Tag Archives: pasta

In search of a sub’s dinner

I’m a sub-editor. The pesky one that watches out for errant apostrophes and such,  occasionally writes a vaguely ok headline and sets herself up for a fall when it comes to blogging mistakes.

It means I work distinctly odd hours – usually 2ish to 10ish, or thereabouts. And, the main consequence for this blog – and my life –  is that it has made dinner, in its lovely hot winey form, virtually extinct, apart from on glorious Saturdays. (Ok. It’s not the world’s greatest hardship, by any stretch. But this is a food blog. I’m allowed to moan about fripperies. For the much  less trivial, read the wonderful Unemployed Hack).

Us subs, and general shifters, deal with said situation in ways varied and numerous. The sensible way, nutritionally, would be to have a proper old-fashioned hot dinner at lunchtime, and then sandwiches for tea. Sadly, this means I may well slump on to my desk in an overfed haze at about 3pm – not so good professionally.

Go Away I'm Proofing

Ideal sub's lunch receptacle

Option two. Eat an ordinary person’s lunch, make it through the shift on a mixture of crisps, fruit and biscuits purloined from kind colleagues, and cook a proper dinner when you get home. Aside from the fact this would mean treating my long-suffering flatmate to my untidy and noisy cooking at about 11pm, I feel guilty eating late AND it takes a lot of biscuits to make it from 2.30 til 11. Trust me.

Three. Pret. And such. Given half the chance – and a lot more money – my laziness would kick in and I would buy a lot of takeaway. But thriftiness says no.

Sadly option four – take food in and microwave it – isn’t possible as we are microwaveless at work. We have a canteen, but it’s understandably frowned upon to drip hot lasagne over the chief sub as you explain the fourth paragraph of your story with an hour to go before first edition.

Sausage pasta #1

Which leaves the cobbled together – and heavily tupperware reliant – option five. If I’m being good, I’ll make soup for a week (thank you, dear flatmate and your blender) so I have at least one vaguely hot meal a day for lunch, albeit eaten precariously as I try to dry my hair and do my make-up at the same time.

Similarly I’ll cook something dinnerish for the week, carefully box it up and eat it cold at work. Which is why I came to be pouring red wine into three days worth of sausage and tomato pasta sauce* at about 10 this morning.

Aside from the inherent risks of early morning alcoholism and eating dinner for breakfast, things that make a good hot meal aren’t always so good cold – and it’s sad to watch it cool down when you know it would have made a delicious dinner. And, frankly, I’m also all too frequently lured into option three by being disorganised and forgetting to make things.

The bit where I want to add creme fraiche and just have it on toast

So it’s my new mission to find recipes that serve as dinner, are delicious cold, can be made in quantity, don’t cost the earth and aren’t sandwiches (packed lunch for dinner is sometimes beautifully reminiscent of journeys and school trips, but not every day).

So. Up with my poor, neglected blog, and on to pastures new – in search of a sub’s dinner. All ideas greatly appreciated.

*I fear giving you a very studenty recipe for sausage pasta would be like teaching many grandmothers how to suck eggs. But I took a couple of nice photos, so I’ve popped them in. My only word on the subject is it’s nice to de-skin the sausages and make them into mini meatballs by coating them in chilli powder/paprika and flour, to keep them together and give them a nice crunchy coating, as in sausage pasta #1 above.  And add some red wine. Just try not to drink it in the morning.

Ta da! Every student's dream/nightmare

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The nation’s favourite chef – why mums will always be the best

Nigella, Jamie, Delia – at one time or another they have all been declared as the nation’s favourite chef. But in reality, we have always had the same number one. Our mothers.

It doesn’t matter if their speciality is a painstakingly prepared roast dinner or the dubious “baked bean surprise”. There’s nothing as comforting or reassuring as your mum’s cooking.

Some of it lies in the food itself. Warm golden soup, magically produced from the remnants of yesterday’s chicken; miraculously crispy roast potatoes which you’ve never been able to match, even after years of experimenting with goose fat and dripping and olive oil; steak and kidney pies, oozing with gravy. And of course, the desserts, especially Victoria sponges, filled with jam and buttercream and covered in icing sugar, twice as high as you could ever hope to make them.

Mum's perfect chocolate cake

Yet delicious as they all are, much of it lies in the memories. I loved standing on tip toe waiting to lick cake mixture off the spoon, or donning an apron three sizes too big and being allowed to cut out biscuits, even if I never could do it as neatly as mum.

