Sunday, 29 July 2012

Guineafowl and nectarine tagine

One thing I love about cooking is that it's a constant learning curve. I've often found myself feeling nostalgic for my school days recently; being a tutor makes me envious of all these kids who moan about school and homework and don't realise quite how lucky they are. School gives you a purpose, a legitimate way to spend your day constructively, without having to actively put that much effort in. What you're learning that day is all decided for you; how to learn it is decided for you; the timeframe is decided for you. How I miss having my constructive activities scheduled in such a way. It's so much harder to fill your day constructively and positively when you have to actively think up activities to ensure this purpose is fulfilled. Even though I'm going back to university in October for my PhD, it's not quite as easy as just turning up to school, being entirely a question of self-motivation. Luckily my PhD basically involves reading kids' books about knights and damsels and witches, and occasionally incest, so it's all good.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Gluten-free Challenge: Day Five

Let's talk a bit about risotto. Risotto is perhaps, I have decided, the ultimate gluten-free dish. This is because it's 100% naturally gluten-free. No need to make any changes or substitute any ingredients with inferior variations. No need to skimp on delicious creamy, starchy goodness. Take your basic mixture of olive oil, butter, risotto rice, onion and stock, and add to it whatever meat, fish, cheese or vegetables you like. The only thing you have to watch is your stock cubes, some of which may contain gluten in the form of various starches. I know that Marigold bouillon powder, though, which many chefs regard as the superior stock brand, is gluten-free.

If you know a gluten-free eater, make this for them. Don't let them suffer a diet of salads. Slap a big plate of creamy, gooey, chewy rice in front of them, grate over a mountain of cheese and a good grind of black pepper, maybe a handful of fresh herbs, and watch a glazed look of delight pass over their face. At least, that is always my response to a good risotto.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Gluten-free Challenge: Day Four

In a bid to find a gluten-free alternative to all my favourite grainy lunchtime carbohydrates (couscous, bulgur wheat, pearl barley), I have fallen in love with buckwheat.

Buckwheat, although it might look, cook and taste like your ordinary gluten-filled grain (and, of course, it has 'wheat' in its title) is actually a seed. In fact, it is related to rhubarb. It's not a grain and therefore is totally gluten free. You can buy it as flour, which is perhaps more commonly known - it's what the French use to make those gorgeous dark, nutty crêpes that they fill with savoury stuffings. This is ideal for a spot of gluten-free baking, although it has quite a strong flavour so is usually best 'diluted' with another more neutral gluten-free flour.

You can also buy it as groats, however, which is where it really comes into its own. 

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Gluten-free Challenge: Day Three

Today has been the perfect day for avoiding gluten. After the dismal monsoons of the last couple of months, Cambridge has suddenly been blessed with sunshine. Not just any sunshine; this sunshine has returned with a vengeance, angry at being barred by miserable and threatening clouds for weeks on end  and ready to show the citizens of this humble town what it's made of. With the result that the weather is swelteringly hot, and therefore it's completely impossible to entertain the notion of eating very much at all. It's definitely not a day to be craving a huge, freshly baked loaf of gluten-packed bread.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Gluten-free Challenge: Day Two

One thing especially impressed itself upon my mind during this, my second day of eating gluten-free (for day one and the reason behind this gluten-free challenge, click here). That is: how incredibly hard it is to find food on the go that doesn't contain gluten. It seems that the pesky thing lurks everywhere, in the most unexpected and surprising places. Nor is its presence particularly well-labelled. To be on a truly gluten-free diet is exhausting, especially when it comes to grabbing a 'quick' lunch from a supermarket; it requires the constant checking of labels and analysing of ingredients, plus the inevitable and tragic disappointment of finding that basically everything you want to eat is cruelly denied you.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Going gluten-free for five days: Day One

I was recently invited to participate in the 'Making Sense of Sensitivity' Blogger Challenge, in order to help raise awareness of the newly recognised condition of gluten sensitivity. Unlike coeliac disease, there is no formal test for diagnosing gluten sensitivity, yet it is six times more prevalent than coeliac disease, affecting up to 6% of the population and causing unpleasant physical symptoms which are related to a heightened sensitivity to gluten in food. (For more information on the condition, click here).

As part of the challenge, I will be living gluten-free for five days, blogging about my experience and recommending delicious things to eat while on a gluten-free diet, while highlighting the potential pitfalls of cutting out such a prevalent food group.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Blueberry and elderflower upside-down cake

[Just a quick - and excited! - note to say that I've been nominated for Best Food Blog in the Cosmopolitan Blog Awards 2012! If you like this blog, I would be so grateful if you could click here to vote for me - it'll take only a second. Thanks so much!]

I'm pretty sure that there has never been an occasion over the last three years when I haven't had at least one punnet of blueberries either in my fridge or freezer. I would hoard them obsessively during my time at Oxford, where they could regularly be found at the Wednesday market priced at a mere pound. Given that I've seen punnets fetching up to £4.49 in Marks & Spencer, this was a pretty bargainous find. (Luckily I have a mother who insists on blueberries with her morning muesli, so we now have a constant supply in the fridge, which I don't have to pay for - win). I'd stash them away for a later date, a date which actually rarely happened to be much later, because the uses for blueberries in my kitchen are numerous. 

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Picota cherry, smoked chicken and goat's cheese salad

I generally consider myself a sweet rather than savoury kind of girl. By that I refer, of course, to my tastes in food, rather than implying that if you came over and licked my arm it would taste sugary. I enjoy baking and the gentle crafting of desserts more than I do the assembly of savoury dishes, and I have a completely unlimited appetite when it comes to the final course of a meal. Especially if it involves crumble and ice cream. Seriously. I have been known to eat half a cheesecake in a single sitting.

Yet when my attention is drawn to a specific fruit - something on sale in the supermarket, maybe, or something that's just come into season and is appearing in ripe, plentiful boxes at the market - I seem to instinctively bypass the natural reaction of contemplating desserts to showcase it, and instead jump straight to thinking up savoury recipes.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Gooseberry and elderflower cheesecakes

I find it strange that the gooseberry has become a metaphorical signifier for social awkwardness. When one remarks that one "feels like a gooseberry", for example when forming the third person in an uncomfortable triangle whose other two members are romantically involved, it would make sense to identify oneself with a fruit that is as culinarily awkward as one feels socially awkward at that moment in time.

And yet the gooseberry is by no means an awkward and incompatible ingredient. In fact, it couples beautifully and harmoniously with many other things; so much so that I simply cannot understand why it has become sadly underrated and used more as a metaphor for uncomfortable isolation than as the delicious kitchen treat it really is.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Grilled spiced sardines with fennel and grapefruit salad

Britain. You need to eat more sardines.

In this current age of austerity, economic climate, blah blah blah, when food prices are continually rising, supermarkets are trying to pull the wool over our eyes by proffering multibuy offers that actually involve spending more, and there is barely a single source of protein available that doesn't carry a heavy cost both literally and in terms of animal welfare, I honestly believe the solution lies in the humble sardine.

I went to the fish counter the other day and asked for five sardines. The woman behind the counter scooped up their plump, shimmering bodies and dropped them on the scales to weigh them. I could barely believe my ears when she told me that those five beautiful specimens, plump, meaty and very decently sized, were going to cost me a grand total of £1.60.