Sunday food links – 15 May 2016

Eurovision baking

One of my close friends had her first baby this week. It made me cast my mind back to those early newborn days. Of course, these are such a blur of feeding and sleep deprivation that it’s very hard to remember accurately. I did make an effort to write some thoughts at the time, and I also went back and culled my private mum’s Facebook group posts at some point, so I could try and capture the feelings at the time.

3 weeks: “Today is a day when it’s hard. Can’t sleep, can’t do anything else useful, feel weird and overtired, don’t want to eat anything but sweets and junk. Feel like a milk-generating zombie today.”

There were also better days:


4 weeks: “Objectively, she’s been trouble today – feeding every hour or more, seldom sleeping, and crying much of the time in between. But for some reason, today I can mostly just see big blue eyes, sweet, strokable hair, chubby cheeks and tiny fingers. As we keep saying, more with love than frustration, “it’s a good job you’re cute!””

I am reminded that very small victories were important, and built confidence. I went after them very deliberately in those first weeks: a walk to the park, a drive to the breastfeeding clinic, making it out of the house on our own for a walk. Little bits of progress that were enough to hint at changes to come, and give the idea that all of those would pass.

Now the changes come more slowly, but seem to creep up in a more unexpected way, ambushing you when you feel unprepared. Today she seems suddenly taller, leaner and more capable. She has been ‘taking care’ of us recently – asking if we are alright if we cough, patting us to send us to sleep. It’s a lovely glimpse into the little girl she’s trying to become, but also a reminder of how much baby has already disappeared.

This week’s eating was mainly quite simple, to minimise the complications swirling around us at the moment. A very quick but delicious coconut curry from Anna Jones. A slow cooker pot of beans. A few bits of take away. And then a good baking session on Saturday night, to go with Eurovision. I like to think the rye flour theme was a nod to the Swedish hosts.


Without a recipe:

  • Beef ragu and pasta (the ragu created from some frozen beef shin stew + passata + roasted tomatoes)
  • Quesadillas – leftover butter beans, with cheese and avocado
  • Franco Manca take out pizza




Sunday food links – 1 May 2016


A busy week. But a successful one, I think, from a meal planning perspective. I cooked a pot of slow-cooker black beans on Monday which gave me a resource to fall back on throughout the week. I also roasted vegetables on Sunday – sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and mushrooms – to make sure I had quick options in the fridge in the week. I liberated sea bass fillets from the freezer for Tuesday, and grilled it over sliced, boiled new potatoes, those tomatoes, and artichoke pieces from a jar. I combined the rest of those beans with the mushrooms, sweet potatoes and tomatoes, plus some jarred roasted peppers and some extra spices to make vegetable chilli in the slow cooker on Friday afternoon. Overall, a good week, and a welcome contrast to some of the meat-heavy meals we’ve had recently.


  • Coconut rice pudding – Scandilicious Baking. My daughter loves eating rice pudding at nursery, but we never really have it at home. This recipe, made with coconut milk, and baked, really did the trick (though I might use light coconut milk next time).
  • Cuban-style black beans – Slow Cooked

Without a recipe:

  • Fried rice with vegetables, topped with a fried egg
  • Black bean tacos, with cheese, sliced radishes, spring onions, and leftover pulled pork
  • Sea bass fillets over potatoes, tomatoes and artichokes
  • Green soup (from the freezer) and cheese pitas (dinner on Wednesday, lunch on Friday)
  • Vegetable chilli with black beans, with sausages
  • Fish curry with sweet potatoes and peas, Spice Tailor sauce


Friday food links – 1 April 2016

Vegetable prep/meal prep

This week was an example of what happens when I don’t plan meals for the week. Travel over the Easter weekend, and sickness immediately afterwards meant there weren’t too many meals to organise anyway. Even so, the wheels came off the wagon a bit, to be honest. What just about held things together was some slow cooker pork ragu, and a session of vegetable preparation, part Tamar Adler and part Shutterbean, that gave me vegetables as well as a lentil salad for lunches.


  • Lemon Meringue Cake – Nigella’s ‘Feast’ – a birthday cake for my mum

Without a recipe:

  • Pork ragu pasta
  • Pork ragu lasagne
  • Charlie Bigham Fish pie
  • Lentil salad with broad beans, tomatoes, roast broccoli


Friday food links – 25 March 2016

Product of toddler baking session: Idiot biscuits. Actually, she mainly poured sprinkles around, but kept her occupied.  Recipe:

I knew at the start that this could be a tough week. Lots of travel, a few end-of-year things at work, combined with lots of people on leave meant I already knew time would be at a premium. Add to that a bit of a sniffle for me, full on vomiting from E on Wednesday evening, and a bit of a grey and damp week, and it hasn’t been a brilliant time.

