Birthday 2015

by Janine  

Hello everyone! I had a birthday recently. Let me tell you about it.

I am now officially into adult numbers that no-one can mistake for irresponsible youth! I rather like that. I was rubbish at being a youth anyway.

My birthday was on the down-low. I went to see a small comedy show and also went to the Globe to watch Richard II. Now, I had thought that I had enjoyed the BBC Hollow Crown version of Richard II because it was really well done. It was, but I think perhaps that I just really like the play as well. There's something very compelling about Richard's character. He's a spoilt brat and an arse, but you can't help but feel sorry for him as his whole worldview crumbles around him. Charles Edwards played Richard in this version and I think he did it very well. Also, they dropped glitter from the roof! How can you not love a play that drops glitter from the roof?

In other news, let me dump some photos of my lovely gifts on you. Thank you everyone for your well-wishes!

A whole bookcase full of cards. (I had a count-up: only four cat cards this year; I need to do better.)

James and Eppa sent me a very pretty card. It looks home-made! Proper classy.

Mariya sent me a very expensive looking card. With a picture of John Watson on it! Bwahaha.

Linda and Tom also sent an expensive card. With a cat on it! No flap though. Unlike Linda, this card is not good at standing.

Nick thought he'd bought me a card with cats on it, but then realised...


It's owls.

Steve and Heather had no such confusion. They sent me a card with a cat on it. With Nick's face. (It's a Christmas card.) I have no words.

As well as cards, I got some lovely gifts. Feast your eyeballs:

Kitchen things! Including minions tic tacs (so cute) and some shifty-looking serviettes from Mariya. She also sent me the Japanese candy kit. This one was complex. It involved the use of a microwave! Thank God YouTube could tell me what to do with it. I made it today. It's a strawberry flavoured pancake in the shape of a panda! Tasty and cute.

Clothes and toiletries. (Not pictured: a nice bottle of perfume from my parents.) I got some well-posh Lavender smelling hand-soap and moisturiser from James and Eppa (from Liberty!) There's a Korean face-mask and some hand-cream from Mariya. And a plain long-sleeved shirt from my parents, which blends in rather well with my duvet cover.

Then there are the things that didn't fit into any of the other categories. Two lovely purses! The cool camera purse is from Mariya, who also got me the hamburger-shaped notebook (so I can feel hungry whenever I make notes). Also featured is a hair-brush cleaner; a blue-tooth speaker, so I can listen to music in the kitchen while I'm cooking; and a horror film staring Ross Noble??? Geordie comedian Ross Noble is in a slasher flick? I don't understand! My Dad choose this one, and he said, "I have no idea what this is, but I know you like Ross Noble so here you go". Has anyone heard of this film before? I didn't even know Ross Noble did acting! But his comedy is great, so this could be too?

The other film is one I requested specifically. I have been dying to watch What We Do in the Shadows ever since I saw the trailer. Vampires with dodgy accents living in a shared house in Wellington. I watched it a couple of nights ago. It's very very funny. I loved it.

This last photo doesn't contain birthday presents. The DVDs I bought myself, and the books all come from some book tokens I was given as gifts from the lovely people at my last job. I very particularly did not ask for any books for my birthday this year, because I already knew I had this motherload on the way!

So, the books kinda tie-in with the DVDs. Some books are Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell related, because apparently I can't leave it alone. A couple came from Emma's Strange and Norrell related recommendations. Jane Eyre is in there because I needed more 19th Century-based fiction; and then I stepped back a few decades and went for Evelina as well (I'd just listened to a podcast about Fanny Burney and she sounded like an interesting lady).

I got The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy because I've never read it and that feels like a wrong position to be in. And I got Life in the Middle Ages because I like to read light history books for fun (it's ok; I'm an adult now, I'm allowed to).

And the final book ties in with the Wolf Hall DVD. Oh look, is that a biography of Thomas Cromwell? Yes. Yes it is. I've just finished reading Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. I really enjoyed them, and I couldn't bear to part with the world just yet, hence the biography, and the DVD. It was the TV series that actually started me on the books. It's not as long and as full as the books (it can't be) but it's still very enjoyable. Plus, it has a beautifully haunting soundtrack. I won't say that the show or the books are perfect (for example, I'm not sure how I feel about this choice of characterisation for Anne Boleyn) but they are really enjoyable nonetheless. I'd recommend them if you haven't checked them out! On a related note, during a conversation on a birthday outing with Susan, we discovered that we both have the hots for Mark Rylance as Cromwell. Rylance plays Cromwell as far more quiet than he's meant to be in the books (in my opinion), but he makes it work in a very compelling and oddly sexy way; even when he threatens to gouge out someone's eyes with his thumbs! (Especially when he threatens to gouge out someone's eyes with his thumbs!) It was something of a revelation to find out that Susan felt the same way about that scene; oh thank God it's not just me.

As for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, you already have my thoughts on the series. It's part great and part not great. But I'm too much of a fan of the book not to own the DVD. Also, I needed to have more Childermass in my life. Even if it comes with the extra baggage, I am not passing up the chance to own Childermass on DVD.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

by Janine  

Hi all! Long time no see! IRL has been very busy with me recently, leaving me with less free time than I used to have. On top of that, I've been busy visiting friends and family around the country over the past few weeks. And it turns out that any free time I did have to spare was spent on the recent BBC adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

It's been airing here for the past seven weeks and has just ended (it's still airing in the US for a few more weeks though). And I want to give you my thoughts about it.

Before we get onto it, you need to know this: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is one of the best fantasy stories I've ever read. It's one of the best pieces of fiction I've ever read. It is ever so well-written and clever. I AM A MASSIVE FAN. (Honestly, read it if you haven't done; it's highly enjoyable.)

So, as a fan, I was very excited to see a TV adaptation. How did I think it fared? Click read more to find out (warning: I will be discussing spoilers for the end of the book and the end of the TV show, so proceed with caution).

Full story »

Food post

by Janine  

I've been cooking a lot recently, with plenty of ups and downs. It's been a real roller coaster ride. One of my colleagues reckons that watching too much Masterchef has left me trying to run before I can walk. I think she's right. But it looks so easy on TV!

Chicken Kiev
I spent the whole cooking process thinking this was going to be a disaster. I forgot to buy the cocktail sticks that the recipe recommends holding the chicken closed with, so I had no way to stop the butter from coming out (I tried rolling the chicken twice in the flour/egg/breadcrumbs mixture, but that didn't work). As a result the butter oozed out while I was frying the chicken. Also, the recipe didn't recommend how long to cook the chicken for. I was terrified it wouldn't be cooked enough, so I probably cooked it for longer than it needed, hence the burnt parts on the outside (the extra butter that had filled the pan didn't help with that either). I was a sad person as I sat down to eat this, but I brightened instantly as soon as I cut into it. I don't know if there was some butter still inside the chicken, or if it had all soaked into the breadcrumbs or what, but butter oozed out when I cut into the chicken , just like it was supposed to! Plus, it tasted exactly like a shop-bought chicken Kiev. Identical. The recipe didn't say how much garlic to use, so I used two cloves, and it seemed to work. This was really tasty and a big, surprise success.

