Sunday, 28 June 2015

Comfort Food: Creamy Chicken and Coconut Curry...


Those of us who cook—or should I say, those of us who find intense love and joy in cooking—are incredibly lucky. We have the privilege of being able to seek solace in something so everyday. It means you have something special. It means that when you’re having the worst few days in the world, you can lie in bed listening to the Bridesmaids soundtrack having done and eaten barely anything the day before, and just before you switch to Will Young you drag yourself up, take a shower, and announce that “I’m going to cook.”

And when it’s raining outside even though it promised to be summer and copious cups of tea don’t seem to be cutting it, you want to create something wholesome and warming that will fill your empty hole, even if only temporarily.

Cooking can combine comforting methodical acts: calmly chopping and slicing, stirring, experiencing familiar sounds and smells… but it can also allow you to become creative even when you feel absolutely useless. It reminds you that no matter how bad things seem, you can always create something beautiful.

Today, my something beautiful happened to be a sweet potato, chicken and coconut curry. Creamy, comforting, gently spiced and delicious.


Serves 3—4

INGREDIENTS:

Hot chilli powder (2 tsp)

Cumin (3 tsp)

Ground coriander (1 tsp)

Ground ginger (1 tsp)

Salt and pepper if desired

A clove of garlic

1 large chicken breast

2 medium onions

1 cup dessicated coconut

2 cups hot water

3 tablespoons of lentils

500ml chicken stock

Milk or cream (optional)

Olive oil

1 tablespoon flour


METHOD:


1)      Begin by adding the hot water to the dessicated coconut, and leaving aside in a jug or bowl. The water will be absorbed which will both soften the coconut and also produce a milky liquid, both of which will be added to the curry.

2)      Add the spices and garlic to some oil in a roomy pan.

3)      Dice the chicken and add it to the pan. I suppose at this point you could set aside as a marinade, but I was in no mood for marinating today, I can tell you.

4)      Heat the pan, occasionally stirring, until the chicken is white through and fully covered in spices.

5)      Meanwhile, peel and dice the sweet potato and onions.

6)      Add the vegetables to the chicken along with a spoonful of flour. Stir and allow to sweat for a few minutes.

7)      Add the chicken stock and lentils and bring to the boil. Simmer for fifteen minutes.

8)      Squeeze down the coconut with a spoon so you can pour all the liquid into the pot. Then stir in the coconut itself.

9)      Allow the curry to simmer until the lentils are absorbed and the chicken and sweet potatoes are tender.

10)   Add some milk or cream just before serving if desired. Try this recipe with boiled white or brown rice or naan bread and your favourite chutney.







This ought to warm one up on a miserable day, inside or out…

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Good Things In: Wholemeal Banana Pancakes

In an effort to put good things into my body which will show on the outside, here's a recipe I came up with the other day for a healthy brunch.

These pancakes include protein, fibre, calcium, D vitamins, potassium, many more good things and, if you're careful with your oil in the pan, not a lot of fat. Such a simple recipe proves that including these things in your diet needn't be overly complicated!


INGREDIENTS:

1 banana (preferably soft)
1 egg
A small cup of coarse wholemeal flour
A small cup of  plain flour
A cup of milk
A teaspoon of oil per pancake

(Proportions intentionally vague depending on the desired thickness of your pancakes)


METHOD:

1) Mash the banana thoroughly with a fork in a roomy bowl or jug. Then beat in the egg.

2) Stir some flour into the banana/egg mixture and then alternately add milk and flour, using  fork to beat this.

3) Keep incorporating milk until the batter is as thin or thick as you'd like.

4) Heat a spoon of oil in a frying pan (preferably non-stick). I used sunflower oil as I find olive oil leaves a funny taste in sweet dishes, though it is considered healthiest for the heart! As long as you stay away from animal fats however, you should be fine.

5) Cook the pancakes til brown on both sides.

6) I squeezed some lemon juice on to mine. There was no need for sugar or sweetener since the banana made the pancakes themselves quite sweet-tasting.

7) I also served with some natural yoghurt (Glenisk, as I always have when I'm in Ireland) which contains, among other body-loving things, bacteria to aid digestion.




Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Back in the Kitchen: Checkerboard Chic





Oh how I have missed having a roomy kitchen to myself, my favourite ingredients at my fingertips and a fully-functioning oven!

