Tuesday, 24 December 2013

12 days of christmas: apple & mincemeat crumble

At the cafe I used to work (where Kate met Wills, no less), they used to serve a Christmas crumble every day in December. It was filled with every Christmassy taste imaginable - cranberries, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, mincemeat, apple, orange, ginger... You name it, they'd packed it in there, and it was served with great big dollops of vanilla ice cream in bowls too hot to hold. Now, I've never quite managed to recreate that particular recipe - the owners were notoriously protective of their creations - but this bad boy comes in at a pretty close second. In fact, curled up on Christmas eve with a big bowl of this stuff in front of the fire as the rain pours down outside, it might even come in first.

The tart & sweet tastes of two different types of apple alongside the heady richness of boozy mincemeat make this an indulgent treat, whilst the ground almonds & cinnamon in the crumble topping amp up the sweet, Christmassy factor. I made this as pudding for the pre-Christmas Christmas dinner I mentioned recently, and since it's incredibly easy & quick to prepare I think it makes the ideal Christmas pud. Minimal fuss, minimal spend, maximum result. Plus, there's fruit! So! Healthy!

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas tomorrow, and if you don't celebrate it I hope you have a lovely day with your family nonetheless. Best wishes from The Hobbit Kitchen!

Monday, 23 December 2013

12 days of christmas: christmas dinner baguette

As yesterday's post may have indicated, I'm staying with a friend in Devon right now & yesterday we made a pre-Christmas Christmas dinner, with meat and stuffing and honey roasted vegetables galore. What's particularly exciting about this, though, is that today I've had the glorious joy of pre-Christmas Christmas leftovers. Ahhh, leftovers. Boxing day may almost be better than Christmas dinner for the endless possibilities that are offered by the humble leftover. Turkey curry, mashed potatoes, reheated veg as a vague stab at getting some of your 5 a day... What we decided to go for, however, was the Christmas dinner baguette. All the best bits of Christmas dinner stuffed inside of warm, buttered bread, just to ease the sting of the fact that Christmas is over for another year :(

I realise that Christmas is still 2 days away, and you're probably in enough of a panic thinking about Christmas dinner – let alone what comes after. But I hope, perhaps, in the food fuelled haze that you'll hopefully be in soon enough, it will occur to you to whip these bad boys up on the 26th, whilst nursing the inevitable Christmas hangover and wondering which box of chocolates to have for breakfast first. It'll hopefully use up the majority of scraps you have left lying around, with a bit of extra brie & cranberry in there too, just for good measure. It's still the holidays after all, right?

Sunday, 22 December 2013

12 days of christmas: honey roasted carrots & parsnips

D'you guys remember vegetables? I don't. As I think this blog is pretty good evidence of, Christmas time in the hobbit kitchen is all about butter and bread and cake and sugar. They don't call it the most wonderful time of the year for nothing, you know. But, alas, we cannot survive on sweets alone, and no Christmas dinner is complete without a hefty helping of your 5 a day alongside all that meat and pudding. But of course, if I'm gonna eat vegetables in December, I'm obviously gonna want them smothered in oil & honey & mustard. I'm sure most of you have had honey roasted vegetables before, but if you haven't, it takes your average roast dinner to a whole other level. The addition of mustard here adds an extra level of depth & kick, and it couldn't be a simpler food to prepare.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

12 days of christmas: french toast

There's nothing quite like Christmas morning. For me, Christmas is basically over after lunch, because all of the good stuff happens in the morning - and it's been that way ever since I was small. We always did the same thing: I'd wake up first, inevitably at some horrendously early hour, and feel about at the bottom of my bed to see if Santa had been, and my stocking was full. If it was (and I was a very good girl, so it always was) I'd go into my little brother's room to wake him up, and then together we'd go into my parents room and wake up a very disgruntled & sleepy Mum and Dad. We'd both tumble onto their bed, in a state of excitement that I doubt adult me will ever experience again, and open our stockings as Mum & Dad rubbed the sleep from their eyes. Chocolate coins, small toys, maybe even a CD - we unwrapped them all eagerly, before we were then finally allowed to go downstairs and creep excitedly into the living room. Presents! Presents under the tree! God, I was such a lucky kid to always have so many presents under the tree, and it's a feeling of overwhelming gratitude & luck (and of also being overwhelmingly loved) that I've never really gotten over. We'd unwrap our presents as Dad lit the fire, then we'd generally have breakfast. Now, you know me - the main event in my life is always food, and the main event at Christmas is obviously food! Now that I'm a grown up that's as true as it's ever been, if not more so, and that Christmas breakfast is such an important meal to me. If your family is anything like mine you'll probably only have one big meal on Christmas day - a giant Turkey roast which doubles as both lunch and dinner, as well as lunch & dinner for the next few days as well, really - so that breakfast is super important in getting you ready for the big eat. And, since you probably won't be eating for a little while, it might as well be something rich & indulgent & filling, to tide you over until the Christmas dinner is ready... Or until Dad opens the box of Quality Street, at least.

French toast is a breakfast food which can definitely be classed as rich, indulgent, and filling - and this french toast does not mess around. Slices of white bread are soaked in a gooey mixture of cinnamon, milk, vanilla essence, golden syrup & one egg, and I used a duck egg to make it eeeeeven richer. The soaked bread is then fried in melted butter until toasted, before it's topped with a final drizzle of golden syrup and a spoonful of granulated sugar. You probably don't need the extra syrup & sugar, and you probably don't need to use syrup in the mixture either, and you probably don't need to fry it in buttr - but, you know exactly what I'm going to say... It's Christmas!

Friday, 20 December 2013

12 days of christmas: except not really

No recipe today I'm afraid guys; I managed to drop my phone in a full glass of water today & have spent most of the day running around like a headless chicken trying to fix it, since as I'm sure you can appreciate it's pretty annoying being sans phone this time of year. I'll be back with a Christmas breakfast recipe tomorrow, but, in the meant time, I hope this video of Christmas pugs will make it up to you.

Only 5 sleeps left!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

12 days of christmas: sweet shop cupcakes

I've got a heck of a sweet tooth. I mean, obviously I also have a heck of a savoury tooth, and essentially just have very food-friendly teeth in general, but I do really love sweets. And it's totally genetic. When I was little my parents tried to say I was only allowed sweets on Saturday afternoons after ballet class... But I don't think that lasted very long! We've always had a drawer full of sweets in our house free to dip in & out of, and they're an integral part of family days spent lazing in front of the fire watching The Hobbit. Plus, whenever I'm having a bad day at university, the sweet shop is always the first place I head to.

At Christmas, sweets become even more important - because they're everywhere! So for those of you with an authentic sweet tooth, these sweet shop cupcakes are ideal at this time of year. And, since Christmas really is all about the little ones, they're perfect for them too - though that said, I took these into work today & the grown ups loved them! It's basically just a super light & fluffy fairy cake recipe which I've been using for years & which has never failed me, topped with a classic buttercream icing adorned with sweets. I chopped up some strawberry laces to make the red strands, then stuck on some gummy teeth & lips and some sugared fruit pastilles. But obviously, use whatever you'd like! This is the time to indulge in all your favourite sugary sweets to transport you back to childhood; to when Christmas really was the most wonderful time of year. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

12 days of christmas: cinnamon & cream cheese dip

Today's post is a little different, because I'm actually sending you away for this one. All the way over to the marvellous Sally at Sally's Baking Addiction; a blog which needs no introduction, and which I'm sure you already drool at on a regular basis. This is one of her recipes - a cinnamon & toffee cheesecake dip, and it pairs wonderfully with the gingersnap biscuits I posted about yesterday. I made only one teeny tiny variation to the recipe, and that was to just add a drop of extra vanilla extract in order to make my dip slightly runnier in order to dunk the biscuits into. But it's totally up to you!

Sorry this is a little bit of a cop out post; I'm rushing out of the door as we speak to finish off a final bit of Christmas shopping. The rain is pouring & the wind is howling - it's a truly authentic British winter - so wish me luck!

