I love to cook and I love to eat good food.  Alas, the fact that I work 9-5 means that I can't do either as much as I would like, and like many I am often stuck at my desk during my lunch "hour".  My solution is to try to bring my lunch to work as much as I can.  This is my collection of recipes, all made quickly the night before (either as lunch or as dinner with leftovers that can be taken in).  Happy eating.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Zucchini "spaghetti" with broad beans, pancetta and lemon cream

Growing up, a favorite dinner was zucchini spaghetti, which was a clever way of getting us kiddies to eat our vegetables. Zucchini grated into pasta and cheese was not only palatable, but popular. I still crave it to this day. But this day, with zucchini on my hands and spaghetti on my mind, the cupboard was bare. No pasta to be had. What was I to do?

I decided to make my zucchini my spaghetti, and tart up the creamy element with some lemon and creme fraiche. Naturally, what goes with cream is bacon, so some pancetta I had wrapped up in the freezer had its moment. For a little textural contrast, a handful of broadbeans, and I finished the dish with some lemon zest.

The result was a soft but snappy base of vegetables with a decidedly adult sauce. The saltiness of the pancetta, lemony cream of the sauce, and refreshing zucchini base was more than the sum of its parts. I'm not sure I would have liked it as a child, but I certainly ate it up now.

Zucchini "spaghetti" with broad beans, pancetta and lemon cream

1/4 C. pancetta cubes
1 zucchini, cut into long, thin strips
1/3 C. broad beans
2 T. creme fraiche
1 tsp. lemon juice
zest of 1/2 lemon

Trim excess fat off pancetta and cook in a splash of olive oil until any remaining fat is rendered and pancetta browns.

Add broad beans and zucchini strips and cook until they soften, about 3-5 minutes.

Stir through creme fraiche and lemon juice, then heat through. Stir through lemon zest. Add a grinding of black pepper and any extra salt to taste.

Serves 1

Monday, 17 August 2009

Chocolate cake with mocha buttercream

Sunday, bloody Sunday.

Unless you have a great day out planned, or you really, REALLY love your job and can't wait to go into work on Monday morning, Sundays have the potential to be one really long afternoon of dread.

In my case, a very long and stressful previous week, coupled with my partner in crime being called into work (yes, I know -- working on a weekend beats my sitting-at-home dread hands down) and therefore plans going down the drain, added up to one very unhappy me.

Luckily, I belong to the Marie Antoinette school of self-medicating: eating (and baking) cake. Whenever I have a funk to get out of, I like to get out my mixing bowls, baking pans, chocolates creams coconuts chips you name it. Better than a stiff drink, though (with apologies to Sex & the City) I do worry sometimes about ending up in the Betty Crocker clinic. Probably unfounded as no one has staged an intervention yet, but mid-bowl licking, with batter all over my hands and face, I probably look a step away from a support group.

Anyway, today's blues called for the hard stuff: chocolate and coffee. I needed a rich chocolate base for a frenzy of mocha frosting. That meant cocoa, and lots of it. The cake stays moist without being overly fudgy -- distinctively cake, and with a good crumb -- and also without suffering, as many chocolate cakes, from drying out too much. The frosting is a classic buttercream, but with coffee cutting the sweetness and the chocolate rounding out the flavor.

I decorated the cake with little chocolate buttons, but as it was only made for me the finished product didn't last long. And yes, I had two pieces: so apart from a little bit of a stomachache, I felt much better.

Chocolate Cake (Recipe from June 2009 Bon Appetit)

Butter and flour for dusting
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mocha buttercream frosting
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
2 tsp. instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules
3 Tbs. milk
1 C. (8 oz.) butter, softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
4 C. powdered/icing sugar

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides with parchment paper, then butter and dust pan and paper with flour, tapping out any excess. Sift 2 cups flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Sift cocoa into another medium bowl. Pour 1 cup boiling water over cocoa; whisk to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add butter to egg mixture and beat until blended. Beat in cocoa mixture. Add buttermilk and vanilla; beat to blend. Add dry ingredients and beat on low just to blend. Transfer batter to prepared pans; smooth top.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Cool cakes completely in pan on rack. This cake can stand to be slightly underbaked.

