Monday, January 13, 2014

Food Resolutions for 2014

Not too late for resolutions is it? It might be mid-January but better late than never!

Drink more alcohol.

Now that I've finally acquired a taste for beer and red wine, it's time to be adventurous. I usually just get the same old same old: dry wine followed distantly by gin (if ever). I want to experiment with new spirits, liqueurs, and cocktails at home. There's so much out there that I haven't tried. There are many excellent British spirits, but I'm not sure how much fancy gin I can squeeze into a student budget.

Get out of my cooking rut.

There have been long periods of time where I just couldn't be bothered. While I was writing my dissertation, cooking (and the subsequent clean up) became such a chore to me. I had no will or interest to plan, prep, cook, and clean. Near the end, I only wanted to work or veg out, so cooking was very tedious. I had tons of mediocre take away sandwiches, soups, and salads this fall. To be honest, I don't think I could bear eating one more Boots meal deal in my life. So I've decided to branch out and try weird food pairings this year.

By the way, I love this description of solo meals by Jenny of Dinner: A Love Story on A Cup of Jo:
" egg sandwich meal is best experienced as the anti-family dinner—standing up at the counter scanning facebook or in front of X Factor while simultaneously responding to every iPhone ping. There are no utensils. There are no manners. There are no rules."
I relate to that so much. My version includes a limp sandwich in one hand and a greasy, food-smeared smartphone in the other.

Go pescatarian. Sometimes. 

Inspired by my fabulous friends who run The Consicous Student, and for reasons of health, frugality, and vanity, I'm aiming to eat pescatarian (vegetarian with seafood) two to three days a week. I love a stodgy meal of meat and potatoes - probably too much actually - so I tend to eat the same meals of pasta and meat day to day. It's just so simple to fry a couple sausages and call it dinner, although I love a nice salad with fish, especially when I don't have to make it myself. But I think it will be relatively simple to stay away from meat as breakfast and lunch can easily be meat-free.

Cook more intuitively.

My big sis is amazingly intuitive when she cooks. I cook recipe by recipe, buying new stuff and never using it again, whereas Kanlaya whips up something great with whatever is around. I want to reduce food waste, use some creativity, and save money.

That about wraps up my list. What are your resolutions?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Christmas and 2014

It's been a good five months since I've been here(!!!). I've been bad, I know. Since I last updated, I wrote a dissertation, threw a lot of dinner parties (my first Thanksgiving!), and ate a lot more junk food. After a short two week visit to Minnesota where I caught up with my adorable and goofy niece and her effortlessly cool mom, Kanlaya, I'm back in Scotland and I can't wait to talk about food again.

Celebrations began with chile hot chocolate, a delicious combination I picked up in the UK that I was pretty skeptical of at first. My low fuss method involves spiking hot chocolate with a few generous dashes of ground cayenne pepper and topping it with fat marshmallows. We didn't have powdered hot chocolate mix on hand so we did it the old fashioned way - with real chocolate. That literally has never occurred to me. I am dumb.

Christmas dinner was a huge affair this year! I was super excited and honored to be in charge of it. 

Growing up I didn't even realize that Christmas dinner is a strong tradition in America, Britain, and loads of other countries. It was a really awesome secret that I was surprised to have never noticed or been informed of. My sister made ham and turkey many years ago, but I didn't know that dinner on Christmas was Christmas dinner (i.e. Thanksgiving part 2). With this revelation I was so excited to be in charge of Christmas dinner like a grown ass adult. I imagined elaborate courses, researched the Italians' Feast of Seven Fishes, and, like usual, spent a lot of time on the internet. Although I'm normally indecisive about menu planning, my first brainstorm and the finished project didn't differ too much: 

Shrimp ceviche
Spicy salmon cucumber bites
Bacon wrapped scallops
Truffled deviled eggs with creme fraiche
Arugala and fennel citrus salad
Lobster tail
Crab cakes
Gingerbread cookies

Although my parents are pretty indifferent about Christmas - they're just along for the ride - my big sis and I love love love the holidays. In fact, she likes eating the food and I like making it, but I somehow got her to cook half of it with me. ;)

Prep for this meal should really begin a week before serving. She and I cooked all day on Christmas Eve and Christmas day - big mistake. It was exhausting. The thing with this menu is that most of the ingredients need to be very fresh, which means that there's not much you can do preparation wise. For future years I don't think I'd take on this much again if it comes at the cost of chilling out with homemade eggnog or Hendricks g+t's with my brother in law.

So here's how it started...

Chained to the stove, pony tail, sleeves rolled up, yoga pants. Our Christmas dinner didn't involve any difficult techniques, but TONS of steps and ingredients! I would NOT recommend tackling it all in just two days - even with two cooks. We made everything for the crab cakes but we just ran out of time! The ingredients eventually spoiled and were thrown out because we were too tired to cook again. For me, elaborate dinner parties are great for my guests (I hope), but just so so so draining that I'm usually too tired and frazzled to enjoy the food. Clearly my menu planning needs to improve in 2014. My first SWUG resolution of the year perhaps.

