Squash curry ( Dec 10, 2008)

I really fancied pumpkin curry the other day...even though I've never tried it. I didn't know, however, that pumpkins were no longer in season so ended up buying acorn squash, which I was told, is very similar. This recipe is a mish-mash of a recipe from VegWeb and my own invention. It's not a bad curry but maybe it's a bit bland and is very mild, due to the fact that I had a little accident when adding the coconut milk and the whole can plopped into the pan and over the hob- what a mess!! I kept adding more chilli powder and some of the other spices to make it tastier but it was very mild and as I said before a bit plain. It tastes a bit like squash Korma only a bit blander. I'm going to work on this recipe and when I have an improved version, I'll give you the new improved version. I also discovered that acorn squash is very difficult to peel so if I find a better way to prepare it or anyone has any advice, let me know. Scoop out the pumpkin/squash seeds, maybe you could toast them and add them to the curry. Sorry for not having the metric measurements.

Squash curry (serves 2-3 people)

1/2 acorn squash/pumpkin, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2cm fresh ginger root, grated
1/2 cup of mangetout/peas
1 small to medium sized potato
1/2 can of coconut milk
1/4 of 15oz can chickpeas
1/2 small courgette
pinch salt
1 cup of basmati rice
1/4 - 1/2 tsp chilli powder( If you like a really spicy curry, add more. 1/4 tsp wasn't enough I found and I prefer a mild curry!)
1/4 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1-2 tbsp olive oil
Boil the potato in salted water till just slightly underdone.
Heat olive oil in frying pan and add garlic, ginger and all the spices and cook for a few minutes.
Add onions and fry till soft and transparent.
Meanwhile, boil basmati rice in water with salt.
Add courgette and mangetout and cook for a few minutes. Add squash, potato and chickpeas and cook until everything is covered in curry spices. Add a pinch of salt.
Add coconut milk and cook at a low temperature until squash and potato are tender, taking care that the curry doesn't become too dry. Serve with basmati rice and Naan bread.


Birthday meal (4th Dec,2008)

As it was my birthday this week, we went out for a meal in one of the many restaurants I want to try, Soba Lounge. The Soba Lounge is a very chic, elegant and trendy place, some people might say that it was posh. It has a lounge bar in one half of the bottom floor and the other half is a restaurant and the restaurant as a whole is quite big as it takes up about 3 floors of the building. The decor is very stylish and modern with a Zen-like twist and a water fountain feature wall, which adds to the "Oh" factor. We were seated at a table complete with two smooth dark grey stones to add the finishing touches and carry on the Zen theme to the place settings. The restaurant was dimly-lit and each table had a candle, creating a romantic mood(even though our candle kept going out...the waitress kept having to replace it, at least 3 times!)A friend had recommended a cocktail but unfortunately it was no longer on the menu so I tried a Pacific Rim cocktail instead, which had vanilla Absolut, granadine, blue Curacao and maybe pineapple juice. It was good but a little on the potent side for me. Service was very good and prompt. They brought us a little appetizer while we were waiting for our order, pitta triangles and a spicy cucumber salad. My boyfriend, who didn't use to like spicy food and who can now eat spicier than me, loved it but I found it a little too spicy. We shared a starter of mushroom and spinach dumplings with a spicy dipping sauce, nice but maybe a little on the bland side, my boyfriend then had a salmon dish and I had a Vietnamese caramel pork dish served with winter squash and garlic green beans. The food was really nice although my pork was a bit too fatty. We then shared a dessert, asian pear with gingerbread, which was heavenly. Portions were just right not the usual humungous portions you get in the States, which you can't finish and have to take home the leftovers in a doggie bag. The restaurant is a little on the expensive side but it is definitely worth a visit if you are ever in Pittsburgh. It has been voted one of the best pan-Asian/fusion food places in the city and is also a great lounge bar. As for my pressies, my friends know me well. My boyfriend got me a nice warm brown winter coat a la JLo, a new purse and a cupcake calendar....so watch this space, I'll be getting down to some serious baking and a friend bought me a nice recipe book so I can write down all my fav recipes. Unfortunately, the photos of the food in the restaurant didn't turn out as they are too dark so this entry is pictureless!

An all-American Thanksgiving( 4th Dec, 2008)

This is the first time I've ever experienced Thanksgiving and as we're in the USA, we're definitely in the right place. We were invited over to a friend's house for Thanksgiving. There was a big group of us, about 20 in total, but as we are an international group consisting mainly of Spanish people, I'm not sure how authentic the Thanksgiving meal was but it was delicious anyway. My effort as you already know was the pumpkin pie and mince pies.

Our friends had their work cut out for them, slaving over a hot stove and cooking roast turkey, gravy, apple and sausage stuffing(although as it wasn't stuffed in the bird, here they actually call it dressing)and mashed potatoes with sour cream and chives and of course cranberry sauce. Everything was homemade apart from the cranberry sauce and everything was really tasty. The turkey was nice and tender, not dry at all, the stuffing was yummy...in fact, I joked that they could come and make my Christmas dinner for me. I will definitely be wanting all the recipes. It was all very professional...they were using a meat thermometer and injecting the juices into the turkey which my family certainly have never done.

Our Japanese friend brought chicken yakitori. Lots of people brought desserts including crepes,quesada (a Spanish dessert a bit like cheesecake), a Catalan dessert(panellets) which is like marzipan balls rolled in pine nuts.

I was as stuffed as the turkey by the end of it. I was a little disappointed as the quesada seemed more successful than my pumpkin pie and mince pies. It was really good though, although in my opinion it's a little plain. I also tried eggnog(alcoholic of course!) for the first time and have been made a convert...so creamy and light...just don't think about the calories!!!It's got at least 12 eggs in it!I will definitely be making that in the future!