As soon as I got home I was excited to bake something again. I've loved food and cooking for as long as I can remember, and when someone at Uni recently said to me "Oh so you quite like cooking?" I was shocked. It has always been something known about me, one of my biggest characteristics, but of course I haven't been able to show off my enthusiasm and love for all things culinary for a long time, save for the odd lemon drizzle cake constructed using only a microwave and the power of prayer.

Once this wish was expressed, mum spent days suggesting her old favourite cakes, pies, biscuits and buns... my "standbys", if you will. But I was in the mood for something a tad more adventurous.

I decided to make a chocolate and vanilla "chessboard" cake, with buttercream icing and chocolate decorations.

The chessboard effect was a fiddly one to get right, and I think it is testament to maturity that I only recall swearing once or twice during its construction.

The baking itself was incredibly simple. I made two small vanilla sponges and two chocolate sponges with a hint of coffee to both darken the colour and bring out the flavour of the chocolate. I then left the sponges to cool and firm up overnight.

I then took a template from this website which helped me figure out the construction. It was a lot simpler than I'd imagined. I placed the sponges one on top of the other, used cookie cutters as templates, and cut two circles from each. They were all a little lopsided, but equally so so it didn't matter too much.

It was then simply a case of alternating the circles, as the website shows.

I made vanilla buttercream (1 part butter, 2 parts icing sugar, a splash of milk and Madagascan vanilla extract), and spread it thinly between each layer before using it to cover the whole cake (and fill any unsightly gaps!)


As you can see, the icing was far from perfect, but I had plans for decoration anyway.

With melted chocolate on greaseproof paper, I made some hearts and other designs to harden in the fridge, peeling off the paper when set and placing them on top of the cake.

I then made some simple biscuits (recipe here, one use fairly regularly), and half-covered each with more chocolate. I did this by using the edge of some normal printer paper to cover half of each biscuit.



The heart shapes were cut freehand.

I'd highly recommend the "Fin Carré" cooking chocolate I used, which was 55% cocoa and is available in Lidl. It melted and set divinely, was lovely and smooth, and actually tasted like real chocolate! (I haven't even been paid to say this, but that said if Lidl care to reimburse me I would be most interested).

The biscuits were then stuck round the edge of the cake with a dab of chocolate, et voila!



This recipe wasn't actually too complex, just took a little time, patience and planning. Nonetheless, it still had the "wow" factor when I invited the neighbours round to help eat it as I attempt to reduce my waistline!

Next week I'm going to make a simple Victoria sponge with cream by special request for Father's Day.




Monday, 15 June 2015

Busy Little Life: Bigger and Busier


About halfway through February, I came to the mini heart-attack inducing realisation that I had only planned my life up until 2014. Since then, I appear to have been coasting along, which for an avid list-maker who likes to have everything planned days if not weeks in advance, can be rather disconcerting.

Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed my “time off” immensely. Knowing that if I spend a whole day doing nothing, or whatever I choose, it won’t have a huge impact on my life, can be a comforting feeling. As can learning to be a bit more spontaneous, throwing the bare essentials into a bag and jumping on a train at five minutes’ notice… it can, of course, be fun to live with fewer responsibilities. In fact, having to learn to “adult” has gone hand in hand with cutting down on my other concerns. It means that, in between frustrated phone calls with Student Finance, five different attempts to register to vote in two different countries, and numerous hours of job-hunting, I have been able to relax, which is something I’ve often been known to neglect.

I can’t deny, however, that I have missed being the “yes”, the “I can do that” person. And while I don’t regret or feel guilty about my comparatively un-busy year, there remains a niggling feeling that perhaps I could have been more involved in that society, or put more effort into this area (yes, my blog and its readers come into that category).

While things felt a little dire a couple of years ago when I would set my alarm clock before I went to bed to go off about six hours later, I miss being the person who was working on two drama productions, doing all my schoolwork to the best of my ability, running a successful blog, trying to write a “book” and starting my own mini-business with a friend. I did on many occasions feel run off my feet, find it hard to switch off my mind… but I felt so productive.

When I got into revision for my one exam—life’s beautiful—in May, I am ashamed to say that I rather enjoyed myself. I’ve always been a bit of a nerd when it comes to school, and as I sat at my desk contentedly highlighting, drawing arrows and scribbling key words on my freshly-printed sheets of notes, I felt oddly at peace with the world. In my revision, unlike in most other areas of my life, I was completely in control. It’s hard to admit for someone who tries to exude a cool, calm exterior and puts forward the idea that they are a relaxed, rational human being, but there is definitely some sort of gremlin in my brain that thrives from being in control.

