The less glamourous aspects of travel

I’m no world traveller, but I do get around a bit more than I have in the past, and I’m starting to learn that solo work travelling isn’t as glamourous as I may have thought it would be.

The new locations, different people, and other travel adventures aren’t quite as interesting when you don’t have someone beside you to mumble “wow, did you see that crazy lady’s hat?” to. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, or maybe I just like knowing that if I go out for dinner in a foreign land and order something strange, I can always share my travel mate’s meal. It’s like a dining insurance policy for the not-so-adventurous.

Tonight I have suffered through another mediocre, room service dinner while watching bad tv in an otherwise interesting new place. I have another couple of days of work and bland pizzas ahead, but on Friday my favourite travel partner arrives for the weekend. And I couldn’t be happier at the prospect of some company!

Feeling a Bit Chilli?

As the nights get darker, and the temperature starts to drop, I begin to think about stocking up my freezer for the winter.  Soups, stews, sauces and casseroles are all wonderful things to have waiting for you at the end of a long day at work, especially when they only need to be heated up.  It takes a little bit of planning, but if you can make too much of a recipe once a week and freeze the leftovers into portions, you will have a freezer full of comforting home cooking in no time!

Chilli for the freezer

My first winter-warming recipe has to be chilli.  It’s so versatile and can be served in tacos or tortillas, over a baked potato, or just in a big bowl with rice, salad, grated cheese and sour cream.  There are a million recipes for chilli, but we really like this one because it uses chunks of stewing beef rather than minced beef, and the addition of smoky chorizo really gives it another level of flavour.  The long slow cooking process is great for a lazy Sunday afternoon, and the delicious smells that fill your home will have your family wondering when will it be ready!

Adapted from Olive’s Best-Ever Chilli (Olive Magazine

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 3 red chillies, seeded and chopped
  • 1.2 kg lean braising steak, cubed
  • 175 g chorizo, diced
  • 3 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 600 ml beef stock
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 400 g tin of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 50 g dark chocolate (70%), chopped
  • sour cream, avocado, tomato, cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce and rice to serve

Directions

  1. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large, deep casserole dish, add the onions and cook until soft but not coloured.  Add garlic and chillies and cook for a minute.  Remove mixture from the pan and put on a plate.
  2. Heat another tbsp of oil in the pan and brown the beef in batches, then add to plate.  Add chorizo and quickly brown on all sides.
  3. Return the beef and onion mixture to the pan, add tomato puree and spices.  Cook for 1 minute before adding the stock, vinegar, sugar and tomatoes.  Season, stir well and bring to the boil.
  4. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer, cover with a lid and continue to cook on low for 1.5 hours, or until beef is very tender.  Add kidney beans and cook another 30 minutes.  Add the chocolate and stir until melted.
  5. Serve with rice, lettuce, tomato, avocado, shredded cheddar and sour cream.

 

5 Reasons Why I Drink Tap Water

I know I talk a lot about food.  It is a particular passion of mine.  But today I’d like to talk about water.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an article in London’s Time Out magazine for a new organisation called Give Me Tap.  Give Me Tap sells reusable stainless steel water bottles for rehydrating on the go, encourages local restaurants and shops to fill them for free (there’s even a phone app to find your closest water source), and donates proceeds from the sales of the bottles to help communities in Africa gain better access to safe water. That’s a win-win-win situation!

Image

In case you still need to be convinced, here are my five top reasons for drinking tap water:

  1. It’s free.  Well practically.  And in these days of economic austerity, why on earth would we pay good money for a resource that is virtually free?  That’s a no brainer.
  2. It’s good for you.  We all need to be hydrated and most of us drink a lot more water now than we did years ago, because we know it’s good for us.  But tap water is especially good for us, versus fancy bottled water, because tap water is tested regularly by the government bodies who regulate it, and who ensure it is safe and healthy to drink.  Municipal water testing happens around the clock, 365 days a year. Bottled water doesn’t have the same regulations.
  3. Bottled water is wasteful.  In this day and age, we all know why food and drink in disposable containers is bad for the environment.  All that plastic has to go somewhere, and we’re running out of room.  If you’re already saying no to that unnecessary plastic bag, start saying no to other unnecessary plastic in your life.  A reusable water bottle just makes sense.
  4. Most of us are privileged to live in places with such healthy water.  My uncle is a civil engineer who specializes in water systems, and he has been saying this for years. People in other parts of the world would very much like to have as much access to the safe abundant water we can take for granted.
  5. Tap water is fashionable.  Restaurants are starting to get on this bandwagon and proudly offer tap water to their guests.  And with a wide range of beautiful water bottles from Give Me Tap, and other great companies, available on the market in a wide variety of colours and patterns, you can join the ranks of eco-conscious fashionistas by toting the new must have accessory of the year!

