Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Pasta Please: Fusion for October #PastaPlease

I'm delighted to be hosting the Pasta Please food blogging challenge this month. Created by the lovely Jacqueline at  Tinned Tomatoes, Pasta Please has only one purpose: to celebrate pasta in all its forms.

I love looking at all the foodie challenges each month, and whenever there's a slightly unusual theme, I find it a great excuse to push beyond my comfort zone and try something a bit different.

With that in mind...

Instead of picking a specific ingredient this month, I decided to go for a theme that's both very broad and (I hope) encouraging to wilder flights of the imagination:


We already know how versatile pasta is. (If you've never had chocolate pasta, go and make some. And then maybe count yourself lucky that I didn't pick 'dessert' as my theme.) As such, it feels like a blank canvas that's crying out to be fused with almost any cuisine.

So, step away from the classic Italian sauces.

Whether you go Asian or African, or just to a different region of Europe, go and find me something that isn't usually seen with pasta. (Vegetarian recipes only, please.)

To join in, simply post your recipe on your blog by 28th October, and link it up here. There are just a few simple rules:
  • One entry per blog.
  • Link back to Rachel Cotterill and Tinned Tomatoes.
  • Use the Pasta Please logo (shown above) in your post.
  • If you use twitter, tweet your post to @tinnedtoms and @rachelcotterill using #PastaPlease, and we will re-tweet all that we see.
  • Link up by October 28th.
I'll post the round-up at the end of the month. Can't wait to see what you all come up with!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

September Reading

I do read an awful lot of random stuff, online and off.

I tend to share links to interesting articles and essays when I come across them, but I thought I'd try something new this month and write up a quick summary of the best things I've read.

Spanning topics from language and science, to food and philosophy, I think there's probably something here for everyone. Feel free to leave links to other interesting pieces in the comments.

"Amazeballs to zonkey", insight into how Oxford University Press decides which words to include in which dictionaries.

Artificial sweeteners linked to glucose intolerance - this research looks pretty rigorous, even if the effects have mostly been observed in mice so far.

This is a long, sometimes harrowing piece about emergency response in Syria. But these guys deserve a few mins of your attention & discomfort: Whoever Saves A Life.

On a lighter note, this little collection made me laugh so hard: 18 Apple Varieties With Badass Names

Do women rule the world in the year 2000? There's only one way to find out. Take a look at some classic time travel fiction.

I love this: "We don’t need to be better than anyone else: we just need to love where we are and what we’re doing and who we are. That’s what matters." Plus a few other reasons why you shouldn't compare yourself to others.

A nice summary of trends in lifespan and longevity research: What Happens When We All Live to 100?

Rejected Princesses is one of my new favourite sites: illustrated histories of forgotten (or popularly maligned) women, covering a wealth of times and places. Where else can you read about a martyred mathematician alongside a supreme mistress of the sword?

Some of these insights into modern communication are not unrelated to my thesis: the changing face of punctuation.

Ever wondered what an Amish barn-raising looks like? In time lapse? This is pretty impressive. (Okay, this one's a video rather than an article, but I think it's awesome enough to deserve a free pass.)

Can you tell artificial from natural flavourings? And how? The secrets of fake flavours is a fascinating piece on food technology.

Interesting reading on impulse, economics, and psychology (it gets a bit US-centric at the end, but most of the insights are more widely applicable).

How does your brain process metaphor?
 "It sounds like a question that only a linguist could love," says the author, but I can't see how anyone could fail to be fascinated by this kind of brain imaging study.

Short fiction is a great way to get to know some new authors, for minimal investment: 17 Brilliant Short Novels You Can Read in a Sitting

And finally, whoever thought of this is a marketing genius: Lidl goes Michelin-starred.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Canadian Rockies in Winter

Train journey from Vancouver to Toronto

In January last year, as part of our coast-to-coast tour of Canada, we took the VIA Rail Canadian route from Vancouver to Toronto.

The Canadian route wends its way through the Rocky Mountains, giving rise to some stunning scenery. I'm sure the Rockies are beautiful at any time of year; I love mountains, and these are some serious mountains. But they're especially fabulous in the snow.

You do have to be dedicated to wrapping up warm: January is truly the depths of winter. It wasn't just cold, it was -35°C, broken-rail freezing. When the temperatures have dropped too low for even the Canadian railways to maintain normal operation, then you know you're looking at some serious weather.

Train journey from Vancouver to Toronto

Train journey from Vancouver to Toronto

Train journey from Vancouver to Toronto

When we stopped to stretch our legs in Jasper and Winnipeg, woe betide anyone who forgot their gloves or decided they could get away with only a couple of warm layers. Even walking to the buffet car, you had to crunch through minor snowdrifts in the vestibules.

Jasper in particular had the look of a European ski resort, all wooden chalets with snow-capped roofs. I've only ever been skiing in Europe, but the gorgeous scenery on this trip got me interested in looking at ski holidays in Canada. North American ski resorts have a reputation for being less technical than some of the European mountains, but also having more space on the slopes, which I think would suit my (somewhat haphazard) style. Either way, it would be fun to find out, and to experience a different style of ski holiday.

