Plans for 2017: food and art history (!) blogging

I completely failed to blog the festive hype; I was exhausted in the lead up to Christmas and by the time I felt recovered I was celebrating at my family home – and my parents have an oven that can only be set to one temperature (180°C) and one operating hob that actually ignites out of six – if you’re reading this mum and dad, this is a plea to invest in a new cooker. I’ll cook you nice things in thanks.

My exhaustion was probably a remnant of the utter shambles 2016 has been – politically, not personally – on a global widespread scale. We’ve lost many heroes: David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, to name a few. We’ve been defeated by a scare-mongering racist campaign dubbed “Brexit” enacted by the Tories and UKIP. And a clueless bigot named Donald Trump has gained the title of the most powerful man in the world, though with no appropriate credentials apart his privileges as a white male and the luck that he was born into excessive wealth. To ease us into 2017, to cushion us from the triggering of Article 50 and when Trump takes over presidential office, comfort cooking is surely the way forward.

I blame the political turmoil of 2016 for why I didn’t cook AT ALL over the Christmas period. With special thanks to my lovely mum for buying me the M&S butternut squash and pecan nut roast for Christmas dinner to compensate. The cat Christmas crackers from Paperchase were also amazing.

I did, however, manage to squeeze in a little creativity over the holidays. For presents I made loved ones personalised baubles for their trees, featuring my favourite photos of them, with added jewels and sparkles.

I also went on festive film photography trips at Knole Park, a National Trust deer park, which is luckily only two miles from my house.

So this blog post is more concerned with post-christmas blues, my apprehensions and intense excitement for the New Year. Thus far, I’ve had to throw away my chilli plant, and I’ve managed to buy a calendar (in the sale, it pays to be disorganised) and I’ve made it back to my kitchen in Exeter in one piece.

A few things I would like to achieve this year:

  • Write short fiction
  • Write blog posts with greater sentimental value
  • Pick up the paint brush again

More pressing concerns:

  • Graduate
  • Obtain a graduate job
  • Pay off that hefty student loan

In terms of this blog, I intend to combine my burgeoning predilection for art history alongside food journalism. So watch this space…

 

Mango and Asian mushrooms teriyaki soba

Mango and Asian mushrooms teriyaki soba vegan; serves 2

don’t be skeptical of the combination of shiitake, enoki and oyster with ripe, juicy mango 

Ingredients:

  • 300g Asian mushrooms (I’ve used shiitake, enoki, and oyster)
  • 1/2 large fresh mango, chopped into cubes
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame seed oil
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 bundles of soba noodles (approximately 180g)

Method:

  1. In a frying pan, heat a little vegetable oil on a medium heat and sauté the mushrooms for 2 minutes.
  2. Boil a pan of water and cook the soba noodles.
  3. Whilst the noodles are cooking, combine the dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, sesame seed oil, garlic and curry powder. Pour onto the sautéing mushrooms, and add the chopped mango. Fry for a further minute.
  4. Serve up piping hot, and with sriracha sauce, if an extra kick is needed.

 

The Nostalgic Porridge Pot and its miraculous healing powers

Porridge is a gentrified phenomenon that has become a hipster trend in the past twelve months or so. And I’m so on board with it, because I’ve been fuelling on the gruel since before it was cool. As a child I strangely always associated the grain with cartoon adaptations of Dickensian inmates in Victorian England, as unappealing gruel sloped into bowls, eaten for the sake of energy and calorie intake. It has been a staple food throughout history, typically associated and eaten largely by peasantry; now it has been transformed and consumed at brunch by hipster Londoners in Neals Yard and Brick Lane. There’s something a bit wrong with purchasing a bowl of porridge at £6.50, for the sake of Instagram. I’m guilty here.  A 1kg Tesco’s own bag of porridge oats will cost you 99 pence, containing on average 25 servings, as cheap as rice. The packaging even suggests to cook with water, not milk. Firstly, who does this? You shouldn’t. But imagine how inexpensive breakfasts would be if you were to. The packaging advises for a more “indulgent” and “creamy” texture, use milk in replacement. Secondly, take up that suggestion and ALWAYS use milk. Allow yourself that “indulgence”.

