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Wednesday 26 September 2018

Experiments with Gousto #9: Mediterranean Fish Stew & Sunny Aioli

Here we are with the final entry in the current run of Gousto recipes, and any others will be appearing on Instagram, while my more 'experimental' efforts, or anything particularly fun or interesting, will continue to appear - sporadically - on this blog. This recipe is the one where I ended up eating both portions because my girlfried was away - I had one portion on the Friday, when I did the actual cooking, and the second for lunch on the Saturday.

This turned out to be a Very Good Thing as it didn't all go according to plan on the Friday.

As before, I got the chopping out of the way ahead of time, attempting to be clever and using the mandoline for the onion, but mistaking the 'julienne' attachment for the 'fries' attachment and consequently setting the blade too low. This still gave me sliced onion, but with deep grooves cut into it rather than allowing it to separate into nice, small chunks. I did the carrots the old-fashioned way and chopped the garlic as finely as I could (news flash - still not that fine), where I'd grated it for a couple of the previous recipes and got uncomfortably close to grating my fingers. I should, perhaps, have used the garlic press for broadly similar results, but that didn't occur to me at the time.

The second step of this recipe confused me: heating a frying pan with "a drizzle" of olive oil and 15g of butter. Why so vague with one measure and so specific with the other? And using oil and butter? Surely one or the other would be more usual? Nevertheless, I followed the instructions as described. The stew part of the fish stew was easy enough, but puzzling on at least one other point: the inclusion of star anise. Now, clearly, I'm no expert in culinary matters, but star anise is described online as "one of the central spices in Chinese cooking", and supposedly has a strong anise flavour - whatever that may be - and a licorice-like aroma. I'm a big fan of licorice, and I have to say there was no licorice aroma. I couldn't say whether its presence in the making of the stew had any effect on the final flavour, but it had none that was discernible to my palate. I'd have to try cooking this again without star anise to be certain.

As with the previous recipe, I started preparing the stock ahead of time as well, though this one required the addition of turmeric to turn it into the required "yellow stock". Turmeric may well be the bane of my existance, but we'll get into that shortly... For now, let's focus on the stew. Any recipe which can be completed in one frying pan or saucepan is always going to be a winner, so I really liked that every stage of preparing the stew was simply a case of adding the next thing to the frying pan. With the onions, carrots and garlic cooked to the point where the onion was softening, the tomato paste went in, followed shortly by the stock and the olive, and the whole thing was left to reduce on a low heat while I switched over to preparing the sunny aioli and baking the rolls, which I'll go into separately. The fish caused an interesting complication, in that I was preparing the stew in a frying pan which has no lid, so I had to improvise - upending a wok and balancing it on the rim of the pan for the few minutes required to cook the fish. The final stage was simple enough - add in some of the fresh parsley, remove the star anise (which took longer than expected because it had managed to disguise itself very successfully), then serve with more of the parsley as a garnish, a ciabatta and the sunny aioli...

...Which is where it went awry for me. It's not often, even with an amateur like me working in the kitchen, that a recipe goes so wrong that something actually breaks. Sure, I've had cheap-and-cheerful bits of kitchen equipment break (most recently the Ikea can opener that was part of my kitchen starter kit, basically dissolved thanks to its cheap, plastic construction... it's almost 10 years old, but barely used). The sunny aioli seemed to be going swimmingly, too, until I lost my grip on the bowl I was using to mix it, allowing it to tumble to the floor - trailing sunny aioli - break unrecoverably and spill what little of the sauce wasn't already staining the white plastic/rubber of my fridge. Hence, the first photo features no sunny aioli.

It's probably a good thing my girlfriend wasn't around for this one, because I came very close to losing my temper over the breakage and spillage, and spent the evening grumbling to myself and cursing the bowl for its slipperiness. It had all been going really well up until that point, so falling at the last hurdle was a huge disappointment.

