Refreshing my vocabulary

Vocabulary has always been my weak point with languages. My Spanish vocabulary was once extensive from years of studying, reading, and conversation, but even though my grammatical knowledge is as strong as ever I now find it hard to pinpoint the words I’m looking for. In learning Farsi, I find myself itching to have more conversation but held back by the limited number of concepts I know how to express.

So I dusted off the Memrise app and have been spending my evenings reviewing all the languages I once knew (Spanish, Catalan, German, Japanese) and expanding my Farsi vocabulary. I could do this all day. 😊

Feline visitors

This kitty likes to come around our garden from time to time, and I’ll watch it from inside, but for the first time today I encountered it while I was out working in the garden myself. I startled it at first as I came around the house, but it quickly decided I was ok and came to say hello.

Cooking throughout the day

I started working my way through some of the new recipes I chose the other day. We had turkey and courgette burgers last night (not actually new, but I’d only made them once before) with roasted brussel sprouts and salad. For today I decided to make the aubergine-wrapped ricotta gnocchi with sage butter. The recipe says it serves 2 as a main course, but just in case it isn’t enough we still have some of last night’s burgers to serve on the side. 🙂

This is one of those recipes that can trip you up if you (like me!) tend to pick out recipes without reading through them. Thankfully, I’ve learned that Ottolenghi recipes sometimes take prep ahead of time — I’ll always give them a quick skim and underline anything that needs to be done ahead so I don’t forget! In this case, the gnocchi can be almost entirely created a day ahead of time, which means if they’re tasty I’m going to keep track of this as a possible party food. But they have to be started about 4-5 hours before you want to eat them, so it isn’t something to make last minute.

I was planning on throwing together the gnocchi batter last night so it could chill overnight, but I forgot. Instead, I woke up this morning and assembled the batter before starting work. After lunch, I grilled the aubergine, boiled the gnocchi, and assembled everything on a baking tray. This evening it’ll be 10 minutes in the oven (and throwing together the butter sauce) and dinner will be ready. When you spread it out like that, it hardly seems like any work at all!

Meal planning with a purpose

My husband and I have decided to try eating low carb again (or at least he has — I might eat high carb lunches to avoid becoming a perpetually hangry monster). But changing our diet means looking at our meals in a new way, without sides of bread, rice, and starchy vegetables to fill us up.

So today I pulled out my favorite cookbooks to pick out some new side dishes (and a few mains that called to me!) that are mostly low carb.

It’s fun to look through recipes with a new goal in mind — foods that previously looked uninteresting or that I had just overlooked suddenly stood out as appealing choices. It also cut down on the overwhelming feeling I always seem to get when I’m trying to choose a new recipe to try.

If you’re curious, here are the dishes that made the list:

  • Aubergine-wrapped ricotta gnocchi
  • French beans, mangetout, and hazelnuts
  • Broccolini with tofu
  • Chargrilled broccoli with chilli and garlic
  • Parsnip and pumpkin mash (but I’ll use celeriac and butternut squash)
  • Burnt green onion dip with kale
  • Mixed Chinese vegetables
  • Whole roasted celery root
  • Zucchini and manouri fritters
  • Beef brisket croquettes with Asian coleslaw
  • Five-spiced tofu, steamed eggplants, and cardamom passata
  • Kohlrabi salad
  • Fried tomatoes with garlic
  • Sabih
  • Turkey and courgette burgers

What do you think? If you have any favorite low carb side dishes, please share! (Just no cauliflower … it smells and tastes rotten to me.)

Colorful salads

We enjoyed two beautifully bright Ottolenghi salads over the past two days: Sweet and sour celeriac and swede (rutabaga), and Chargrilled asparagus, courgettes (zucchini) and manouri. I made a few tweaks based on what ingredients were more accessible (zereshk instead of sour cherries, and haloumi instead of manouri) but otherwise stuck pretty close to the recipes. Both salads were as tasty as they looked!

Sweet and sour celeriac and swede
Chargrilled asparagus, courgettes and haloumi with sangak bread

Maintaining traditions you love

I don’t believe in continuing traditions for their own sake. (I’m looking at you, oyster stew on Christmas Eve!) But traditions you enjoy are a pleasure to keep alive.

One of those traditions for me is eating cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. When I was little, my parents would get up, twist open a package of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls, and pour themselves coffee before we settled in to open our stockings. Licking the icing off my fingers before ripping open my stocking stuffers is a cherished part of Christmas.

This year, I decided to make those cinnamon rolls from scratch. I had baked the America’s Test Kitchen Quick Cinnamon Buns with Buttermilk Icing a couple times before, and thanks to the lingering effects of jet lag I woke up around 6 AM — plenty of time to bake before everyone woke up!

There’s something very meditative about baking when the house is quiet and you aren’t feeling rushed. And the joy of eating the results (and watching others enjoy the results, too!) was a gift in itself.

A well-stocked spice cabinet 🌶

I am home from a long trip, and that combined with the new year is making me anxious to try some new recipes.

I was catching up on a backlog of Food52 posts when I saw a recipe for Instant Pot Butter Chicken that everyone in the comments was raving about. Ever since I made chicken tikka masala at home I have been wanting to try more home-cooked Indian food, and I’m always interested in making more use of my Instant Pot (which we bought without realizing it was super trendy!). So I’m putting together a grocery list and planning to make this tonight.

I was pleased to see that I already have all the necessary spices on hand. In fact, I have enough spices to fill two racks (they sit on each side of the stovetop) and an entire shelf in the cabinet. What can I say? I like to be prepared. 😉