Menu Planning and Spaghetti Fridays

I am not a planner. Life can take me where it wants, and that is just fine. I feel this way about cooking as well, never having been one to plan what I am going to cook at the beginning of the week and do one big shop in preparation. Part of my day with Lilias is going to the deli/market/grocery store a few blocks from us and choosing something to take home and make for dinner.

But lately I have been in a rut. A very deep one that has made me not look forward to either the shopping or the cooking. I don’t know whether it is because we used to eat out quite a bit at exciting and inspiring cafes and restaurants and I got ideas from them? Or that now I have a nine month old to think about cooking for as well as us? But I felt like I was making the same stuff over and over. And not enjoying it.

So I decided to do the unthinkable. Menu planning. Sitting down in the weekend with cookbooks and planning what we are going to eat for the week. And I have to say, it has been working a treat! It means I actually cook to a recipe from cook books I may not have looked at for a while, I can look at the week as a whole and make sure we are eating a variety of foods, there is no waste of food that looked good at the market and then was never actually used, and it means I am trying a whole lot of new recipes in the kitchen. I don’t know how long I will keep it up, but for the moment it is getting me out of the rut.

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I still cook seasonally by only picking recipes that use ingredients that I know I can find at the market at the moment. And if something looks really good when I am out, I will pick it up and find a way to incorporate it into that night’s meal. It has been making things a whole lot easier and given me more time for adventures further afield with my little Lilias. We have been loving going for long winter walks on the beach- there is something so beautiful about a grey cold day and a stormy looking ocean. Makes me not mind the cold wind in my face and leaves both of us feeling fresh and new and ready for a big dinner.

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I may be cooking all different styles of food from all different cook books, but it is nice to come back to your favourites. So on Fridays? Not going out for an after work drink and getting home at 3am, nope, those days are over… for now. Instead? Spaghetti alla puttanesca. Red wine. Bliss.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
Serves four (or two very hungry people)

A very generous pour of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic finely minced
1 dried peperoncino/ generous pinch of chilli flakes
5 anchovy fillets
400g red, ripe tomatoes or 1 tin tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato puree
100g pitted black olives
1 large tbsp capers
roughly chopped parsley
spaghetti

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Firstly, pour yourself a glass of wine and put your pasta water on.

Put the olive oil, minced garlic, chopped anchovies and chilli into a frying pan over a very gentle flame to let the garlic soften and anchovies melt down into the oil.

Peel, deseed and roughly chop the tomatoes if you are using fresh ones, otherwise open the can and add them to the pan. Raise the heat a little so the pan reaches a bubbling simmer and then finally add the capers, tomato puree and the olives.

By now, the water should have come to the boil. Salt generously and add the spaghetti.

Allow the sauce to bubble away and reduce a little and then add the parsley and finally the cooked pasta.

Serve with a sprinkling of fresh parsley. Buon appetito and have a good weekend x

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And I’m Back

I have spent a while considering Flowers in my Hair and whether I should get back into it, going back and forward trying to decide if it is something I want to do. I have been reading far more of other people’s blogs recently, and with that, I have been made aware of the over saturation on the internet. I mean, is it really necessary to have another food/this is my everyday (rather mundane) life for you to read about? I feel it is rather narcissistic for me to believe you would even want to read about what I have been doing and cooking in my little San Francisco apartment.

But I have had some words of encouragement from good friends, a few writing projects started and planned for the coming months, and it has got me wanting more. I have a gap to fill being at home with Lilias and not working. Plus it feels like spring here, the blossom is coming out, the air feels soft and warm and the days are getting longer, just the right time to resurrect the blog and make a fresh start. Isn’t that what this season is all about?

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I will begin with dinner last night- a risotto made with really good chicken stock from the carcass of the chicken used for pollo alla cacciatore the night before. It comes from Jamie’s Italy, with a few alterations because I am the worst at following a recipe.

Fennel and Ricotta Risotto
Serves two with leftovers, or four as a starter

1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds
2 cloves garlic
1 big bulb of fennel, or 2 small bulbs
2 celery stalks
1/2 onion
1 large cup of risotto rice- about 200g
1 glass of white wine
Chicken stock – about half a litre
chilli flakes
4 tablespoons of ricotta
1 lemon
parmesan
olive oil
salt and pepper

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Start with a couple of splashes of olive oil in a pan and fry the garlic until softened, then add the fennel seeds and sliced fennel (save the feathery tops for later). Add a pinch of salt and pepper, pop the lid on and it turn down low. Now gently fry the finely diced onion and celery in olive oil for about 10 minutes. When the vegetables have softened, add the rice and fry until it is slightly translucent. Next add the glass of wine and stir until the smell of alcohol has disappeared and the wine absorbed.
You can now start adding the stock (I used chicken stock, but you could use vegetable stock if you wanted a vegetarian recipe) bit by bit, little by little. The more you stir, the creamier it gets. Continue until the rice is soft, but still has a bit of bite. Remove from the heat and stir in the ricotta, zest of the lemon and lovely, sweet fennel mixture. Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes. This lets the rice get really creamy and thick and all the flavours will jumble up together. Check the seasoning and balance the flavour with as much lemon juice as you feel it needs to work with the fennel. Divide between your plates, sprinkle over your finely sliced fennel tops and dust with the chilli flakes and grated parmesan.