Some news; some Winchester

by Janine  

My main purpose today is to give you the lowdown on a lovely trip to Winchester I went on in April. But first I thought I'd share some upsetting family news.

My Nan (my Mum's Mum) died just after Easter. She'd been ill for several years with osteoporosis; but while that had made her very uncomfortable, it wasn't anywhere near fatal. Just before Easter she went into hospital with jaundice and they found out she had pancreatic cancer. In only two and a half weeks she was gone. Thankfully I was able to see her in that time, but it was all very sudden and a shock to everyone. I've come to terms with it now, and it seems like my Mum has too. Everyone (it's a large family) is rallying around my Granddad, who's trying to cope with living alone after over 60 years of marriage. He seems to be doing as well as he can.


In other news, my parents and I took a long weekend in April to go on a quick trip to Winchester (while trying to forget other events). It's not particularly far from London, but I'd never been there before. I fell in love with the place almost instantly (despite the fact the it rained pretty much the whole time we were there). Not only did I love the fact that the city was small enough that you could walk everywhere (always a novelty), but IT HAS SO MUCH HISTORY.

So many old buildings in that place! From so many different centuries! The real highlight is the medieval stuff, and there are plenty of gorgeous half-timbered buildings about. The real heyday of Winchester was before most of those buildings were built though, and before the Norman conquest. Apparently King Alfred (he of the burnt cakes) had a lot to do with Winchester. It was certainly important in terms of government back in the Saxon times. A big royal mint was there (and maybe the treasury?) and it was the home to the Bishop of Winchester who was a big cheese.

There was so much history in the place that I basically spent all four days screaming internally. Good times. Let's have a photographic recap.

This is the church of St Bartholomew's, which used to be outside the city. It's super old, if the Romanesque doorway is anything to go by.

St Bartholomew's used to stand opposite Hyde Abbey, of which this gatehouse is one of the only parts still standing. Also super old. They say King Alfred was buried here. (We saw this on our first walk into the city on our first day there. I was already in love with the place from this alone.)

In the middle of the High Street, right in the middle of the city, you have the Butter Cross. I love a good old medieval cross. Apparently on either side of the Butter Cross were two taverns, one called Heaven and one called Hell. (And you can imagine that the people who drank there found those names very amusing.) I was also excited by the fact that just behind the Butter Cross was apparently where William the Conqueror had a palace!

This is the West Gate in the old city walls. It's a tiny museum and you can actually go inside!

Here's a close up of the west side of the West Gate. I'm loving those carvings.

You can climb onto the roof of the West Gate, and because it's up a hill, you get a great view right down the High Street. Apparently the High Street lies along the line of a track that pre-dates the city (we're talking before the Romans, guys). This track has been used for so long that it's actually a hollow way; if you walk along it, you see that all of the side streets coming from it slope upwards. (Cue more internal screaming from me.)

Another view from the roof.

Inside the West Gate they have this lovely ceiling, although I don't know if it's been moved there from somewhere else. Part of my memory suggests that this ceiling was created to celebrate the wedding of Mary I with Philip II of Spain, which took place in Winchester Cathedral. (I mean, I could just be making that up though.)

Look at this! At one time the West Gate was used as a debtors' prison. And the walls are full of graffiti from the prisoners. Guys. I LOVE OLD GRAFFITI. Love it love it love it! Yes, that graffiti on the left there does indeed say 1597. I'm not screaming, you're screaming.

Next up is the Great Hall, another medieval building. This one used to be part of Winchester Castle. I was having fun looking up and noticing all the carvings on the walls.

In the Great Hall hangs the round table. The table dates to the time of Edward I (who presumably commissioned it during a bout of Arthurian fanboy glee). It was painted later on the orders of Henry VIII (hence the massive Tudor rose in the centre).

A statue of Queen Victoria also sits in the Great Hall, for reasons I don't quite remember.

Back out in the streets, Winchester is an odd mix of medieval and Georgian buildings. They proudly proclaim themselves to be the city where Jane Austen came to die. Charming. (No, really, it is charming. The whole place is beautiful.)

Next we have the Cathedral (with its WWI memorial statue). We didn't go inside the Cathedral, because we didn't fancy paying the entrance fee, but the outside is still pretty impressive.

Flying buttresses outside the Cathedral.

And this happens everywhere in Winchester. You're just walking along and you happen to look at the wall beside you and you realise the stones are really interesting. This carved stone has obviously been cannibalised from another building and plonked in the side of the Cathedral. There are random carvings all over the place.

Another thing you find in Winchester: old, blocked doorways. There's not much I love more than a blocked-up doorway. What was it used for? Why did it get blocked up? So many questions! (Every blocked doorway is a story waiting to be told.)

Oh yeah, but blocked-up windows are pretty cool too.

Near the Cathedral you come to this gorgeous place: Cheyney Court. It used to be a court house and is now so picturesque that I was in serious danger of hyperventilating. (None of my photos could quite do it justice.)