For buttercream:
Either melt chocolate in a double boiler or in microwave (put chocolate in small, uncovered, microwave-safe bowl on high for 45 seconds; stir. If pieces retain some of their original shape, microwave at additional 10- to 15-second intervals, stirring just until melted. Cool to room temperature). The former is traditional, the latter is much easier.

Beat butter, vanilla extract and salt in large mixer bowl for 3 minutes. Beat in melted chocolate until blended, scraping occasionally. Gradually beat in powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Dissolve instant coffee in milk, then beat into buttercream, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired spreading consistency is achieved. Add more milk if necessary.

Invert one layer onto cake dish. Spread thick layer of buttercream over top of the layer, then set second layer, right side up, on top of filling. Smooth buttercream over top and sides. Decorate as the muse takes you, or leave plain for a classic look.

Serves 12 happy people, or 3-4 depressed people

Friday, 14 August 2009

Curried chicken with rhubarb and lentils

In June, in the height of rhubarb season, this recipe appeared in the "A Good Appetite" column in the NY Times. I didn't get around to making it right away, but kept it in mind as I laid away some rhubarb in the freezer for its eventual use in this dish. Rhubarb season is too short, I think, and I love it so much in crumble, pie, and compote that I would hardly dare to use it in a savory dish.

Nevertheless, I decided to try to something different, and this looked like just the dish. Melissa Clark was inspired to substitute rhubarb, with its natural astringency, for vinegar in a curry sauce. She used duck legs, but I had chicken pieces. I also changed the proportions slightly, and forgot the onions in the main dish, so my adaptations are below. The end result was a beautiful, heady dish. The smaller pieces of rhubarb melted gloriously into the sauce, while the larger pieces managed to retain their shape.

I also decided to serve it with some gently spiced lentils, using the same flavors as in the main recipe. I could almost have eaten them straight, forgetting about the main dish. That's the hallmark of the best side dishes (does anyone else choose what to order in a restaurant based on the side dishes?).

While I'm not sure that rhubarb crumble could ever be knocked off its pedestal as the zenith of rhubarb recipes, next time I make some I will save some stalks for this dish. I was amazed at the chameleon-like flavor of rhubarb, how it can be so different with sugar and with spice (but always definitely nice).

Curried chicken with Rhubarb by Melissa Clark

2 pounds whole chicken legs (2 or 3) or chicken pieces
Kosher salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 4-inch-long piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 Tbsp. garam masala
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, or more to taste
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/3 C. unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 pound rhubarb, sliced 1/2 -inch thick (2 cups)
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
Chopped fresh cilantro or chives, for garnish.

Heat oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over high heat. Add as many pieces of chicken as fit easily. Brown on one side, about 7 minutes. Turn and brown other side. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat if necessary.

While chicken browns, combine 1 C. onion, garlic, ginger, garam masala, vinegar, cayenne, turmeric, black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup water in a blender, and process until smooth.

When chicken is done, spoon out all but about 2 tablespoons of fat from skillet (if necessary). Add ginger-garlic paste and cook until most of the liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes.

Add coconut milk and 2 cups water, and bring to a simmer. Add rhubarb, brown sugar, chicken and any juices that may have accumulated in bowl. Bring to a boil. Cover and turn heat to low, and simmer gently for 1 hour, turning chicken pieces halfway through. Uncover pan, turn chicken again, and let simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.

Spoon any accumulated fat off sauce and serve right away or, better, chill overnight and degrease sauce before reheating all on a low flame. Serve garnished with cilantro or chives.

Yield: 4 servings.

Lightly spiced lentils (by moi!)

1/2 Tbs. oil
1/2 C. finely chopped onion
1 tsp. minced ginger
1 tsp. garam masala
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. cider vinegar
1 C. brown lentils
2 C. water
salt to taste

Saute onion and ginger in oil until soft. Add spices and cook for a few minutes, stirring, until fragrant. Add lentils, water, and vinegar and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes, or until lentils are soft but still retain their shape.