There have definitely be rays of sunshine breaking through, though. Last Sunday the sun came out, and it was actually warm, at least with the sun on you. I got into the garden and planted a few things, and generally felt better about the state of things. The first of my tulips have started showing their heads. And in between being a bit tired and under-the-weather, E has been very funny. In the Disney store, she spotted a clip of ‘Snow White’ playing on the monitors, and started dancing along with the dwarfs. I bought her a pack of farm animal stickers, and she sang ‘Old Macdonald had a Farm’ to them.

Knowing it wasn’t going to be an easy week, I planned some easy meals to get us through. A bought lasagne for midweek. A big batch of curry at the weekend that saw us through three meals. A fridge-tidying soup that covered a couple of lunches and a dinner too.


Without a recipe:

  • Charlie Bigham lasagne with a grated carrot salad and some radishes and cucumbers
  • Egg fried rice
  • Fish and chips from the freezer
  • A green minestrone, using up lots of leftover veg from the fridge, with a parmesan rind, a can of cannellini beans and lots of parmesan grated on the top.
  • Leftover coconut curry – reappeared twice


Friday food links – 18 March 2016

Following Tamar Adler's advice and doing a batch of veg roasting and sautéing. Very satisfying.

I recently started reading Tamar Adler’s Everlasting Meal. If you’ve seen her extracts in the Guardian Cook supplement, you’ll have an idea of her tone. The language can feel a bit unexpected for food writing, but I think her ambition to imitate the approach of MFK Fisher is at least partly successful (and that’s a high bar). Among the digressions, there is a lot of practical advice.

This week, when the veg box arrived on Tuesday, I followed her advice to do a big batch of preparation all at once. So I roasted a butternut squash and a leftover sweet potato with a little chilli. I sliced and roasted a lurking fennel bulb. And I sliced and roasted cherry tomatoes, leaving them in with the oven turned off to get all ‘sunblush’ texture. Then I shredded the huge heap of cavolo nero and cooked it slowly on the stove with a little onion. This all made it easier to stick extra vegetables on the table this week.


Without a recipe:

  • No-knead bread
  • Fish pie – with prepared ahead roast squash and garlicky sautéed leftover broccoli


Friday food links -3 March 2016

Figuring out dinner menu for tonight: slow-roast pork shoulder from @deliciousmag , roast potatoes, chard and marmalade sponge puddings for dessert 😋

I’m just starting to emerge from a week of being submerged under a cold. The headache is lingering, but I think I’ve turned the corner, and the sunshine today is helping too. Given the shortage of energy around here, this week’s food was anchored by leftover roast pork from Saturday, and a pot of soothing dal cooked midweek.

Dal is a great food to have when you’re feeling under the weather. It’s not very demanding to cook – at least the way I do it. You end up with something as soft and undemanding as mashed potato, but with a bit more flavour (I like to simmer it with turmeric and ginger) and a feeling that it’s doing you some good.


Without a recipe:

  • Dal, with sweet potato and chickpea curry from the freezer
  • A made-up pasta sauce with leftover roast pork and tomatoes
  • Ham hash – leftover roast veg, ham hock, with a fried egg on top, with cime di rapa on the side.
  • Weekend pizza
  • Pork stir-fry with broccoli and courgette
  • Milk bread (recipe coming soon)
  • Something between a quesadilla and a taco, with ham hock, caramelised onion, manchego and cime di rapa.
  • Foccacia with onions – from leftover pizza dough
  • Breaded fish with oven chips


Are recipe boxes the answer to easy weeknight cooking?

“Quick cooking rarely comes from a recipe so much as it does from intuition built over the course of hours and hours mucking around in a kitchen.”

Elizabeth G Dunn, ‘The Myth of Easy Cooking’, The Atlantic, Nov 2015

Last year, a piece appeared in the Atlantic called ‘The Myth of Easy Cooking‘. I recognised a lot of the emotions in the article, and the idea that ‘easy’ recipes are often anything but. It was thinking about how to make weeknight meals easier and yet more interesting that led me to try out ‘Hello Fresh’ a couple of weeks ago.

