Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Garlic Mushroom Carbonara

Garlic Mushroom Carbonara

My first attempt at making carbonara was as a boat-dwelling teenager; it didn't go well, and I ended up with pasta and some kind of gloopy scrambled-egg sauce that tasted vile. This time around (and I've made this twice, now) it was much better.

Finding something to replace the meat, as a vegetarian, is always a fun challenge. I had a mushroom carbonara on a recent trip to the Isle of Wight, and decided to try and replicate that. I've now tried with a mixture of different mushrooms: chestnut mushrooms are a perennial favourite of mine, and shitake are also good.

I'm submitting this recipe to Pasta Please, organised by Jac at Tinned Tomatoes and hosted this month by Helen at Family Friends Food who has picked a springtime theme.

I don't know about you, but I love the fresh peas at this time of year, and I always think of light and creamy sauces around this season.

Garlic Mushroom Carbonara

Garlic Mushroom Carbonara
Serves 2

100ml double cream
1 egg
200g linguine
200g mixed mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
1 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
parmesan (or similar hard cheese), to taste
black pepper, to taste

  1. Whisk together the egg and cream.
  2. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, adding the peas a minute before the end.
  3. Meanwhile, fry the mushrooms with the garlic in a little oil or butter, until soft. Drain off any excess liquid.
  4. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the starchy water.
  5. Add the pasta to the mushrooms, and immediately stir through the egg and cream mixture. The residual heat from the pasta will cook the egg, so you shouldn't need to return the pan to the heat.
  6. Season with parmesan and black pepper, amounts according to personal preference.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Mexican-Inspired Savoury Cookies

Mexican-inspired cookies

I've been on a major kitchen clean-up this year, trying to get my fridge, freezer, and pantry under control. One consequence of this is that I'm attempting to use up all the odds and ends. You know how it is: you buy a packet of something when you really need just a pinch or two, and then it languishes. I fear it may take me more than a year to run down all my stockpiles, but I'm doing my best.

This recipe comes to you courtesy of a half-empty jar of jalapeños that had been hanging around in the fridge for quite a while, and a tin of refried beans that I wasn't sure what to do with. I love Mexican flavours, and experimenting is always fun, so I decided to pick a few of my favourite ingredients and turn them into a cookie.

They're not the prettiest, but they tasted more than good enough to make up for that.

Mexican-inspired cookies

I found that these lasted slightly less well than the cheese cookies I usually make, which I can only assume is down to the beans. But they're really tasty, so I still recommend this recipe - you'll just have to eat them within a couple of days, or pop them in the freezer.

Mexican-Inspired Savoury Cookies
Makes about 20 cookies

2 cups plain flour
1tsp baking powder
2 eggs
250g butter (US: 2 sticks)
1 cup mashed potato
1 cup refried beans
1 cup cheese
¼ cup jalapeños (plus extra slices to decorate)
½ cup red pepper
½ cup red onion
½ cup sweetcorn

  1. Preheat oven to 160° C.
  2. Mix baking powder into flour.
  3. Melt the butter (1 minute in the microwave) and break up the eggs.
  4. Add the egg and melted butter to the flour. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon or spatula until no patches of raw flour remain.
  5. Knead the mashed potato and refried beans into the dough.
  6. Mix in the jalapeños, pepper, onion, and sweetcorn.
  7. Form into balls and press down onto a lined baking sheet. (The dough will be quite sticky, so you may want to use a spoon to help with this stage.)
  8. Optionally, press an extra jalapeño slice into the top of the cookie.
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown and beginning to crisp.
  10. Cool on a wire rack before serving. Store in the fridge, or freeze them if you think you'll struggle to get through the batch.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Dark Chocolate Cowboy Bark (Secret Recipe Club)

Cowboy bark

My assignment for the Secret Recipe Club this month was Cindy from Hun... What's For Dinner?

Cindy has loads of great recipes to choose from. I was seriously tempted by her tex-mex rice parcels, but we're trying to clear out our freezer and pantry at the moment, so buying all the extra ingredients was out of the question.

Instead, I went for something that sounded not only delicious, but a great way to use up a bunch of half-finished packets that were hanging around.

It's called cowboy bark.

I'd never heard of this before, but the idea seems to originate with Trader Joe's in the US. I always shop there if I'm in the States for long enough to need groceries, but somehow this had passed me by.

I made a few adjustments to Cindy's recipe, primarily by skipping the Oreos (I'm not a fan) and reducing some of the other quantities as the tray filled up. I also skipped the extra salt, since the pretzels and nuts are already salted.