We had to settle for admiring the mountains from a distance this time (although we did pop up to go snowshoeing on Grouse Mountain while we were in Vancouver), with the occasional short walk when the train stopped to refuel. If we'd been able to plan a longer trip, I wished we'd had time to stop off in the middle of the country, so I'm sure we'll be returning before long to correct that omission.

And we did actually get one extra day of scenery, compared to the scheduled service. We'd planned a day in Toronto before hopping across to Montreal to catch the Ocean route to Halifax on the Atlantic coast, but instead, we woke on the fourth morning to find the train hadn't moved in the night. The aforementioned fractured rail, coupled with a couple of broken-down trains, had led to a backlog on the route - and one interesting feature of Canadian railways is that the passenger trains have to give way to the all-important freight. (For the 'inconvenience' of the delay, we got a refund of half our fare. Not bad compensation for an extra day of sightseeing!)

Train journey from Vancouver to Toronto

Train journey from Vancouver to Toronto

Train journey from Vancouver to Toronto

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Red Onion & Caraway Rolls

Onion & Caraway Bread

I just realised that I've had my bread machine for over a year. This wasn't our first bread machine, but it's the first one that's actually been good enough for us to use it regularly. And honestly, there's very little that beats fresh bread, so I'm in favour of anything that makes the process that bit quicker and easier.

We actually ordered this specific model after visiting friends who fed us the lightest, fluffiest bread we'd ever eaten. If you've never had that kind of accidental sales endorsement then I can heartily recommend the Panasonic range (there's a good range on Tesco Direct). Ours is the SD-ZB2502, which is the one with all the bells and whistles, but the main difference from the lower spec is having a yeast dispenser - helpful if you want to put the timer on and not worry about the yeast starting to activate too soon, but not exactly critical.

Bread machine

Admittedly most of the time I use the machine to facilitate my laziness. On the timer, overnight, it's easy to make a simple sourdough loaf for breakfast. And if I get up in the morning and realise we've nothing for lunch, there's a "speed" cycle that makes a perfectly adequate loaf in two hours. Obviously the two-hour loaf will never be quite as good as dough that's had time to rise slowly on the five- or six-hour cycle, but it's more than nice enough for a sandwich or to accompany a bowl of soup.

But when I have a little more time, one of my favourite things is to knock up a batch of fresh rolls. It's fun to experiment with different flours and flavourings - and I know I manage to try out a lot more ideas now I've got the machine to do the leg-work for me.

For the base of these rolls, I used the focaccia dough recipe from the booklet that came with the bread machine, which has a lovely texture and results in a great crumb. You could totally make these by hand, too, you'll just have to spend a bit more time kneading.

Onion & Caraway Bread

Onion & Caraway Bread

Onion & Caraway Bread

Red Onion & Caraway Rolls
Makes 6

300g (10½oz) strong white flour
1tbsp olive oil
1tsp salt
170ml cold water (about ¾cup)
½tsp instant yeast
1tbsp caraway seeds
1 small red onion (diced finely)
  1. With a breadmaker:
    Add all ingredients to the bowl, and use the dough cycle to combine (on mine, it's program 22 for 45 minutes).
    Without a breadmaker:
    Warm the water and dissolve the yeast, then fold all ingredients together and knead the dough for 30 minutes.
  2. Divide the dough into six even pieces and fold the edges underneath to create a rounded shape.
  3. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F).
  4. Arrange on a floured baking tray, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size (30-45 minutes).
  5. Brush the tops of the rolls with a little extra olive oil.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden-brown in appearance. Each roll should sound hollow when you tap the base.
  7. Cool on a wire rack, or enjoy while warm.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Creamy Asparagus Pasta #PastaPlease

Asparagus Pasta

Shaheen at Allotment2Kitchen has combining Jac's Pasta Please with her own new challenge Eat Your Greens, picking a green theme for Pasta Please this month.

I've been a fan of Shaheen's blog for absolutely ages, so I'm delighted that she's got a new monthly cookery challenge for us. (And one that won't be any trouble to enter, since I'm always using green vegetables in all sorts of recipes!)

I'd been planning this dish for a little while, anyway, and had some asparagus spears in the fridge when I read the announcement - so it was very good timing for me. Asparagus is one of my very favourite vegetables (of any colour!) and pairing it with the fresh coriander leaf worked surprisingly well.


Creamy Asparagus Pasta
Serves 2

250g asparagus spears
1 small onion
1tsp olive oil
¼cup vegetable stock
2tbsp fresh coriander (cilantro) leaf
1tbsp clotted cream
salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
200g pasta (dry weight)
  1. Wash and trim the asparagus.
  2. Finely dice the onion.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a small pan and fry the onion and asparagus until the onion softens.
  4. Meanwhile, boil water for the pasta.
  5. Add the vegetable stock and simmer to cook the asparagus.
  6. Blend the sauce, adding the coriander, pepper, and cream at the last minute.
  7. Cook the pasta, toss through the sauce, and serve immediately.

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