Once I taught myself breakfast was brilliant, and the foundation for a positive day (it’s now my favourite meal of the day in fact, because a fresh day promises so much) porridge became an addictive strategic routine. I had an awfully disruptive first year at university, in which I moved halls of residence accommodation twice, living in a total of three different flats across the academic year. During the first few months I had no home, no space to call my own, no actual flat mates, and most importantly, no supply of porridge oats. My appetite and diet went array, and consequently I felt immensely lost due to my askew concentration. I distinctively remember one day when I was physically moving my belongings from my old halls to my new final room, that by the end of the day I had eaten a single yoghurt. This was a clear indication that I was not healthy, caring for myself, or showing myself any self-love. It didn’t get much better when I settled in; I lived off peanut butter and jam on toast for breakfast and dinner, and lunch was just not a plausible nor a convenient thing. From the sight of my food blog, my recipes and my extensive supply of bizarre and unnecessary ingredients such as carob syrup and rose water, you would not imagine that buttering toast used to be an ordeal in itself. Of course, I would not have thought to have document the dreariness of my toast dinners on Instagram – and this is why social media is so lethal: it represents the beatific aspects of existence, censoring and ignoring the unplanned and miserable occurrences in the everyday. I always loved cooking before university, and I’m glad I’ve managed to retain and rekindle that passion. And of course, I am lax with cooking sometimes – I don’t eat like an aspiring food writer everyday – and I always take a detour on my way home from a drunken night out to the kebab shop to get cheesy chips, with its copious amounts of plastic, grated cheese that almost certainly isn’t cheese.

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The infamous Mega Kebab cheesy chips

Back to porridge. My most vivid memory of porridge is from first year at university, on a day when I had eaten very little, due to lack of food supplies, and by evening I felt very weak. I went to visit my friend in his flat, who noticed my tiredness and lethargy, and asked me what I eaten that day. When I couldn’t recall, he left me to rest, and returned with a big steaming bowl of porridge, an extremely creamy one – made with whole milk – and generous dollops of strawberry jam. It was the greatest thing I could ever have been given: a cure to my severe unhappiness at eighteen years old. It was a signifier of hope and sustenance, ensuring that the best things were yet to come, and deterring me from giving up on my degree course.

That life-altering meal was made from Everyday Value porridge oats, whole milk and 29p strawberry jam. Don’t tell the chef I told you so but the proportional quantities were terrible, it was stodgy and it was over-microwaved, but it tasted divine because of what it represented.

Stirring porridge always evokes a very personal and meaningful nostalgia within me. The process reminds me I deserve to be nourished and it has since fuelled much happier, more productive and stimulating days. It also reminds me of my Dad. When I lived at home, I would wake up every morning to a scraped out saucepan which was hours earlier filled with rollicking porridge, abandoned on the hob in the kitchen, for the house fairy to clean up (my poor mother). We’ve never owned a microwave due to my dad’s stubborn fear of the machines as unnatural and cancerous, so porridge has always been cooked on the hob – and that’s the way it should be – the texture of the porridge is not the same when cooked in the microwave. My dad would leave at 5.30am every morning to get to work, thankfully on a stomach content from a bowl of slow-releasing porridge. Thank you dad for working hard.