Only 7 more sleeps!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

12 days of christmas: gingersnap biscuits

There is, in the blogosphere of late, a bit of a preference towards soft, chewy biscuits. Melt in your mouth, crumbly little morsels of deliciousness... Mmm. I'm a big fan of the soft biscuit trend. However, these biscuits are not that, and I'm a pretty big fan of them too. They're traditional ginger biscuits (fittingly enough borrowed from this recipe entitled "Grandma's Ginger Biscuits"), and they snap and crunch just like the ones you had when you were little & left out for Santa Claus on December 24th. I hear they're his favourites, you know. That said, they still melt in your mouth! The secret to keeping these super traditional biscuits exciting is the cinnamon & cream cheese dip that I paired them with, and which I heartily recommend... The recipe will be coming tomorrow!

But having said that, there's nothing wrong with enjoying these biscuits alongside a tall glass of milk or a warm mug of tea. They're jam packed full of warming spice, incredibly easy to make & use very few ingredients - so if you're looking for an easy home made gift to give, or a way to spend time with little ones that doesn't involve TV, I've got you sorted. Thank me on December the 25th, yeah? I'll take Louboutins, please. Size 4.

Monday, 16 December 2013

12 days of christmas: cheese, bacon & apple baked potato

I'm back working at the local supermarket for Christmas break, just spending hour upon hour sitting at the checkouts scanning food through the till. As you can probably imagine it's not the most thrilling job in the world, though it's vastly improved by pleasant customers. And, for the most part, working in retail at this time of the year does restore ones faith in humanity - people are kind, talkative, infinitely endearing even when stressed. Of course you get the grumpy ones, the irritable ones, but primarily it's the chatting with customers that makes the job bearable. One thing I'm really noticing right now, with the good customers and the bad, is that everyone is busy. I'm sure I don't need to tell you how hectic this time of year is, so with that in mind I've whipped up a tasty, filling lunch which shouldn't take much longer than 10 minutes to prepare & which will provide you with plenty of carby energy for the hectic day ahead.

I was in a hurry to catch the bus to a Christmas party the other day & needed to throw together something super quick. There wasn't much in the house but I picked a killer combination of flavours that you just cannot go wrong with, and basically let them speak for themselves. I then piled them on top of a baked potato, cooked in the microwave because I'm a filthy cheater. Anyway, as you might have gathered by now if you've been reading for a while, simple & tasty is my favourite sort of food. And there ain't nothing wrong with simple at all - especially at this time of year!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

12 days of christmas: gingerbread cupcakes & cream cheese icing

It's been a weird few weeks, you guys, and I'm sure you're getting that from my frustratingly vague melancholy of late. But, today I went on a 10 mile sponsored walk for Teenage Cancer Trust, and it was pouring with rain and the sky was an unfaltering slate grey, and the forest floor was made of slippery leaves & deep mud. But I went with my friends, and with my Mum, and I bundled up in Hunters & a Barbour and those were all pretty good defences against the storm. So too was the laughter. Endless, endless laughter, as we cascaded down hills and trudged through dirt and waded through puddles. And I s'pose that's the best defence against most things, really, isn't it? Against the dark, against the cold, against the weird and strange and small days where you feel weird, and strange, and small. But anyway - I realise this isn't the most food bloggy sort of chat for a food blog, but I'm defrosting in front of the fire now, with aching legs & an aching stomach from laughing so much, and it just felt like the sort of thing I'd like to write down.

Of course, when we're considering defences against life's hurdles, cake comes in at a firm number two. And you guys, I love these cupcakes. Dense, dark, rich, treacley, full of flavour & warming spice - offset by deliciously light and tangy cream cheese frosting with every bite. I've shamelessly stolen it from here, but I hope you guys don't mind because I couldn't not share this with you. They're Christmas with every bite, and would make the ideal thing to box up & ribbon up & pass out to only your very favourite people. The sort of people who will splash through the muddy forests with you and make you laugh the whole time, not batting an eyelid when you hair becomes inexcusable because of the rain. Yes, these cupcakes are worthy of even the very best sorts of people. Make these. Make. These.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

12 days of christmas: honey & cranberry camembert

This is very much nota recipe. There are only 3 ingredients, and the steps are essentially: put honey on camembert, bake camembert, put cranberries on baked camembert. And you're done! But sometimes (and especially around this time of year) I find it's best to keep things simple. Furthermore, I thought this was probably worth including in the christmas countdown simply because it might not have even occurred to you to put honey & cranberry camembert on your christmas cheese board. And, well. I simply couldn't have that.

How are you guys getting on with your Christmas preparations? I've been home for a week now & I really do not know where the time's gone. Because I was so busy, and then ill, this whole festive season seems to have totally snuck up on me & I'm not really in the Christmas spirit yet, no matter how much Love Actually I watch. It probably doesn't help that my mother's replaced our nice golden tree lights with god awful multicoloured ones, and it genuinely hurts my eyes a little... Where do you guys fall on the light spectrum? Clear or coloured? Anyway, perhaps the Christmas spirit will befall me soon enough; for now I will just have to keep on eating mince pies & fancy cheese & candy canes until it hits me. What a pity!

Friday, 13 December 2013

12 days of christmas: orange & cinnamon plumble

The countdown to Christmas begins here! Over the next 12 days, right up until Christmas Eve, I will be posting a brand new recipe every day to hopefully inspire & excite you all into the Christmas spirit - which I, by the way, am already 100% in. For me, Christmas is all about home, and family, and after such a stressful semester at university it really is insurmountably wonderful to be back in England at this time of year. Though, that said, I've got a family in Scotland too - my friends. I actually made this dessert when I was still at uni, when my best friend Jillian was ill, and I made it at home then wrapped it up in tin foil and carried it over to her house. The wind was howling, the rain was pouring and I was wrapped up in so many layers of knitwear it was impossible to tell where I ended and cardigans began. This was a few weeks ago now, and it was the first glimmer of festive feeling that I've felt this year - because for me, so much of what's magical about Christmas has to do with the sharing of food, made with love, for the people that you love. This is one such food.

This a plum crumble - or as my flatmate Morgan called it, a plumble! - spiced with cinnamon & orange zest. It's an alternative crumble to the usual apple, or apple & some-variation-of-berry, and it makes for a sharper and more grown up festive pudding. I've used my favourite crumble topping, which I used previously for apple & sultana cinnamon spiced crumble, though I left out the maple syrup & just let the simplicity of crispy butter, sugar and flour speak for itself. Like most crumbles, this is best served warm, with cream, on a cold & rainy winter evening - which there's certainly no lack of in England right now. But what would Christmas be without dreary weather and delicious desserts, eh? Certainly not a Christmas I'd be interested in.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

leek & cheese risotto

You guys. It's been so long! I owe you an apology. As I mentioned in my past few posts I've been horribly busy, and then a few things happened which made me a very gloomy little bear, and I basically lost all interest in any food that wasn't pizza. And then (and then!) I got sick, and I am still a bit sick, and it feels like my brain is making a wild dash for freedom via my nose. Isn't that always the way? The moment you stop having tonnes of work to do, you get ill. Classic. But, working my little butt off for a few weeks now means I'm home, and gloriously work-free, until the end of January. The end of January! And you guys, I'm so happy to be back home for the holidays. The decorations are up, the lights are twinkling, and I've eaten my body weight in mince pies & stollen. 'Tis the season, after all! Plus, to make up for my absence, I've come up with a little Christmas plan which will hopefully make it up to you just a little bit. 12 Days of Christmas Recipes! Beginning this Friday, Friday the 13th, I will be posting a different Christmassy recipe every day on the countdown to the big day. So that means 12 days of delicious festive goodness will be coming your way! I can't wait to get started; I've got so many exciting things to share with you guys & I even bought fancy Christmas napkins to take fancy food photos. Such is my level of dedication to the Christmassy cause. So, do you forgive me yet?

But before that, I have to share this risotto with you. We all know how evocative food can be of certain memories, and this risotto is the ultimate nostalgia food for me. My first ever boyfriend used to make it for me all the time, and it was the first thing he taught me how to cook. Since then I've adjusted the recipe a little bit to make it my own, but all the memories of that head-over-heels teenage love come flooding back with every bite. It's also the first meal that I really thought I was good at making, so we can probably credit this dish (and that boy) with igniting a love of cooking - not only of food. I still make it whenever I'm having a really bad day, or whenever I have people coming over and I need to make something delicious & impressive, but still fairly easy and not too expensive.