Then you step through the gate next door and you're outside the Cathedral walls again (see that big wall on the right). I love the thought that so much of the city was originally taken up with religious houses. The big walls make it very clear that they were not places that everyone could go into. I wish I knew more about just how religious communal life worked in the middle ages, and what the difference was between an abbey and a minster and a college and all those other terms. Time to read more, I reckon.

Not to be outdone, we now come to the city walls and another city gate. This one is Kingsgate, which has a church on top! The church is known as St Swithun-upon-Kingsgate. I've never seen such an odd-looking church before.

Here it is on the other side, flanked by a lovely magnolia tree. (This trip was in April, remember. Not pictured: how bloody cold I was feeling by this point.)

After a brief pub stop to warm up, we then walked around the rest of the city walls. The walls were, I think, first built by the Romans, and then rebuilt and repaired into the middle ages. I remember talking about how King Alfred used them to fend off the Vikings (but I've no idea now where I got this fact from; I may just have made it up). Anyway, the walls have definitely been used over the years!

Speaking of King Alfred, the folks in Winchester are rather proud of their association with the guy. Check out this Victorian statue of him. (Just, like, don't mention those burnt cakes, ok?)

Here is the City Mill, right on the city walls. Apparently a mill has been on this site for hundreds of years. This particular building dates from the 18th Century, making it one of the newer buildings in the city! We didn't go in the mill, but we did spend ages watching a wagtail dart above the water catching insects.

Then we walked up St Giles Hill. This hill is where St Giles Fair used to be held each year. You get a wonderful view over the city from up there. In this photo you can see the ruins of Wolvesey Castle, the Bishop's Palace (yet another large piece of land within the city that was walled off and private). Looking at this really brought it home to me just how much of a big cheese the Bishop of Winchester was.

And finally, on the last day, too sad to leave, we spent our last hour wandering the little side streets of the city, looking at all the unexpected, beautiful things. Like these houses. What a wonderful garden that is! It was only when I got home and looked it up that I realised that this garden was so big because it used to be the sight of a church that was later knocked down. And that really sums up Winchester for me. History lurks everywhere in that city. Layers upon layers upon layers of it. I can't get enough. I want to go back!

Food post - 20 March 2016

by Janine  

Look at this! A new food post in an almost timely manner! What happened?

Green beans with pistachio pesto (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
I'd never made green pesto before. This pesto recipe is similar (I assume) to normal pesto, but has pistachios instead of pine nuts. There was something about it, however, that made it taste a little less nice (in my opinion) that store-bought pesto. Could it really be the pistachios? But pistachios are tasty! The problem for me was that it was a little too rich and lacked a tang to back it up (should there have been more basil?) Of course, it doesn't help that the green beans I bought happened to be really tough, stringy ones. I would probably have been much happier with the taste if it wasn't accompanied by the texture of shoe leather.

Cherry tomatoes with olives (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
I left out the pink vermouth from this but the dish still had big flavours. The tomatoes were really sweet and lovely. Unfortunately I find the dry-packed black olives that Nigella recommends to be far too salty for my taste. With different olives, I imagine this could be really nice!

One-pot Mexican beef stew
I couldn't for the life of me find any chipotle chilli paste, let alone chipotle chilli paste with smoked paprika too. Instead I substituted some normal chilli paste and dumped in a whole load of smoked paprika. I don't think I've ever knowingly eaten chipotle chillies so I've no idea what difference this substitution made. But the dish was really tasty anyway. I had worried it would be too hot, but instead it just had a nice warmth. The only issue was a small portion size but, between you and me, I believe I may have got my weights wrong and added less beef than I was supposed to.

Peas with pancetta (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
Here's a thing that's useful to know about me: I don't like peas. They're not totally abhorrent by any means; I will eat them without fuss if you put them in front of me and I've even gone out and bought some without prompting before! But, if you gave me a choice between peas and almost any other vegetable (barring Brussels sprouts) I would not be choosing the peas. Oh, and one more piece of info for you before we hop to it: I didn't put the vermouth in this. So, I hate peas, and I didn't even bother adding all the ingredients, but you know what? These were actually pretty good! They're not super-amazing (because, you know, peas) but they were pretty darn tasty. Perhaps, even, the best peas I've ever eaten! My problem with peas is that they're too sweet, so the garlic, shallot and pancetta in this added a nice savoury flavour and cut down some of that sweetness. Yummy!

Roast butternut with sage and pine nuts (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
I rarely cook with butternut squash because it's so hard to chop! (Actually, this suddenly explains why one of my hands is feeling a bit bruised today; I made this dish the night-before-last.) Chopping over, though, this is really easy to cook. And you don't even have to peel off the skin! (I hadn't realised before that you could eat the skin of a butternut squash once it was roasted. When I ate this, I started by trying to take off the skin, but it was so soft I gave up and just ate it instead; not a bad taste, and extra fibre too. Score!) It's not my favourite dish though. The butternut squash is too sweet for my taste and there's nothing to cut out that sweetness (the added lemon juice just makes it tart and sweet at the same time). Oh, and I've never been a massive fan of toasted pine nuts; they just become too oily and rich for me. Verdict: edible, but not one I'll be making again.