I have been curious about this model of cooking for a while. Some time back, I tried out the Riverford recipe boxes, which are based on a similar idea: deliver recipes, along with all the ingredients to cook them, in the exact sizes needed, so there is no wasted food. Hello Fresh have been conducting a very intensive marketing campaign, so that I can’t seem to open a magazine, a parcel, a newspaper or a browser tab without seeing a promotion from them. Finally, I succumbed and redeemed one of their vouchers to see what it was all about.

The three recipes I chose for this week (with their Classic box, you can choose three from five recipes – the others have no choice, but you can change boxes or pause a box) were Firecracker prawns with chinese leaf, butterflied chicken with leeks and feta, and a Jamie Oliver recipe for stir-fried steak with broccoli and noodles.

My experience with the recipes themselves was not bad. The cooking times given were generally accurate, and the results were mostly good, although not that interesting. It was useful to have things like chili bean paste premeasured and in a small portion, when normally that’s the sort of thing that ends up with yet another jar taking up space in the fridge.

However, far from making cooking easier, I feel like these sorts of meals are more effort than I normally make on a weeknight. They generally involved 25-30 minutes of continuous cooking. I think that if you bought these as a novice cook, and followed along, it might give you confidence that you could follow other recipes. But it also might give the impression that an ‘easy’ evening meal should involve 25 minutes of non-stop work. And I don’t think that’s fair.

Most of my evening meals require much less intensive effort than that. Perhaps it’s the same amount of preparation and cooking time, but with long periods of things being left unattended in the slow cooker or the oven.

I don’t think that cooking has to be this hard. As a way of trying out new ingredients and cuisines, without having to invest in lots of new bottles and jars, it seems like a good approach. But for someone who cooks fairly regularly, this just makes my dinner preparation more frantic, not less, and gives me lots of individually portioned things that I generally already have in the kitchen.

So if recipe boxes might not be the answer, what are some other strategies for weeknight meals?

Batch cooking at the weekends

Dinner tonight: meatballs, rice and spring greens. I've been thinking about what 'easy' weeknight cooking looks like. This fits the bill for me: meatballs made last night and finished in the oven this evening. A microwave pack of brown rice. Spring greens

There is no shortage of advice on this tactic, especially from American food blogs, where giant freezers seem to invite this sort of approach. Take a look at pinterest, and you will see lots of examples of recipes you can make in advance. More generally, this approach works well for any soups, stews and pasta sauces, especially those that you can dress up in different ways with different side dishes and accompaniments. I tend to find a degree of boredom sets in if I stash too much of the same thing away, making me reluctant to get it back out again. What does work well is to freeze curry, bolognese, meatballs and soup.

Weekly ingredients prep

Lunch prep

This is what Tracy at Shutterbean calls ‘meal prep’. Not quite preparing all the meals, but doing a lot of the chopping, cooking some grains or pulses, and boxing up snacks and salads for the week ahead. This gives a lot more flexibility than traditional meal planning, and boxing up snacks is a good move for kids. Some things that are easy to prepare in advance in this way: burrito bowls, big salads, soup and roasted vegetables.

Slow Cooker

White chili from the slow cooker ready for dinner - both baby's and ours.

The thing about slow cooker food is that it doesn’t often look pretty…

When I bought my slow cooker, I thought there was a risk it wouldn’t earn its place on the worktop. I am very happy to have been proved wrong here. It is invaluable for hands-off cooking, and the ability to have hot food ready as soon as I get in from picking up E at nursery is brilliant. Things that work best are large pieces of slow-cooking meat: pork shoulder, beef shin – and pulses. I’ve found it’s not necessary to brown things in advance in most cases. Depending on the amount of liquid you add, you can get some browning in the pot, and things like mince or bolognese don’t seem to suffer much from not having the meat browned, especially if you use pre-caramelised onions (which can also be prepared in the slow cooker!). I do sometimes chop onions, and get out ingredients the night before, to minimise the time needed in the morning. Even having a few cans and tins set out on the chopping board can remind me of what I need to do before leaving the house.

Tray bakes

You don’t have to do a lot of preparation in advance to cook a hands-off dinner. One easy strategy is to put everything onto a large baking tray and cook it all together in the oven. Start with the protein if you’re using meat – a couple of chicken breasts or thighs, maybe sausages. Then add vegetables, tossed with some oil and vinegar and seasoning. Add leafy vegetables towards the end, and fish or prawns will just take a short time. Some variations on this theme: broccoli and prawns; fish and sliced potatoes; chicken with potatoes, rocket and yoghurt sauce; sweet roasted courgettes with crispy chickpeas.

One pan pasta

Starting as I mean to go on with @rachelaliceroddy 's broccoli pasta. Lick-the-bowl-clean good.