Pork loin with Parma ham and oregano (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
Things I didn't use in this recipe: vermouth, fresh oregano (I couldn't find any fresh oregano, so I used dried instead). Things I learnt when cooking this recipe: when using string to tie up a joint for the oven, cut the ends of the string really short or tuck them underneath the joint, otherwise they'll get all black and singed and you'll worry that you're going to set the oven on fire. I felt really accomplished using a knife to open up a loin of pork, then stuffing, rolling and tying it. I felt less accomplished when I ate it and realised that it was far too dry and overcooked because I hadn't taken into account the fact that my loin of pork was 1/3 smaller than that called for in the recipe. Whoops. Texture aside though, this was really, proper tasty. Big, yummy flavours throughout.

Prosciutto with roasted cherry tomatoes
This recipe is easy and quick. It's meant to be a breakfast, but I ate it for dinner like a rebel. I used up the leftover Parma ham from the previous recipe in this. Why oh why have I never thought of grilling prosciutto before? It goes really crispy and tasty, and my kitchen smelled wonderfully of bacon afterwards.

Venetian stew (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
I wasn't sure about this recipe before I made it. For one, it contained many ingredients I had never eaten before: polenta, borlotti beans, chicory (ok, so the recipe actually called for radicchio, which I had also never eaten before, but I couldn't find any radicchio and the internet suggested chicory as a substitute). For two, it contained raisins, which I had eaten many times before, but had never enjoyed in savoury dishes. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised when this turned out to be lovely! (It tastes far better than it looks.) The bitterness of the chicory was countered nicely by the sweetness of the raisins, the pancetta was salty and tasty, the polenta was creamy, and the cumin raised everything to another level. Gorgeous.

Rich and creamy pudding (recipe from "I ♥ Macarons" by Hisako Ogita)
This is one of the recipes in the book that is suggested as a way of using up the egg yolks left over from a macaron-making session. I had, in fact, made macarons just before making this, but those macarons were so disastrous that they went straight in the bin (more on that story later). I didn't have pudding moulds as small as those that the recipe called for, so I upped the cooking time to compensate. Unfortunately, I think I upped the cooking time a little too far because my pudding didn't have much wobble to it. It was still smooth and creamy though. I left the liqueur out of this recipe, so what I was left with was essentially a thick, set, vanilla custard. And very nice it was too.

Cauliflower pizza
Other than the macaron disaster just mentioned, everything else I had made recently had been successfully tasty. Confident and ready for another success, I decided to try this fashionable carb-free pizza. It was, without a doubt, one of the most disgusting things I have ever made! I wasn't able to eat all three slices in this photo. I could barely even manage two slices! You don't know how sad I felt when I realised I had made two whole pizzas and would have to eat them up only one slice at a time (I'm still eating it out of the freezer now, and I'm still sad). Why did it go so wrong? I've cycled through blaming the recipe, my cooking skills and my genetics. Seriously. I think I might have that gene that means cauliflower tastes overly bitter too me. I also don't like the taste of burnt cheese, which is what was meant to hide the taste of the cauliflower in this recipe. The reason I blame the recipe is because it contains 1 tsp cayenne pepper, which is far too much; it overpowers everything. The reason I blame my cooking skills is because I may have burnt the cauliflower when "drying" it in a pan, which doesn't help with the whole bitterness thing. The only thing that seemed to go well was the topping, which would have tasted nice on its own. But the problem with the topping is that it is too wet, so the cauliflower base (which was actually holding together quite well), turned into soggy cauliflower mush when cooked with the topping. All in all, this was an absolute disaster. I'm on the verge of having nightmares. As a bonus, my whole flat reeked of cauliflower for days. Bloody hell.

Vanilla macarons with framboise (raspberry) butter cream (recipe from "I ♥ Macarons" by Hisako Ogita)
I mentioned that I'd had a macaron disaster, right? It had been one whole year since the last time I'd made macarons, and I'd forgotten how to do it. One thing I'd forgotten was how fickle they are when it comes to humidity. Doing two loads of laundry and cleaning down the whole kitchen that day did not help. Plus, I tried making them with Italian meringue, which may have had something to do with it too. Basically, my macarons didn't dry. After two hours, I went at them with a hair dryer, but they still cracked when I put them in the oven. Cracked and ugly macarons I could have dealt with. My problem was that the macarons had come out far larger than I had expected (the Italian meringue really made them spread out) and I didn't cook them for long enough (note: I've had issues with the macaron-baking instructions in this recipe book before, so I basically ignored the instructions and have been trying to find my way by trail and error; with emphasis on the error). The macarons were basically raw on the inside. Raw macarons that had sat on the side for so many hours, plus a hair-drying session, seemed like they could be bacteria central, so they went straight in the bin before I could poison anyone. The next weekend I was ready to jump back on that bicycle, and the macarons in the photo are the result. I went back to trusty French meringue, severely limited my water usage and turned the central heating up high. Some of the macarons still cracked, but for a really rainy day, I think it was a success. I was wary of making the macarons too big again, so this time they came out shockingly tiny. Also, some of them were slightly underbaked, but not by much. You will see that they all have points on top from the piping; I think my batter was too thick, so I'll have to try to remedy that. But, everything aside, they were really tasty! Sweet and soft, and the raspberry butter cream was the star of the show. I normally find butter cream too rich, but I didn't find that with this butter cream at all. The recipe asked for raspberry purée. I wasn't entirely sure I could buy raspberry purée so I found a recipe online that basically said to mash fresh raspberries through a sieve and add a bit of sugar; I did just that and it was lovely. So, in conclusion: the second batch weren't the prettiest macarons out there, but the texture was fine and the taste was very nice indeed.

Food post

by Janine  

Hello! I'm back with another food post! This one is way overdue, but doesn't contain too many recipes because I took an extended break from cooking exciting things over January. Basically, my fridge died at Christmas, so I suffered through a tinned food ordeal for a month until my new fridge arrived (despite the name of this blog, tinned food is not my favourite thing in the world). I was so happy when I got a working fridge again, you have no idea!

Pasta risotto with peas and pancetta (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
This recipe used orzo, the rice-shaped pasta, to make a fake risotto. I'm not a fan of peas, so I was originally a bit hesitant, but I had no need to be. Do you see how glossy this was? It had a lot of butter and Parmesan in it so it was all oozy and rich. You make it just like a real risotto, only you don't have to stir the pasta nearly as much as you have to stir the rice. Tasty success! Well done, Nigella.

Pearl barley risotto with mushrooms (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
Flush with my recent fake risotto success, I was confident going into this one. Nigella actually makes a farro risotto here, but suggests you can use pearl barley instead if you can't find any farro (I couldn't find any farro). I cooked it for 15 minutes longer than Nigella suggested because the pearl barley took a while to soften up. The only other change I made was in leaving out the Marsala. Mistake? Maybe. Because good God this was awful! Do you see how it looks like a big pile of stodge in this photo? It tasted like a big pile of stodge too! (It was actually hard to dish this up because it kept sticking to the spoon D:) The taste was earthy and bland. I always find mushrooms a little bland, and I don't think the pearl barley helped. Where was the taste of the leaks, garlic, cheese and everything else I put into this? Who knows? Nigella said this made 4-6 servings. I originally tried to split it into four servings, but had to give up eating as I was halfway through the first bowl because I got too bored. You don't know how disappointed I was as I re-portioned this out, realising I'd have to eat it for another five nights. Christ.