I begin with melted butter, which of course you could substitute with olive oil if you wanted to, but I absolutely love the buttery flavour - and you know me; if I can make something even more rich & indulgent, I will. Four chopped leeks & a generous sprinkling of tarragon are then added, and if you haven't tried leek & tarragon together, you need to. You won't regret it. Next you tip in the risotto rice, coat up the whole mixture in melted butter, and then slowly feed the risotto with white wine & stock for the next half hour or so. I know I've made an oven-cooked risotto before, and I expect you could cook this in an oven with similar results (and it would certainly save you time), but for me the soothing process of standing & stirring at the stove is all part of the restorative nature of this food. After a while the risotto will becoming creamy and delicious - at which time we make it even more creamy & delicious with a generous handful (or two) of grated cheddar cheese. I used a medium cheddar, which gives this dish just enough cheesey flavour without being too overwhelming. If you'd prefer a slightly milder, creamy taste then go with a mild cheddar, but if strong cheese is your jam then stick some extra mature in there. As always, adjust the flavour & amount according to preference. After all, this is a recipe which I've made my own over the years, so now it's your turn to make it yours.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

prawn & vegetable curry

Soz for the unannounced hiatus you guys - as has been the theme with my past few posts, I've been horrendously busy. On top of that, some pretty rubbish stuff has been happening in my personal life & it's just made the thought of doing anything other than staying in bed all day totally unbearable. That said, yesterday I managed to open the curtains before 2pm - so, progress!

This curry is very simple and very cheap, but is packed full of turmeric, garam masala, ginger & paprika, so it's anything but boring. It can be frozen pretty easily, making it the ideal meal if you know you've got a busy few days coming up & will need to grab lunch in a hurry, and it also just so happens to be super duper healthy as well. Two tins of chopped tomatoes and an onion along with a red pepper & packet of sugarsnap peas means this packs a serious punch on the 5 a day front, and the king prawns ensure you get your daily dose of protein in there as well, without none of the fat. Low fat yoghurt on top is not just recommended - it is imperative, adding a delicious tangy flavour into your curry. I've been making this for about a year now and I love it - it's one of those recipes I've never got bored of. I adapted the recipe from everyone's favourite Londoner, and all credit must go to Rosie.

I actually made this curry about a week ago, so I'm so sorry it's taken me so long to get around to posting it. I'm also really sorry for being so lax about responding to comments & keeping up with my bloglovin feed - I miss you guys a lot, and seriously appreciate your support. I can't wait to get back into the Hobbit Kitchen soon.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

spinach & tomato quinoa salad

This isn't the prettiest salad in the world, nor is it particularly groundbreaking. It is, however, quite disgustingly healthy - so it was precisely what I needed this week. Sitting one one's bum in harsh lights of the library all day every day, breathing in the recycled air of all the germ ridden & exhausted students around, doesn't exactly make one feel at their prime physical peak, so this salad was ideal for making me feel all virtuous and superior and like I was really taking good care of myself. I had it as a side with one of my halloumi & vegetable burgers, and it was a filling, healthy & delicious meal which made going back to the library after dinner just that liiiiittle bit more bearable.

If you've got even a little bit of interest in food, you'll know that quinoa is one of the health foods at the moment, and has been for a while - like kale, spinach, blueberries, avocado, etc etc. It's one of the most protein-rich foods it's possible to eat (for all those who wonder where vegetarians or vegans get their protein, this is a good answer), and is also packed full of fibre, iron and magnesium. Low in fat, high in goodness, and endlessly versatile, it's no wonder stuff is constantly doing the rounds on health food blogs. However, I'll let you in on a little secret... It's a little bit dull. Now, I know this is the thing that food bloggers aren't supposed to admit, but I can be real with you guys, can't I? Quinoa's like, fine. It's not particularly offensive and when it's that good for you I'll obviously eat it, but it is a little bland, and a little uninspiring. So I've been looking for a way to spice quinoa up for a while now in a way that's simple, tasty, and that doesn't break the bank. This salad ticks all three boxes. Basil, oregano, nutmeg, spring onions, garlic, lemon juice, salt & pepper are tossed into this cooked quinoa along with some spinach and warmed cherry tomatoes for an easy and nutritious side which takes about 25 minutes to prepare, and which will have you feeling totally justified in eating that entire chocolate cake for pudding. After all, this is health food, you guys. Vegan, gluten-free, low in sodium, bla bla bla... You practically burn calories by looking at it!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

halloumi & vegetable burgers with garlic butter

Once again, blogger decides to delete my entire pre-written blog post. Gah! Ironically enough, the post was all about how ridiculously busy I am again, and how I barely have any time to read food blogs - let alone write any of my own. The end is in sight though - in two weeks I can throw myself back into the kitchen & the blogosphere whole heartedly. Sorry for abandoning you, guys!

Anyway, rest assured that in the disappeared version of this post (may it rest in peace), I waxed lyrical on the virtues of this filling, delicious & healthy(-ish) burger. However, now you'll just have to take my word for it, because I've got fishcakes in the oven & I promised myself I'd be back in the library by 7. But, please believe me when I tell you that this halloumi, mushroom, aubergine & red onion burger is the ideal vegetarian burger for meat eaters & veggies alike, and when the wholewheat buns are slathered in garlic butter... Well. I mean. Come on. Who doesn't love garlic butter?!

Oh, and just as a little side note, the best thing about spending all this time with my headphones in at the library means I'm discovering lots of lovely new music - and I can't recommend this song, Little Locket, by Brighten, enough. Do yourself a favour & check it out. Seriously.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

lemon drizzle cake

I won't lie to you guys. I burnt this cake. There is no recipe post here because a) I literally just followed this BBC Good Food recipe verbatim, and b) the aforementioned burning. Last week I went home for a few days because I had to attend an assessment centre for a marketing job at Brightsource, and so on Wedneasday - the day before the assessment centre - I decided to just chill out & bake a cake. But obviously, being at home, I totally forgot that we have a fan oven unlike my standard oven at uni so essentially blackened the entire top of the cake; but it was easily sorted out by slicing off the top and anyway, since it was only feeding my family (by which I of course mean me) it didn't matter too much. And this is a delicious lemon drizzle cake - perfectly moist, deliciously light, with the lovely crisp sugar topping which is integral to a decent drizzle. I can't recommend the recipe enough.

Baking was the perfect way to chill out before a 9-5 day of interviews, group tasks, creative projects & presentations. I absolutely adore cooking & generally think of myself as being far more adept at cooking than I am at baking, because I'm inherently messy and lazy and haphazard, so the specific and scientific nature of baking hasn't always appealed. But lately - and perhaps we have Bake Off to blame/thank here - I've really enjoyed the process of baking. Taking the time to apply that level of discipline to yourself, and to really concentrate on things like gram measurements and specific oven temperatures, with the success of a baked good often resting on a 1-2 minute interval of how long you cook it, really gets you out of your own head & into the kitchen in a way that cooking doesn't always. And also, I thoroughly enjoy the process of eating baked goods, obviously, so that helps.

Anyway, so it was a nice way to prepare myself mentally for a long and gruelling day - for which I was so nervous, and so on edge, & so keen, because it's basically my dreams job. And, well, I guess I did something right - because I got it!

And, as I have always suspected would be the cause of most happiness in my life, I have cake to thank.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

mixed spice rock cakes

Back in April, I was having a pretty rubbish time with a boy I'd been seeing. Nothing major, nothing new, nothing exciting - I just liked him more than he liked me. A tale as old as time, etc etc. But the point is, it was around the same sort of time that I rediscovered rock cakes. Now, I know I throw around the phrase "comfort food" quite a lot, and that's because food = comfort for me, but these really are my ultimate comfort food. I so associate them with my childhood: with making them in primary school because they couldn't be simpler; with the smell of my mother's rock cakes cooling in the kitchen; with wanting so much to go to Hogwarts, and to eat rock cakes with Harry, Ron & Hermione in Hagrid's hut. So the moment I'm settling down with a rock cake and a cup of tea I'm suddenly 8 years old again, and I'm warm and safe and happy and home. Isn't it wonderful how food can do that for us? There's nothing else like it in the world. Nothing at all.

