Hummus would have to be my go-to dip. It’s quick and easy to make and, what’s more, it’s a very versatile dip. It can be served with vegetable crudités and crackers as an appetiser, spread onto flatbreads to eat as a snack or light meal, or even served as part of a main meal with some grilled lamb koftas and a salad. I make it so often that I tend to keep tins of chickpeas on standby in the pantry so that I can whip up a batch at short notice.
We are hosting a small cocktail party this weekend or, as they call it in Switzerland, an apéro, where the evening will be fueled by lots of small canapés and finger food. Hubby is rather excited by all of the possible wine pairings and I have been quite content to bury myself amongst hefty volumes of cookbooks in the late evenings, comparing and choosing recipes for our little soirée.
A trip to the Swiss mountains usually guarantees good, hearty, winter fare. After a day of heavy duty winter sports, the body is likely to crave something substantial, something loaded with calories. On a recent weekend away in the picturesque Swiss village of Kandersteg, my husband and I found it difficult to hold back when it came to mealtimes, despite the fact that neither of us had engaged in any strenuous outdoor activity which would have explained our hearty appetites. But as my husband likes to put it, some dishes taste best when served in the appropriate surrounding environment; a fondue somehow tastes better when served in the mountains in an old wooden hut where everyone is rugged up in their winter woollies.
The weather has been blisteringly hot in Zurich lately, which should be a welcome change given the torrential rain which we’ve had in the preceeding months. But after a few days of soaking up the sun and several impromptu lakeside evening picnics, the lack of air-conditioning has become quite evident and I find myself quietly (and guiltily) yearning for the cooler weather to return. This is especially since I have discovered that our kitchen happens to be the warmest room in our apartment, a place which I have suddenly been trying to spend as little time as possible so that I can be elsewhere to catch the breeze. It has been quite an unusual predicament for me, trying to plan meals which require minimal time spent in the kitchen when it is often a place I escape to.
But the last few days finally saw the rainfall and thunderstorms return, as well as my appetite. And in an effort to demonstrate to my husband (well, mostly myself!) that I remember how to cook a proper meal, I set about preparing a curry feast.
I love a good lasagne and it’s a satisfying dish to make when you have time to potter about in the kitchen. With spring having finally arrived in Zurich and warmer weather slowly creeping into the forecast, I wanted to make a baked pasta dish, but nothing too rich and heavy. This vegetarian lasagne is super easy to make, requiring only a simple tomato sauce and a béchamel sauce and, if you like, a scattering of vegetables between the layers.
As with any dish that has a few components and requires an assembly job, making a lasagne is not necessarily something you would attempt during the week after a long day at work, but it sure makes for a special meal at any other time.
Long before cooking became a passionate hobby and was more of a matter of survival for me, I heavily relied on cookbooks to put together really basic and simple meals like … vegetable soups. Yes, for something which merely required a few ingredients to be cooked together with some stock and then thrown in the blender, I needed careful instruction on how to do exactly that. And who else to turn to for motherly advice in the kitchen, when my own mother was absent, than Elizabeth David.
Faced with some bits and pieces of cheese in the fridge, I thought I would try my hand at a savoury waffle for lunch today, and these waffles with Gruyère and fresh thyme were absolutely scrumptious! The cheese adds lovely savouriness to the waffles and pairs wonderfully with a simple green salad on the side, dressed lightly with a mustard vinaigrette.
Due to hubby’s request to eat more vegetarian meals this year, I saw no reason to not buy the latest book from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of the River Cottage fame, Veg Everyday. The book is dedicated to eating vegetarian meals, though it is not written by a vegetarian – an important distinction in my mind because it means there are no spooky and holistic ingredients which would otherwise make vegetarian cooking too much of an effort for a carnivore like me.
One recipe which instantly called out to me was the Chilli, Cheese and Rosemary Polenta with Tomato Sauce. There was something very nursery about this recipe. Plus I had some polenta in the pantry which had just passed its expiry date …
My first introduction to polenta was at the canteen at work. And before you recoil in shock, I should mention that Swiss canteens happen to be quite highly regarded in the culinary world. In fact, the canteens at several companies here even compete with one another in the same way that high-end restaurants do. One of my colleagues regularly uses the quality of the canteen meals as the bar for comparisons when he is dining out at restaurants. The canteen at our rival company has even published a cookbook – on fine dining. Pretty top notch.
I have long been a fan of Nigel Slater, his books having been instrumental in my initial forays into the kitchen, along with Nigella Lawson and, dare I say it, the Australian Women’s Weekly. One of my favourite cookbooks would have to be Appetite, a hefty book filled with amazingly delicious recipes but provided in a manner that encourages the cook to develop some intuition in the kitchen. Rather than call for, say, 100 g of tomatoes, Nigel Slater’s recipes would instead ask for 3-4 medium-sized tomatoes, not only making it a bit easier to shop but also allowing the cook some flexibility.
I have been distracted in recent years by cookbooks from other authors, but this year hopefully marks a revisit of some old favourites. I was only reminded of Nigel Slater recently when hubby and I were browsing in the bookshop and Nigel Slater’s Tender Volume 1 & 2 were being sold together in a limited edition boxed set. Having lusted after these books for some time but trying to sensibly refrain from hoarding too many cookbooks in one year, I couldn’t resist a boxed set. And upon realising that Volume 1 was all about vegetables, and Volume 2 was dedicated to fruit, hubby generously offered the books to me as a gift, on the condition that they supported his New Year’s resolutions to eat more vegetarian and healthy food. Of course, honey …
With pumpkins in season, I was instantly taken by Nigel’s recipe for pumpkin laksa in Tender Volume 1. As a lover of all noodle soups, from the robust and herbal hit of a Vietnamese Pho to the equally comforting but milder-flavoured chicken noodle soup of the western palate, and not to mention the 2-minute noodles (or pot noodles) of my student days, I can rarely turn down a recipe for comfort in a bowl.
