Saturday, 22 February 2014

date & walnut cake

This Christmas, a very good friend of mine bought me Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries. It was in many ways the ideal present, relevant to all my interests: books; things that will look impressive on my shelves; lovely words; food. I spent a lot of time with it in that lovely lazy time between Christmas and New Year, those few days that are really just one long Sunday, and it so perfectly encapsulates the way I want to cook, to eat, and to live. My housemate received another of his books, Eat, for Christmas as well, and the other day we were talking about how great it must be to always have cake in the house - a lifestyle which Slater seriously advocates. Wouldn't it just be so wonderful to always be able to offer people a slice of cake as well as a cup of tea when they come over? Or just to nibble by yourself if you fancy something sweet at the end of a meal. Now, unfortunately nobody in this house makes their livelihood from food so unfortunately the idea of always having a freshly baked cake in the vicinity is a little unrealistic, but I've decided that one of my New Years Resolutions is to make our kitchen look like it does in the above picture as often as possible. Because it's my ideal kitchen, the one I have here: a mish mash of cluttered cutlery & cups; teabags readily available; a well stocked fridge; freshly baked cake cooling on the counter, and the best people in the world in the very next room. I am such a lucky girl.

This isn't a Nigel Slater recipe, but it's very reminiscent of the way he - and I - likes to cook (though I imagine he wields far more impressive results). It's simple, it's inexpensive, and it's seasonally appropriate - because nothing says why won't this winter please go away like a cup of tea & a thick wedge of loaf cake. You'll probably only need to go and pick up some dates & walnuts, since the likelihood is that you'll already have everything else you need in your cupboards, and it serves as a great vessel for anything else you might want to throw in there too. Sultanas, diced apple & a teaspoon of mixed spice wouldn't go amiss in this cake at all & I think I'll be adding some of those in next time, but for now this deliciously simple recipe will suffice. And for those who haven't tried it - it is, after all, a little old fashioned - I urge you to do so. I'm not a huge fan of nuts in cake & I don't think I'd ever eaten a date before, but the moment I chowed down on a piece of date and walnut cake for the first time I've not looked back since. The dates are mixed together in a bowl with boiling water & butter first so that the rich, date-y flavour infuses into the butter and thus the entire cake, giving it a rich & vaguely spicy taste. Plus, the use of water and melted butter makes this a relatively low fat & healthy option (by my standards, at least), but still keeps the whole thing from getting too dry and dense. Brown sugar exacerbates the richness & the walnuts add a nice textural crunch. If you've not tried it before, give it a go & let me know what you think? After all, it's cake. What's not to like?!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

roasted vegetable & chickpea stew

I really don't like January. I realise this is one of those statements which as obvious as "grass is green" or "the sky is blue" or "pizza is the greatest thing ever", but like, I really don't like January. I don't like the weather, I don't like the judgemental diet talk and inevitable post-Christmas guilt adverts force us to feel, and I don't like how far away summer feels in that miserable, miserable month. I spent most of my January watching Gilmore Girls and ploughing my way through never ending Christmas leftovers, which is really the only way to deal with New Year blues, and it was only when I got back to uni at the end of the month that I started feeling like I wanted to cook again. See, I'm not the biggest fan of February either, but the incremental thawing of the midwinter cold and the gradual lightening of the evenings makes for one slightly happier hobbit.

Still, that doesn't change the fact that, by this time of the year, I am so done with heavy winter food. Get pastry & pies away from me, hide the casseroles, and make sure I never see another roast dinner again as long as I live. All I want to eat right now is bowls full of colour, and this roasted veg & chickpea stew is perfect for brightening up these dark and dreary days. This is super easy and endlessly adaptable - essentially, just chuck a bunch of vegetables into a tin, roast them up with salt, pepper, and olive oil, then add in some chopped tomatoes, chickpeas, spinach & chopped coriander. I went with the usual suspects of courgettes, aubergines, peppers & sweet potatoes, but you can roll however you wanna roll. Best enjoyed on a rainy dismal evening in the middle of February, warm in the knowledge that seasons are made to change, and that summer is as inevitable as winter.

Monday, 10 February 2014

garlic prawns

My housemate Morgan doesn't like seafood, which is a statement so utterly inconceivable to me that I think we probably just shouldn't talk about it. Like, he can't even stand the smell? Weird. Anyway; he was away for a few days at the start of this semester so me & my other housemate, Rosa, basically just lived under the sea for a little while. I can't really think of any better way to start a semester than with a hearty plateful of garlic prawns - simultaneously rich and frugal, with only a handful ingredients and absolutely swimming in butter. This will be my last semester at St Andrews, which isn't a sentence I'm particularly sad about saying because, you know, I've been here nearly 4 years now, and it's very much time to leave. It's a small town, little more than 3 streets, and after about 2 hours here you feel like you've seen all there is to see & met everyone there is to meet. It's so small that you're guaranteed to meet someone you know in the library or walking to lectures; I seriously felt like I was living dangerously when I went to Tesco the other day with wet hair and no make up, and miraculously didn't bump into a single awkward ex. It's usually cold, generally windy, and sometimes I find myself starting to forget what the sun looks like. But it has, in spite of my protests, in spite of my resistance, become a sort of home. So this homely, warm and indulgent dish felt like the perfect way to begin saying goodbye.

This meal is also a nice reminder that you don't need much more than the tried & tested favourites to make something taste great. I've said before (and I'll say it again) that there's no meal that cannot be improved by the addition of garlic, so with ten cloves of the stuff here I think you know you're in for something great. Plus, butter, which - as is best expressed by Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia - is just the Food Of The Gods, and then salt, pepper, lemon juice, a tiny little dash of cayenne pepper... And that's it. And honestly you could probably omit the cayenne pepper if you're not a fan of spice & you'd still have something quite wonderful on your hands. Plus, once you've got your garlic chopped, it barely takes 5 minutes.