This is a pretty much foolproof recipe that requires one bowl, no mixer, and very little skill or thought at all, really. You'll probably already have most of the ingredients in your cupboard already, and if not, there's nothing here that's gonna break the bank or be difficult to find. If you're new to baking, or if you're baking with little ones, this is the ideal recipe to get you started & it'll fill your house with all the delicious smells of your childhood home. Seriously, what's stopping you? Go! Go forth & bake!

Monday, 11 November 2013

mushrooms on toast

Probably the weirdest thing about being in your final year of uni is the knowledge that, in a few months time, you could feasibly never see some of your friends again. Probably the worst thing about being in your final year of uni is that you're all too busy with deadlines and exams and job applications to truly appreciate the time you do have together. But then, maybe the best thing about being in your final year of uni is that it makes the times you do spend together all the more special - even if it's just grabbing a cup of god awful coffee in the library between studying, briefly stopping to say hello on the street before class, or making a hasty, simple, delicious dinner together before chatting the night away. I'm lucky enough to have made a number of really great friends here, and to have lived with most of them too, so last night my good friend Jillian - who I lived with last year, and who I miss, a lot, this year - came over to cook dinner with me, which is obviously one of my very favourite things to do with people I care about.

We met in Tesco to buy ingredients, though neither of us could really decide what we fancied. Having eaten a giant dirty diner meal of burger, chips & a milkshake for lunch I was in the mood for something pretty light & relatively healthy, and Jillian's like, the queen of spinach & other healthy foods, so we ended up settling for fancy mushrooms on toast. Super simple, cheap, easy & delicious - the perfect thing to cook together & to shovel into your face in the brief respites between chatting. This really is ridiculously easy whilst still being wholesome & delicious, & I've eaten it for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the past 24 hours. The key is to get yourself some nice, fancy bread - I've gone for brown walnut bread, but sourdough would be lovely here as well - and not scrimp on the ingredients, since there are so few. It shouldn't cost you more than £5, is ready in ten minutes, and is the perfect food to share with friends. But then, I suppose that's true of most food.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

vegetarian shepherd's pie

You guys, I am so busy right now. I have seriously never been this busy in my life. I have 2 presentations to give tomorrow, a research essay to write, a first draft of my dissertation to hand in, a PGCE application to think about, an assessment centre to prepare for next week for the job that I really really want and, ugh. I really do love being busy, but this is just ridiculous! I'm a little grumpy stress ball, I can't remember the last time I worked out, I haven't eaten any meal that takes longer than 5 minutes to prepare & it's been so long since I phoned home that I'm pretty sure my Mum has forgotten the sound of my voice. Sorry Mum. I promise I'll call soon.

So I'm sorry things have been a little quiet around here, & I apologise if this post seems a little rushed. I barely even have time to shower these days, let alone take pictures of meals! (Lucky, lucky housemates.) But I've taken a little break from dissertation madness today to share this recipe with you, because frankly, I just couldn't not.

Tired of sad sandwiches from the library cafe, on Monday night I decided to take a little break and make something wholesome, filling & nutritious that I could keep in the fridge or freezer in order to grab a healthy and delicious lunch on the go over the next couple of days. I know a lot of the recipes I've posted on here lately and have been preeeeetty indulgent, and that's because I've been feeling pretty indulgent, but at the moment my overworked body is just craving vegetables - and I've never been one not to give in to cravings. So, if like me you've been hankering after something a little more wholesome lately but don't want to compromise on that wonderful comfort food taste, this is perfect. Green lentils, carrots & chopped tomatoes go into the filling, and are flavoured with red wine, thyme & veggie stock, then it's all covered in a deliciously creamy sweet potato mash covered with a sprinkling of cheese & fresh thyme. Every bite is deliciously rich and moreish, with that lovely taste of shepherd's pie but in a totally vegetarian way. In fact, you could easily keep this vegan by using a vegan butter to mash your potatoes with & simply omitting the cheese on top. Whilst this recipe does take a little bit of time to prepare it's nothing too technical or labour intensive, making it the perfect mid-week supper. Food so good that it doesn't even taste good for you. Now that's my kind of health food.

Monday, 4 November 2013

oven cooked bacon risotto

Risotto is one of the very first things I learnt how to cook. My first ever boyfriend used to make it for me a lot, and I'd never had it before in my sheltered little hobbit life so I used to demand it basically every time we were together (I'm a delightful girlfriend, as you can imagine). I stole the recipe & still make it all the time - it's a leeky, cheesey affair which is immensely comforting, and I'll no doubt post the recipe here some time soon. It's made in the classic risotto way which involves a lot of time, care & attention, and I've always really enjoyed the process of stirring away at the stove, letting all the stress of the day disappear as you gaze mindlessly into the distance. Therefore, I was pretty suspicious of this recipe, which requires only about 10 minutes of stirring before you pop the lid on & place the whole thing into the oven, so that you can get on with something else whilst the risotto cooks away merrily without you.

But I needn't have worried and, in fact, may never return to the standard risotto method ever again. This risotto is incredibly creamy without being too stodgy, and the rice is cooked to absolute perfection. Nothing burnt or stuck to the base of the pan like I was afraid of, and all the flavours ooze into each other in the oven making this a wonderfully moreish dish. This is a remarkably simple recipe but it yields impressive results, and would be ideal for a dinner party, or any occasion where you need to feed several people at once but still want to seem fancy. Or, indeed, just for you. I won't tell if you won't.

Friday, 1 November 2013

chocolate cake for chocolate lovers

Happy November! You guys, the countdown to Christmas has officially begun. Break out the Snow Fairy shower gel, start stringing up fairy lights & get out your comfiest sweatpants, because 2 months of indulgent eating starts here. It's the most magical time of the year! Since we obviously don't celebrate Thanksgiving here in the UK, Christmas preparation begins in earnest the moment that Halloween is over, and I'm one of those insanely annoying people that is very, very, very okay with that. The more Christmas the better, as far as I'm concerned! The tacky jumper has been bought & I've already begin compiling recipes for December. I'm so excited!

But before all that, there's still carved pumpkins to be disposed of & glitter spiders everywhere to put away, so I'll hold back for now. None of my friends are particularly into Halloween & I'm not either, really, so last night rather than going out onto the town me and my housemates hosted a pot luck dinner for our pals. It was a veritably smorgasboard of warming autumnal foods - butternut squash souffle, parsnip & sweet potato gratin, grilled vegetable kebabs, delicious pasta salads, pizza... The list goes on. We'll be living off leftovers for weeks. Naturally, I commandeered the role of "baked goods" for myself, and made a toffee apple cookie crumble, ginger biscuits with a cinnamon & ginger cream cheese dip, and this. This.

I have an "ultimate chocolate cake" recipe which I've been using for a while now, and which is a truly sinful & beautiful thing, but I wanted to try something new. This baby is adapted from a River Cottage recipe, and thankfully Hugh did not lead me astray. It uses a preposterous amount of chocolate and sugar, so we'll not pretend to be "behaving ourselves" with this bad boy, and only a small amount of plain flour alongside some ground almonds for added moisture. 4 egg yolks & two different types of sugar go into the mix to give the cake a vaguely caramel-ish taste, whilst the egg whites are then whipped into a frenzy & folded in to give the cake its depth and raise. The most important thing about this cake is that it should be made in advance, as it needs at least a few hours to chill in the fridge - the longer the better, really, so I made mine first thing in the morning for the dinner party that night. It comes out of the oven incredibly wobbly & if you stick a skewer in the centre it won't come out clean, so you'll be tempted to think it isn't done. Wrong. Think again. With time to cool & solidify in the fridge, it ends up being this unbelievably rich, velvety smooth, deliciously moist thing that's somewhere between a cake and a brownie. And when you then go & pour a chocolate ganache all over the top and let it melt down onto the sides... Well. Now we're talking.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

chestnuts: a guide to foraging & roasting

Friends, I suspect we can all agree that the only thing better in the world than food, is free food. For some reason, a meal that leaves your bank balance happily unscathed is infinitely more delightful than the other kind, and when it's 100% natural & organic as well, what could be better? Yes, it's that time of year again. It's chestnut time.