Lamb cutlets with mint, chilli and golden potatoes (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
I was understandably more nervous going into this one ("once bitten, twice shy" and all that). For a start, I had no idea what a cutlet was; cue frantic YouTubing to find out. Also, I know that lamb is supposed to be best pink, but I am such a heathen when it comes to meat. I LIKE IT WELL-DONE I'M SO SORRY. Pre-performance nerves aside, this recipe was gorgeous! I cooked the lamb as per the instructions and it came out a perfect pink inside. I was still a little squeamish about that, but the more I eat it the more I'll get used to it. The taste was salty and minty and yummy (and not too hot from the chilli flakes at all). And those potatoes that you fry off in the fat from the lamb? Wow, man. Wow.

Thai salmon with coconut rice
Do you know what? I was worried that the chillies in this dish would be too strong. (I am a wimp who can't handle too much heat.) Turns out that it wasn't too hot for me at all. There was something else I should have been worried about instead though! This The first few mouthfuls were really nice. My problem, though, was the rice. Rice cooked with coconut milk is really sweet, creamy and rich. It would be lovely as a desert, but I'm really not good with overly-sweet or overly-rich foods in my savoury dishes. It made me feel a bit ill, all in all. I mean, when you're using mouthfuls of salmon to try to cleanse your palate and remove some of the richness, you know something's gone wrong. In small amounts, taste-wise, this dish was lovely. In dinner-sized amounts, it was too much for me.

Lamb steaks with anchovies and thyme (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
Once again, I was nervous going into this one. I am not the world's largest fan of anchovies, and the thought of pairing them with meat just seemed weird. Also, I decided to leave out the wine again. Was this a disaster waiting to happen? Cooking-wise, things weren't quite perfect. I don't know what I did wrong, but the steaks seemed more raw inside than nicely pink (maybe I should have let them come to room temperature before cooking?) Other than that, this was a major success! The anchovies didn't make the dish weird at all; together with the thyme they made a really salty, punchy sauce. It worked really well with the lamb. I can see why Nigella recommended to have bread with this one, so you can sop up all the tasty juices, but the dish worked pretty nicely with potatoes too. It was salty enough that I felt like I'd buttered the potatoes, even when I hadn't!

Butterflied leg of lamb with bay leaves and balsamic vinegar (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
With two tasty lamb recipes from Nigella under my belt, I felt pretty confidant that this was going to go well. I really do like lamb, after all. The result, though, was nothing special. In fact, the first time I ate it, it seemed overly salty (I didn't have that problem on reheating the lamb though, so who knows what was going on there). Once again, the lamb came out nicely pink (it was so cold that day, that getting the lamb to room temperature before cooking was difficult, but my joint was a little smaller than Nigella's suggestion, so it all seemed to work out ok; also, you can't see the pinkness in this photo, but that's because I was eating the end of the joint here). But there was just something that wasn't amazing about this dish. It could have been the fact that the lamb had the skin on, and I normally find skin to be overly-rich for me, but I just couldn't taste the lamb itself as much as I wanted to. I mean, this dish was fine, sure, but it wasn't as great as I was expecting. (Plus, I had to majorly clean the oven afterwards because all that olive oil on the lamb went everywhere.)

Beef and spinach burritos
This was my first ever attempt at making burritos. The taste of these was quite earthy with all the brown rice and spinach in there. On their own the burritos were ok, but nothing very exciting. But, man, that mixture of sweet chilli sauce with yoghurt is the best idea ever! Putting it on the burritos really made them sing. I bet it would make anything sing! In summary: ok dish; super great condiment.

Pork chops with fennel seeds and allspice (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
I've had such ups and downs with Nigella that I had no idea what to expect going into this one. I didn't add the Marsala that Nigella suggests, but I did add everything else. The mixture of the spices, with cloves in there too, sounded like it would be pretty old-school (like, you know, 17th Century old-school), and I know that pork chops aren't my favourite, because I prefer my pork in the cured variety. Intrigued, I gave it a go. AND I AM SO GLAD I DID. This dish is wonderful! You mix the spices with flour, which you use to cover the chops, and so when the chops are fried in the olive oil, the flour goes all crispy on the outside of them. When you bite into the crispy exterior, if you have a little fat underneath, the pork chop just melts in the mouth. Oh God oh God. And cooking it makes your kitchen smell wonderful (porky and spicey!) I was actually gnawing at the bones at the end of this one, because I wanted to eat up every little bit I could. Well done, Nigella. Well done.

Christmas post

by Janine  

Right, let's do this! After multiple delays, and a whole new layout, I am finally going to write up my Christmas. And this Christmas was particularly memorable, for reasons which will become apparent shortly.

First of all, I went to visit Steve and Heather in Bristol, along with James and Eppa and Linda and Tom and Nick. Plus babies! Bristol was baby central. Ok. Maybe two babies isn't quite 'baby central' but it was exciting to see two little folks getting to experience their first Christmas. Rene and Alex are so cute! I don't think either of them could grasp the full weight of their meeting for the first time, but the rest of us enjoyed it. Here's to the start of a beautiful friendship.

Steve and Heather were excellent hosts and fed us well, as always. The star of the show, for me, was the chocolate cake that Heather apparently pulled out of thin air. It was really nice! HOW DO YOU DO THAT WITHOUT A RECIPE HOW.

The next day, we went on a walk to your friendly neighbourhood crematorium. Here it is:

So happy! Look at it! "Feed me your bodies <3"

After that, I was back home for a day and then went off to visit my parents. I arrived at my parents house on Christmas Eve Eve (also known as 23 December). It was proper exciting, because the next day we went and picked up this little beauty:

Hello! Isn't she gorgeous? I apologise now for all the blurry photos, but she doesn't sit still for very long. Now, just in case you're wondering, my parents had been planning on getting a kitten since about September, and she just happened to be old enough to leave her Mum at Christmas. This isn't a last-minute, crazy Christmas gift; don't worry!

So. It wasn't all plain sailing. She came back on Christmas Eve and was so scared that she refused to come out of her travel basket. The next day (aka Christmas), we came downstairs to find that she'd left the basket overnight and was now nowhere to be found. After a couple of hours, we found her hiding on a bookshelf behind the sofa. All was well again. She came out and let us almost stroke her for a bit. She was playing! And then she dashed under a chair and we lost her again.

We looked high and low but couldn't find her. "She'll come out when she's ready," we said to ourselves, laughing nervously.

Two hours later, she hadn't appeared. Cue more searching but we still couldn't find her. "She'd miaow if she was stuck and unhappy," we said, sweating.

A few more hours passed. We'd started cooking the Christmas dinner and were reluctantly opening Christmas presents, with a present for the kitten sitting, forlornly unopened, beside us. And that's when we heard it: one, single, plaintive miaow, coming seemingly from nowhere and from everywhere all at once. "Come on!" we called. "Come out! Where are you?" We were treated to one more miaow. And then silence.

More searching ensued. And we still couldn't find her! Where the bloody hell had than miaow come from? Presents and Christmas dinner were put on hold. We searched some more. And about an hour or so later, with almost every piece of furniture moved, we found her. She'd gotten behind a bookcase that hadn't been moved in about five years and couldn't find her way back out again.

So, back into the travel basket went a poor shaking little kitten. I was left to feed and entertain her, while my parents quickly boarded up every little kitten-sized hole they could find.