A Quick Recipe for a Quick Post

CrostiniSometimes you need a quick recipe:  maybe for a quick snack, or for some last-minute guests, or perhaps on day three of NaBloPoMo when you remember that you are actually participating in NaBloPoMo and need to write a quick post before going to bed.  Oops!

I kind of threw this together in the summer when visiting our friends in Bordeaux, although the combination of sweet fruit with salty ham is certainly not a new one. We had such lovely bread, great cheese and delicious summer fruit, and I decided to throw them all together into a quick appetizer.  Perfect with a glass of wine on a warm summer’s evening!

Crostini with Nectarine, Prosciutto and Goat Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 baguette
  • 2 ripe nectarines, halved and cut into thin slices
  • 1 log of soft goat cheese
  • 12 slices of prosciutto or parma ham
  • large clove of garlic
  1. Slice baguette into fairly thin slices, about a centimetre or so would be good.  Under the grill or broiler, toast the bread on both sides, until lightly brown and golden.  Cut clove of garlic in half and rub the garlic over one side of each piece of toasted bread.  Set aside.
  2. Spread a tablespoon of goat cheese on each round of bread. Layer on a slice of nectarine and half a slice of prosciutto.  Eat at room temperature.

 

These are a few of my favourite things

Lobster  prepped and ready to go!

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?  Well quite possibly.  However when your very favourite things to eat are expensive and seasonal, they tend to be treats you save for special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, or pay-day the month after you did a crazy amount of overtime.

My favourite decadent things to eat are lobster and truffles.  Pretty obvious choices right? Basically if something has either of these ingredients in it, I’m going to want to try it.  Many people think that caviar or oysters are the ultimate in sophistication, and don’t get me wrong – I certainly wouldn’t turn away from a caviar-topped blini or oysters on the half shell. But for me, the best special occasion dinner would include either lobster or truffles.

Risotto is another favourite dish of mine, something we actually make most weeks.  I love that risotto is something you can put almost anything in, depending on what’s in season or even what you have in your fridge.  I have had lobster risotto before, and risotto with truffle is something I enjoyed last autumn on our trip to the Piedmont region of Italy.  Both are delicious and decadent, and excellent ways to showcase these special ingredients.

Last winter I came across a recipe for truffled lobster risotto and wondered if maybe it would be overkill.  If I’ve learned anything about cooking with things like truffles, it’s that you don’t want to mess around too much with them. After much debate, we decided to give the risotto a try, and it’s fair to say that we were more than pleasantly surprised. Somehow both of these show-stopping ingredients shone through and complemented each other beautifully.  To be honest, I was kind of impressed that we had turned out something this gourmet from our tiny kitchen!  I was also pleased at how economical a recipe it was, considering it used expensive ingredients – the lobster tails go quite far (you also use the shells in the stock) and truffle oil is used very sparingly.

If you’re looking for an excuse to celebrate with a delicious dinner, and lobster and truffle are some of your favourite things, then this is the recipe for you!

Truffled Lobster Risotto – Serves 4

From Bon Appetit, January 1998

Ingredients

  • 2 8-ounce uncooked lobster tails
  • 3 1/2 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons white or black truffle oil
  • 3/4 cup chopped peeled carrots
  • 1/4 cup chopped shallots
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh chives

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Cook lobster in large pot of simmering salted water until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to bowl of cold water to cool. Drain lobster. Remove meat from shells; reserve shells. Cut meat into 1/2-inch pieces.
  2. Break shells into large pieces. Place on baking sheet; bake 15 minutes. Blend shells with 1 cup chicken broth in blender until finely chopped. Strain through fine sieve. Reserve lobster broth; discard shells.
  3. Bring 2 1/2 cups chicken broth to simmer; keep hot. Heat 1 tablespoon truffle oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add carrots and shallots; sauté 2 minutes. Add rice; stir 2 minutes. Add brandy; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until brandy is absorbed, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add lobster broth and 3/4 of chicken broth. Simmer until rice is just tender and mixture is creamy, adding remaining broth by 1/4 cupfuls as needed and stirring often, about 20 minutes.
  5. Add lobster and cream; stir until heated through. Remove from heat. Stir in 2 tablespoons truffle oil and chives. Season with salt and pepper.

One Pot Madness!

One-pot chorizo 001

I can honestly say that if there’s one thing that really depresses me, it’s coming home after a very busy day, starving, and being faced with cooking solo with no plan. Ugh. I’m hungry, I’m tired, and there’s nobody here to help in any way. It happens to the best of us. And for those of us who don’t have a nice mother-type nearby to pity us and feed us, what on earth does that leave for us to do?