I haven't been chestnut picking in years, but I have distinct memories of wandering around in the woods wrapped in wellies & waterproofs every October half term - inevitably & invariably putting far more chestnuts into my mouth than I ever did into my pockets. I've not changed. Obviously in my grumpy teenage years you could not have paid me to trek out into the wet and windy woods searching for food that you can easily buy in a shop, but now that I'm far gone in age & decrepitude, I can't think of anything better! But another reason why I've not been in so long is because, frankly, we haven't had a very good crop of chestnuts in years. Endless dismal summers combined with icey cold autumns haven't provided the ideal conditions, but the beautiful summer we were lucky enough to experience in the UK this year, alongside this gorgeous dry autumn we're having, has made for the most plentiful chestnut picking conditions I've seen in a while. If you live in the UK & have never been chestnut picking before, now is the time to go; the forest floors are literally covered in this beautifully sweet & totally free bounty. I've provided a beginners guide to foraging for these bad boys below, and it really couldn't be simpler.

Chestnuts are much lower in fat than most other nuts including almonds & walnuts, and are completely free of cholesterol and gluten. They also contain plenty of Vitamin C & are the only nut which can make such a claim, so they're fantastically good for you. They can be eaten raw & have a lovely sweet, crunchy taste, but there's nothing like the soft, sweet flavour (and smell) of roasted chestnuts on a rainy October night to make you feel like one properly cosy little Hobbit. And free, you guys! They're free!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

chocolate shortbread biscuits

I've come home from university for the weekend, and it's so nice to be back in The Shire among my fellow hobbits. I live in the Forest of Dean - a quiet, beautiful, out of the way sort of place right on the border of Wales & the West Country. It is, like the Shire, an assuming sort of place, where change comes slowly (if, indeed, it comes at all). There's an immeasurable amount of comfort in the fact that, whenever I return, I know precisely what it is I'm returning to. It's home, you know? It's just home. And whilst the people around here wouldn't consider themselves "foodie" types, I've never met a group of people who can eat as well as the inhabitants of this place. A love of good, honest food is at the heart of so much activity in the Forest of Dean - as evidenced by the fact that the country pub I've just returned from was packed to the rafters for Sunday lunch. When I went to see my Nan on Thursday she pressed some home made jam into our hands, and when my Grampy came over this morning he slapped a freshly caught trout onto the kitchen counter & proceeded to gut and behead it right there and then. It's all about local, and seasonal, and natural, and sharing with your family & friends. There are no gourmet restaurants here, no trendy organic supermarkets, no street food fairs - but there is a sincere love of eating. And, well, you can take the girl out of the Forest of Dean, but you can't take the Forest of Dean out of the girl.

You certainly wouldn't find these biscuits in any kind of fancy bakery, but they're delicious nonetheless. The shortbread base is a crumbly & buttery melt-in-your-mouth sort of affair, whilst the heavy chocolate topping is rich & milky - the antithesis of bitter. See, I'm not very good at "pretty" desserts. I lack creative flair, I'm not at all neat, and I'd win no prizes on Great British Bake Off. But, hopefully, I am quite good at tasty desserts, and these chocolate shortbread biscuits are a pretty good example of a bake with a fair bit of substance, but not too much style. In fact, much like red velvet cupcakes, these were a bit of a baking disaster - but because you were all so nice about those cupcakes, I decided to just go ahead & post this anyway. When I removed the shortbread from the fridge where it had been cooling, my butter fingers slipped & it crashed to the floor, breaking into pieces. I managed to salvage the majority of it, but I ended up with some pretty misshapen biscuits as a result. Still, once you're dunking it into a freshly brewed cup of tea in front of roaring open fire, who cares what they look like? These biscuits are simple & delicious - the perfect hobbit food.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

red velvet cupcakes & cream cheese icing

I've eaten a lot of red velvet cake in my short life, and have come to the happy conclusion that no thigh gap could ever feel as good as red velvet cake tastes. It is hands down my favourite type of cake – but oh, it is so misunderstood. Especially in the UK, where for some reason Tesco seems to think that selling chocolate cake with a bit of red food colouring constitutes "red velvet". No. Red velvet cake is not chocolate cake, but a delicious sponge with a careful blend of chocolate and vanilla flavour, along with an added tang from the use of buttermilk. In this recipe, cider vinegar adds to that delicious tart flavour. Alongside its natural partner in crime, cream cheese icing, a red velvet should feel like... Well, velvet! It should be velvety soft, velvety smooth, and should feel one hundred percent luxurious. These humble little cupcakes are the most delicious mouthfuls of creamy indulgence. The “red” part, though – well, yes, that is food colouring. And I probably should have called this post "red (ish) velvet cupcakes" because, as you may be able to tell from the above post, I couldn't get my hands on red food colouring paste within the limited resources of St Andrews. I tried valiantly with a bottle of red food colouring – indeed, I poured in the entire bottle – but to no avail. They came out a sort of deep, dark reddish-brown, kind of like oxblood or a dark burgundy.

So I know it's like, the cardinal sin of food blogging to post recipes that didn't turn out one hundred percent perfect, but unfortunately, as I said, no food colouring paste to be found! Besides, as I was tucking into my second (read: eighth) cupcake, I decided I'd just go ahead & post this recipe – flaws and all – anyway, because the taste of these cupcakes makes the colour completely irrelevant. They really are lovely – the perfect blend of chocolate and vanilla to make that distinct red velvet flavour, with one of the richest icings I've ever tried. If you can get your hands on food colouring paste I'd suggest you use about a tablespoon of that instead to achieve the true Christmas-red colour that this cake deserves, but otherwise just do what I did and eat the lot before anyone has time to check the colour. Hooray!

This recipe is slightly adapted from Nigella Lawson's KITCHEN cookbook, which I've owned for at least 2 years and have never once cooked from. Classic food blogger problem?!

Monday, 21 October 2013

an alternative sunday lunch

We all know how much I love Sundays, but I'm actually not a particularly big fan of Sunday Lunch. In Britain, the Sunday Lunch is a truly hallowed tradition, entirely deserving of Capital Letters, and is pretty much adored the whole country over. Restaurants inevitably have a separate Sunday menu, supermarket supplies of meat and vegetables always dwindle on a Saturday, and a lot of British folk will tell you there's no smell more comforting than that of a Sunday roast. And I probably do agree. It's the only time we really eat the way that I like to imagine French people eat all the time - setting aside a good few hours to cook, then even more hours to eat & sleep it all off after. Every family has their own tradition, but it normally consists of some type of roasted meat, alongside roasted vegetables, stuffing, and a hearty helping of meat infused gravy. And I love the smell, and I love the idea, but in practice... Nah. I'm not really a fan. When I was a vegetarian the whole idea was just sort of pointless to me since I couldn't get involved in the main event - i.e., the meat - and I guess that attitude's remained with me even now I'm happily back on the omnivore train.

But with that said, I love the idea of Sunday lunch - and of really making that one, midday meal a proper occasion. I also really like the idea of having a plate of things you enjoy, each in their own little section. This Sunday, I wasn't really sure what I wanted, so I decided to just head off to the supermarket around midday & put whatever I fancied in my basket. Some asparagus tips were on sale for half price & I knew I had some plum tomatoes to use up, so buying garlic, mushrooms, cous cous & fancy bread was the natural next step.

This isn't going to be a recipe post, because there's no real recipe here. I fried up the asparagus & the mushrooms with butter and two chopped up garlic cloves, and just used a ready made (shhhh!) wild mushroom cous cous mix. I ate my delicious Sunday lunch in front of an old episode of River Cottage, using my hunk of wholegrain seeded bread to mop up the leftover buttery garlic juices. It was a plate of some of my very favorite foods, cooked simply (if cooked at all) with minimal fuss. The ideal alternative to a Sunday roast.