Food post - 7 February 2016

by Janine  

Happy February, folks! Here's what I've been cooking recently.

Chicken under a weight (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
Ok, so this recipe is actually meant to be "Chicken under a brick". There are a few bricks in my front garden but they are utterly filthy; there's no way I'm letting one of those near my dinner. The idea is that you first fry the chicken then bake it in the oven, all while it has a house-brick on top; this weighs it down, makes it cook more quickly and also crisps up the skin (so says YouTube). Instead of a brick, I improvised by piling all my pyrex dishes on top. It was awkward though, and the skin didn't get that crispy. I think I would have done much better had I used an actual brick. Oh, and that's not an adult chicken. It's a poussin. I've never eaten a poussin before; they're tiny little things! Before cooking, you spatchcock the poussins (you have no idea how much I laughed while cooking this. Apparently I'm ten years old. This was my first experience of spatchcocking anything and I found it simultaneously easy and hilarious.) And then you marinate them overnight. The marinade, with lemon, thyme and garlic, made for a really punchy, tasty sauce. My kitchen was too cold though to get the poussins up to room temperature before they cooked, so they both took longer to cook than Nigella said, and one was still slightly pink even after that (I ate the fully-cooked one first, and ate the next one after extensive re-heating the next day). Oh, and even though the taste was really good, have you ever tried eating a poussin? Such teeny tiny bones! Eating it took forever. God. If you ask me, it'd be much easier to use the marinade on some bog-standard chicken drumsticks before baking them in the oven, without bothering with any of this brick business: tasty chicken; job done.

Chicken with tomatoes and peppers (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
This stew doesn't look very appetising, but it was actually really nice. It's easy to make, and while not the most exciting taste in the world (think tomatoes and peppers and you've got it; I left out the Marsala though, as always) it was really comforting. Nigella suggested serving it with orzo pasta, which I did. I've never eaten orzo with a stew before and it was delightful! The shape of the pasta with the sauce has a really nice mouthfeel: soft and warm, like porridge but less lumpy. Goes down a treat.

Chicken with tarragon salsa verde (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
A tasty dish! The sauce is another punchy one: really strong with tarragon and lemon. It goes well with the chicken, which is cooked simply in the oven. I don't have a stick blender to make the sauce and had to make do with my food processor; this left my sauce lumpier than Nigella's version, but it still tasted good! Oh, but you don't get much chicken per serving (the recipe had the option to serve six or eight. I choose six. How you would eke this out to eight people, I don't know.) Normally Nigella gives you massive portions so I was shocked at this one!

Winter vegetable curry
I wasn't initially sure what this recipe would be like. I often find vegetarian dishes to be a bit underwhelming, and I often find carrots too sweet. The thought of a load of immensely sweet vegetables in a coconut sauce piled on top of rice, with no meat to add any savouriness, wasn't very appealing. Thankfully, I was totally wrong! It was really good! Takes a while to cook, but you get enough for leftovers. The only difference I made to the recipe was that I couldn't find curry leaves anywhere, so I left them out. Even so, the taste of this was really nice. Yes, the veg are sweet and the coconut in the sauce is creamy, but that was actually pleasant. The extra sweetness and creaminess from the yoghurt and mango chutney on top were lovely too. Why did it work? Well, in addition to the sweetness, you've got the curry paste in there, and something (I don't know what) that gave it a really great savoury flavour. I think it was maybe a mixture of the brown rice and kale combined; the savoury chewiness of these meant that I didn't miss the meat at all. Really great stuff! (Also, this is my first time cooking with kale; that and the butternut squash and the lack of meat made this feel like a very fashionable dish. Totally 2016.)

Italian roast chicken with peppers and olives (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
This recipe uses a whole chicken but no spatchcocking this time :( I only got to stuff a lemon and a few sprigs of rosemary into the cavity before roasting, which wasn't nearly as funny. Nigella said to roast the chicken and vegetables all in one baking tray, but I just couldn't manage it; my tray was too small! So I had to put half the veg in a separate tray; these got a little more brown than the others. Nigella says that the veg are meant to be a bit browned, but I found it made them taste a little bitter (or was that the olives?) Either way, this was ok, but not super-duper wonderful.

