Hello on this almost spring Thursday!
(But with the threat of a freezing weekend looming – seriously?! WHYYYYYYYYY?!?!?)
Welcome to this week’s Food Letter. We’re on Vol.32 and I’m currently 32 years old. This feels significant somehow and I was trying to come up with some sort of joke about it but alas, no such joke appeared. So, we’ll just leave that fact to sit there. However, since it is a “significantly numbered” menu I decided to go a little bit wild but putting cheese front and centre of the frozen options this week. Have a look.
Last week I told you all that I’d been inspired to delve into Nigella Lawson recipes. And delve I did. I spent a rather large amount of time going through her website and found two I wanted to feature immediately. This being Nigella, a large amount of the recipes were for desserts. So, I’ll definitely be featuring a couple of those in the coming weeks.
Sweetcorn chowder with toasted tortilla chips – This is the first of the Nigella recipes and you may be thinking, but Jess there’s no mention of cheese? Have you become so obsessed with cheese that you see cheese were there is none? Well, no, there is cheese in this recipe. Specifically related to those toasted tortilla chips. The chips will be sprinkled with a healthy helping of mature cheddar and then baked. And so, two become one!
The chowder (which I’m pretty sure is any chunky soup with corn as an ingredient) is fairly simple. Sweetcorn (mielies, corn – never quite sure what to call them), spring onion, garlic and semolina are combined into a hearty soup. A touch of chilli at the end gives the soup a good kick. And as Nigella says, you’ll have a “a fantastically soothing, mellow-yellow and very pleasing supper”. Can’t argue with that, can you?
Eva’s macaroni cheese – once I started on the cheese train, I couldn’t help but put my Mom’s macaroni cheese on the menu. You guys first met this dish on the Vol.24 menu (which was back at the beginning of July but feels like way longer). I wrote a rather rambling (but hilarious) explanation of the dish in that Food Letter (link here) but basically cooked pasta (any short variety) is combined with a seasoned mixture of egg, milk and any/all dairy-based thing leftover in the fridge (popular guests stars are cream cheese, cottage cheese, crème fraîche (Cafeteria Fraîche 🎶), fresh cream, sour cream). A little cheese is mixed in (usually cheddar but anything that melts well) along with some onion and red or yellow pepper. Final step is to cover it with more grated cheese. When it’s baked the cheese has melted, the egg mixture has cooked and you’ve got yourself a plate of creamy, cheesy, yumminess that would make childhood Jess very happy (and she would probably find a way to steal a piece of pasta or two from your plate, bemoan the fact that mama didn’t make more macaroni cheese, pick off the crunchy cheesy bits from the side of the dish, have third helpings and go for a fourth but be stopped by incredulous stares from family members, and basically be her happiest self at your dinner table). This dish must be served with a green salad because just eating cheese and carbs is not a balanced meal after all (or so says Frances 🙄).
Traditional lasagna – And what would a cheesy menu be without the mighty lasagna. You all know the drill with this one. Layers of fresh pasta, meaty, rich Bolognese, and creamy bechamel. Parmesan with every layer of bechamel and the best, best mozzarella on top. I’m not going to bother describing this further. If you know, you know. When I last made these (for those office lunches (gosh Jess, stop talking about those lunches already!!)) my car was filled with the smell of freshly baked lasagna and it was a bit (who am I kidding?! It was very) torturous to walk away from them once delivered. I made one for my dinner that night and couldn’t have been happier. Sweet dreams are made of these!
The fresh dishes are decidedly less cheesy. And first of them is another Nigella one. And the second one is on the menu because it’s been a while since there’s been any tofu and someone requested it’s return.