What's your perfect Sunday lunch?

Saturday, 19 October 2013

toffifee brownies

Every now and then in life, you have An Idea. They can be at the most random of times & be to do with the most random of things, but all of a sudden you'll be completely unable to think about anything else. Last week, I had the idea for toffifee brownies. Do you guys have toffifee in other countries? We only have them at Christmas time over here in the UK, and without fail every Christmas my Nan buys a box for my whole family & they're such a treat. They're basically these little sweet things with are a whole hazelnut encased in a caramel shell, with a little disc of hard milk chocolate on top. And yes, they're as good as they sound. On Monday it occurred to me to chop them up & put them in a brownie, and I've not been able to get the thought out of my head since. Unfortunately I had an essay to do for Thursday, but as soon as Friday morning arrived I rolled straight out of bed and into the kitchen. And it was totally worth the wait.

If you can't get a hold of toffifee, or if you just don't like them, this brownie base is a fantastic canvas for, well, everything. I'm definitely going to remake these with Oreos sometime soon, but they'd also be great with chopped up mars bars, hazelnuts, white chocolate, or anything else you can think of! Or if you'd a total brownie purist they'd be fantastic alone. I mean, seriously, this recipe has almost 4 bars of chocolate, an entire pack of butter, half a pack of sugar, three eggs, and then a teeeeny tiny bit of flour. This is, by far, the densest & chocolatiest brownie I've ever made. I actually had immediate toothache after eating a piece for breakfast this morning, and if that doesn't sell them to you then, well, I don't know what will.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

maple roasted butternut squash salad

You guys, I have to tell you something. I've found it. I've found The One. Seriously. All this time I've been thinking it was never going to happen to me and, then, suddenly... There it was. I've never felt this way before. Every time we're together I find myself moaning with delight - I honestly can't enough! And it's... A salad. I know! I know! Who am I, right?! Who am I and what have I done with the Holly who formerly declared that a salad is a fundamentally sad meal?! Guys, I've changed. I've seen the error of my ways. Because this, this beautiful thing with spicy rocket, maple roasted squash & sweet crispy cranberries alongside the creamiest sweet-sharp dressing of apple and mustard... Oh me. Oh my. I really am in love!

But seriously, this is by far the best salad I've ever eaten. It's so good I'm not sure it even merits the title of "salad", because that word is so loaded down with connotations of cold foods thrown together in a half hearted kind of a way. This warm, filling, delicious dish is a million miles away from all that - and if I sound like I'm gushing, it's because I genuinely never realised a salad could be this good! It looks & tastes like autumn in a bowl, but I have a feeling I'll be making it well into the spring. The butternut squash takes on the maple flavour beautifully & the cranberries go all deliciously crispy in the oven, so that every bite is full of texture and flavour. The dressing is thick and moreish, full of apple & mustard & seasoning, which pairs so well with the sweetness of the maple that I actually went back for seconds. For a salad! I know! Up is down, right is left, what is going on?! The dressing though is honestly a delight, and would be wonderful with all sorts of autumnal dishes. I've still got some pork & leek sausages in the freezer & I can't wait to eat them with a hearty spoonful of this stuff drizzled all over the top. I may or may not have stood over the saucepan eating it with a spoon. Whatever, I confess nothing.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

grilled mediterranean veg with cannellini mash

By now, you've probably figured out what kind of food I like to eat. All food? Well, yes, basically. But as for the food I like to cook, there's definitely a bit of a theme. I really like vegetables, and I like to have as many different colours on my plate as possible. I like comfort food - foods that are warm and filling and can be served in giant batches to hungry mouths, just like something your mother would make. Anything with garlic is good, anything with oil is good, anything with lots of salt & pepper is good. Sometimes I want seriously cheesey carby deliciousness, and other times I want something lighter with lots of vegetables and antioxidants. Either way, I want it to be simple, and I want it to be as close to natural as possible, and I invariably want a very large portion.

The word "nourish" gets thrown around a lot at the moment, so it's easy to forget that, really, all foods nourish in some way or another. Chocolate & ice cream will nourish a broken heart; 4am pizza will nourish the inevitable hangover the next morning; cake simply nourishes the soul. We're so trained to be frightened of things with lots of calories or carbs or whatever, but what we forget is that our bodies are these amazingly intelligent things which can take of all that so called "bad" stuff and use it for energy, or turn it into fat to keep us warm which is such a cool thing, or just pass it merrily through our systems. We don't have to be frightened of food, as long as it's the food that we want to be eating - so when I use the word "nourishing" to describe this dish, I want to make it clear that it's not only nourishing because it's healthy and low fat and rich in antioxidants and what have you, but that it's nourishing because it's nice. And it's what I was craving, and it's what I wanted to eat, and there's nothing more healthy or nourishing than that. In this day and age it's easy to become obsessive & anxious about food, so it's worth repeating that if you're thinking about your health you have to include your mental health as well. Good health means feeding the heart & soul as well as the body, so I would like the hobbit kitchen to be a diet-free anti-calorie-counting carb-relishing zone, please. Rest assured that recipes for crumbles & brownies & scones will be back in no time!

But with that said, balance is everything in diet as in elsewhere, so if you're craving something lighter & healthier than normal without compromising on taste, this is perfect. Lots of bright, colourful vegetables grilled with oil and salt and pepper, alongside a delicious mash of cannellini beans and a squeeze of lemon juice. I first made this about a year ago & it's been one of my favourite recipes every since, because a) it's easy, b) it's cheap, and c) it tastes & feels every bit as good as it looks. Also, vegan! Hooray!

Monday, 14 October 2013

apple & sultana cinnamon spiced crumble

I know I've written a soliloquy to Sundays before, but yesterday really was the perfect day. I woke up to grey skies threatening to rain, which normally wouldn't make me happy & which I'll no doubt be sick of in a month or so, but which I'm a lot more likely to tolerate on an early October weekend. I worked out for about an hour & half, ending with half an hour of yoga, which I am so bad at doing regularly but which always makes me feel, like, amazing for the entire day. I really should learn to prioritize anything that makes me feel that way. Anyway, after that I had a long, hot shower, then went out into the rain for a pub lunch with my housemates. I haven't been for a pub lunch in a long time, but there really is something magical about it. We all went for big, fat beef burgers with chips, coleslaw, salad & onion rings alongside a midday pint - and left thoroughly full & happy. Afterwards, in that blissed out happy state that only comes of beer during the day and a full, happy stomach, we napped and read and mindlessly scrolled through the internet for a while as the rain fell outside - before my reliable tummy started grumbling again around 5pm.

I've been obsessing over crumble for like, weeks. I've read every crumble recipe the internet has to offer, and I even have a Note on my iPhone with various ideas for crumbles to come. As soon as the days start getting shorter & the cold wind starts to blow, crumble is the only dessert I want to eat. Both my Nan & my Mum made it all the time when I was growing up, but I've never actually made one myself, so it's something I'm eager to master this autumn/winter. And for a first attempt, I was really, really pleased with this.

Though I toyed with adding in plums and pears and all sorts of other things, I kept it simple with just apples & sultanas - and then adding in cinnamon was a no brainer, really. Once it was out of the oven our whole house smelt like cinammon-y-apple-y-baked-goodness for a few hours, and it made the 6pm walk to Morrisons in the rainy dark for unsalted butter totally worth it. I used Gala apples (for the simple reason that they were on offer) which makes this crumble particularly sweet & sugary, but if you'd prefer a more tart taste then go for something like Granny Smiths. The addition of sultanas both bulk up the filling & go perfectly alongside both apple and cinnamon, but of course feel free to omit and add in more apples or replace with raisins/blackberries/pears/whatever if you'd prefer.

Now, technically this crumble is actually a crisp - which I always thought was just the American way of saying "crumble", but it turns out there actually is a distinction between the two! A crumble should have oats in the topping, apparently, whilst a crisp does not. I'm not a massive fan of oats so I chose to omit them, but this topping is still rich, buttery & sufficiently crumbly. In fact, it's probably my favourite crumble topping I've ever tried. I also drizzled some maple syrup over the top of the crumble before placing it in the oven, which then oozed out into the topping giving just an added hint of sticky-sweet-goodness. If you're a big fan of maple syrup feel free to drizzle it on more liberally (as I probably will next time), or just omit it entirely if you're a traditionalist.