So here’s two porridge recipes I eat rarely due to time and effort but when I do with it gives me great pleasure:

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Lilac porridge: lavender infused, lemon curd, blueberry and poppy seeds vegetarian; serves 1 

Ingredients:

  • 50g rolled porridge oats
  • 250ml semi-skimmed milk, or a soya alternative
  • 20g raisins
  • 50g frozen blueberries
  • 1/4 tsp dried lavender
  • 1 tbsp lemon curd
  • Lemon zest (optional)
  • 1 tsp poppy seeds, to serve

Method:

  1. Measure 50g of porridge oats with 250ml milk, and pour into a saucepan, add the frozen blueberries, raisins, and dried lavender. Cook over a medium heat on the hob, stirring continuously for 3 minutes. The frozen blueberries will give the porridge a beautiful lilac colour.
  2. Once a thick and creamy consistency, and heated through, pour into a bowl. Dollop on cold lemon curd, lemon zest and sprinkle on poppy seeds. Eat immediately, but not before taking a photo for Instagram and pretending you have your life entirely together.

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Cypriot porridge: figs, carob syrup and cacao nibs vegetarian; serves 1 

Ingredients:

  • 50g rolled porridge oats
  • 250ml semi-skimmed milk, or a soya alternative
  • 1 fig, quartered
  • 1 tsp carob syrup, to serve
  • 1 tbsp cacao nibs, to serve

Method:

  1. Measure 50g porridge oats with 250ml milk, pour into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat on the hob, stirring continuously for 3 minutes.
  2. Once cooked, like above, remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and assemble. Add the sliced fig, drizzle on carob syrup and sprinkle over cacao nibs.

Rose petal and pistachio cake

Rose petal and pistachio cake vegetarian; serves 10 

Bottled rose water and dried rose are incredibly exciting ingredients. I bought them about a year a go for a mere couple of pounds from an International food supermarket, and they’ve been a little neglected at the back of my cupboard, amongst the things I told myself I’d always get round to using. And once I practised this recipe to perfection, they were all gone. 

Ingredients:

  • 225g baking butter, softened to room temperature (I am forever loyal to stork)
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 1 tbsp rose water
  • 40g unsalted pistachio kernels, chopped

For the icing:

  • 125g sifted icing sugar
  • 2 tsp rose water
  • 2 tbsp warm water
  • 1/2 tsp pink food colouring
  • 40g unsalted pistachio kernels, chopped
  • Dried rose petals (optional)

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C and prepare a non-stick loaf tin with baking parchment or butter.
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream together the baking butter and caster sugar. Gradually sift in the self-raising flour, add the eggs one at a time, and combine well.
  3. Stir in the rose water and pistachios so the flavours are evenly distributed through the cake mix.
  4. Pour the mix into the loaf tin, and even out the surface with a spatular. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes, or until a knife through the centre comes out clean.
  5. Once cooled take the cake out of the tin. Create the icing by combining the sugar with rose water, warm water and pink food colouring. Smoother the top of the cake with it. Sprinkle on pistachio kernels, and dried rose petals if you’re feeling decadent.

Truffles Pizzeria: restaurant review

Upon entering Truffles Pizzeria, the air was pungent with the luxurious smell and quality of truffle oil – as one of my favourite cooking ingredients, this was a good indication of what was to come.

Opened as a pizzeria only a year ago, amongst the dainty throng of local independents on Magdalen Road, business seems to be prosperous. Even on a Wednesday evening, tables were occupied or reserved; popular with local families, companionless individuals perhaps in need of a restful meal and some quality time to themselves, young 30-something couples and people popping in for a hump-day takeaway order. All students tend to migrate towards The Old Firehouse when pizza is fancied, but I recommend this restaurant for a more relaxed, intimate atmosphere, and for a greater selection of elaborate toppings.

Truffles Pizzeria is sadly lacking in a website and an accessible menu online, so I couldn’t do my favourite, unspontaneous habit and peruse the menu and decide what I was going to have beforehand. But its TripAdvisor profile, rating it #24 in the whole of Exeter, and at a stable 5 stars from over 100 happy customers, reassured my qualms concerning the menu. I can vouch that the pizza menu is extensive, for vegetarians and meat eaters alike, featuring experimental toppings like blue cheese, honey and walnut (without a tomato base) to the classic pepperoni. Pizzas are priced at approximately £11.50 each.