Fred's favourite sugar cookies (recipe from the back of a box of biscuit cutters)
I made this recipe to try out some biscuit cutters that I got last year. The biscuit cutters come with letter stamps, so you can make letter biscuits to spell things (they were a birthday gift from Emma). I also got some lovely biscuit cutters in different shapes when I left my previous job last year; here I decided to try out the gingerbread man-shaped one. On top of that, I also wanted to try out some sprinkles and decorating powder (a gift from Mariya ages ago) and some Benedict Cumberbatch rice paper decorations (left-over from a birthday cake made by Eppa a couple of years back, with the decorations sourced by Nick). What better way to use all this stuff out than by making cookies that spell "yum", and Cumberbiscuits? (I laughed so hard while sticking the faces on the Cumberbiscuits, you have no idea. It was very much a "what am I doing with my life?" kind of a moment.) So, the recipe came from the back of the box that contained the letter-stamp biscuit cutters. I've never had sugar cookies before. Being British (I get the feeling they're very much an American phenomenon), I wasn't even sure what sugar cookies are! Turns out they taste like a shortbread but sweeter. Despite the fact that they tasted nice, I AM NOT IMPRESSED. I had thought that the letter-stamps would work if I used the recipe from the box. Not so! The recipe contains an egg and baking powder, which meant that even though the biscuits had been lovingly-stamped before they went in the oven, the biscuit dough really rose and spread while it was cooking. The letters all-but disappeared :( I'm sure the stamps would work with a different recipe though, even if trying to get the biscuits out of the cutters is really difficult, which it is :/ Attempting to salvage the situation, I tried to paint on the letters with the decorating powder, but this was difficult without a proper brush for the job. I tried out the decorating powder on those six biscuits you can see (I ended up painting it on with a clean finger in the end, after trying a pastry brush, a chopstick, a clean toothbrush, and a spoon) and then gave up. The recipe worked great with the gingerbread man shaped-cutter though! That moment when your joke biscuits turn out much better than your serious biscuits...

Aubergines with oregano and red onion (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
These were yummy! I was meant to use baby aubergines, but I couldn't find any, so I used a big one and chopped it into smaller pieces. Nigella also suggested garnishing with fresh oregano, but I've never been able to find that. You know, sometimes roasted aubergines can be too greasy, but these weren't at all. Perhaps it's because you've got the tangy vinegar, garlic and onions on top? I don't even normally like raw onions, but they were nice here. A+ a great way to eat aubergines. Well done, Nigella.

Christmas and New Year 2015/6

by Janine  

Hi! So Christmas and New Year feel like ages ago. Don't they feel like ages ago? But the fact that I'm getting around to writing this in January still counts as a win to me.

What did I do over the break? Well, not take many photographs apparently! This year I seemed to be too involved in what was going down to remember to take photos. Whoops.

While I was busy not taking photos, everyone came to London for the weekend: Linda, Tom, Alex, Steve, Heather, William and Nick. I put Nick up at mine, but mostly we imposed on the hospitality of James, Eppa and Rene. Lots of fun! Not only did Alex, William and Rene get to play together for the first time (well, Alex and Rene were learning to share toys and meanwhile William, the youngest, was sticking everything in his mouth) but they all got given matching pyjamas too. So cute! For the adults there was a massive, baked Christmas ham. Wow. Thank you, guys! That was good eating.

Then I went to visit my parents, and from there visited lots of family and friends. Plenty of good food was involved, including turkey and beef at Christmas, tiny caramel tarts as a gift from a friend one lunchtime, and a massive burger and milkshake from Byron. After all that, I returned to London for New Years' Eve and a few friends came to mine, including James, Nick, Deborah, Esha and others. We went out to a local place that had a swing band. It was an enjoyable night, but I had a cold and talking over the music made me lose my voice for the next five days. Oh well. Who cares about talking anyway? (Going back to work without being able to talk well was difficult.)

Also, cleaning! I spent the first few days of 2016 cleaning the flat (not a result of NYE, btw). I even cleaned the oven and the net-curtains! It felt so nice to start the year all fresh and new. The time not spent cleaning was spent watching the Sherlock special, "The Abominable Bride". I don't have time to write one of my normal full-on Sherlock reviews for this one, unfortunately. All I'll say, in a non-spoilery way, is that it was enjoyable for the most part. I liked the costumes and the plot twists. And it, thankfully, wasn't as much of an outlandish Victorian gothic horror as I was worried it would be. But some parts of the show could have been done better. There were issues imo. I mean, at least they tried? But they didn't try very hard.

Right then. Here's the part I remembered to take photos of. Let me give you a Christmas gift overview:

Cards cards cards. Lots of cards! More than normal, even! Now, I know lots of you folks like to get a mention on this blog, so I've got a few cards to highlight. (I loved them all btw.)

A hand-drawn Benedict Cumberbatch from Mariya! So cute! The effort that has gone into this is extraordinary. Thank you!

Another hand-made card from Steve, Heather and Baby William (I think William probably delegated most of the work to his parents on this one tbh). The middle pops out to become an ornament for the Christmas tree. It was made with their laser-cutter. Beautiful!

Nick's card is not hand-made. But he clearly spent a lot of money on it (it was too heavy to go through the post like a normal card!) so it feels cruel not to showcase it here. You can't tell in the photo but this card was a hologram. That's a 3D cat!

