroids. You can’t eat them raw, and I would be dubious to their appeal prepared in any way other than in a jelly or a paste.
This is not actually cheese. It is nothing like cheese. Hence the need for the inverted commas in the title- and my insistence on using air quotes whenever I tell people about it. It’s actually a paste made out of quinces and sugar, which sets firm enough to hold its shape. You eat it with cheese- so why it’s also known as a ‘cheese’ is slightly baffling. The Spanish name is membrillo, which doesn’t enlighten us any more, unless you’re Spanish.
Quinces have a lovely autumnal taste to them, a bit like a sweet pear. This ‘cheese’ is lovely sliced in very thin slivers as part of a cheeseboard, and is particularly good with hard goats’ cheese. It is also nice, as I discovered having surplus, on toast, balanced on top of some crunchy peanut butter. You’ll need some sort of mould for the paste – I used silicone cupcake cases, and the jelly popped satisfyingly out of them when it was set. But any sort of ramekins or small dishes would work well too.