We didn't have any other scary moments after that. (Some pooping on the furniture accidents, but those were more annoying than scary.) She never got lost again, but she still liked to hide a lot.

My parents have called her Heidi. It seemed appropriate. Here she is, hiding amongst my Dad's comic collection:

Thankfully she seemed to settle in and stop being scared of us pretty quickly. According to my parents, she doesn't hide at all now. Instead, she's really come to love company. Her two favourite things are sitting on laps (even if you're perching on the arm of a chair, or if you're sitting, bare-thighed, on the toilet) and playing with anything she can find.

Playing with the blanket in her basket.

Playing with the camera strap when I was trying to take a picture.

Her energy is almost unending. She'll be sitting happily on your lap one moment, then suddenly she'll decide it's time to play and she'll attack the first thing she sees, whether that's your hair or you toes or your elbows. (So many times I've been on the phone to my Mum, talking normally, when suddenly my Mum's all, "Ow! Owowow!" because Heidi has decided it's playtime.) At this point, the only thing you can do is to distract her with her many toys until she gets tired out. AND IT'S ADORABLE.

Here she is with my Mum:

She is so precious, OMG. And she grows so fast! She looks so small in these pictures already! Augh. I stayed with my parents for a week and a half over Christmas before I came back home. I've been back to visit once since. EVERY DAY WITHOUT HEIDI IS A DAY OF PAINNNNN. I MISS HER LITTLE FACE. I forced my Mum to get WhastApp, just so she could send me pictures.

And that is why this Christmas was not very Christmassy, but it was rather magical nonetheless. (Apart from the pooping on the sofa bit. Because, seriously, could you not have waited until my parents got back home, Heidi? I am cleaning up your poo and you're not even my cat, and you're so cute I can't even stay mad at you.)

In other Christmas news, let's do the present rundown.

First of all, I received a lovely selection of cards, including handmade cards from my parents and from Steve and Heather. Nick's card wasn't handmade, but it did have a knob drawn on it in biro, so that kinda counts. Steve and Heather's card had boobies drawn in it, also. MY FRIENDS GIVE THE LOVELIEST GIFTS.

Mariya's card didn't contain any drawings of naughty bits, but as the only cat card of the bunch, it won my heart. I need all the pictures of cats! Give me all of them!

Speaking of Mariya, she upped the kawaii game with her gifts. Look at that cute fish purse! And that oven glove has made mealtimes 10x more fabulous. The crazy Japanese candy kit is now sitting happily in my stomach. It was rather fun. If you're interested, you can see it in action in this handy YouTube video.

Presents from my parents included this nice kettle and toaster set. My old ones were old, and the toaster had started making worrying buzzing noises, so I'm really happy with these new guys.

Other kitchen presents include two (count them!) two frying pans, and a vegetable peeler that I have been pining after for years.

And the miscellaneous presents include Christmassy pants, a fold-away hairbrush, and a hair doughnut. I have tried using the hair doughnut once so far; it was moderately successful, but not successful enough for me to share the photos online! More practice needed.

I'm particularly interested to read "Boy", the first autobiographical book by Roald Dahl. I used to love Roald Dahl's stories as a child, and I imagine this one will include a lot of interesting information about the early-20th Century. It's at the top of my 'to read' pile.

And that's Christmas. Only a month and a half late. Not too bad. Now I'm off to go look at pictures of cats again. Laters.


by Janine  

Hi all. You know how I said I'd have new content coming soon-ish? THAT WAS A COMPLETE LIE APPARENTLY.

I'm so sorry, guys, but I've being trying (and failing) to pretend that I'm not super-duper busy at the moment. I take it all back. I am super-duper busy! It's real life stuff. Nothing concerning (don't worry); just time consuming. As soon as I get a free moment, I'm going to be on here writing some blogs like crazy, but as of now I don't know when that free moment will be.

*smooches to you all*

New layout!

by Janine  

Hello all!

You may have noticed that this blog has looked weird recently, or has just been inaccessible. Sorry about that. I have been having problems. Hopefully everything should be back to normal soon.

In the meantime, this seemed like a good opportunity to revamp the blog. If this new layout looks a little ugly (see: really tiny text), it's because this time I couldn't be bothered to alter the template layout too much. (It is a fraught process at the best of times.) But there should also be some useful new features about, like the search box, which should make this better for everyone.

Some changes you will notice:
- Comments will require my approval before they go live. (This is an attempt to reduce spam.)
- The profile, gallery and links pages are no more. Basically, all the profile and links info fitted quite nicely into the sidebar. And as for the gallery, I don't think any of us believe I draw much anymore; the lack of activity on that page was getting embarrassing.

If you're wondering about the header image, it's a photo from my lovely Suffolk holiday a couple of years ago.

Laters! Actual proper content should be coming soon-ish.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

by Janine  

Merry Christmas! I hope you've been having a nice festive time!

Yesterday I went to see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and I thought I'd share my thoughts here.

Non-spoilery verdict: it wasn't too bad! But that may just be because my expectations were so low, that the film didn't have to do much to surpass them. I mentioned how tired I was with the second film last year, right?

Spoilery thoughts below:

Full story »

Birthday fun

by Janine  

Ok. So getting back on the blogging band-wagon has been slower than I thought. Sorry, guys! It turns out that when you put your social life and everything else on hold for several months, it takes a long time to catch up.

So, I've been running around meeting people and buying Christmas presents and all those sorts of things. Oh, and I found out that my extracurricular work stuff (which I devoted half of this year and half of last year to) has been successful! I now have an extra qualification! Yay!

Right. Ok. First up in the backlog of posts is the write-up of my birthday. My birthday was in the summer, so this is embarrassingly late. Oh dear. Better late than never, though, right? Right? :|

I turned 30 this year. That's a thing that happened. From what I've experienced, being 30 is pretty cool. I'd recommend it.

Birthday photo dump: commence

James and Eppa were nice enough to host a birthday BBQ for me. Steve, Heather, Nick and Deborah came along. It was also the summer, remember, so it was boiling. We ate lots of food and it was good.

Sadly, Linda and Tom couldn't make it because Linda was busy having a baby. Honestly, guys. You could have made a bit more of an effort!

When it got dark (which was late, because it was summer DO YOU REMEMBER SUMMER) we moved the party inside, and I made the most of my bunting.

What I hadn't realised was that my friends had made me a cake. And when they brought it over I...

Wait... Is that...?

Yes. Yes it is. Here's a better view:

It is a Cumbercake. OMG. I laughed so hard I nearly broke something. Well done to Eppa for making the cake (and tasty it was too) and to Nick (I think) for buying the rice paper decorations. I even got given the left-over decorations! I keep meaning to make cupcakes out of them and take them to work just to see what people will say.

Guys, I still can't get over this cake.

The next day we met up with some more of my friends for party times. And the good thing about having a birthday party is that you get to force everyone to do what you want to do. For me, this meant dragging everyone off to booth karaoke :D

Whether they enjoyed it or not, I don't know. But I had a great time! Singing The Fox by Ylvis was the best part, because most people hadn't heard the song before, and seeing their reactions to the lyrics was wonderful. Other highlights included a great "My heart will go on" from Julie, and a brave attempt at rapping from Nick.