The following recipe is inspired by one from Nigella Christmas, a book which is always a great source of comfort and inspiration to me at this time of the year. Nigella Christmas is a colourful and calorie-filled collection of recipes which are ideal at Christmas, but also for parties and entertaining in general. Oftentimes throughout the year, I find myself cooking from this book whenever we have a large gathering, particularly since a lot of the recipes are in the “serves 16-20 people” category. Though, most of the recipes can easily be scaled down to accommodate more sensible headcounts.
I adore artichokes. As a child, my mother would boil a whole artichoke for my dinner on those nights when she was preoccupied with other things or, more likely, fed up with cooking and needed to give me a no-fuss dinner. Hard task given that I was a fussy eater for most of my life.
But I always enjoyed my solitary meal of boiled artichokes which I would ceremoniously sit down to in front of the telly, picking off the leaves one-by-one and sucking off what scant flesh there was on the edge of each leaf. Once I was done making my way through all of the leaves (which usually took this fussy eater quite a while), my mum would then cut through the remains to reveal the heart. Though normally by this stage, I would have lost interest and demanded toast.
After seeing the mouth-watering photos of this dish made by Carrie from thePatternedPlate, as well as reading other rave reviews about this yet-another Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, I couldn’t wait to try this dish.
Gado-gado is essentially a salad dressed with a satay sauce. As far as satay sauces go, this is perhaps the most complex recipe I have ever come across! There are quite a lot of steps involved, not to mention quite a lot of ingredients. As you can see from my photos below, I used small red onions in place of shallots. I have a tendency to gather a small collection of different coloured onions and shallots and recently decided that, as a compromise, small red onions should do the trick whenever “onions” or “shallots” are called for. The sauce takes about an hour to make, so you will have to factor this time in when making this dish or perhaps even make the sauce the day before.
I had to renew my work visa the other day, which necessitated a trip to the immigration office so that I could be fingerprinted and all the rest. The only thing worse than taking an hour out of my day to visit a government office was posing for my mug shot and realising that I would be stuck with that photo everytime I have to go through passport control in the next 12 months. Someone ought to fix the lighting in those photo booths …
Thankfully, my time at the immigration office was over in 5 minutes (that’s Swiss efficiency for you) and as I walked back to the tram stop, I popped into the Asian grocer nearby to see what I could pick up for dinner that night. It was not a store I had frequently visited before and I was giddy with excitement by how well-stocked it was. I was particularly surprised to see a large selection of different types of tofu, including silken tofu which I had never come across before in Zurich.
Early this morning, one of my neighbours knocked on my door and suggested a barbeque at her place in the evening with some other neighbours. Such spontaneity is not common in Switzerland and I happen to love informal gatherings like these at short notice.
Given that one neighbour happens to be a vegetarian, the first dish that came to my mind was Yotam Ottolenghi’s Aubergines with Buttermilk Sauce which I made for the first time only a few weeks ago.
This time around, I chose much smaller aubergines as they were to be eaten as a side dish alongside other grilled vegetables. I still roasted them for about 40 minutes until they were soft and golden in colour, though they were probably still a bit too firm for my liking – it probably had something to do with the variety of aubergine and perhaps even my oven in Zurich.
Last night’s dinner was supposed to be Yotam Ottolenghi’s Mee Goreng from Plenty. Unfortunately, the trip to the supermarket for the necessary ingredients turned out to be very disappointing. I’m currently working in the mid-West in the US and while I should be grateful that the local supermarket even has an aisle for “Global Cuisine”, I think I might need to have a chat with the manager about their range of products. I mean, is it really necessary to have 5 different types of dried soba noodles when perhaps there could be more variety, like some egg noodles?? I know I shouldn’t complain but I am prone to whinging, especially after a long day at work (and which starts with a tornado evacuation).
So faced with the above-mentioned assortment of soba noodles, I reluctantly took a packet and then headed in search of tofu. Except there wasn’t any left. Sigh.
I was out during my lunch break yesterday buying some teatowels (as you do) and there nestled amongst the pretty decorative linens were copies of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. It’s not a place where you would ordinarily find cookbooks, but I’m sure some thoughtful person had anticipated that product placement of this kind would work on a gullible consumer like myself. If one was in the mood for over-priced but practical teatowels, why not a cookbook to go with? And after a successful attempt at Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe for Black Pepper Tofu the other day, I couldn’t resist flicking through the book and carrying it with me to the cashier.
Hubby has been quite vocal on several occasions about eating less meat and more vegetarian dishes at home, but the truth is, I don’t think we eat that much meat; we probably eat it everyday but just not in huge quantities. And when it comes to meat, we seem to eat mostly chicken with pork coming a distant second. And if I had to be completely honest, I’m more likely to be cooking with chicken or pork to add flavour (such as to make stock for soups), rather to eat the meat itself; the meat happens to be eaten as a by-product because it would be a waste to throw it away.
This recipe comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty and was recommended to me by the lovely Carrie, another food-obsessed cookbook lover who has become an invaluable friend to me in the online world. When she first made this dish sometime ago and raved about how delicious it was, I knew it was something that I had to try. Having grown up on tofu as a child, I love it cooked in whatever shape or form and could happily eat it every night for dinner.
Despite owning over a hundred cookbooks (I’m too afraid to count them now!), I don’t (yet) own any by Ottolenghi, even though quite a few people have emailed me about how wonderful his books and recipes are. The simple truth is, I don’t know much about Ottolenghi so I was very interested in trying out this recipe for dinner tonight.