Monday, October 31, 2011


Here's to our first American Halloween with carved pumpkins, devil horns, spider web muffins, roasted butternut squash and pumpkin soup. It's been quite delicious.

Devil horns (otherwise known as pizza horns) requires one portion of my own special bread roll recipe (or any other less special recipe that you can find on the internet!) and one portion of whichever filling you prefer (don't forget the cheese!). I made two different fillings: one vegetarian (onions, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, dried oregano, paprika...) and one meaty (minced beef, onions, fresh tomatoes, dried oregano, paprika...). Take one big piece of dough and use a rolling pin (or a wine bottle if you don't have one) to shape it into one large circle (like you do when you make pizza!). Use a knife to cut the circle into eight pizza slices, put a little filling (and cheese!!) in the middle of the wide end, then stretch dough to cover filling and roll to form a horn. Brush with some egg white and drizzle grated cheese or sesame seeds on top. Bake on 180 degrees Celsius (150 fahrenheit) for 12-15 minutes.

The spider web muffins I made by following a recipe on BBC goodfood (my favourite recipe database!). They weren't that great, but they weren't that bad either. The recipe should be here.

Earlier this week I bought a butternut squash and used half of it to make a thai pumpkin soup (the recipe I found here). It was yummy. The other half I took care of this evening... I brushed it with some olive oil and baked it in the oven for approximately 45 minutes. Then I carved out some of the flesh, mixed it together with the left over devil horn filling from the night before and scattered over some parmigiana and some dried oregano. It was absolutely wonderful and I ate nearly all of it in one go the very same evening  I was having the tomato-pumpkin soup below. 

One of the greatest things about California is that you always have access to lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Every now and then I buy a massive bag of tomatoes from Pedrick's and make roast tomato soup. This time I added a bit of pumpkin to try something slightly different. 

First, chop of some fresh tomatoes and toss it with some nice olive oil. Drizzle over some sugar and salt and pepper and roast on medium heat for 30-60 minutes. Heat some oil in a large pan, fry some chopped onion and garlic until soft, add pieces of pumpkin and then the roast tomatoes. Pour over some vegetable stock and let simmer for a little while. Add fresh or dried herbs, a dash of red wine and whatever else you think will enhance the flavour of the tomatoes. Whiz it all up with a blender and while the soup is simmering on low heat, add a little bit of cream (optional). Serve with crusty bread. 

Happy Halloween!

Otter spotting at west pond

But all we found were geese... And cranes and herons and turtles (if you look closely!). All in all another wonderful day in Davis.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mystery Dinner Duel I

Two people. Two meals. Only one winner.

Iain goes first. The house smells of lemon and seafood. The wine has been poured and the food has been served. The competition has begun.

My first impression from looking at Iain's mystery dish is that it looks like vomit. I am looking at this thing thinking to myself: is this really safe to eat?  Then I poke my fork in the green algae looking soup surrounding the salmon and take a brave bite. It's... Delicious? Yes, it really is delicious! And so is the pale gravy with bits floating around the edges of the plate.

I say: 6/6 for fantastic flavour... But a sad 0 for presentation (really, Iain - it was BAD). Final score of 5. Iain, of course, gives himself a straight 6. Well done.

It is round two. From the kitchen Iain can hear things smashing, things whizzing, people swearing... Less than 45 minutes later the next dish is on the table (knock knock - who's on the door? It's energy dog and Jayashankar! Come in and have a taste guys!). Ok, it DOES look better than vomit fish. It smells nice... It tastes... Nice (although I have to admit the potatoes were slightly on the dry side).

Iain says: 5/4... No I mean 6/5! What the hell is he talking about?

Mystery dinner party is nearly over. We don't really know who's won, because Iain's score doesn't really make any sense. If you want to make food that tastes like Iain's but looks better or food that tastes better, but looks as appetising as mine (give me something!) - then here's our approximate recipes:

Iain's salmon on a bed of vomit

Two pieces of salmon fillets

Pea and mint purée
Frozen peas of unknown quantities (but defrost first doh!!)
Big bunch of fresh mint
Olive oil
Black pepper to taste

Chicken stock
Lemon juice

Pour some olive oil and lemon zest over the salmon, let sit in the fridge for a couple of hours, then wrap in aluminium foil and bake in the oven. To make the brodetto, add olive oil to a pan and sauté the shallots. Add lemon juice, zest and stock. Bring to a simmer and keep warm while you make the pea and mint purée (this is easy - just chuck it all in a blender!). Add a blob of  purée to every plate, place the salmon on top and drizzle the brodetto around the sides.