As the rain came down persistently against the windows & the cold night drew in, me and my housemates tucked into this curled up with blankets and knitwear in front of the first Harry Potter film. Bliss.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

tom kerridge's homemade fried chicken

If you like in the UK, you've probably heard of Tom Kerridge - possibly because his pub, The Hand & Flowers, is the only one in the UK with two michelin stars, but more likely because his new BBC programme (Proper Pub Food) is essentially the best thing that's ever been on TV. Except Bake Off. Obviously. Kerridge is this utterly delightful man who so appeals to my hobbit-y nature: both because he's from Gloucestershire (like me!) & therefore sounds like one, but mostly because all of his food is indulgent, seasonal and heart warming. It also invariably comes in very large portions. My kinda guy. Everything he makes seems that have me & my housemates groaning with delight, and in his first - or possibly second - episode he featured fried chicken in a basket, and I've not been able to think of anything else since. So, when I went to the farmer's market last week & they were selling 3 chicken thighs for £2, I knew precisely what to do.

I've never deep fried anything before & was pretty daunted by the prospect, but it ended up being a fair bit easier than I imagined, and the results were amazing. I'm kind of annoyed at myself for making it, because now I'm not sure I'll ever want anything else. The outside is crisp & crunchy without being tough, and you can taste each spice and herb with every bite. As a warning, this recipe uses a lot of herbs & spices, but there's nothing particularly unusual & I expect you'll already have most of them in your cupboard. If not, spices & herbs are always a good thing to invest in, because once you've got them you can make this recipe over and over again for hardly any money at all. Also, since when has the phrase "lots of herbs & spices" every been a bad thing?! That said - if you don't like very spicy things, feel free to reduce the paprika measurements down to teaspoons instead of tablespoons.

I haven't had fried chicken in years, but from what I remember of KFC... Man, it just doesn't even come close. This is big, flavourful food which is an adventure to make & a delight to eat, perfectly spicy and smoky and, well, can I say finger lickin' good...? I can't wait to try more of Kerridge's recipes, because if they're anything like this, I should be the size of a house by Christmas. Yay!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

blackberry & ricotta wholewheat scones

My housemate Morgan's default setting is work. If you're ever wondering where he is, he's in the library. If you're ever wondering what he's doing, he's working. It is amazing, inspiring, and of course, completely disgusting. Were he not such a god damn great person, I'd be forced to hate him. Meanwhile, my default position appears to be eating. Or cooking. Or reading food blogs. Either way, it's food, and between this passion of mine & a part time job I appear to have forgotten that I'm supposed to be a student. Which I am, by the way. Have I mentioned that? I study Art History at St Andrews - though I use the word "study" quite wrongly at the moment.

Yesterday, I decided to buckle down. After my lectures I headed home, made lunch, then went to the library with every good intention of staying there till evening at the earliest. But... Well, you know how it is. I couldn't find a seat, it was hot, it was sweaty, I couldn't find anybody I knew... So, I went home. And I checked food blogs. And I found a recipe on 101 Cookbooks for blackberry & ricotta scones. Aaaaand, apart from ricotta, I had everything I needed already in the house. So, without even putting on a cardigan (in October, in Scotland. Error. Never again.) I ran out of the house to get ricotta and, well, another day passed without me doing any work. Oh well!

These are, without a doubt, the prettiest things I've ever made. This is a fairly picture heavy post, because I just couldn't leave my camera alone. It was such a pretty mix! And dough! And such pretty scones! Anybody who's ever been blackberry picking will know that there's no colour quite like the purpleish-pinkish-reddish-blackish stain you have on your fingers at the end of the day, and it's that exact colour which bleeds out into the scones here. Scones are one of the first things I ever learnt to bake & in fact remain the only thing I've ever made in any kind of professional capacity, since I used to make them every morning at a cafe I worked at one summer, but these top any I've ever made before. The double cream & ricotta make them incredibly soft, whilst the ricotta also adds a lovely lemony tang which works perfectly alongside the sharp richness of the blackberries. And there's certainly no shortness of blackberries, for this dough is so packed full of them that you get a lovely fruity mouthful with each bite. The mixture of wholewheat & plain flour makes this a sliiiightly healthier recipe, but taste isn't compromised even a little bit - in fact, I far prefer it. They're irresistibly soft, the polar opposite of dense, and completely melt in your mouth. I already know this is a recipe I'll be returning to time & time again, and you could easily replace the blackberries with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, chocolate chips, cherries, crystallised ginger, dried apple... Absolutely anything at all! There's no need to buy new ingredients - just do what I did & use up whatever's in your fridge. But, seasonal is always best, and we've got to make the most of blackberry season whilst we can.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

garlic & greens salad

In the same way that there's something fundamentally joyous about a cake, there's something fundamentally sad about a salad. No matter how bright or colourful or expensive or superfood-y... Well, it's just not cake, is it? But, alas, we cannot be eating cake all the time, and must make a token stab at health every once in a while. This is my token stab - and actually, I really like it. I'm firmly of the opinion that even the most unappetizing of meals can be improved by the addition of garlic, cheese, or butter (hence why garlic bread is the least fundamentally sad food of them all), and it's the addition of garlic here which makes this lunch time meal a happy one.

This recipe is so, so simple, to the extent where I feel fraudulent even calling it a recipe. And in fact, I wasn't ever going to include it on this website, but I've made it so many times in my own hobbit kitchen now that I thought it was about time it appeared on the hobbit kitchen. The ingredients shouldn't cost you any more than three pounds, it takes about 10 minutes, and is so jam packed full of goodness that you can feel totally justified in eating an entire cake to yourself. But of course, you should feel totally justified in eating that anyway, because cake is fantastic. Have we not covered how much I like cake so far? I'm getting distracted. Back to salad.

This salad is not a fundamentally sad one. It's warm, so perfect for these colder months; it's garlicky, so it naturally feels like comfort food; and, most importantly, it actually tastes nice. Second helpings for all!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

sausage & mash

If I were a proper food blogger, the title of this post would be something like 'roasted sausages with apple, onion & sage, accompanied by a butternut squash & carrot mash'. But, a) that wouldn't fit in the title space, and b) it is essentially just bangers and mash.

In May 2012, I decided to stop eating meat. I'd just read Jonathan Safran Foer's 'Eating Animals' - an amaaaazing book which I urge to read whether you eat meat or not, because it's just so, so important. It prompted me to stop eating meat altogether (though I continued to eat fish), and since then I've really enjoyed the range of meat-free food I've eaten and cooked. Being a vegetarian taught me how to work creatively and cleverly in the kitchen, & opened up my tastes to all manner of things I'd not previously considered. Furthermore, I still - and always will - totally believe that a vegetarian or vegan diet can be every bit as tasty, healthy & fulfilling as one which contains meat. That it's morally the correct way to eat is basically undeniable. So, it's with more than a little bit of regret that I return to the world of meat - but, for various reasons which I won't discuss here, I've decided to return nonetheless. I still feel hugely uncomfortable about buying meat from supermarkets so don't plan on doing that any time soon, which is why I was super excited when the farmer's market rolled in to town last Saturday. For me, it's so comforting knowing where your meat comes from, and even being able to talk to the person who reared the animal themselves. It might be a teeeeny tiny bit more expensive, but honestly the peace of mind is worth the additional 50p. Not to mention the fact that they inevitably taste like, ten thousand times better. Anyway, I stocked up, so you'll no doubt be seeing a few more meaty recipes from me soon enough.

One thing I never managed to stop craving as a vegetarian was sausages. I know bacon is supposed to be the most difficult thing for a vegetarian to give up, but I never found that - for me, it was always pork & leek sausages in a brown bread sandwich with a hefty dose of coleslaw/mustard/ketchup/delete as applicable. And when I came home from the market on Saturday, that was the first thing I made. But, once that craving was satisfied, I wanted something a little homelier - and what better than bangers & mash?