Serves 4

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Lime & coconut panna cotta with blueberries

This week's BSI challenge, hosted by My Kitchen Addiction, is lime.

The lime is certainly a good challenge ingredient: a little bit sweet, a little bit tart, but with an alluring (if elusive) flavor and scent. What to make to capture both? I first thought about the key lime pie, imagined lime squares, paused briefly on some lime-based ceviche, but finally decided I was going to make a creamy, zesty, lime panna cotta. I could almost taste the flavors and almost see the beautiful little wobble it would make when inverted onto a serving plate. Also, it's incredibly easy and quick to make (aside from the chilling time).

Alas, it was not to be. I realized I had no gelatin, and no stores in South East London (ok, within a 15 minute walk of my flat) stocked anything.

Then Plan B came to me, or more specifically, "Plan Coconut Milk Pudding which is sort of like Panna Cotta but doesn't need gelatin." (And, hey! is vegan.) I have made very successful chocolate puddings with milk and cornstarch, so I thought I'd try it here with some coconut milk (to give it a little extra flavor, plus: lime & coconut = culinary perfection). I warmed the coconut milk, added the lime juice and some sugar -- enough of both to give a pretty good dose of lime flavor without completely overwhelming the poor tastebuds -- and then stirred in my thickener. I added some blueberries to the coconut mixture when I poured it into my ramekins. I briefly contemplated making a blueberry and lime sauce instead, but decided I liked the fresh blueberries better.

And you know what, it came out pretty well. Lesson learned: always do what the song says and put the lime in the coconut. Here's a picture (post-digging in) so you can see the beautiful blueberries hovering in the coconut cream.

Lime & coconut panna cotta with blueberries

2 C. coconut milk (regular or light or a mixture of both)
3 Tbsp. lime juice
3 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
Zest of 1 lime
handful of blueberries

Arrange 4 ramekins with a circle of baking parchment to line the bottom of each. This will help the panna cotta to release when ready to serve.

Gently heat coconut milk, lime juice and sugar (adjusting the proportions of the lime and the sugar depending on the sweetness and acidity of your lime). Scoop out 1/4 C. of the coconut milk and whisk the cornstarch in before returning the mixture to the pan. Keep whisking while it heats and thickens. It should thicken nicely before getting to a full boil, at which point remove from heat.

Let the mixture cool slightly, then pour into ramekins, mixing blueberries in. Chill for at least 2-3 hours. To serve, dip ramekin into hot water for 5 seconds or so, then invert onto a plate. (At least this is what should happen. I had to run a knife around the edge of mine to get them to slip out.)

Serves 4

Friday, 7 August 2009

Pasta primavera

Pasta primavera means springtime pasta, but pasta estate doesn't sound quite so appetizing, if more seasonally appropriate. This is high summer pasta -- when the tomatoes start to burst open, the summer squash is in full swing, and you can smell a basil plant a mile away. Yes, and the living is easy: this dish can be made in 10 minutes, provided you can chop quickly enough.

The beauty of this particular recipe is that it is not really a recipe at all, but more of a suggested line of inquiry. Any vegetables will do, in any combination, and any quantities. Feta, goat's cheese, mozzarella -- the world is your oyster (am I mixing my foodie metaphors here?). And on a long, warm evening, watching the world slide into dusk, with a glass of a good pinot grigio from Orvieto, or a vernaccia from San Gimigniano, you couldn't ask for more flavor from less work.

Pasta primavera

1/2 lb pasta
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large or 2 small green onions
10-12 plum tomatoes
Handful peas or frozen soy beans
1 medium zucchini, cut into batons
2-4 Tbsp. Fresh basil, chiffonade
crumbled feta

Cook pasta according to instructions. While pasta is cooking, saute garlic in a little olive oil in a large skillet. Add zucchini and cook until soft, but still crisp. Add peas and green onions, then heat tomatoes through for just a minute. Once pasta is drained, mix with vegetables, basil and feta.