By the same token, you can cook vegetables and pasta in the same water and drain it all together. This works spectacularly well with broccoli, but you can also use an absorption method of cooking to put all the pasta sauce ingredients into a pan with the pasta and just enough water to cook it, and heat the whole thing until the water is absorbed and the pasta cooked through. This requires more attention than the other methods, as you need to keep stirring as the water reduces, to stop it sticking. Martha Stewart’s One Pan Pasta is the most famous/pinned version. Food52 have a range of variations, as well as the story behind the Martha Stewart version.


Friday food links – 20 Feb 2015

Semla! Scandilicious recipe for Scandinavian cardamom buns, filled with vanilla whipped cream and Odense marzipan 😍

After a week of being cooked for, this week was a combination of new projects, and eating from the freezer. The week was anchored by a big braise of pork with tomatoes, and of beans on Sunday, which gave us pork and bean burritos, tomato sauce for pasta, and mashed beans for baby dinners. I ordered such a large piece of pork, that the other half is in the oven this evening for porchetta. Oh, and I made Semlor (see picture above), Scandinavian cardamom buns filled with vanilla whipped cream and marzipan, for Shrove Tuesday. I am completely converted – and they are even better with a thin layer of raspberry jam.


Without a recipe:

  • Pasta with tomato sauce and meatballs from the freezer
  • Burritos with braised beans, shredded pork, tomato salsa, and weirdly, stir-fried veg, which actually worked ok.
  • My mum’s pheasant casserole from the freezer


Genius recipes – recipes that changed the way you cook


Food52 had an article some time ago about genius recipes, which links to a column they run and a forthcoming book. But it made me think, what are the recipes that I would consider genius – that once made, changed my perspective on that dish forever.

Marcella Hazan’s butter and tomato sauce came up a lot in that piece, and I’d endorse that too. I think I first came across it on Amateur Gourmet, but honestly, there came a point where it seemed to appear on every other blog, so I had to try it. The main revelation is knowing that you can make delicious good-enough-to-eat-with-a-spoon tomato sauce without sauteing or frying anything, and using tinned tomatoes.

I now roast broccoli and cauliflower fairly regularly in preference to boiling or steaming, but I think it was Heidi’s recipe for roasted cauliflower popcorn that first turned me on to this idea. Amateur Gourmet’s the best broccoli of your life was another endorsement for this approach. Sometimes I do something much simpler, and just coat the florets in a little oil before roasting, but I often add a sprinkling of vinegar too, and some breadcrumbs if I have them around. I think it was Jamie Oliver that first prompted me to add vinegar or citrus whenever roasting root vegetables, and now I do it routinely.

Jenny Rosenstrach from Dinner: A Love Story is evangelical about her pork shoulder ragu – and with good reason. It was her solution to entertaining again after having kids. It requires very little preparation time and is endlessly rewarding. The ‘aha’ moment for me was realising that a lump of meat can be braised to the point of falling apart, and then shredded into its cooking liquid there and then. Yes, I had braised meat before, but either in cubes (which take ages to brown before you can get going) or in a large piece that was then sliced or shredded to serve as is, or the liquid needed to be chilled/skimmed/reduced before using. This one-pot dish just needs you to brown the pork on a few sides before adding onions, tomatoes, wine and herbs and sending the whole thing to the oven for four hours. The amount of meat is manageable for four people, or for two with leftovers through the week (many recipes for pork shoulder ask for the whole joint and feed 10-12).

Another obvious choice is Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread (I usually work from Clotilde’s metric translation). It has been posted and reposted (including here), but that recipe introduced a number of really useful home bread baking principles, which can be incorporated into other bread recipes and methods. The first was slow rising, by using a very small amount of yeast. A lot of bread recipes are geared to being done as fast as possible, and so use 10 or more grams of dried yeast to 500g flour. This recipe has a tiny 1/4 tsp of yeast and still gets a good rise. It is also a wet dough, but that doesn’t matter as you don’t knead it, so avoid the sticky mess that can result. And finally, it is baked in a preheated casserole or cast iron pot with a lid. This not only prevents the very wet dough from spreading out into a pancake in the oven, it also contains the steam created at the start of the cooking, giving a better crust.

Do you have your own genius recipes?

Friday (non)-food links – 26 Dec 2014

Christmas tree

In place of the usual list of weekly reading (and because I haven’t read much this week), here are a few links to articles I’ve really enjoyed this year. Some are food-related and some are not. I hope you had a good Christmas, and enjoy the New Year.