It was all followed by dinner, drinks and some enjoyable hanging around. I HAD SO MUCH FUN, GUYS. THANK YOU.

I met my parents too, a few days later, and we went on a really nice walk that seemed to take in quite a few graveyards. UNINTENTIONAL but they provided some much-needed shade from the sun. DO YOU REMEMBER SUMMER I THINK I DO BUT I'M NOT SURE.

Time to spam you with pictures of cards and presents:

Lovely cards from lovely people. Including a cool, pastel-haired lion from Mariya.

Linda and Tom's card had cats in historical clothing on it. ALL MY FAVOURITE THINGS.

James and Eppa's card had an old-school map of London on it. I love old maps so hard, you don't even know. It was really difficult to walk past this card without stopping each time to pick it up and stare at it.

James and Eppa also made this voucher to take me to London's new cat café OMG. Although I've not actually gotten around to going to the cat café yet because I've been too busy abusing James and Eppa's hospitality by going to their own house instead and eating their own food and playing with their own cats. It's like a cat café but I get better food plus I get all the cats to myself :D (Steve Wiseman and Dale are the best. I need to show you pictures at some point. Steve Wiseman is a pretty cat but is super stressed if she's not on her meds, while Dale is the soppiest, sweetest cat ever but will not be winning any beauty contests any time soon.)

Cooking and kitchen implements to fuel my cooking spree. Yes, those are cat napkins.

Books books books and a DVD. I have told you about the Grand Budapest Hotel, right? It's a really great film. And I bulldozed through Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. I should write a post about that book at some point. I am such an introvert; I really am. Not that that's news to me or to you: HI IT'S A SATURDAY EVENING AND I'M BUSY WRITING A BLOG POST.

But, you're asking, what's that Benedict Cumberbatch book there?

It's a colouring book! It's a Benedict Cumberbatch-themed colouring book! That's even more ridiculous than the cake decorations! I think this one was from Nick? He knows where to source the good stuff.

Cute stationery from Mariya and from Claire.

Many moustaches.

Sweets :D mostly from Mariya. Sadly, all those pictured here are no longer with us today. Apart from the mints, although they don't have long to go.

And other stuff, including a huge box of Lush goodies from Deborah, which I am still using. Bathtimes have been fun round these parts.

Finally. Did you say hand-made artwork from Steve and Heather, made by Steve on his new laser cutter? Did you? I think you did! It is so cool! I mentioned that I love looking at maps, right? Here it is, sitting in pride of place on my wall. (Everyone is jealous of me now, by the way.)

And that's it for the birthday rundown! It's no longer summer but I am still 30. That's just how I roll. Guys, thanks so much to everyone who sent me birthday wishes. Smooches to you all.

Food post

by Janine  

Hi! I'm back! Sorry for the long absence! I mentioned in the last post that I was doing extracurricular work stuff. It took longer than I originally thought it would, but not blogging regularly really freed up my time to focus on what I needed to. It's all done now though so I'm back again! And I have got so much to share with you, oh God. My blogging may still be a little slow while I try to catch up on my social life as well, but I'm going to try to get back on the blogging band wagon \o/

First of all, I haven't been trying out that many new recipes, and yet it's been so long that I've accumulated loads of food photos even at that slow pace. Let's get down to it!

Chargrilled chilli chicken pasta salad
This dish was easy, tasty and refreshing for the warm weather. An overall success! I substituted fusilli pasta for the riccioli, which I couldn't find, but I don't think it affected the dish much at all. The chilli wasn't too hot (I always worry about it in salads) and the fennel (which I'd never eaten before) was really tasty. Also, anything containing lime and coriander will never go wrong in my eyes.

Quick Calabrian lasagne (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
I'm not sure it's possible to ever take a photo of lasagne that looks good, but let's ignore that. Now, first things first, I love lasagne. It is best. And so, sadly, this lasagne was a massive let-down. It was not best. Problem 1: I have a massive and weird issue with eggs and tomatoes. I don't like eating them together, which meant that the boiled eggs in this lasagne just felt wrong. Problem 2: This is probably my fault for leaving out the red wine, but the taste was oddly lacking; all I was getting mostly was tomatoes. Problem 3: The best part of a lasagne is the oozing, creamy cheese sauce. This one only had a few mozzarella chunks, which didn't ooze anywhere near enough. In other words, this lasagne was a lot of work for little reward.

Spaghetti with lemon and garlic breadcrumbs (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
For this one Nigella recommended spaghettini, but seeing as I couldn't find it, I used regular spaghetti instead. If you're wondering what this dish is, a handy description would be: double carbs flavoured with parsley, lemon and salt. I nearly had a heart-attack when I saw how much salt went into this, but it didn't taste overly salty (it felt like a close-run thing though). It tasted nice! But it was rather filling, because Nigella decided that pasta wasn't enough without a helping of bread on top. Weird. But not bad weird.

Tortelloni minestrone (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
Well, I have to say, I've never made soup using filled pasta before. The novelty made this rather exciting to make, and I love the green colour of the soup base; it looked super healthy. The only problem is that I found the taste rather lacking. I don't know what it was, but maybe some more cheese or something meaty would have helped.

Mini pork and mango skewers
I don't normally like fruit in my savoury dishes, but this is an exception. It was bloody marvellous. So marvellous, in fact, that I made it for my friends at a barbecue the next week. The star is the korma spice mix; it is so yummy. Mayonnaise with a bit of the korma spice mix is a great dip that would work on a lot of occasions and went really nicely with the pork and the mango. Downsides weren't many but here goes: 1) Portion size was small; these are mini skewers. I would have liked some more pork to be honest. 2) The mango chutney and sweet chilli dip was not doing it for me, but I think that's because I bought a horrible brand of mango chutney. And 3) The pork was a little dry, which is maybe because I used metal skewers as opposed to wooden skewers. But those were minor downsides. This dish is super tasty.

Spelt spaghetti with olives and anchovies (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
Once again, I forced myself to eat anchovies in the hope that they'd grow on me. Nigella says to use five anchovy fillets per person but I only used three. The reason? The anchovy fillets in my tin were so large that there were only six in the tin in total. And they were really bony and prickly because they were so large. But, into the food processor they went (as per Nigella's instructions), with me hoping that the bones would break down with a whizz round. They didn't all break down. Thankfully, when I came to eat the dish (very carefully) I found that the bones were perfectly edible. I used curly parsley leaves (because that's all I could find) and they're quite hard too. It meant that the texture of the dish was rather knobbly (and rather terrifying if you think everything knobbly is going to be a massive fish bone. I did get something stuck in my gums for about 24 hours but I honestly don't know if it was a bone or a stubbly bit of parsley.) Taste-wise, though, this dish wasn't too anchovy-y. In fact, with the saltiness, the lemon and the parsley, it tasted pretty similar to the Spaghetti with lemon and garlic breadcrumbs, up there.

Pasta with mackerel and pine nuts (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
This dish was meant to contain Marsala, which I left out. That's by the by. I like smoked mackerel and I like dill and this dish was smelling really good while it cooked. Unfortunately, when I came to eat it, it turns out that an initial worry about the sultanas was well-founded. I might be going against the rest of the world in this, but sultanas in a savoury dish are just wrong. My lovely mackerel pasta was ruined every other mouthful by sudden over-sweetness. Ugh ugh. No. (The sudden salty tang of the capers and oiliness of the pine nuts didn't help either.) Without the sultanas, capers and pine nuts I bet this would be a really tasty plate of pasta. With them, it's just noooooo.