Spiced bulgar wheat with roast vegetables – I’ve decided that even though there’s another cold front coming over the weekend, enough is enough. I simply cannot wait any longer. So, this is the first step into salad season. It’s not a salad per se but as it’s a platter type dish I’m going to call it salad-adjacent. The spiced bulgar wheat is sure to go down a treat. First garlic is fried with orange zest, fresh coriander and fennel, cumin and coriander seeds. Then in goes the bulgar wheat (and some lentils for good measure), water and some salt. The bulgar is left to cook until the water is absorbed and then topped with the roast vegetables. The roast vegetables are another treat. Leeks (that under-used member of the allium family which is therefore rather shy…enter vegetable personality reveal!! The leek never developed that strong, almost cocky confidence of its cousins’ onion and garlic. It keeps to itself, choosing never to make a fuss. Until one day, it met butter. And they formed such a bond. Butter you see, knows that it makes everything better and it knew it could reveal all of leek’s hidden talents. And so, once butter and some heat approached leeks to join the party, leek got so excited it literally fell apart. Layer after layer of sweet personality was revealed. It thought it would never be silent again. But then butter turned out to be a bit of a floozy and took up with leek’s dreaded cousin onion. Leek never really got over it. It longs for butter. And is doomed to lead a rather sad life. You see, not every vegetable gets a happy ending.), red peppers, cherry tomatoes and even some radishes are roasted in olive oil and orange juice. This gorgeous combination of flavours is then piled onto the aromatic bulgar wheat and a beautifully colourful dish is ready for you to devour.
Mapo tofu with flaky spring onion pancake & smashed cucumber salad – Like I said, it’s been a while since we’ve had tofu as the star ingredient as a dish. Not that the tofu is actually the star of the dish here either. It’s the gorgeous mapo sauce. The sauce is a combination of classic East Asian ingredients: Doubanjiang (Sichuan-style sauce made with fermented broad beans/fava beans), black bean garlic sauce, more garlic, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns, gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes with turn the sauce a deep red) and a little sugar. The sauce looks like something akin to the surface of Mars and completely envelopes the cubes of tofu. For the sides I decided to go all-out. I was going to serve the tofu with jasmine rice but then I remembered flaky pancakes. At PRON (that perfect Chinese restaurant in Linden) they’re called pull apart breads. I’m not going to dare claim that mine are better than PRON’s but they’re really yummy nonetheless. A soft flour-based dough is rolled out until super thin, sprinkled with some fried shallots, five spice powder (link to hilarious Michael McIntrye bit here)
and spring onion, then rolled into a sausage (Swiss roll style) and then snaked into a coil. The coil is flattened into a round and fried on both sides until brown, Ready to tear apart und use to soak up mapo sauce. The final element – smashed cucumber salad is one I’ve been wanting to make for a while. I’m sure you’re aware of my many types of cucumber salad at this point and I myself am not clear as to why I want to try another but here we are. Plus – doesn’t smashed cucumber just sound kind of cool? The smashing breaks up the cucumber flesh so it can absorb the sauce more. The sauce is a very garlicky one (be warned vampire customers! ⚰). Raw garlic is softened in some rice vinegar and mixed with chilli oil (I’ll be using the one I made a few weeks ago). The resulting salad is sharp, spicy and crunchy. Sounds like a good combo to me.
And now for dessert. Special announcement!! Guess what I have plenty of again!
Yes, your eyes do not deceive you – It’s Lugonberry jam and yes! It can be bought in a weird tube as if it were some sort of sausage. My older sister sent me a box full of the stuff as a parting gift from Sweden. And the presence of such copious amounts of jam (I think it’s close to 4kgs) means that Lugonberry and raspberry mazarin tart can make a triumphant return to my repertoire. It really is a lovely tart with wonderful flavours throughout. The pastry case is very short (i.e., firm but crumbly), then there’s the layer of Lugonberry jam (a sweet jam with a sour edge – very pleasant on a piece of toast too), the frangipane filling (this almond flavoured filling is what defines this as a mazarin tart), followed by some icing sugar and some fresh raspberries as the crowning glory 👑. The whole thing looks rather impressive too.
And so, we come to the end of this Food Letter. I hope you’ve read it on my website (there’s a couple more pictures in that version) and that you’re keen to indulge in some cheesy delights.
Now that you’ve read all about the meals, why not order!?