Three Years and counting

I would like to wish mr416expat a happy three years in England.  He’s now lived in the UK longer than he lived in our house in Toronto.  He’s well on his way to having lived in the UK as a married man longer than he lived in Toronto as a married man.  Time flies!

Despite having lived in the UK for 3 years, it’s still shocking/annoying when I go to the grocery store or market in search for, what I thought was, a universally available item.  Today’s case in point?  Spaghetti Squash.  I love that stuff.  I use spaghetti squash when I want to have a slightly lighter (less carby, more veggies) meal.  I have, in my 2 1/2 years here (I moved to the UK 6 months after mr416expat), seen only one spaghetti squash.  When I saw that solitary spaghetti squash at a market in East London, I bought it on sight.  The market vendor informed me that he wouldn’t grow them next year as no one was buying them.  It was a sad day.

2 1/2 years later I still haven’t seen any more spaghetti squash in London.  Maybe they’re out there somewhere, but not at any of my regular haunts.  This absence of course, made making The First MessSpaghetti Squash Noodle Bowl quite a challenge.  I love a challenge.

Quinoa and Broccoli Bowl with Peanut and Lime Sauce – Adapted from The First Mess

120g quinoa (cook in 1L boiling water until soft – approximately 10 minutes)
1 broccoli cut into florets
1 shallot, sliced thinly
1/2 c toasted sunflower seeds
handful of chopped herb (I used parsley because I had it on hand)
2 cups spinach (fresh)Codd
1 tbsp chia seeds (optional)


1/2 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tsp thai hot sauce
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 lime, peeled + chopped
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp honey
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
tiny splash of toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup grapeseed oil

Cook the quinoa in 1L boiling water until soft – approximately 10 minutes.  Drain.  Put the spinach in a large bowl, pouring the hot quinoa overtop.  The heat from the quinoa will wilt the spinach.  Steam the broccoli florets.  While the broccoli is steaming combine all the dressing ingredients in a blender, mixing until combined.  Add a few spoonfuls of the dressing to the quinoa and spinach, tossing together.  Top the quinoa with the steamed broccoli, shallot, toasted sunflower seeds and chia seeds.  Drizzle additional dressing on top, season with salt and pepper.


Carrots with Chilli Peppers and Sunflower Seeds

So over here in England Gwyneth Paltrow gets a pretty bad rap.  Granted she’s living in LA now, so she’s not really a UK problem, but she still pops up in the media from time to time.  Most recently Ms. Paltrow has courted controversy with her new cookbook, “It’s all Good” where she provides recipes that “are just right for the way we are meant to be eating these days – cleaner and healthier, without sacrificing any flavour or satisfaction.”  In a country where, according to Suzanne Moore of the Guardian, food is now the ultimate class signifier, Paltrow’s recipes have a tendency to come across as somewhat preachy and unattainable for those on fixed or low incomes.  That said, I came across some of her recipes on goop and couldn’t resist giving them a go.  Unfortunately when it came to trying out her recipe for Carrots with Black Sesame and Ginger, I had neither black sesame or ginger.  Here’s what I came up with:

Carrots with Hot Red Peppers and Sunflower Seeds

1 chilli pepper, sliced into rings (remove the seeds if you’re afraid of too much heat)
1 tbsp olive oil
6 carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks (I used the medium blade on my mandolin)
2 handfuls of snow peas, cut on a diagonal into roughly matchstick size
coarse sea salt and pepper
a few drops of sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
4 tbsp toasted sunflower seeds

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan, adding the chilli peppers to flavour the oil.  After the peppers have sizzled in the oil for a minute or so, add the carrots and snow peas, tossing to coat with the oil.  Cook the carrots and snowpeas for a minute or too until they just start to soften.  Stir in the sesame oil, soy sauce, and sunflower seeds.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve warm or cold.

Fava Flavours

Yotam Ottolenghi continues to blow my mind with his flavourful descriptions of his recipes in both the Guardian and the Waitrose Magazine.  Fava is a warm dip made from split peas.  It, served with breads, meats and cheese, made rounded out dinner for us a few weeks ago.


Fava – Adapted from The Dish of the Month, Waitrose Magazine

3 large onions
300g yellow split peas
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp tumeric
100ml olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Quarter one onion and, with the split peas, bay leaves and tumeric, add to a large saucepan.  Cover generously with water, bringing it to a boil, then reducing to simmer, cooking for one hour or until peas are soft.  You may need to add more water as the peas absorb it as they cook.  Strain the peas, discarding the onion, but be sure to keep the water they’ve cooked in.