I make lists, I timetable myself, I prioritise, I have a compulsive need to get things done. And it’s awful. And it feels amazing.

I have therefore set myself a seemingly impossible mountain of tasks for next year outside my degree which, while open to failures and missed targets, should just about keep me satisfied.

I’m co-editor of a section of my student newspaper. I’m starting my own society within the university. I’m going to try and produce my own show for the university’s TV society. I’m taking an online TEFL course so I can teach English abroad next summer. I’m trying to get through as many books as possible to review for this very blog. I’m also going to write a big block of posts I can share with you all over the coming months, because I never want to neglect this website again. For the summer, I’m going to try and improve my health and fitness after a crazy year as a lazy fresher, and practise making some more vlogs which I hope to share if they go any way other than terribly. There’s also a chance that I will go from having no proper job to one if not two.

I’m going to be grabbing life with both hands like I used to. And to be honest, I’m a bit scared about it.  

First things first, however, I need to ice the cake I’ve just made. Such a thrill seeker, I am…

Sunday, 7 June 2015

My First Troll and My Thick Skin


A while ago I achieved what can only be described as a milestone for any writer… my first ever internet troll. It was a comment on an article I’d written which had been published online, and made various points which suggested my article hadn’t been fully understood—perhaps my fault as a writer, perhaps theirs as a reader—as well as the inevitable attack on myself as a person by a complete stranger.

I wasn’t really surprised by the troll’s comments, the internet being what it is, but what did surprise me was that, with total honesty toward myself, I didn’t care. In fact, I felt rather important. Maybe it was to do with the fact that I read the comment while relaxing with a coffee in a sunny conservatory with someone who doesn’t agree with such aggressive opinions, but I think that apart from being in quite a good place in life, it’s also due to developing a bit of a thick skin in my old age—after all, I’ll be nineteen in a few weeks.

My first semester at University seemed rather idyllic after a very trying year. I loved almost every sngle moment, and felt I’d finally broken out of the funk I’d been in when finishing school. However during the second semester, no longer shiny and new and exciting, the cracks began to show. Still having by and large a lovely time, things began to happen that brought me down from the incredible high I’d been on for months. More recently, I began to panic as my present began to resemble my past. Was I simply going round in circles? And if so, what was the point?

Short answer: yes. Life is full of circles. You will meet versions of people and experience versions of events for pretty much your entire life: the good and the bad. Life can go absolutely swimmingly and then turn a little sour, but by the very nature of a circle, tends to pick up again after a time. Everything can seem much the same, and life doesn’t seem to have undergone as dramatic a change as you first thought.

As it turns out, it’s not really “life” that’s supposed to change. It’s you. And I have. The way I deal with problems that are thrown up has improved as I grow, and each time I become more confident and optimistic about my ability to deal with being scared and brought down.

The key (cue that unsolicited advice I so love to give in my writing, for better or for worse), I have found, is to retain focus on yourself and remember that no matter what goes on around you, you do not become a different person. If I tell you something bad about yourself, does this necessarily make it true? Similarly, if you’re feeling left out by one or two friends, does this mean everyone else in your life loves you any less? Focusing on my own qualities has helped me realise that even when things aren’t going to plan, this does not impact on who I am as a person. I become no less intelligent, hardworking, or kind-hearted. I do not let these things change me, except when I choose to learn from them. I am still myself, and for the most part I am much cared for and loved by those that know me (Good for me, right?).

Take my lovely troll as an example: it’s one person’s opinion against at least a hundred. Why on earth should it matter? It’s also worth mentioning that the article I wrote was more opinionated than I would have dared to have published a year ago.

So much like the hopeless-at-first female in a generic rom-com, I have gone through my own little “emotional arc” and recognised, with the greatest of cheese*, that it’s not my situation that needs to change all the time, merely my attitude toward myself and the durability of my skin.

So right now, things have been better, but things have definitely been a lot worse. And that’s probably quite a good mindset to have…

...until the next time…

 
 

 Here is a picture of my smile from when I took part in #100happydays on Instagram (only reaching day 50 because I became a lazy student) almost a year ago. The smile sometimes goes away for a while, but comes back quicker each time. Circles, innit…

(Instagram @catherineannmk)


*Edit: Or rather, the "grate-est" of cheese... pun courtesy of Eliott Simpson (http://sockcrumbs.tumblr.com)