Now for the presents. Here's the food/kitchen stuff. I adore the bake off, so I was pleasantly surprised to see Mel and Sue's faces staring back at me. It's a recipe book from the 2014 series (but I don't think it contains the bin-gate recipe). The book came from my grandparents, as did the cute Radley mug. Some (still as yet uneaten; I'm working my way round to them) caramel chocolates from my parents, and a glut of Japanese sweets from Mariya! I haven't yet tried the Himilk chocolate yet, but the apple candy kit (the one with the bear on) was really yummy. (You can see Emmy eating the candy kit on YouTube here. As an aside: I love all her videos.)

And then there's the Super Lemon. I think the suspect English on the packaging is what drew Mariya to this one (see the lady crying "Oh! Juicy!") I thought this was amusing too, but then I tried one of the sweets and realised that the packaging is completely accurate! For the most part they're normal hard-boiled lemon sweets, but they're covered in this lemon-flavour powder that IS THE MOST SOUR THING I'VE EVER TASTED. The first one I tried dropped out of my mouth I was so shocked. My eyes were watering. But, like, not in an entirely bad way? The super sourness doesn't stay for very long, but it's certainly a memorable experience. After my first one I spent the rest of the day exclaiming "Oh! Juicy!" at random points; it felt appropriate.

Cosy things! Hot water bottle. A furry blanket that's really soft and warm; I love it to pieces. Sensible grey socks from my parents. And then socks from Mariya that sum up my thought process at any given moment: CATS! CAAATS! CATS!!!!

Computer stuff, including some wires and things that allow you to charge via a USB cable in a normal wall power-socket. Also, I asked for a new mouse and a new mousemat for Christmas because it is apparently 1996. Useful though! My old ones were about ten years old and looking it. The mousemat shows a picture of my parents' cat Heidi from last spring when she was allowed into the garden for the first time. My parents got her as a tiny kitten last Christmas. I can't believe it's been a year. She's grown so much since then!

Things that don't fit in other categories! Korean face-mask, beautiful hair-pins and evidence pouch (for me to keep secret evidence in) from Mariya. A foldaway shopping bag from my parents (useful now that it costs 5p for the disposable ones in shops). And, also from my parents, "Step Aside, Pops", the new book of comics from Kate Beaton. I love her stuff so much. History, humour and comics; what's not to like? (If she threw in some recipes too, it would be a distillation of everything I enjoy.) I read this book, cover to cover, within two days of receiving it. Yes!

Finally, I got a bit of money for Christmas, which I used to buy some new clothes. I've been quite frugal in the past few years (rent in London is crazy) and I've avoided buying clothes for the most part, so it was nice to get some money for the purpose. Two pairs of shoes from the sales. And two tops from Oasis that weren't in the sale at all (I am terrible at sale shopping because I always get distracted by the new stuff). We went into Oasis (in the House of Fraser) because we went shopping relatively late in the day and it was the only shop still open at 5pm on a bank holiday. I particularly loved the navy jumper because wearing it will make me feel like a sailor (especially with my peacoat). And I have only just realised that the colour navy is called navy because it was the colour worn by the navy. Shitting hell! (Apologies if I have been really slow on the uptake for this. Mind=Blown.)

Food post - 22 November 2015

by Janine  

I've accumulated a million more food photos (ok, eight). Let's get on with it!

Lemon thyme chicken with roasted balsamic beetroot
This recipe was nice, but nothing spectacular. You go to some effort to put balsamic vinegar on the beetroot, and lemon and thyme on everything else, but mostly it just tastes like roast chicken and potatoes. I certainly wasn't getting much balsamic vinegar or thyme when I was eating it. Thankfully I like roast chicken and potatoes quite a lot, so it went down well. The main problem was that the portions were tiny! Two new potatoes per person (or thereabouts) does not a dinner make!

Lobio (nutty bean dip)
I hadn't heard of lobio before I tried to cook it, so I had no idea what I was going to end up with. Turns out it's this! Texture wise it was, admittedly, more of a spread than a dip, but I think that's because I cut down the quantities in the recipe and so the reduced amount of liquid boiled away too quickly. Regardless, this was tasty. The spice gave it a warm flavour I wasn't used to and the onions were slightly sweet. Not super amazing, but it went down pretty easily!

Chimichurri sandwich
Next up was chimichurri. I'd actually heard of chimichurri before, although I had no idea what it was. It is, it turns out, a sauce made from lots of fresh herbs, garlic and chilli. And it is absolutely delicious! The actual steak part of this sandwich was less good. More of a disaster, actually. The recipe asks for 'sizzle steaks'. I have no idea what 'sizzle steaks' are, but I thought that thin sandwich steaks would do. THIN SANDWICH STEAKS WOULD NOT DO. It seems that the steaks I bought needed much more cooking than two minutes in a pan. Oh, they tasted fine, sure, if you like a nice taste that accompanies the texture of shoe leather! Pretty much the whole sandwich (bun and all) fell apart as I was trying to bite through this steak, which left me holding onto nothing more than a piece of meat in my bare hands and gnawing away like my jaw was going to fall off. In summary: don't use sandwich steaks, but do make chimichurri sauce. It's got a sharp, fresh taste that goes really well with beef. I bet it'd be great on a burger.