Serves 2

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Pico de gallo, guacamole and fresh fruit smoothie

Family guest post part deux:

Growing up in my family, we always sat down for dinner together. Barring softball or baseball practice, gymnastics or Tae Kwon Do, we pretty much always ate, talked, laughed, sulked, tried to leave early to read my book, or otherwise spent time together. We don't have so many family meals now, living in three different cities on two continents, but we still manage to connect around dinner. These days, often in the form of sharing recipes and ideas. Last week was a contribution from my mother. Today, one from my brother. (I'll never have to blog again!)

In September, my little brother will be getting married. Yes, my baby brother is all grown up: and someone has come along to take him off our hands! But seriously -- and I suppose this is what it must be like to have children -- I have watched him go from a little boy to a grown man. Nowhere is this more apparent (and important, clearly) than in his eating habits. For years, Lil' Bro subsisted on an all-white diet. Rice, pasta, chicken breast, pancakes: the four food groups (though he reminds me he rounded out his diet with cereal). Nevertheless, he managed to avoid rickets and scurvy, and has turned into someone who emails me about the best technique for cooking risotto or the particular peppercorn needed for a pasta and pecorino recipe.

This week, he sent me some pics and recipes. He said, "Feel free to elaborate, pontificate, or re-write as you desire. Actually, any re-writing would probably be an improvement since you have more practice at this." I have to disagree -- I think he does it very well on his own. Aw. Anyway, here you have it: a trio of recipes for a hot summer day. Chips, salsa, guacamole, and a holy moly fresh fruit smoothie: I am so proud.

Pico de gallo

4 fresh, ripe tomatoes - peeled, seeded, and diced
1/2 C. finely diced onions
2 cloves minced garlic
3 T. diced cilantro
Juice of 1-2 limes
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. cumin

Preparation is fairly straightforward. Just takes a bit of patience and chopping. Peel the tomatoes, remove the seeds, dice, and deposit into a medium sized mixing bowl. Chop the onions, garlic, and cilantro and add them to the tomatoes. Add the lime juice and mix. Sprinkle the salt, cayenne pepper, and cumin into the mix to disperse and mix again. Finally add the cilantro and give it a final mix. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours to bring out the flavors.

The ingredients you use and the amount in which they are used is rather flexible. You can use more or less of any ingredient to suit your tastes better. The key is to use the best produce you can find to keep a fresh and flavorful salsa.


I have to give credit for the basic recipe to the Momster. Indeed her recipes are what my cooking experience is founded on. A lot of this preparation is done to taste (as you will see in the directions) and I will modify it based on who I am preparing it for.

4 ripe avocados
1 tomato, diced
Juice of 2-3 limes
1 T. diced cilantro
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Halve the avocados and remove the pit. Using a fork, scrape the meat (meat? flesh? yummy green stuff?) of the avocado into a mixing bowl. This will make the mixing easier. Add the lime and salt and mix with a fork using the tines to smush any large pieces until you have a fairly even consistency. Taste and add lime or salt as desired. Mix in cayenne pepper and cilantro. Check taste. Finally mix in the chopped tomato and serve.

Again, the ingredients can be modified but having nice, ripe avocados will make or break the guacamole. Some people will add onion to their guacamole but I find that the powerful flavor detracts from the avocado. Similarly, with the cayenne pepper, I add just enough to give it a subtle kick at the end but not enough to overpower the other ingredients.

Fresh Fruit Smoothie

Earlier in the summer my fiancée went berry picking and the abundance of berries inspired me to try my hand at smoothies using our stick blender.

1/2 cup+ of fresh mixed berries (I use blackberries, raspberries, and a few blueberries)
1 scoop of: fresh vanilla ice cream, frozen yogurt, or sorbet, your choice
Roughly 1/2 cup apple cider

Add the berries and your frozen medium to the mixing beaker for your stick blender and compress slightly with the blender. Add enough apple cider to submerge the end of the blender and blend to the desired consistency. Pour into chilled pint glass and enjoy. This can likely also be done with a regular blender but I haven't tried it myself.

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