But until recently homemade food was looked down upon.  “Shop-bought” cakes were the pinnacle of respectability, and the rough edges of a homemade pie looked passe next to the perfect shape of a pre-packaged one. Now though, the twin forces of the credit crunch and a turkey-twizzler-wielding  Jamie Oliver are sending us scuttling back to our mothers’ neatly- typed recipes, and homecooking is suddenly in vogue.

Except it turns out all those hours spent eating cake mixture and cutting out biscuits may not have rubbed off on us as much as we’d hoped. We are struggling to make the leap back from pasta and pesto to steak and kidney pie.

According to a new survey, we are losing the basic skills integral to traditional homecooking. In the ‘70s, two-thirds of women could make gravy from scratch compared with one-third today, and half of them knew how to make shortcrust pastry without needing a recipe. It’s just 16 per cent now.

All this has the “shame on you” faction running for the burning torches. If the supper you’ve whipped up after a long day at work doesn’t simultaneously save money, the planet and your children’s health then you may as well hand in the Cath Kidston apron now. Sensible as a frugal, healthy and downright old-fashioned approach to food is, there’s nothing to gain from turning it into yet another stick with which to beat  already over-stretched mums.

With a full-time job and errant children, it’s hard enough to get something half-decent on the table without trying to perform lamb cawl and bara brith gymnastics. We should preserve the things our mothers taught us, but it’s unrealistic to pretend we can still do them every day. Better to save the Cath Kidston apron and the  weighing scales for weekends.

So, this Mother’s Day, rather than feel guilty for not being Delia as well as Karren Brady, go and take refuge in a slice of your mum’s cake. Or take her a slice of yours – but don’t beat yourself up if it’s only half the height

Review – Mina Lebanese Restaurant and Cafe Bar

If you have only ever thought of Lebanese food in the context of strip-lit, sticky-floored kebab shops, the warm and welcoming Mina Restaurant and Cafe Bar will make you think again. Houmous and falafel are familiar names, but Mina, which has been running in the heart of Cathays since 1990, goes far beyond those to produce a huge range of dishes from this often-overlooked region.

For a Tuesday night, it was comfortably busy, with a broader range of customers than its student-ville location might suggest. Red-painted walls and glowing candles helped shut out the busy street and for once someone had figured out how to use the volume button on the stereo, leaving the background music at a soft hum to complement rather than drown out conversation.

Mezze selection

More than a bit bewildered by the array of choices on the menu, we happily submitted to the guidance of manager Biar Darwish. He said a traditional Lebanese meal begins with mezze, the equivalent of Spanish tapas, and seeing our blank looks at the 21 different types on the menu, he suggested we went for the mezze selection.

It was gorgeous. The warak enab (vine leaves wrapped around a moist filling of rice and vegetables) struck just the right note of vinegar balanced with soothing rice, while the falafel were perfect: crunchy but not greasy with a delicious garlicky filling of chickpeas and tahini. Generous helpings of creamy homemade houmous and its aubergine-based cousin, moutabbal, were ideal for dipping, and we were glad of the refreshing lemony tabboule salad to cut through the garlicky stodginess.

Although many of the mezze were vegetarian, Lebanese cuisine prides itself on its meat and Mina is no exception. Again plumping for the more is more option, my guest chose the mashwi mwshakal. It combines three of the menu’s traditional Lebanese dishes: shish tawk, lamb mashwi and mina kofta. Each one could convert even the most ardent vegetarian.

The mashwi turned out to be chunks of tender, just-pink chargrilled lamb and the shish tawk was a revelation. Chargrilled chicken breast marinated in lemon juice and garlic, it fulfilled the menu’s promise to melt in the mouth. Food envy aside, my Mina lamb was good too. Slow-cooked in a “mild spicy” tomato sauce, it was perhaps more like a straightforward curry than I would have hoped, but it was warming, comforting and complex in flavour.

Mashwi Mwshakal

Mina is ideal if you are going for a meal with a big group of friends. Shared mezze are a great way to start, and with simpler dishes like grilled salmon, sirloin steak and pasta in a cream sauce on the menu too, there is something for even the fussiest guest.

Prices start at £10.95 for a main and £4 for a mezze starter, so it is a bit pricey, but for perfectly-cooked meat, tapas-style choice and the prospect of sticky, nutty baklava for dessert, it is more than worth it.

Reposted at Capture Cardiff