Cowboy Bark

Cowboy Bark
Serves 4

400g dark chocolate
1 cup salted pretzel snacks
⅓cup salted peanuts
⅓cup roast almonds
⅓cup fudge pieces

  1. Measure out all the ingredients in advance, and line a deep baking tray with greaseproof paper.
  2. Roughly chop the almonds.
  3. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie or (carefully!) in the microwave. Keep back about a quarter, and grate it, to stir in once the majority has melted; this will temper the chocolate and give a cleaner break.
  4. Pour the melted chocolate onto the greaseproof paper, and smooth with the back of a spoon.
  5. Arrange the pretzels over the chocolate surface.
  6. Sprinkle over the peanuts, almonds, and fudge pieces.
  7. Allow to cool before eating.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Goals 2015: February Checkpoint

We're two months into the year (yes, that surprised me, too), and I thought this might be a good time to reflect on my 2015 goals.

As I've learnt in previous years, having targets only helps me if I remember to check my progress against them on a regular basis. So here's a little accountability for myself.

1. Finish my thesis & graduate as a Doctor
I've been working on my redraft intermittently, although I was briefly sidetracked into working on a conference paper instead. As this covers some of the same results, which I needed to write up anyway, it's far from wasted effort, and will give me another publication credit. The paper has been accepted for a conference in April, which also means a trip to Cairo (bonus!).

2. Write another novel
This is on hold for now until I finish the next draft of my thesis. However I am allowing myself to work intermittently on short pieces, since it feels like my brain will explode if I don't allow some of the fiction to trickle out.

3. Submit short stories to five different venues (2/5)
I've sent in two stories to paying markets this year: a flash fiction piece set in the high Arctic, and a sci-fi piece that revolves around hacking game. No responses, yet.

I've also self-published The Falconer, a little fantasy mystery that's free to download. This is set in the same world as Watersmeet, so if you enjoyed that setting, I hope you'll like this one. (For those who care about such things, it's about 10k words, so in that awkward space somewhere between short story and novella.)

4. Read & review at least 52 books (14/52)
Starting strong on this one - which isn't too surprising since it's probably the easiest of all my goals. I've already read more than a dozen books towards my goal; all but two fit the Strange Charm demographic of speculative fiction by women, and I'm also doing much better at remembering to update my Goodreads account as I go.

5. Log at least 104 runs or walks over 5k (17/104)
I've been enjoying lots of lovely walks, this winter: so far this has consisted of exploring local footpaths, holidays in Cornwall and the Isle of Wight, and walking to work in Sweden.

6. Log at least 104 physio & weight-lifting sessions (5/104)
I'm a little behind on this one, mainly because I need to figure out how to keep up with my physio while travelling. If anyone has experience of this, please, share your hints and tips.

7. Take an introductory Persian class
I'm about half way through the beginners' course that started in January, although I sadly missed a couple of lessons thanks to an impromptu trip to Sweden. I'm busily catching up, though.

8. Develop and post 52 new recipes (3/52)
Slightly behind on this one, although I do have a couple outstanding that have been made but not yet blogged. My favourite so far was this gnocchi bake with mushrooms & artichokes.

9. Participate in SRC for at least eight months (0/8)
My first post of the year, for March, is publishing in a couple of days. I knew I wouldn't be doing January or February, so this is on track, even if it doesn't look like it.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Signal to Noise: Musical Fantasy in Mexico City

With National Literacy Week on the horizon, I was asked to contribute to a list of most-anticipated 2015 releases over on tombola times. There are some great suggestions there, so do check out the full list - I'll certainly be looking out for some of these.

I had to think really, really hard about this one. I get quite a lot of advance review copies, so I'm regularly reading books that aren't out yet, but it's still a lot of pressure to select one title in particular that stands out.

Since Joanna and I started Strange Charm, I've been consciously reading more widely and diversely, which has led to discovering a number of books that I might otherwise have missed.

Signal to Noise is one such: a tale of magic and community set in Mexico City. For me, one of the greatest pleasures of reading is the opportunity to immerse myself in another world - which I suppose is why I read so much fantasy, sci-fi, and historical fiction in the first place. This title stood out for its combination of a unique magical style with a detailed portrayal of Mexican family life.

The story follows Meche through two phases of her life: as she discovers magic in her teenage years, and years later, when she returns to Mexico City as an adult to attend her father's funeral.

The magic Meche and her friends discover is enmeshed in music, and it's brutal. This is not the story of a teenage heroine saving the world: rather, it's a recognisable portrayal of just what might unfold if a troubled girl was given the power to throw out physical harm along with angry words.

As an adult, Meche is still haunted by her youthful experiences. She thinks she's put her childhood behind her, but all she's really succeeded in doing is running away. Forced to return and confront her disfunctional family, and her one-time friends,

The result is a thoughtful, unusual look at the consequences of magic, projected firmly into the real world and its everyday concerns.

Signal to Noise is published today.

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