Sunday, 6 October 2013

bread & sundays

Although my family's not religious, at home Sundays are a kind of sacred thing, and we take them very seriously. Depending on the weather, we'll go for a long walk with the dogs, have either a pub lunch out or a roast dinner at home, Mum will generally bake something chocolately and delicious, and then we inevitably end up watching a film by the fire in the evening. It's totally idyllic, totally relaxing, and totally my favourite day of the week. It's a quieter day - a day for eating and nature and afternoon naps, which are maybe my 3 favourite things in the universe.

Even though I'm at university now & have so few class hours that most days are basically Sundays, once the actual day rolls around I always switch into Sunday mode. I become even less likely to do work than I already am, I feel just a tiny bit sleepier than I ordinarily might, and I become filled with this insatiable desire to make the whole house smell like food. This past Sunday the sky was blue & the air was crisp, so I took myself for a lonesome little stroll down by the river & phoned home to chat to my Mum for a bit. I love this time of year, where the leaves are starting to turn and fall, and the thought of wearing anything other than cardigans and jumpers becomes suddenly unthinkable. It made me want to bake something seasonal, like an apple crumble or a pumpkin pie or something like that, but in the end I decided to try my hand at something that's always terrified me. Bread.

Obviously bread itself doesn't terrify me, because there are few joys in life greater than that of toast with butter & jam, but baking it? With like, kneading and proving and other words that I only just found out were real? Um, no. Far too much bother. And I am a hobbit not particularly interested in bother. But, like most other human beings, I've been obsessed with Great British Bake Off recently, & it's made me realise how truly ridiculous it is that I think of myself as someone vaguely adept at baking, yet cannot bake bread. So, I found the easiest looking recipe that the BBC had to offer, and got to work.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

italian bean casserole

Some days, life looks like the above picture. It looks, and feels, like the view of a Shell Garage out of a cold stone window. Some days, the sky stays a stubborn grey from morning till night, and I find it very difficult to be jolly on such days. Last Monday was one such day, and boy, did it feel like a Monday. I moped around most of the day, making a half hearted attempt at doing some work but mostly just wearing my fluffy polar bear dressing gown & feeling grumpy, until dinner time. And few things can lift the spirits like dinner time, you know? Since I didn't have a lot to do I decided to make a recipe I always return to on such days: an italian bean casserole. I put James Taylor on, switched on all the lights & dedicated an hour of my time to making something delicious and filling and good. And I know of no better (or cheaper) happy pill than that.

Now - I warn you. This is not good looking food. When I was reading stuff about "how to start a food blog", all of the advice was like, "take good photos!", "make it look delicious!", "why don't you have a photography degree!", etc. But seriously, I challenge anyone who makes this casserole to take a semi-decent photo of it - I tell you, it cannot be done. But that doesn't really matter because you'll hopefully be too busy helping yourself to seconds to even have time for an instagram.

This is the sort of food I like to make for myself if I've eaten nothing but pizza and sweets for a few days, and my body's craving nutrients. This thing is packed full of protein and vitamins and minerals and antioxidants and all that good stuff - in fact, I'm pretty sure it delivers most (if not all) of your 5 a day in one generous serving. It's a recipe I return to time and time again, since it's easy, cheap, filling, and - most importantly - it's totally delicious.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

toffee & sea salt brownies

There's no better feeling in the world that making food that people love, for the people that you love. When my housemate Rosa bit into one of these toffee & sea salt brownies, the noises she made were frankly obscene - and it made every penny spent on ingredients & every minute spent washing up totally worth it. The other thing that makes it worth it, though, is obviously the brownies themselves.

Adapted from this Smitten Kitchen recipe, these brownies are unbelievably moreish & extremely grown up. If you know someone who isn't massively into sweet stuff & likes a savoury touch, these are ideal. Alternatively, if you know people who are chocolate fiends, these are also pretty great. Essentially, if you know people, feed them these. They'll be happy. Okay? Okay.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

sweet potato chilli

I used to live with three other girls, in what I can really only describe as a castle by the sea. It was a huge, 17th century, grade 1 listed building right next to the beach, & we were unbelievably lucky to get it. Out of my bedroom window I could see the ruins of St Andrews castle perched preciously on top of the crashing North Sea, with nothing but blue on the horizon. It was beautiful; the kind of place that only St Andrews, really, can provide. But it was also cold. Officially cold as balls. It was drafty, impossible to heat, nothing worked, there were spiders everywhere, very little natural light ever came in and, alhough it was great that the house was so big the four of us essentially had a "wing" to ourselves, it also meant it got lonely pretty easily. To get to my bedroom you only had to go up one flight of stairs that were right next to the front door, so it was entirely feasible to spend days not seeing any of my housemates. However, we combatted that with communal meal times, and it was basically the best thing ever. Throughout the two dark, cold, seemingly unending winters that we lived in that house, the evenings we would gather in the living room bundled up in jumpers and blankets and onesies and tuck into something warming and filling were the very, very best. It's those memories that I'll treasure most from my time in that house.

My new house is a lot nicer. It's teeny tiny, heats up in minutes & stays warm for hours, everything's new and shiny and nice and clean, and the wardrobe actually fits all my clothes. It is a true miracle. But, I wanted to keep the tradition of communal meal times going with my new housemates, so every Monday we cook for each other, and for my first Monday I wanted to honour the spirit of my old house. Everything I like to cook can essentially be served in a bowl, is full of good, nutritious colours, and is easy and inexpensive to make. Hobbit food. Natural and nice. This, essentially, is that.

This chilli is one of Jamie Oliver's recipes and it's packed with stuff that's good for you, like sweet potatoes & peppers & kidney beans, but more importantly it is genuinely delicious. The sweetness of the sweet potato meets the intense notes of cayenne pepper, cumin & cinnamon to make this super warming dish that's perfect for autumn.

Monday, 30 September 2013

mushroom & applewood pitta

This isn't a very hobbit-y thing to say, but I rarely bother with lunch. Like, I eat it, obviously, because I can't go for more than 2 hours without a meal, but I don't like to spend too much time on it. Salads, sandwiches, heated up leftovers, cheese & biscuits, etc. That sort of thing. I tell myself it's because I'm too busy during the day to bother with cooking, but I'm a student and I'm lazy so that is obviously not the case. Shall we make a pact to devote time to lunch on days that are not Sunday? Let's.

This is a lunch time food which takes about half an hour to prepare, so for me that's like, a big deal. But it's worth it - total comfort food. Mushroom and thyme share a relationship more beautiful than the Notebook, and I've never met a sandwich that couldn't be improved by a hefty amount of smokey applewood cheese. Because yeah, this is basically just a sandwich, and so you could of course use regular ol' bread if you wanted. I like to use pitta because I love pitta, and I like to use wholewheat because Pam Ayres once described the taste of wholewheat bread as "like biting into a cornfield", and I can't get that description out of my head. But of course, make your own kind of music, sing your own kind of song, etc.

concerning holly

“I am in fact a Hobbit, in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humor (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much.”
- J. R. R. Tolkein.

Holly is a 21 year old art history student at the University of St Andrews, who finds it very strange to discuss herself in third person. She is hobbit-like in both stature and in appetite, though her collection of ornamental waistcoats is woefully lacking. She comes from a little pocket of the English countryside where people pronounce their R's with vigour, and where change comes slowly (if it comes at all). This blog is an exercise is recreating the spirit of The Shire in a small kitchen on the Scottish coast. It is an exercise is butter, double cream, and warm, homemade bread. This blog believes in a well stocked pantry & vegetables used the day you bought them. It believes in farmers markets & fruit and veg shops, but it will also concedes that clubcard points really are quite a good idea. It believes in eating what you hunger for & letting the weight fall where it may, for there will be no calorie counting here. It believes in cake. It believes in fruit. It believes in immediately thinking about your next meal once one is over, and it believes in knowing where your meat comes from. It believes in red wine. It believes in the fields and trees and rivers. It believes in leftovers, but it also believes in licking the plate clean. It believes in Sundays. It believes in wholewheat.

Mostly, this is a blog which honours the art of eating. Something that Holly is very, very good at indeed.