Typically I’d go for the most experimental, i.e. the blue cheese, honey and walnut combo, but I’ve seem to be recreating these same flavours again and again for my own recipes (like my pear and stilton flatbreads) because blue cheese and walnut are the recipe for a perfect marriage. On this occasion my reviewee date and I went for ‘The Autumn’, to enjoy the current seasonal flavours, and ‘The Vegetarian’. ‘The Autumn’ is apt for those with luxurious and expensive tastebuds as it was laden with mushrooms, pine nuts and truffle oil. The flavourful ‘Vegetarian’ option featured tender artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, green and black olives and caramelised onion. Both were a real treat, but ‘The Autumn’ was particularly distinct in flavour due to the drizzling of truffle oil and the abundance of toasted pine nuts.

The owner Chris is cheerful and welcoming, and the way he runs the restaurant truly reminds me of No 1 Polsloe’s style, as it has a lovely, personal touch which comes with independent businesses. For example, Chris recently invited in local primary school children to propose their own perfect pizzas, and the winning design made its way onto the menu. The walls are decorated with exceptional prints and drawings by local secondary school students, too.

I apologise that my photos aren’t up to my usual standard as the restaurant was romantically lit by candlelit, so the pictures do not do the pizzas justice. I would encourage you to try out Truffles whilst you have the chance before entering graduate life; it’s a perfect location for a cosy date. Alternatively, you can experience the pizza in the comfort of your own home with Deliveroo…

Truffles Pizzeria on Facebook

Truffles Pizzeria on TripAdvisor

 

Baby aubergine, date and tamarind curry

Baby aubergine, date and tamarind curry vegan; serves 2

I tried a date and tamarind chutney and just could not get the flavours out of my mind, so I tried to capture it in this curry 

Ingredients:

  • 4 baby aubergines
  • 1 medium brown onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 1 fresh chilli
  • 2 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 1 tin plum tomatoes
  • 10 medjool dates
  • 100g lentils of your choice (I’ve used green and red)
  • Handful of fresh coriander, chopped

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160°C, and pop the baby aubergines onto a baking tray and drizzle a little olive oil over them. Bake them for 30 minutes.
  2. Heat a tbsp of vegetable oil in a saucepan and cook the onion, garlic and ginger for 5 minutes, or until browned. Add the fabulous spices -turmeric, cumin, garam masala and bay leaves – and cook for a further minute.
  3. Stir in the chilli, tamarind paste, plum tomatoes and medjool dates. Add the lentils – and water down if necessary. Add fresh coriander at the last few minutes.
  4. Serve once the lentils are well cooked, and the aubergine soft and juicy all the way through.

Dark chocolate and orange cookies

Dark chocolate and orange cookies makes 12 cookies 

decorate these fragrant cookies with candied dark chocolate orange dippers13699543_1202988809764302_2060277149_o 

Ingredients:

  • 200g softened butter
  • 130g brown sugar
  • 260g plain flour
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1/2 orange
  • 50g dark chocolate, chopped
  • Handful of chopped hazelnuts

For the chocolate orange dippers

  • 1 orange, sliced into segments
  • 50g dark chocolate, melted
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 100ml water

Method:

  1. Cream together the softened butter and brown sugar. Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract, and combine well.
  2. Add in the flour alongside the chopped dark chocolate, orange zest and hazelnuts. Mix well until it forms a sticky dough.
  3. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a ball and wrap in cling film. Put the cookie dough in the freezer for 45 minutes. While in the freezer, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC / fan.
  4. Take the cookie dough out of the freezer and mould into 12 discs. Place the cookies on baking paper and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Leave to cool before serving.
  5. To make the candied chocolate orange dippers, as shown in my photo, create a syrup in a pan by warming the water with caster sugar. Bring to the boil on a medium heat, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved.
  6. Add the orange slices and simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes. Remove them from the pan, and pop them in the fridge to cool and harden.
  7. Dip the orange slices into melted dark chocolate.