Coriander chicken with minted yogurt
I am starting to realise that I bloody love everything that contains lime. Guys, I think I might just really love lime. Especially if it comes with coriander. The coriander and lime chicken was really tasty (far more so than any picture suggests) and was gorgeous when paired with the minted yoghurt. One minor problem with this dish was texture. I don't have a pestle and mortar so I had to crush the toasted coriander seeds in the bottom of a saucepan using the end of a rolling pin. I don't think I crushed them enough, because they were kinda unpleasantly hard on the chicken. But not hard enough to ruin how much I enjoyed eating this thing. The other problem was that portion size was kinda small. More potatoes and veg please!

Spaghetti with tuna, lemon and rocket (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
I made this yesterday. It's tasty and quick! I can easily see why Nigella touts it as a store cupboard staple. Again, though, we have a spaghetti dish with the overwhelming flavours of salt and lemon. Nigella, I'm beginning to sense a theme with you.

Food post

by Janine  

I'm going to start this post with a heads up: I might not be around much for the next few months. I'm going to be doing some extracurricular work stuff, which is going to take up a lot of my time, so don't be surprised if things around here get a little slow (slower than normal, that is). At the moment I don't know how long it'll take, but I should be back to normal come autumn at the latest.

For now though, it's food post time! Because I have so many food photos that it's getting ridiculous.

Pasta with lamb ragù (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
This recipe was meant to be made with mafaldine or pappardelle pasta. I couldn't find either so I made do with the fusilli I had in my cupboard. But the shape of the pasta doesn't really matter because this recipe is gorgeous! It's the first recipe from this Nigella cookbook that I've really enjoyed. Lamb is lovely anyway, as is lamb and mint, and when you add in the sweet tomato sauce. Oh man. I could happily eat loads of this. Note to self: make it again sometime.

Blueberry & vanilla macarons (recipe from Mother's Little Book of Home-Baked Treats)
Once again I have discovered that macarons are not for the faint-hearted. At so many points did I think 'oh wow, this recipe needs a skill-set that I just don't possess'. But the only way to learn is to practice! The recipe called for purple sugar sprinkles. I could only find blue (I wanted gluten-free sprinkles so a colleague of mine could eat them). The colour of the sprinkles was the least of my worries, though.
1. Keep an eye on your macarons in the oven. The recipe says bake for 10 minutes at 170°C but I found that my macarons were turning from purple to brown in about 8 minutes. Oops. Macarons really aren't meant to be brown, and with the purple food-colouring added in, you get the strange pink colour that you can see in this photo.
2. The recipe calls on you to make your own blueberry jam. Mine wasn't anyway near thick enough.
3. The vanilla cream didn't go well. I over-whipped mine and then didn't pipe enough of it onto the macaron shells, which meant that none of the shells stayed sandwiched together. Also, I had to prepare these the night before, because I wouldn't have had time in the morning, which meant that my cream had kind of dried out by the time I took them into work. They didn't look the most appetising.
But! All problems aside, these tasted really nice! The sharpness of the fresh blueberries works great against the sweetness of the macarons. Oh, and unlike the last time I made macarons, the texture of these came out right: soft but a little crispy on the outside. The recipe said it made about 20 macarons; I got 30-ish out of the mixture. And when you consider how much macarons cost to buy in a shop, having a box of 30 macarons makes you feel proud no matter how they look. All in all, I'd count this as a success. And hopefully my next attempt will be even better.

Tricolore pasta with blue cheese (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
This recipe was meant to have all-green trottole pasta but I could only find the tricolore version. What can you do. Other than that, I don't think I liked this recipe so much. Granted, I liked it more than I thought I would. I am not a blue cheese fan, but the Gorgonzola piccante in the sauce just tasted cheesey rather than too tart and stinky. But, with the 125g of pasta per person, this is a massive portion. Far more than I can stomach. The pistachios are rich, the cheesey pasta is super-filling and the spinach is just sour. Hm. Edible, but not great.

Maple-glazed roast salmon
I couldn't find a 1kg side of salmon, so instead I roasted a load of salmon fillets together. I also wasn't sure that they were defrosted properly when I put them in the oven so I made sure to cook them for longer. What I'm saying is that I'm pretty sure my salmon was overcooked and dry because of it, but personally I don't really mind that. Overall, the sweet glaze made the salmon taste really nice. My only problem was that 300g of potatoes between four people makes for a very small portion size; at least, I think so. More potatoes please.

Fettuccine with mushrooms and mascarpone (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
This recipe was meant to include marsala, but I didn't add it in because that's my bag. As a result, I think the taste was missing something. In my opinion, it was a nice dish, but not amazing. Dried mushrooms aren't my favourite thing in the world, and once again Nigella hits you with 125g pasta per person. That's really too much for my stomach. I felt bloated all evening.

Mini macaroni cheese all'Italiana (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
And once again, I didn't add the vermouth to this recipe. This time, though I don't think I lost too much. Also, Nigella recommended using pennette or chifferi pasta and using freshly ground white pepper on top. I couldn't find any of that so I used macaroni and freshly ground black pepper instead, but I really don't think it made much of a difference. Now, let me confess: I don't really like macaroni cheese. It's very rich and I normally find trudging my way through a bowl of it to be hard going. This recipe though. This recipe! Nigella has got another gem here. Not only was this macaroni cheese nice. It was gorgeous! Firstly, I think the vegetable stock and truffle oil (I had no idea what that tasted like until I tried this dish. I'm a convert. Does this make me middle class now?) both those ingredients really lift the cheese sauce and make it sing. The four different cheeses give a great rounded taste and the chewy mozarella balls hiding amongst the pasta are a delight. I literally can't praise this recipe enough. I'll be making it for Eppa and James this week because I need to eat it again. (Literally the only problem was that I managed to chip once of my new ramekins when washing it up afterwards. Boo.) Oh yeah, I just remembered. I accidentally added twice as much pasta here as the recipe says to, but I think it worked much better that way. With less pasta the portion size is really small and the sauce is too runny. Sometimes accidents can work in your favour!

Roast beef with root vegetables
I don't think there was anything about this dish that I enjoyed! The major problem was my fault. I have learnt a big lesson, which is: pay attention to what cuts of meat the recipe asks for. This recipe called for topside beef but I used silverside. I thought it would be the same thing! It wasn't the same thing. Oh God. Silverside should never be eaten medium. The whole thing was tough as old boots! So chewy! I couldn't eat all the meat I'd served here because my jaw got tired half-way through the meal. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. The other faults were as follows:
1. The recipe calls for Elfe potatoes, which I couldn't find (I don't even know what they are) so I used normal white roasters instead and chopped them into roast potato-sized chunks. Whether this was the reason or not, I don't know, but the roast potatoes didn't come out crispy. That always makes me sad :(
2. The honey mustard glaze on the parsnips was far too sweet. Who ever thought putting honey on parsnips was a good idea?
3. The butter and lemon on the broccoli was too rich and just didn't go with the rest of the meal at all.
Overall, this was pretty much a disaster.