Maria's sherry beef with rosemary fingerlings

A cut of rib-eye steak or similar (enough for two)
Three cloves of garlic
A handful of parsley
Five chestnut mushrooms
One cup of dry sherry
One tbsp of crème fraîche
Smoked paprika
Salt and pepper

4-6 Fingerlings
One tbsp olive oil
One tbsp unsalted butter

Start with the fingerlings as they need longer to cook. Add oil and butter to a large pan. When butter has melted add fingerlings and season well. Cook covered on low heat for half an hour, turning occasionally. After half an hour, add freshly torn rosemary and cook for another five minutes while dishing up the beef.

Make the beef by heating olive oil and frying cubes of rib-eye on high heat for five minutes. Meanwhile whiz together the parsley and then add this to the meat (making sure to cover all the cubes). Cook for a little while and then add the sherry. Let the meat simmer in the sherry and soak up all the good flavours. In a separate pan, heat a little butter or oil and quickly fry the sliced mushrooms. Add these to the beef and let simmer with the sherry. Then add the creme fraiche and some smoked paprika. Season and serve with the potatoes!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blind wine review I

Ok so it wasn't going to be very long from when the idea popped into our heads (or rather Iain's head) and until we poured a glass of mystery wine...

Wine No 1 tastes a bit funny to me. To be honest this could be due to the slight paranoia I'm experiencing knowing that there are some pretty crappy wine in our selection. Or it could be due to the wine being far too cold still. Or, possibly - maaaybe it has something to do with the fact that I just ate a fistful of lightly salted crispy jalapeños that Jayashankar left at our place last week. Funny this times means... a little burnt, a little plain, a little like... watered out port in fact. My guess: A slightly on the old side Oregon Pinot Noir. The correct answer? A Napa Valley Cab Sav (C&B 2006 -  see embarrassing pictures below). Iain, who has a slightly better developed palate is quite pleased with the wine and predicts that it will taste even better tomorrow evening. We shall have to wait and see.

Look at Mr Cab posing with Miss Flower... Guys... Get a room..!

PS yes I would very much like to get a macro lens for Christmas thank you :-)

Wine on a Tuesday

It is half past seven and Iain and I are drinking a glass of really cheap French white wine. Iain has got this idea of something I can use my blog for: blind wine reviews! This will involve drinking sips of wine that I don't yet know the identify of - writing down some tasting notes and a couple of guesses with regards to country/region, grape and price. Sounds like fun - living in California there certainly is enough wine around to taste (that won't necessarily leave you broke at the end of it) so we might very possibly have a go at this task. But not tonight - because I already know what I am drinking (and it is not terribly impressive...).

PS Iain also suggested blind food reviews. But some of his suggestions are just plain silly.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The animals of San Francisco

He's the king of the fountain.

I never get tired of watching these guys. They had all the space in the world around them, yet they insisted on piling up on the floating raft nearest the pier. Cozy (until one of them would fancy a swim and walk/jump in their sea lion kind of way all over the bodies of the others). My favourites are the little one of the left hand side (dudes - give him some space!) and the upside-down fellow snoozing on the far right.

Home made gnocchi... Who knew it'd be this easy?

This evening I boiled three medium potatoes, mashed them, added two cups of flour and an egg and then kneaded it all together until it formed a firm and sticky dough. Then I formed thin sausages, cut them up into little 1.5cm long bits and squeezed them each with a fork. That's my home made gnocchis ready to be boiled for 3-5 minutes in salty water (until they rise to the surface)... and then eaten (by me and only me)!

Gnocchis are so stupidly easy to make - why did I never attempt it before? Ok - on their own they can be slightly on the boring side, but come on they only consist of three simple ingredients! That's why I added oven roasted mushrooms, crispy bacon, flat leaf parsley and (of course) garlic fried in butter (lots of it, yum). It looked delicious and it tasted delicious. And the best thing is that there is a portion left for lunch tomorrow.

Unfortunately there is no evidence that I cooked anything whatsoever tonight, because Iain took off to Europe last week - not with the camera BUT - with its battery charger. So again, you have to take my work for it. Or turn up at the next gnocchi event in Portage Bay :-)