While the peas cook, prepare the onions by slicing them into 0.5cm thick slices.  Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and cook until they are golden brown (roughly 15-20 minutes).

Blitz the peas in a food processor (or with an immersion blender), adding the garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper, olive oil, and 3 tbsp of cooking liquid.  Add chives and half the caramelised onion.  Serve warm, in a bowl topped with the remaining chives and caramelised onion.

Fabulous Mates and Delicious Eats

I previously mentioned that we have had a new arrival on the scene.


A legitimately British born baby!  While she kept us up all hours in those first few weeks we were lucky to be kept well fed by several good friends. On a daily basis delicious, homemade meals would appear at our door, often with a quick hug and a cuddle (baby cuddles, not expat cuddles).  It was so appreciated by both mr416expat and myself.  Several of my friends have shared their delicious recipes with me, and in order to avoid losing track of their tasty dishes, I’m going to blog about them here.

My fabulous friend Keren, who also recently became a mum (Thank you for paving the way Keren!!), brought us a wonderful Jamie Oliver Sausage Pasta recipe.  While Jamie makes this recipe a 30 minute recipe by using kitchen items such as the food processor to chop vegetables, I’ve gone the slow and steady route, chopping vegetables by hand.  Adapted from Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals this pasta sauce is flavourful and spicy.  Thank you Keren!Image

Spicy Sausage Pasta – Adapted from Jool’s Pregnant Pasta, Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 spring onions
1 carrot
1 stick of celery
1 or 2 fresh red chillies
6 sausages
1 heaped teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 500g pkg dried penne
4 cloves of garlic
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
a few sprigs of Greek basil, or regular basil

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.  Dice the green onions, carrot, celery, and chillies.  Add to the frying pan.  Remove the sausage meat from the casing and add the meat to the frying pan.  Discard the casings.  Add the fennel and oregano to the frying pan.  Break up the sausage and mix in the vegetables and spices with a wooden spoon.  Prepare the penne.  Crush the garlic cloves into the pasta sauce.  Continue to stir and break up the sausage as it cooks.  Stir in the balsamic vinegar and chopped tomatoes.  Should the sauce become too thick, add some of the cooking water from the pasta.  Combine the sauce and cooked pasta, garnishing with basil (or in my case, parmesan cheese)

And with that, the British Baby (or BB) has woken up and I’m gone 🙂

Chocolate Cupcakes and Nut Allergies

In an effort to clear up space in my freezer while also making some tasty treats for some friends we were having over for dinner this week, I pulled out the last of some ground almonds we brought back from G Detou, Paris and some clementine buttercream icing from the freezer.  In my head, I thought, ‘perfect, I can make clementine almond cupcakes and then ice them with the leftover icing’.  Unfortunately this would have turned me into a killer chef as one of our group has a pretty serious nut allergy.  There have been several ‘close calls’ where I have started to research a recipe only to have it dawn on me that, no, that would be a bad idea as we’d like to keep our friends happy and healthy when they come to dinner.

In the end, I did make the clementine almond cupcakes but I also made these chocolate cupcakes and iced them with the clementine buttercream icing.  I got to free up some freezer space AND got two desserts from the experience.  An all around win.  Oh, and my friend suffered no ill consequences from the chocolate and clementine combo 🙂

This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten’s “Beatty’s Chocolate Cake” recipe.  I used plain greek yoghurt instead of buttermilk, and, as I only wanted 18 cupcakes, I halved the recipe.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Clementine Buttercream Frosting

Chocolate Cupcakes with Clementine Buttercream Frosting

Chocolate Cupcakes (makes approximately 18) – based on Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake

2/3 c all purpose flour
1 c sugar
1/3 c cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 c greek yogurt
1/4 c olive oil
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c fresh brewed coffee (hot)

clementine icing 

Sift together dry ingredients.  Beat together the yogurt, olive oil, egg, and vanilla (but not the coffee) on medium speed until well combined.  Combine wet mixture and dry ingredients on low. With the mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir until just combined.  Carefully spoon or pour the mixture into cupcake papers in a muffin tin.  Bake for approximately 20 minutes at 350F.  Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.  Ice once completely cooled.