Steamed treacle sponge and proper custard (recipes came with a pudding bowl and jug set that I was given for my birthday last year)
This felt so old-school! I'd never made a steamed pudding or custard before (not even instant custard). Puddings are something that my Mum makes all the time (she doesn't make proper custard though) so I felt like a real grown-up for making these. And how exciting is steaming a pudding? I was terrified that the pan was going to boil dry in the 1hr 45min the pudding had to cook, so I kept running into the kitchen and looking at it. As for the custard, can you say 'scary'? Custard is so scary to make! But mine seemed to turn out ok, with only very minor lumps. (Proper custard is hard work to reheat the next day though; a bain-marie? Give me strength!) The proof of the pudding though, as they say, is in the eating. This pudding was nice, but nothing to write home about. And the custard itself was a little too eggy for my liking. I'm not a fan of eggs, really, and, ok, I'm a Philistine, but my Mum always makes instant custard and that's the version I like. Also, I found that the sponge was a lot tastier the next day after a reheat in the microwave to make the outside crunchy and chewy. I'm sorry; my Mum normally has batches of sponge puddings in the freezer so I've pretty much only ever eaten them reheated in the microwave; to my mind, that's how they're supposed to be. Don't look at me like that.
Overall verdict? These recipes were nice enough, but were a bit too much like hard work for me to want to make them again.

Spring spring spring

by Janine  

Hi, guys? How are you? I'm very well, thank you.

Spring is properly on its way now and is perhaps nearing its end, even. The glorious weather that we've had since the beginning of the spring hasn't eased up; it's been warm and sunny most of the time. Glorious. Nearly all the trees have had their blossom replaced by leaves now, but there are still a few heavy-blossomed trees about, showering pink petals across the road.

I love spring. Can you tell that I love spring? The daffodils have died down mostly, to be replaced with a carpet of bluebells (if you're lucky). And my daily walk through the park is chock full of birdsong.

What have we done to deserve this year? I don't know! And Easter's next, which means a great excuse to eat chocolate. I love it.

So, what have I been doing since my last post? A few things. Have a rundown:

1. Walks in the sunshine
I went to visit my parents for Mother's Day. We took a mini country walk.

Daffodils in the churchyard where we sat to have lunch.

I think this was the rectory or something next door? It's a private building now, but I snuck a little way into the car park to take a photo of those gorgeous chimneys.

2. TV watching
I've been watching quite a few good things recently. And trying desperately not to get into Masterchef this year. (It just takes too many hours of my life!)

Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle
Not everyone likes Stuart Lee, but I think his comedy is great. His delivery is so clever. He's the sort of comedian that can make a three minute silence hilarious.

This is the new sitcom from the same people that made Twenty Twelve. Since the Olympic Games, Ian Fletcher has gone on to become Head of Values at the BBC. If you loved Twenty Twelve, you'll love this. I, personally, adore the style of it, and as a satire on almost every large organisation ever, it is very clever and very very funny.

The Plantagenets
Professor Robert Bartlett came back with a documentary series about the Plantagenets. I loved his previous documentaries but I actually found this one a little lacking. Don't get me wrong, I learned some stuff (including things about the Wars of the Roses that I really should have known already) but this documentary didn't quite go deep enough for my liking. But then, if you're trying to cover a few hundred years in three episodes, things are going to have to go quickly.

3. And radio
I was reminded of this by one of our volunteers at work. Did you know that the whole back catalogue of episodes for In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg is available to download or stream online? Check it out! There's hours of fascinating stuff in there. Great to listen to when folding laundry or doing other menial tasks.

4. On the blogs
If that's not enough history for you, I've also spent my time reading the blog Food History Jottings. It's written by food historian, Ivan Day, who is someone you'll have seen on TV quite a lot if you happen to like documentaries about food history (I do!). His posts are always really fascinating, with the bonus that he often makes up the old recipes in his gorgeous kitchen (as seen in this post). It's great stuff.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I went to see this film last week with Susan. It was so good! I really really enjoyed it. (I'm planning to buy the DVD when I can.) It's fast-paced and fun and surprisingly funny. Not to mention that the whole thing looked gorgeous with its rainbow-palette of colours. I am becoming a Wes Anderson fan. Also, I kind of want to be M. Gustave when I grow up; able to handle any situation with style while calling everyone 'darling'.

6. Cake time!
I met up with James, Eppa and baby Rene yesterday. We had a lovely, relaxed walk around the park. On the way back we stopped for cakes. Look at mine!

It had lemon curd in the middle, which sadly didn't do enough to cut through the sickliness of all that buttercream and icing. I felt a bit ill. But look how Easter-y and cheerful it is!

7. London Marathon
I toddled off to watch the London Marathon go by earlier today. And what a lovely sunny day it was for it too. I managed to completely miss Susan go by, who I was meant to be cheering on. Whoops. But it was great to see all the other runners too. My favourite might have been the guy running with his own karaoke machine. He was singing Come on Eileen at the other runners. Biggest props, though, go to the guy carrying a fridge on his back the whole way, especially when you find out that the London Marathon is going to be only the first of four marathons he's running today. Whoa. He got such a massive cheer as he went past.

And I think that's about it for me. Have a nice Easter, all! I'll be back with a food post once I've got another couple of recipes under my belt.

Food post

by Janine  

It's been ages since the last food post! Basically, for the last part of 2013 I didn't cook anything exciting at all. It was perhaps the hardest thing to give up during my studies. I'm so glad to be back on the cooking-wagon again :D

Sicilian pasta with tomatoes, garlic and almonds (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson, which Claire got me for my birthday last year)
I made this in September, so apologies if my description is a little vague. This recipe, which is essentially a type of pesto, contains anchovies among other things. I'm not keen on anchovies so I wasn't sure if I would like this. But it was nice! It packs quite a punch with the flavours: tangy and sweet and basil-y. Just slightly too much on the sweet side for me though; there are sultanas in the pesto, and having sweet in my savoury is not something I'm good at. (Oh yeah, and Nigella said this dish works well with fusilli lunghi pasta. Could I find any in my supermarket? Not on your nellie!)

Farmhouse loaf
This was the very last thing I tried out last year before my course. Looks quite nice, doesn't it? Don't be fooled! It was horrible! Ok, so not horrible, but it definitely wasn't good bread. Problem one: I didn't get the rise I wanted. It can't have been down to my new yeast, so either I didn't prove the dough in a warm enough spot (possible) or my kneading technique lacks something (also possible). This was dense, claggy bread. Problem two: I didn't add enough salt so it didn't taste right either. Have you ever eaten bread without enough salt in? It's not a pleasant experience.

Lentil salad with flaked salmon and sugar snap peas
My first recipe tried out in 2014! This salad can be made with edamame beans instead of sugar snap peas, but I couldn't find any edamame for love nor money in my supermarket. Be that as it may, this was a real tasty salad. Tangy, sweet and punchy, and great for toning down the richness of the salmon. Super easy to make too.

Pasta with courgettes (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
I don't have cooking wine, so I left out the wine that's meant to be in this recipe. Perhaps the taste was lacking something because of that. Although, actually, I think I know what happened; I added too much water to my sauce, which meant that all the buttery, garlicky, cheesey goodness didn't really stick to my pasta very well. The result? It was a pleasant enough dish, but not super amazing.

