There are many things about Britain that are completely mad – morris dancing, Crufts, teachers’ work loads – but one of the weirdest has to be the fact that 400 years on, we still celebrate the failure of a plot to blow up Parliament.
The celebration of Bonfire Night was brought about by the Observance of 5th November Act 1605, which called for annual public thanksgiving. Although the act was repealed in the late 1850s, we still love a big ol’ fire and watching explosions timed to a playlist that seems to always include something by Queen (sadly, it’s rarely Fat Bottomed Girls).
It’s one of my favourite nights of the year. Read More
I might call this “Surprise Victory Cake”, instead of its actual descriptive name, because I did not expect this to work, and my god, it did. It really did.
I just about half-followed a recipe: made the topping up as I went along; tasted and guessed at the spice quantities; set to work bringing it all together with bowls strewn around the kitchen. The mixing stage was nerve-wracking, and for a split second, I wondered if it was a a waste of time and ingredients.
But then I put it in the oven and the kitchen filled with the smell of autumn. Cut into it and found it had the perfect level of springiness, just the right amount of cinnamon and nutmeg flavour.
It turned out to be a cake that you take into the office and ten minutes later start getting “Oh yes 10/10” messages. A cake that might make your flatmate mutter, “Marry me,” as they take a bite. Maybe a couple of “I feel all warm and cosy inside”s. Read More
Today, we’re nearly halfway through the Idiot Challenge for Idiot People. Set and voted upon by a group of university friends, the challenge forces us (the idiots) to work out in some way every day for the month of April. It’s less stupid, now, than it otherwise might have been – we’ve negotiated “lighter” exercise, like yoga, in, in an effort to give our bodies a little rest. Two weeks in, and a few people have dropped days, but thanks to a refusal to give in, most of us are going strong, despite aches and the necessity to wake up before the sun to squeeze things in. We’re all exercising more, and better, for it – I guess it’s the way we support each other. This is what I left university with: one degree, and several stubborn, idiot friends.
And then, sticky dancefloors and counting coins in the half-dark. Bubbles up my nose and a too-strong fruit taste. Half-carrying my friend’s dad back to his house after too many “mystery strength” Somerset varieties. These are my memories of most ciders.
It was university, of course, that did that too. May we never drink cider and black again.
Quite understandably, I shy away from cider a little these days, lest I get caught out by something overly sweet and too full of bubbles; still, when given the opportunity to try the new ciders from Aspall, I leapt at it because, well, I have faith in Aspall.
hen I was at sixth form, I also worked three jobs (ish), and dreamed about all the free time I’d have as a grown up. Monday to Friday was sixth form – although around half of that time was sitting in the common room, or taking trips to Tesco in free periods – and Friday afternoon was cleaning for a family friend. Weekends in retail. Half-terms split between retail and a part-time feature writing job at a local magazine. Monday to Friday, nine to five, sounded glorious.
How adorable, right?
Now, it’s all busybusybusy, hours flying by before we can even stop to think how we’re spending them (the tube. The tube is where we’re spending them). And it’s for this reason that I’ve become a cheat in the kitchen, relying on recipes that can be made in a big batch and easily tweaked and recycled across multiple nights. For months, this was big bubbling pans of chili, made often enough that it became a flat joke. The holy grail of lazy home cooking? Big batches that can be frozen, and reheated fairly quickly. Read More
What I’ve done there is create possibly the worst food for me. Not in terms of nutrition or expenditure, but just because I have a bit of a lisp. And every time I take this into work, I’m forced to reply to queries as to what it is with a whole load of “th”s.
In every other way though, this soup is very, very good.
It’s no surprise to anyone that I get a bit giddy with food, and that the gourd family is the prime object of my affections. So when I spotted that New Covent Garden’s soup of the month was pumpkin, Stilton, and sage, I snapped it up and greedily snaffled it before they’d even announced it on social media.
And then I wanted more. Due to being A) inquisitive, and B) not made of money, I worked out the ratios from the packet and went on to make the best soup ever. The first time I used part butternut and part harlequin, but the second time was pure butternut and it was every bit as tasty. In fact, I’ve gone on to buy 3 more butternut squashes so I need never run out of them. Yep, I got weird looks at the checkout. Squash panic-buying is totally a thing.
The sweetness of butternut, the savoury touch of sage, and pure cheesiness from the Stilton combine to make a soup that’s truly comforting. A hug from the inside. It also doubles up perfectly as a sauce for pasta.
Additionally, it’s pretty cheap. One batch will cost less than £4* and provides six servings, which really puts the price of supermarket tubs of soup into perspective. If you chop the vegetables smaller, it’ll require less cooking time and therefore less fuel, too. It’s happy to be frozen, so can be made in advance and defrosted when you get out of the rain and need something quick, comforting and delicious. (I recommend these soup and sauce bags from Lakeland, which can stack in the freezer and be washed and reused.)
*Probably far, far less than this – I’m going by estimations and Waitrose prices. Read More
This September marks the beginning of the fourth year of living with my flatmate. We were thrown together in our first year of uni, with four other girls, and carried on living together, with three of the others, in our second year as we all dealt with the drama of being 19 and having a landlord who’d renovate your manky bathroom but dispose of the old toilet by putting it in your wheelie bin.
We parted ways after that year living at the top of a very steep hill, only to be brought together again by the universe when we both moved to London. The universe is nice like that.
But in those three years and sharing kitchen space and secrets, I’d never once made her this old family classic. Until now, of course.