Too Scattered for Pictures – Braised French Onion Chicken

In between waiting for deliveries (both baby and Royal Mail) I have had quite a bit of time in our flat.  While at times our 400 square foot flat has felt quite spacious, after a few days of sitting in and waiting for packages to arrive, it has started to feel a bit small.  Thankfully we had some lovely friends round for dinner last night.  I was able to throw myself into a bit of a baking and cooking whirlwind and briefly forget about impending deliveries.

TheKitchn recently posted a series of recommended winter recipes.  The recipe posted for Braised French Onion Chicken sounded too good to pass up.  There’s also something very therapeutic about caramelising onions that I just couldn’t pass up.  It’s not a quick recipe to throw together, but it’s a very rewarding and flavourful recipe that I definitely recommend for those days when you want something that will fill your home with the scent of thyme, onions, and chicken.

Sadly I have no pictures as I literally took this meal from the oven immediately to our kitchen table to serve up with our friends.  The pictures posted on thekitchn should convince you though!

Braised French Onion Chicken – from theKitchn

3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 lb red onions, sliced thinly into half moons (I used a mandolin, but a food processor or a shape knife would do fine)
salt and pepper
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp thyme
2 c chicken broth, low sodium, divided
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp dijon mustard
3 lb chicken (I used chicken breasts cut in half)
1 c gruyere cheese

In a large casserole pan (I used my large le creuset), melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the onions, tossing in the butter.  Add salt and pepper.  Cook over medium low heat for approximately 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The onions will slowly cook down and take on a light colour.  They will not likely look ‘caramelised’ yet!  Add the garlic and thyme, increasing the heat to medium high and stirring frequently.  Watching to see the colour of the onions change to a darker mahogany, turn the heat up to high and add 1c chicken broth.  Deglaze the pan with the broth, stirring up any bits from the bottom of the pan.  Allow the liquid to reduce by about half.  Empty the contents of the pan into a bowl.  Place the pan back on the stove, again on medium heat.  Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  Brown the breasts on both sides, cooking for approximately 3 minutes per side.  You may have to do this in several batches (I did 3 batches of 4 chicken pieces to avoid crowding the pan).  Once the chicken has all been browned, you can put it in the same bowl as the onions while you deglaze the pan (again).  This time, add the remaining 1c of chicken broth, stirring to pick up any brown bits from the pan.  Whisk in the balsamic vinegar and dijon mustard.  Reduce by half.  Add the onions and chicken back into the pan and cover.  Put into the oven at 325F or 150C for 30 minutes.  Top with gruyere cheese and place in the oven under the broiler until the cheese has melted and browned.  Serve with quinoa, bread, and salad.

Note: I left the chicken in the oven for probably closer to 45 minutes, ensuring the chicken was submerged in the onions and liquids.  It came out really tender and not at all dried out.  I think as long as the chicken is submerged in the juices it’s ok to cook it a bit longer.

Joy the Baker makes good dinner!

This one gets filed under tasty things I don’t want to ever lose track of.  Joy the Baker makes delicious things.  She posts beautiful pictures and straightforward, well-written instructions for her recipes.  Brilliant.

Her most recent post combines polenta with a tomato sauce recipe that’s been making the blogosphere rounds for ages.  That said, I’d never tried it and was a bit skeptical.  How could a full flavoured tomato sauce come from only four ingredients, only three of which you actually leave in the sauce?  The sauce has been featured by Joy, smittenkitchen, theKitchn, and many many other blogs.  It was originally Marcella Hazan‘s recipe and has been much lauded, tweaked, and used by many a blogger.

The first thing 416expat said on arriving home last night, with this recipe bubbling away on the stove, ‘wow, that smells amazing, what’s for dinner?’  Folks we’ve got a winner.  Please visit Joy’s blog for beautiful pictures of this meal.  Nothing I could post could do this justice!

Baked Polenta with Tomato SauceJoy the Baker

1 cup polenta
4 cups water
2 tbsp butter

Combine the polenta and water.  Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  Stir in the butter after 45 minutes. Bake for another 15 minutes.

1 28oz can of whole tomatoes – highest quality you can find
2 tbsp butter
half an onion – peeled

Over medium heat, combine the four ingredients in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil then simmer for 45 minutes stirring occasionally.  Use a spoon to periodically break up the tomatoes as they soften.  As the sauce thickens to a consistency you’re happy with, remove the onion and adjust the seasoning as you see fit.  You’re done.  That’s it.

Top the baked polenta with the tomato sauce and parmesan.  I added some black pepper and served this with a side salad.