Yellow spaghetti (recipe from Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration by Nigella Lawson)
Once again, I left the wine out of this recipe. Sorry, Nigella, but wine just isn't my bag. This recipe contains a raw egg in the sauce, amongst other ingredients, which you slather on the pasta just before serving. I wasn't too sure about that because eggs really aren't my favourite thing, especially not raw, slimy ones. Luckily though, this sauce wasn't that slimy and the eggy taste wasn't too noticeable either. In fact, the taste of this recipe reminded me of a nice carbonara without the bacon. Not too bad, but I think I'm still too squeamish about raw eggs to make this frequently.

Mushroom and parmesan risotto
We could call this block of recipes 'Janine cooks Italian food but leaves out the wine'. Here's another recipe where I did just that. I didn't find this dish lacking for it though. Oh man, I didn't. Let's get this first thing straight, shall we? I love risotto. I bloody love a good risotto. So this recipe was right up my street. I personally found that the taste of the dried mushrooms was a little too overpowering for my liking, but other than that, I would call this a super nice dish. If only risottos didn't take such multi-tasking to make. It's tiring stuff!

Pancakes filled with tomato, basil, mozarella and prosciutto (recipe for the pancakes taken from Sainsbury's Live Well for Less magazine, issue 2; and inspiration for the filling taken and modified from here)
Did you know that this is the first pancake day I decided to make pancakes all by myself? I've always found them a little daunting in the past, but I decided to buck my ideas up give it a go this time. The pancake recipe made loads of pancakes so I decided to have a savoury pancake course before moving onto the sweet. And this filling? It was really really nice. If I didn't find pancakes slightly too rich for me, I would have eaten loads of these.

Pancakes with lemon and sugar (recipe for the pancakes taken from Sainsbury's Live Well for Less magazine, issue 2)
Same pancakes as above, but a sweet version. I've tried all sorts of combinations of chocolate and ice-cream and fruit with my pancakes in the past, but nothing beats lemon and sugar for me. Did I mention that I find pancakes slightly on the rich side? Lemon juice always cuts through that richness wonderfully. You may note that my plate is looking kinda empty here. There were initially meant to be more sweet pancakes, but what I learned that evening was that if you make enough pancakes to feed a family of four, surprisingly, one person can't eat them all in one sitting.

Chicken, leek and lemon pie
This recipe sounds nice but I think it's been given the wrong name. Instead it should be called 'lemon, lemon, lemon, lemon, lemon, with a bit of chicken and leek' pie. It's a really lemony pie! Once you get used to that though, it's kinda nice. And you do get the pride of having made a whole pie yourself, even if the pastry is shop-bought. We'll forget the part where the chicken didn't cook enough when boiling so I overcooked it and the leeks afterwards to make up for it; a minor inconvenience.

Yorkshire pudding
I'd never made Yorkshire puddings on their own before. Having now done so, I feel like I have passed some sort of test of adulthood. Well done me! Ok, so the rest of the roast was rather poorly done, but you win some you lose some. These Yorkshire puddings tasted like, well, like Yorkshire puddings. Some of them grew really massive; they took on a life of their own and started climbing out of the tins. I had to relegate the really sprawled, ugly ones to the fridge for later consumption. The one warning I would give about this recipe is that it says it feeds three people. The recipe makes TWELVE YORKSHIRE PUDDINGS (If you don't overfill the tins like I did). Unless you are going to eat four individual Yorshires with each dinner, you will have far more Yorkshire puddings than just feeds three. You can see from this photo that I tried to eat three Yorkshire puddings in one sitting. I was very full after that sitting.

Fun in the Midlands with a scotch egg

by Janine  

Hi, guys. Let's start, as always, with an acknowledgement that I've not posted here in ages. After the whirlwind Sherlock marathon that was January, I took a bit of a breather. Time was mostly spent visiting family, friends and new arrivals, celebrating Chinese New Year twice (with some amazing food, I might add), and celebrating a couple of birthdays.

And finally spring is here! Ok, that's not that much considering that this winter wasn't much of a winter at all. (Where was the cold weather?) But now, now spring is definitely here. There are crocuses, daffodils and bluebells in abundance, blossom on the trees and bees warming themselves in the sun.

We'll not talk about the part where I accidentally killed a bee by shutting the window on it (the decline of the bee population is entirely my fault, I'm sorry); or the part where all this sun forced me into spring cleaning mode because I can actually see the dirt in my flat for once; or the part where the warm weather caused one of my forgotten bags of flour to suddenly sprout beetles (ick ick ick); or even the part where the clothes moths are starting to come back, the bastards (I knew winter was good for something).

That aside, spring is great! No, really, it's my favourite season. And considering that spring took forever to appear last year, I'm glad it's turned up early this year. It's warmer and brighter and more flowery, and walking part of the way to work in the sunshine each day is just glorious.

So. So. I said that one of the things I was doing was celebrating birthdays. One of them was Nick's, who's just turned 30. Well done, Nicholas. To celebrate, we flocked up to the Midlands for a party.

Old-school sweets at the party. Everyone loves a sherbet dip dab (not a euphemism).

What did we do at the party? Well. Nick had received a scotch egg as a birthday present. And we proceeded to ruin it (I'm so sorry, Nick). By "ruin it" I of course mean "attach more and more helium balloons to it in an attempt to make it fly".

I can safely say that there's little that's more euphoric in this world than finally getting a scotch egg airborne. Once aloft, it floated its way around the room, gently teabagging everyone it came across.

Good times.

After the party, we returned to our hotel, which was a lovely old Victorian country house. (With crocuses coming up in the garden.)

I loved these dog-shaped lights on the bannisters at the top of the grand staircase.

Oh yeah. And did I mention that my hotel room, which I got all to myself, was massive? It came with a large en-suite bathroom that caught the morning sun too. THE ROOM WAS BIGGER THAN MY FLAT, GUYS. I was sad to check-out the next day :(

While up in the Midlands, we decided to head to Shropshire for some sightseeing. This here is the iron bridge that gives the town of Ironbridge its name. It's the first cast-iron bridge that was ever built. It dates back to the 1700s! That's cool. And the whole town is so pretty. Perfect for an ice-cream and a wander round.

Next up was Bridgnorth, another very pretty place. I loved this street in particular. It just says "English country town" to me.

Bridgnorth is made of a "high town" and a "low town", with the high town being at the top of the hill and the low town being at the bottom. Here we are in the high town, heading towards...

The cliff railway! Two mini railway carriages that will take you up and down the steepest side of the hill. It was such a pretty view. And the carriages were so old-school and quaint.

Here's one of the carriages from the outside.

And then nice sight-seeing started to turn into... oh dear. Nick and friends standing in front of NICK TART.

And oh dear. I don't even want to know, Nicholas.

We also saw an advert for some seedsmen. Seedsmen.


Finally, we topped off the weekend with a trip to Cosford RAF museum (because Steve loves planes and he was the one driving). It was cool though. I learned all about the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. Scary stuff.

That's all. It was a lovely weekend. Thanks to Nick for inviting us!

Now, if I can get my act together, we'll have a new food post coming sometime soon. Catch you later, guys o/

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

by Janine  

Guess what I went to see a while back! If you guessed that I'd seen the new Hobbit film (about a million years after everyone else) then you'd be right.

Click read more for my text-heavy spoilery thoughts:

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