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.