By the end of it all the yoga pants changed to red velvet leggings (courtesy of my stylish sis), I swiped some lipstick on, and my hair flowed free. 

I just wanted to curl up to my laptop and continue my Desperate Housewives marathon.

Anyway, it doesn't look like a lot of food but this fed our family of six with leftovers. And it was amazing

Check out the tender, buttery lobster tail. Perfectly cooked. Beautifully red.

Rich, aromatic truffled deviled eggs sprinkled with paprika and s+p. 

Juicy seared scallops wrapped in fatty bacon.

Fresh cucumber and spicy salmon topped with tomato and a sprig of chive. Note the fallen tomato and imperfect assembly, which I think of as charmingly homemade...

Zesty, juicy, fragrant shrimp ceviche. So flavorful it was intense. This was the star of the night.

Juicy citrus salad with a sweet and tangy honey mustard dressing.

And to finish, an old school classic: spicy gingerbread cookies.

The Big Schedule:

1 to 4 weeks before Christmas
- Cookies: Prepare gingerbread cookies, freeze, and bake as early as 3 days before Christmas.

5 days before
- Check your pantry and go shopping for non-perishable items, vegetables, and condiments (basically everything that isn't seafood) like hot sauce, fresh herbs, avocado, etc.
- Salad: Prepare dressing and refrigerate.

3 days before
- Cookies: bake, set aside, and try not to eat them all.
- Salad: Peel and separate slices of grapefruit and oranges. Chop and refrigerate fennel in ice water.
- Go shopping for the best seafood in your budget: scallops, shrimp, salmon, lobster! Stuff it in the freezer the second you get home.

1-2 days before
- Prepare ingredients for ceviche: juice the limes; chop the red onion, chiles, and tomatoes. Mix with shrimp and refrigerate.

1 day before
- Scallops, salmon, and lobster: set in refrigerator to defrost.
- Deviled eggs: hard boil eggs, peel, and slice. Prepare the truffle mixture. Refrigerate both.
- Set the table and make sure you have enough clean cutlery and dishes so you don't have to wash them right before the meal!

Christmas morning
- Deviled eggs: Assemble. Chill until serving.
- Salmon: Poach salmon. Prepare the salmon and spicy mayo mixture. Peel and chop cucumber, chives, and cherry tomatoes. Assemble them all together. Chill until serving.
- Ceviche: Chop cucumber, avocado, and cilantro. Mix before serving. Chill until serving.

Right before dinner
- Salad: Mix salad ingredients together. Place on dining table. Dress right before serving.
- Scallops: Wrap with bacon and bake right before serving.
- Lobster: Boil lobster tails timing it so that it finishes at the same time as the scallops.
- *Note: I recommending setting out the salad, deviled eggs, salmon bites, and ceviche before doing the scallops and lobster so once you're done with those two you can just eat!

See Eloise smile when she ate her first Christmas cookie:

Isn't she the cutest, most perfect baby? My mom describes her belly-deep, bubbling baby laugh as delicious. It is.

Follow the cut for recipes. xo

Sudacakes Seafood Christmas Dinner for 6
  • Shrimp ceviche
  • Spicy salmon cucumber bites
  • Bacon wrapped scallops
  • Truffled deviled eggs with creme fraiche
  • Rocket/arugala and fennel citrus salad with honey mustard dressing
  • Lobster tail
  • Gingerbread cookies (No recipe - I adapted heavily from The Kitchn due to a shortage of molasses. It wasn't the best)
Recipe: Shrimp Ceviche
by Kanlaya of Champagne Sunday

Serving size: 6 people

  • 450 grams or 1 pound of fresh, deveined shrimp, tails removed
  • 3-4 lemons and limes, juiced
  • A bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/2 habanero pepper, seeds removed and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup tomatoes, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cucumber, finely chopped
  • 1 firm avocado, finely chopped
  1. Mix shrimp, citrus juice, cilantro, habanero pepper, tomatoes, and seasoning together 1-2 days before serving. Stir and refrigerate.
  2. Mix cucumber and avocado before serving. Season to taste. 
Note: If your shrimp is not very fresh, we recommend boiling it for 30 seconds prior to marinading it. We didn't do this, however, and no one got food poisoning! :)

Recipe: Spicy Salmon Cucumber Bites
Adapted from Nom Nom Paleo

Serving size: 16 bites

  • 40 grams or 1/8 cup mayonnaise, to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce or Tabasco
  • 225 grams or 1/2 cup cooked salmon
  • 1 tablespoon shallots or red onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chives, chopped
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 English cucumber, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch thick slices
  • 4 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • Chive sprigs, cut into 1 1/2 inch sections
  1. Combine mayo, paprika, and hot sauce of choice. Add mayo gradually to taste. I found the original recipe to be far too creamy. Use a fork and mix gently so it doesn't become mush. Season to taste.
  2. Add salmon, shallots/red onion, and chives. Season to taste with salt, pepper, paprika, or hot sauce. Mix gently.
  3. Use half teaspoon to scoop the cucumbers. Add salmon mixture into each cup and top with cherry tomato and chive.
Note: I've halved the mayo and doubled the hot sauce. I really recommend this for the most texture and flavor. 