Cod with broccoli and chilli (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
Nigella really sang the praises of the broccoli when introducing this one. Apparently, broccoli is amazing in this garlic, chilli, anchovy sauce. Personally, I found that the broccoli tasted like broccoli and not like amazing! broccoli. (Maybe it's because I left out the Vermouth?) To be honest, though, I prefer my broccoli more well done than this. That said, the sauce goes amazingly with the fish! Really salty and nice. And I had never in my whole life pan-fried cod before. It turns out that pan-fried cod is super easy and super tasty. It has since been added to my repertoire (the pan-fried white fish part, not the broccoli and anchovy sauce part). Oh, I tell you what though: Nigella recommended fresh red chilli as a garnish, but I think I went a bit overboard with mine. The whole dish was uncomfortably hot (which, come to think of it, is maybe why I wasn't so enthused with the broccoli).

Grilled steak with lime and mango salsa
I tried out this recipe as a way of using up my sandwich steaks and my fresh chilli. You're meant to barbecue the steak, but since I don't have a barbecue (and it's autumn!) I shoved them under the grill instead. I did grill them for longer than was suggested in the recipe, but it wasn't long enough because they were still kinda tough (I think I may have just bought really bad steaks). Also the marinade on the steaks tasted mostly like nothing? The steaks were most definitely not the greatest thing in the world. The mango salsa, though, was really nice. I think perhaps I just love anything that contains mango and/or coriander. It made the steaks a lot more bearable. The only issue with the salsa was that it had too much chilli for my liking; it was uncomfortably hot again. I don't know why I'm surprised about any of this.

Tuscan smoked salmon tartare (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
Ok. This is perhaps the stupidest thing I have ever made. And I am not blaming Nigella; this one is all my fault. You see, Nigella's recipe is for Tuscan tuna tartare, not smoked salmon. I mean, can you even call it 'tartare' if smoked salmon is involved? (Answer: just don't try making this and you won't have that problem. Seriously: don't make this.) But my supermarket doesn't sell tuna that's good enough to eat raw, and I am far too lazy to go to one of the multiple fishmongers in the city that would sell me decent tuna. Hmm, thought I, what fish can I eat that's kinda raw? I know! Smoked salmon! And the thing is: this dish was really nice with the smoked salmon. Like, really tasty. I bet it's gorgeous with some proper tuna, and you feel so sophisticated if you eat it with the little bits of toast that Nigella recommends! It is good! It is also incredibly salty! Jesus Christ! I only normally eat smoked salmon at Christmas, and I had utterly forgotten that it has lots of added salt. So I blithely added the capers and the extra salt in the recipe (which would be a lot of salt, even for fresh tuna, I reckon). So salty. So saltyyyyy! Thus began the period of Great Dryness in my life, in which I spent about four days guzzling water. Even now, I'm not feeling keen about salting food as much as I normally would. My body is just like: nope, nuh-uh, don't need any more right now thank you very much. So. Don't be stupid like I was and make this with smoked salmon. But do make it with tuna, because I reckon it would taste fantastic.

I couldn't be bothered to buy any mirin for this, so my yakitori was a bit bland as a result (it tasted like chicken and soy sauce and spring onions). I couldn't be bothered to buy bamboo skewers either and just used my normal metal ones. That said, I tried this again the next day and cooked the skewers for longer and they turned out much better. The sauce got all caramelised and chewy with the longer cooking, and that was rather nice, especially with the spring onions which had turned rather sweet themselves.

Italian traybake (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
Well done to Nigella for this one. It's really easy and really nice. You basically throw chicken thighs and some sausages together with lemon, rosemary and olive oil, then bung it in the oven for an hour. Job done! It comes out really nice and brown, with plenty of juices that leave everything moist and tasty. There's a lot of meat in this, which is rather indulgent, so it's filling even if there aren't as many potatoes as I'd normally eat (well, the recipe was for four to six people, and I gleefully decided on making it do for four). Nigella recommended bread alongside, but I'm glad I didn't bother with that. What Nigella did recommend as a side, though, was roasted peppers with parsley, olive oil and vinegar, which I went for. This was really nice, and helped to counteract and greasiness from the meat. Overall, this dish was filling, tasty and easy-peasy.

Food post - 20 September 2015

by Janine  

Gosh. It's been a while since the last food post, hasn't it? Sorry for the wait! My cooking slowed down at various points over the past few months, and even when I had enough recipes under my belt, it took me a long time to write about them (mostly because I wanted to prioritise the writing of the birthday and holiday posts first). So, yes, things have been slow. I started a new job a while back and it's taken some time for me to find a new routine. I couldn't stop trying out new recipes entirely though. I found that if I left it too long, I'd start getting all sad and antsy, so I'd have to make sure to get a top up here and there :D

But who cares about all that? You just want to see the food photos, right? I just want to see the food photos. Let's get on with it!