Back home, this is “chickeny crumbly stuff” because, well, it’s chickeny and it’s crumbly and the name stuck and became part of family legend. It’s soul food – the sort of dish that hugs you as you eat it. It’s nourishment that’ll have you going back for seconds and fighting with your siblings for the crunchiest bit of topping. It’s exactly what you need to help you embrace grey skies as we hurtle towards months of 4pm sunsets and cocoa.
150g stale/dry bread
110g cheddar cheese
500g chicken breast, chopped into chunks
200g mushrooms, chopped
1 medium leek, chopped
1 tin cream of chicken soup
1) In a food processor, blitz the bread until roughly crumbed. Add the cheese, and blitz again until the whole mixture is of breadcrumb texture – some lumps are fine. You can do this the night before and refrigerate if you like to be one step ahead.
2) Preheat the oven to 170C. Fry the chicken breast chunks in a large frying pan over medium heat until just browning. Add the mushrooms and leek, and continue to fry until the leeks are soft.
3) Add the soup, mayo, and a squeeze of lemon juice and simmer for about 5 minutes.
4) Transfer to an overproof dish, cover with breadcrumb topping, and bake for about 30 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Serve with more vegetables, if you’re that way inclined.
Can also be split into small pots or ramekins for individual portions.
This is a dinner that melds a few of my current obsessions perfectly. First up, the butternut squash – technically, it’s not in season any more, but still I can’t get enough. When I went to London’s Borough Market (more on that later), there was squash everywhere, which I feel totally validates the fact that I’m always thinking of new ways to use it. It’s a classic autumn vegetable, and great for veggie dishes too in place of meat.
Secondly, risotto. Before my flatmate and I moved here, I’d never made risotto. It felt like one of those things that was a total pain to make – the whole “standing over it while it cooks thing” was off-putting, and the abundance of “easy risotto” recipes on the internet reinforced the idea that normally it’s just too much hassle. Um, guys – risotto is easy and amazing. There’s seriously no reason to be scared.
And finally, butternut and bacon. When I talked about New Covent Garden soups, I forgot to mention this combo, but it really is something to obsess over. Smoked bacon especially goes so, so well with the sweetness of the butternut. Yum.
With all that in mind, this risotto kind of had to happen. And so, on a night when I was craving something warm and comforting after long days at work and armpit-filled tube journeys, it did. I’ll never look back.
Serves 2/3 people, depending on how greedy you are!
500g butternut squash, cut into 2cm chunks
2 cloves of garlic
1 stick of celery, sliced
1 white onion, finely chopped
2 rashers of bacon, cut into strips about 1cmx3cm
200g arborio rice
50g soft cream cheese
1 litre vegetable stock
Splash of olive oil
1) Pop butternut chunks onto a roasting tray, drizzle with olive oil and shake over some paprika. Roast for about 40 minutes, or until soft.
2) When there’s about 15 minutes left on the butternut, drizzle a hot pan with olive oil, throw in garlic, onion and celery. Stir. Place the lid on, and allow to sweat until just starting to soften.
3) Add the strips of bacon, and when just cooked, add the rice to the mixture. Stir well so that the rice is coated with all the juices, and start to add vegetable stock one ladle-full at a time, stirring constantly.
4) Keep adding stock until rice is tender.
5) At the last minute, throw in the spinach, roasted butternut, and cream cheese. Stir well, and you’re ready to rock!
There are some weeks when you just need to give yourself an easy life, weeks when the best thing you can do is make enough food for five nights of dinners and then forget about cooking for a while. The kind of thing that you can put in the microwave, safe in the knowledge that by the time you’ve kicked off your shoes and unwound your scarf, stashed your handbag away and eaten a cheeky biscuit, that microwave will ding! at you and deliver something delicious.
This week has been one of those weeks, and this soup has been that dependable dinner. In the past seven days, Lizzi and I have moved in together, bought everything we need for our flat, and started off on new life adventures (I started a new job, and Lizzi started at Leiths School of Food and Wine). It’s scary, and it’s wonderful, and we’re loving every minute.
But at the end of the working day, after half an hour jammed into a tube carriage, with your nose alarmingly close to a stranger’s armpit, nothing could be more comforting than something warm and sweet. Luckily, this butternut, honey, and sage soup is just the ticket.
1 medium butternut squash, cut in half lengthways and seeds removed
1 tbsp honey (or 2, if you’ve got a sweet tooth)
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
6 sage leaves
1 medium onion
3 cups/750ml chicken or vegetable stock (use only 2 cups/500ml if, like me, you prefer your soup thick)
Salt and pepper to season
1) Place butternut squash halves, garlic slices, and 3 sage leaves, torn into halves, in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and roast in pre-heated oven (180C) for 45 minutes, or until the butternut is soft.
2) While the butternut roasts, dice and fry your onion in a casserole dish until it is soft and just about turning golden. Turn down the heat and add the honey, stirring to ensure an even distribution. If you reach this point long before the butternut is due to cook, turn off the heat and leave the onion to stand – the honey doesn’t need to cook.
3) When roasted, remove the skin from the butternut – it should come away quite easily – and add to the pan with the garlic, and sage. Add stock (use 2 cups rather than 3 if you prefer your soup thick), and the remaining sage leaves, torn, and blend until smooth, using a hand blender. Season to taste.
I’d recommend you serve it up with warm homemade bread with lashings of butter!