Recipe: Bacon Wrapped Scallops

Serving size: 16 portions

  • 16 fresh or frozen scallops
  • Good quality butter or oil
  • 16 slices of bacon
  1. Preheat oven to 230 Celsius or 450 Fahrenheit.
  2. Set hob/burner to medium high heat. Dollop a generous amount of butter or your oil of choice. We used a high quality salted butter. Cook very quickly - just sear the top and bottom.
  3. Wrap a slice of bacon around each scallop. Bake for 20 minutes.
Recipe: Truffled Deviled Eggs with Creme Fraiche
See Local Milk

Note: I made no alterations! :)

Recipe: Rocket/Arugala Citrus Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing

Serving size: 6 people

  • 1 grapefruit, peeled and segmented
  • 2 oranges, peeled and segmented
  • 1 large heap of rocket/arugala
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, sliced and refrigerated in ice water
  1. Mix all ingredients together. Easy.
Recipe: Honey Mustard Dressing
Adapted from Alton Brown

Serving size: 4-6 people

  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons wholegrain mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Whisk all ingredients thoroughly. Serve.
Recipe: Lobster Tail

Serves: 6 people (1 per person)

  • 6 lobster tails
  • Optional:
    Cocktail sauce
    Melted butter
    Hot sauce
  1. Boil lobster tails being careful not to overcook. Ours took approximately 5 minutes.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Growing Pains and Culture Shock

Me as a fresher
Cats poop here?

Growing Pains

When I was in high school I thought of college as an escape from the boring 'burbs to my exciting, awesome future life. But as I said goodbye to my mom and sister who came all the way to St Andrews to drop me off, I was totally overwhelmed by the anxiety and panic going through me at the cusp of being all by myself in a foreign country. I knew no one, had no support system, and didn't understand the locals most of the time (still true). After all of that wishing and hoping, I was actually terrified. I clutched them and cried hard

I feel an echo of that at the end of summer - this year more than others. With every September I get to return to people I love and my little country home away from home but this is my last year. It'll all be over in the spring. I feel a different type of driftless - I don't feel home at home and I'm still an alien in Scotland. Where do I belong? Where should I go with my brand new diploma? I have no idea. 

In Minnesota I don’t relate to going up to the cabin, getting pumped for the state fair, being Christian, or Minnesota nice. (Yes, I know all Minnesotans aren't like this - I'm speaking in broad generalizations of the Scandinavian descendants I grew up with) To me, Minnesota is familiar and easy.

Part of moving to the UK after years of dreaming was a huge reality check. I’d projected so much of my boredom and longing into a fantasy about living there that just wasn’t true. Comparing the idealized version of it versus reality made adjusting to college harder.  There are pros and cons of living in either country and its easier to revere the pros of a place from a distance. The grass is always greener, right?

West Sands Beach
Jumping for joy as a fresher, 2010

Culture Shock

On a related note I read a great article in the New York Times that voiced so many things I’ve asked myself about the British. Everything just clicked and I wanted to jump up and yell "THIS IS SO TRUE!" or as they say, "spot on":
Even after 18 years, I never really knew where I stood with the English. Why did they keep apologizing? (Were they truly sorry?) Why were they so unenthusiastic about enthusiasm? Why was their Parliament full of classically educated grown-ups masquerading as unruly schoolchildren? 
Why did rain surprise them? Why were they still obsessed by the Nazis? Why were they so rude about Scotland and Wales, when they all belonged to the same, very small country? And — this was the hardest question of all — what lay beneath their default social style, an indecipherable mille-feuille of politeness, awkwardness, embarrassment, irony, self-deprecation, arrogance, defensiveness and deflective humor?
As someone who's reserved/standoffish for an American but also "stupidly enthusiastic" like a "Labrador puppy let loose in an antique store" compared to the British, I just love this article! Communicating can be so confusing. Because often Brits don't like to "make a fuss" or they're overly polite and conflict avoidant to say what they mean, I don't really know where I stand, which is so frustrating and mystifying! I could write an anthropological study.

I love living abroad for the most part, but small things - communicating, getting from A to B, making appointments - can be daunting. It's like being a child, everyday. Moving away thousands of miles from home as a teenager has been the most difficult and rewarding experience.

What advice would you give to incoming freshers?