When I have been in this situation, I will admit to having heeded the call of the Colonel. Or visited one of many other quick greasy take-away options in my neighbourhood. Sometimes I’ve cracked open an imported box of Canadian mac & cheese, complete with very nutritional powdered cheesy sauce mix. Classy, I know. I have a girlfriend who eats a bowl of cold cereal and milk when faced with these situations. Sad, sad and sad I say.

A few months ago, the same girlfriend sent me a fantastic recipe for a stew that turned store cupboard ingredients into a magical meal in about 20 minutes, with little effort. An onion, some garlic, olive oil, chorizo, red wine and tinned white beans combined in a saucepan, simmered for as long as you were willing to wait, and presto. Take that Mr. Fried Chicken! You can keep your eleven herbs and spices!

Chorizo and Butterbean Stew with Garlic and Thyme – Serves 4

Recipe from Rick Stein Coast to Coast: Food from the Land & Sea Inspired by Travels Across the World

Ingredients

  • 350g (12oz) dried Judion butter beans, soaked overnight, or 2 tins of cooked butter beans
  • 225g (8oz) hot chorizo for cooking
  • 50ml (2fl oz) olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 175ml (6fl oz) red wine
  • 1 x 400g (14oz) can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves, or 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt

Method

  1. Put the dried butter beans into a large pan with lots of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour until tender. Drain and set aside.  If using tinned beans, drain and rinse beans and set aside.
  2. Cut the chorizo sausages into thin slices.
  3. Put the olive oil and garlic into a pan and heat over a medium-high heat until the garlic begins to sizzle.
  4. Add the chorizo and cook until the slices are lightly browned on either side, then add the onion and continue to cook until it has softened.
  5. Add the red wine and cook until it has reduced to almost nothing.
  6. Add the canned chopped tomatoes, thyme, butter beans and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt and simmer for 15 minutes.
  7. Scatter over the parsley, spoon the stew into deep warmed bowls and serve with some crusty fresh bread.

Pasta 2.0

Summer 2013 (Nick's camera) 110

I think there are some basic kitchen rules that everyone should know. They are some of my tenements of cooking, rules to live by. They include:

  1. Never put anything sharp in a sink full of soapy water.
  2. Always have butter and Parmesan in your house. They can turn anything (potato, pasta, rice, veg, bread) into a meal.
  3. When in doubt, or short of time, toasted bread with whatever foodstuff you have put on top usually makes a great appetizer – try cooked, mashed frozen peas with some olive oil, crushed garlic and Parmesan. Easy peasy, if you’ll pardon the pun.
  4. Not many people can really tell if you’ve used stock cubes rather than fresh. Save yourself the trouble.
  5. Always cook pasta in loads of boiling, heavily salted water. And not some silly pinch of salt. Heavy. It should taste like salty water from the sea.

Rules #5 is quite an important one in my books. Nothing worse than when someone cooks pasta in a small pot of water with a meagre amount of salt. Ick. Bland. Boring. Awful.

Hold on a minute.

One weekend this summer, as I sat happily by the seaside, indulging in a favourite pastime of flipping through food and cooking magazines, I came upon a pasta recipe that was so crazy, so contrary to everything I had ever been taught, and so against all the rules of pasta cooking that it shocked me to my core. It couldn’t work. It shouldn’t work. It wouldn’t work. But there it was, staring up at me, taunting me from the hallowed pages of Martha Stewart magazine, a tome held by some as almost biblical in the world of home and garden magazines. How could Martha recommend something that was this wrong??

The pasta was cooked in a saucepan with a fixed amount of water and tomatoes, onions, garlic, chili and basil that would become the sauce. The water would become the sauce. No draining, no shaking, no tossing in olive oil. Pasta, water and other ingredients become one. Absurd right? Totally. Or maybe, maybe it might just work.

We decided to test out this recipe while visiting our friends in France this past August. The night was warm, the kids were in bed, and frankly if the meal completely failed I knew we had bread (please see tip #3 above) and enough wine to make up for any dinner disasters.

Well. What can I say except wow. It worked. Pasta tossed in simmering water, water reducing while tomatoes and aromatics are softly poaching in the starchy flavoursome water, all fusing together into the one pot meal to end all one pot meals. Shocking. “Kind of like risotto but with pasta”, my friend remarked. And she was right. And it was delicious. Pasta 2.0 – the way forward.

One-Pan Pasta – from Martha Stewart Living, June 2013

Serves 4

Summer 2013 (Nick's camera) 120

  • 12 oz linguine
  • 12 oz cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
  1. Combine pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, basil, oil, 2 tsp salt, 1/4 pepper, and water in a large straight-sided skillet.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Boil mixture, stirring and turning the pasta frequently with tongs, until pasta is al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes.
  2. Season to taste with salt and pepper, divide among 4 bowls, and garnish with basil.  Serve with oil and Parmesan.