Beef pizzaiola (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
I'm not sure how I feel about this recipe. It was... ok? Let's go with ok. I didn't use any vermouth as suggested by Nigella, but I don't think that was the cause of my troubles. Nigella says you can use sirloin or rose veal with this one, and I went for sirloin (because I am uncertain about veal), but I don't think that was the cause of my troubles either. Or maybe it was. You see, this recipe calls for the beef to be fried for 30 seconds per side. 30 seconds! What resulted was beef that was too rare for me. Perhaps my cuts of beef weren't good enough, but they were so rare that they were tough and chewy in places, which is not good. Add to that the fact that the capers and the olives and the anchovies made this dish really salty. It wasn't disgusting by any means, but it's not something I'll consider making again.

Salmon soboro
I don't think I get any marks for presentation for this one. After I'd dumped everything on top of the rice, I looked at it and realised that that's not how Japanese people would do it at all. (I imagine they'd have it in a smaller bowl, and arrange the toppings neatly on top while keeping them distinct from each other. I mean, I don't know for sure, but that's what I imagine.) This recipe said to use red chard, but suggested using spinach as an alternative; I did just that, because red chard was nowhere to be found. Either way, and presentation aside, this was really tasty. Yummy yummy. For me, the best part was poaching the salmon in pineapple juice, soy sauce and ginger. It made for such tasty salmon! I liked it so much that a little while later I cooked some more salmon the same way and then rolled it into sushi (which was nice too).

Tagliata for one (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
This dish is actually called "Tagliata for Two" but as there's only one of me, I halved the recipe and it seemed to work just as well. This dish might look similar to the previous one from Nigella: a rare beef steak with cherry tomatoes and stuff on top. But they were worlds apart. Because this one was so good! I still think back on it happily. As before, this steak was more rare than I'd normally like. It's super-duper rare. Look at the photo! It's practically mooing! Oddly, I didn't find it a problem this time. Perhaps it was because I spent a bit more money on the beef, but it was not chewy at all. It was soft like butter! Just melt in your mouth stuff! Oh God! And then the toppings for it weren't nearly as salty as before; in fact, the tomatoes were really sweet, and with a little tang from vinegar too. (Nigella suggests adding dried oregano with the vinegar and then fresh oregano for a garnish. But who can find fresh oregano? Not me! So I used dried oregano for both.) The beef was soft and juicy; the dressing was delicious; I was mopping up every last drop with my bread. Yum yum yum.

Moroccan-spiced roast chicken
This recipe was a success and a disaster all in one. The success is that it was really tasty. The gravy could have been thicker in my opinion, but it and the chicken were really nice: all sweet and buttery with a little bit of spice. The disaster was entirely my fault: the chicken wasn't cooked enough because I hadn't defrosted it well enough before I stuck it in the oven. I had thought it was cooked when I first ate it, and that's because the breast meat I ate was cooked, but when I went to carve up the rest of the chicken after happily eating it, I realised that other parts of it were worryingly pink. Thankfully, I didn't get ill and I reheated the leftovers thoroughly before I ate them anyway so there was no problem. Schoolboy error on my part though. Do you know how long it takes to defrost a chicken in the fridge? No; turns out I don't know either.

Meatzza (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
After my disastrous attempt at a cauliflower-based pizza in the previous food post, I thought I might try making pizza again. But still not normal pizza! Oh no! That would be far too sensible! This time it was "meatzza", where the base, rather than being bread, is made of minced beef. It sounded like it would be nice. Why bother with all that boring bread when you can have beef instead? But, unfortunately, I found this one a little bland. Loads of tasty stuff goes into the beef: cheese, parsley, garlic. But where all that taste goes in the oven, I don't know. Do you ever get that thing where you try to make beefburgers at home but they come out bland no matter what you put into them? I had the same problem with this. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't the taste-explosion I was hoping for. Maybe I just find the taste of minced beef boring? Who knows! Oh, and a word of warning: if you try to make this in a springform cake tin like I did (because it was the only cake tin I had that was about the right size), then make sure to put a tray underneath it in the oven, because beef juice is going to drip out of this one like crazy while it's cooking (is that where all the taste went?)

Shortcut sausage meatballs (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
This was tasty. Once again, I left the vermouth out of this one but I didn't feel its loss. Nigella suggests Italian sausages to make the meatballs. I found some "Sicilian-style" ones and they were very tasty, which helped the overall dish. I've not got much to say about this, to be honest. It was a bit of a faff to make (rolling the sausage meat into balls then browning them takes time) but it was good to eat.