We spent the rest of the night playing poker, Dance Revolution, Singstar Superstar(a karoke type game of which I have found another new passion!) and playing a card game Werewolves. So, all in all we had a great Thanksgiving, great fun, great food(as you can tell by the photos) and above all great company. We finished at 3am,just in time to dash off to join the queues for the sales on Black Friday although in the end we were too late!


Pastry problems

I decided to make some mince pies and a pumpkin pie as my contribution to the Thanksgiving dinner my friends were hosting. As I like to make my own pastry (homemade is always the best I say!)I set to work on making the mince pies and pastry the day before Thanksgiving following this recipe, which always usually works for me...spent a good deal of the morning on the Internet trying to find out the conversions of grams to cups or tablespoons, seeing as I don't have my scales here. I cheated a bit with the mincemeat as I bought a jar of Crosse & Blackwell's mincemeat- I keep saying one day, I will have to make my own mincemeat but as it's usually hard to find all the ingredients in Spain and it's more convenient anyway, I end up just buying a jar from thefoodhall.es. I usually use Delia Smith's recipe for perfect pastry (hopefully) After making your pastry then, comes the most difficult bit rolling it out! Dust the countertop(clean of course!)with flour and dust the rolling pin with flour also, so pastry doesn't stick to either. Roll out pastry to required thickness. As I also didn't have my cookie cutters, I made do with a wine glass dipped in flour to cut out pastry circles....who says you need fancy equipment?!!!Usually you would cut out bigger circles for the bottom of mince pies and a smaller circle for the tops but as I have limited cooking equipment here, mine were the same size. Fill pastry with a teaspoon of mincemeat,not too much as it will all splurge out whilst cooking, causing a lot more cleaning-and who wants that?Wet rhe edges of the pastry top with water and cover the mince filling. Mark with a cross or two little arrows for ventilation. Cook for 25 mins at 395 degrees F/ 250 degrees C (not sure if I've got the temperature right in C!) So far so good. I made the pumpkin pie using the Better Homes and Gardens recipe with a minor adaption as I don't want to end up with loads of spices I don't end up using:

Pumpkin Pie

5oz plain flour

2oz lard

2oz butter

pinch of salt

cold water to mix

1 15oz canned pumpkin

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

3/4 cup half-and-half, milk, single cream

2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or if you can't get it, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg)


Make the pastry and line a 9 inch (25cm) pie dish with pastry.

Mix pumpkin, sugar, spices. Add eggs and beat until combined. Add half-and-half gradually and mix. Pour into pastry shell and cook in preheated oven for 25 mins, lower pie to bottom shelf to prevent pastry from getting too crispy and cook further 25 mins until knife comes out clean, when inserted into centre. Cool and refrigerate.

I had a lot of problems making the pastry base...the pastry kept cracking when I was rolling it out and breaking when I was trying to place it in the pie dish. Don't worry though, if you have these problems...my Gran always says it's supposed to be good pastry if it cracks! Perserverance is the key here and lots of patience although I have to admit after 3 or 4 attempts mine was wearing pretty thin! If the pastry cracks a lot or is too dry, add more cold water and if it ends up to wet and watery, add more flour. Eventually I managed to transfer the pastry to the dish with only mild breakage and as I had some pastry leftover from the mince pies, I was able to patch it up and make a more or less crimped edge...so an important lesson, always hang on to your scraps...you never know when they may come in handy.


Carrot & Coriander Soup (Nov 20th)

I had some coriander left over from a curry and as I've always wanted to make carrot and coriander soup (and TRY it!) that's what I did! So, here's my first recipe...it's based on one of the recipes on the BBC Food website but adapted for 2 people and I added my own little twist...... mainly as I also wanted to use up the half of lime. Unfortunately, my boyfriend didn't enjoy it as said he doesn't like the taste of coriander but I thought it was pretty damn tasty even if I do say so myself, so don't let that put you off!

Carrot & Coriander Soup (Serves 2)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
5 big carrots, peeled and sliced (sorry I don't know the exact weight...am really missing my scales!)
2/3 oz (55g) fresh coriander, chopped
1/2 lime, juice only
400ml (14 oz) hot chicken stock (vegetarians can use vegetable stock)
100ml (3 0z) cream
salt and black pepper

Fry the onions and garlic in the olive oil when oil is hot, until onions and garlic are softened(2-3mins).
Add the carrots and coriander and lime juice and cook for five minutes.
Add the stock and simmer for five minutes.
Add salt and pepper to season, then blend in a blender or with a hand blender till smooth.
Add the cream and reheat but do not boil.

Easy peasy! Serve with slice of crusty bread and enjoy a perfect winter meal, great for warming you up on those cold nights!


Why I decided to write this blog... Nov 21st 2008

I was inspired to write this blog after reading some of the blogs mentioned on BBC Food on the food chat and as it's a cold, snowy day, it's the perfect day to start it! I'm already writing one blog so let's see how I get on with managing to write two! I'm not a technical genius and as I'm only your bog standard average cook,I'm not sure it'll reach the standards of other food blogs out there. I like to experiment though and you'll be able to follow my cooking trials and tribulations. I have always liked cooking since I was young and helped my Gran in the kitchen....like most of us do...even though I was always a bit of a fusspot. However, my food & cooking obssession seems to be increasing with age! I also love travelling and writing...in fact I studied journalism and one of my dreams or "fads" when I was a child was to become an author/writer so this seems like one of the best ways to combine three of my favourite activities. I'd also love to get a job including some or all three of my interests and this seems like a good start. It always gets my goat when people diss British food and say our food is bland, boring, horrible etc and that the British can't cook and I sometimes feel like I'm on a mission to prove that our cuisine really isn't so bad!
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