Cauliflower pasta
Ok. I'm not going to lie. I was scared before I made this dish. The fact that I've already referenced that bloody cauliflower-based pizza in this post shows just how much the (horrific) experience of eating it has stayed with me. I'd already tried to get back on the pizza wagon; now it was time to get back on the cauliflower wagon too. After the cauliflower-based pizza experience, I'd convinced myself that I didn't actually like cauliflower and only liked it when it was smothered in cheese sauce. So, with that in mind, was it really a good idea to make a pasta recipe that showcases cauliflower as it's main ingredient? And roasted, almost burnt and bitter, cauliflower at that? I was scared, guys! I was scared! As always, I left out the white wine in this recipe. That left just me and the cauliflower; there would be nowhere to hide. Thank God, then, that this recipe is actually super delicious! It's really really nice! I was in shock the whole time I was eating it. It turns out that I do like cauliflower! And I like it roasted! I actually love it roasted! Why have I never roasted cauliflower before? Guys, the roasted cauliflower goes all nutty and a little bit chewy, and then you have these chewy nuggets of strong pecorino cheese, and it's all garlicky and just a little bit hot from the chilli, and guys. GUYS. The look of this dish (overwhelmingly beige) does not do the taste of it justice. It is good. It is so good! (I feel like I've had an epiphany.)

Sausages with beans and peppers (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
You know the drill: I left out the vermouth from this one. It was still nice without it though. I used the same "Sicilian-style" sausages as I had done for the meatballs, so the taste of this dish was similar (i.e. good) but it had an extra smokiness from the roasted peppers. When cooking this up I had expected to get a stew, but what I got instead was more like a really hearty soup. And yummy soup it was too. Dunking my bread in it was good stuff. A nice, warming meal for the winter, this, I reckon.

Monkfish wrapped in rosemary, lemon and Parma ham (recipe from "Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration" by Nigella Lawson)
I made this one just a couple of days ago. Nigella said to serve the monkfish on radicchio or other red leaves. I can't find radicchio for love nor money so I used a red cos lettuce instead (which probably changed the taste quite drastically). My monkfish was maybe a little on the overcooked side (not that I mind that, myself); it was all down to the fact that I had no idea how to fillet a monkfish tail and so cut the fillets too small. I worked it out in the end though (thank God for helpful YouTube videos). I mean, to be honest, I didn't even know that you could fillet a monkfish tail! I've never cooked monkfish before, and I'm not sure I've even eaten it before. After cooking this recipe, I'm still not entirely certain what monkfish tastes like. I mean, this recipe was really tasty (all bacony and lemony and rosemary-y) but those strong flavours overpowered the fish a bit. But if you like eating fish without it actually tasting like fish (which, it turns out, I do), then you'll like this one.


by Janine  

Hi! I recently got back from a holiday to the Costa Brava in Spain. James and Eppa and Rene rented a house in Llafranc and invited folks to go stay with them, which was a very generous thing to do. Thanks, guys! Myself, Nick, and Eppa's brother Oscar took them up on their offer.

I haven't been on a proper holiday for two years, so this was lots of fun. And the weather in Spain was so beautiful! It was hot and muggy for the first couple of days (which I felt too English for) but by the end of the week the humidity and the temperature had dropped to something more reasonable. Rain was forecast for our stay, but honestly, if our experience was anything to go by, it seems like a rainy day in Spain involved a ten minute rain shower followed by a whole day of beautiful sunshine. When I got back to London after a week, I discovered that it is now autumn in the UK, which was a bit of a shock to the system, let me tell you.

So, what did we do in Spain? Well, there was sight-seeing and walks and beaching, as you might expect, as well as attempting to make ourselves understood in restaurants with our mangled Spanish. But it was very chilled too. There were chocolate croissants for breakfast, and lunches of bread, ham and cheese on the terrace. There was reading books to Rene and, apparently, teaching her to say the word orangutan. And in the evenings, because we often wanted to eat earlier than Spanish people do, we'd retire to our house to barbecue burgers and sausages or fresh fish from the market, and stay up chatting while the mosquitoes bit at our ankles. It was good stuff! (Except for the mosquitoes.)

I've got a million photos to share with you. Firstly, this is the view from one of our balconies (the house we stayed in had three!) Our house was up a super steep hill. (Walking up that each day was less fun.)

Here's the bay at Llafranc, where we were staying. Loads of boats!

And this is the beach next door at Calella de Palafrugell.

On one of the days we went on a trip to Girona. It's a really pretty city, with steep, winding streets, and buildings in the distinctive red, orange and yellow colours of the area.

The cathedral in Girona had writing on one of its walls. What does it say? I don't know!

This pole with a lion on it was something to do with an old building that had once stood on the site. I forget what it was now. But everyone likes lions on poles!

Next up on the day trip was a visit to Peratallada. OMG I fell in love with this place. I thought Girona had old, winding streets, but they were nothing compared to this! The old part of the town was was moated and walled and included a castle that was about 1000 years old. The church, however, sat outside the walls. I wish I knew why.

The rest of the days in Spain involved a trip up the hill on the other side of Llafranc to see the views, followed by time spent on the beach in the beautiful sunshine. (I don't think I've seen the sun since returning to the UK. Where have you gone?)

And so back to autumn. I'll miss you, Spain! But at least I won't miss the mosquitoes.

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:

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