My second attempt, for lunch the following day, went far better, and the sunny aioli really added to the overall flavour. I may have to figure out other ways to use a similar sauce. This is a really lovely fish stew, and I'd definitely like to try making it again... though I'm not quite sure what the ciabatta adds to the meal, other than being something to soak up the last few drops of the stew.

In retrospect, I'm puzzled by the instruction to drizzle olive oil over the ciabatta rolls before sticking them in the oven. I ended up doing one with and one without the oil and, yes, there's a massive difference in the result... but the one with oil ended up extremely tough and crusty, while the other was more like what you might buy in a shop. I'm not massively keen on super-crusty bread, but each to their own...

Tuesday 25 September 2018


Something I've realised while working on Gousto recipes over the last few months is that writing up my experience of cooking these meals has actually become a little dull. I've always much preferred doing things from scratch, and documenting the whole thing like a scientific experiment. It's also been a little repetitive as I tend to have much the same impression of each recipe: dealing with the chopping ahead of time is advisable as I'm not that quick or accurate, and I can never quite match their timings as I still haven't got used to the temperature settings on my hob.

To this end, I've set up an Instagram account so that I can at least show photos of each recipe I try, adding a few pertinent notes to the caption.

Still, it's actually been fun to do the cooking so, once I get back into the frame of mind where I feel confident about getting a bit more experimental in the kitchen, hopefully I'll be able to post something a bit more detailed in this blog. For the time being, have a quick look at my Instagram account, and perhaps you'll see more frequent posts there.

I've got one more Gousto recipe as a draft, and hope to finish that at some point... but further recipes of that sort will likely be Instagram only, unless there's something particularly exciting about them.

Thursday 31 May 2018

Experiments with Gousto #8: Wholesome Haddock & Apricot Tagine with Bulgur

And so we come to the penultimate post in this new round of Gousto recipes... and if there was a duffer in the selection, this would be it. Not that it was bad, just not as outstandingly good (or fun to prepare) as the others. This recipe also featured a couple of tasks that had to be kept on the go at the same time, which isn't something I find particularly easy in the kitchen. The daftest part, for me, was the opening instruction, which breaks down into three separate tasks: boil a kettle (the quantity of water isn't specified, but is more than my kettle can handle, for reasons I'll explain shortly), peel and chop the onion, peel and dice the carrot. Since I knew that peeling and chopping/dicing the veg would take more time that the boiling of a kettle, I did that - along with pretty much all the other chopping - before even filling the kettle, and feel that's the safest option. It's not as if step 2 (actually steps 4 and 5, if we're being fussy) makes use of the boiled water, and step 3 (AKA steps 6 and 7) doesn't start with "Meanwhile...", yet the actions in step 2 take 5-8 minutes. Thus, following the recipe to the letter would result in the water cooling off during that stage, throwing off the timing for the rest of the recipe.

Going from memory, I think I also prepared the vegetable stock before starting to cook the carrot and onion pieces, because step 4 (steps 8-11) includes making the stock as its last instruction before switching back to working on the onions and carrots in the pan.

I did, for a while, have the bulgur wheat and the early stages of the tagine cooking simultaneously, but the alarm going off for the wheat pretty much shattered my concentration. I also found that the full kettle of water I started out with wasn't sufficient for the 10-15 minutes cooking time... Not sure whether that means I cooked it for too long, or just that I need a bigger kettle (or to boil the water in the pan rather than using the kettle at all), but I had to boil the kettle again to top up the pan at about the halfway point, because it looked as though it would boil dry otherwise.

Like the previous recipe, the instructions say to add a lot of dry stuff to the pan ahead of the stock and, again, I find this counterintuitive. Not to say I didn't do it that way, or that I don't think it works, just that it doesn't make sense to me to add three lots of ground spices, chopped garlic and ginger and a relatively small quantity of tomato paste to a pan of onion and carrot, cooked in a drizzle of olive oil. Granted, the onions will start to sweat some of their fluids out, but it's still a fairy dry pan, and the spices will tend to clump. The next instruction is to cook "until fragrant"... which is tricky to follow, as I'm not sure I trust my nose in the kitchen... particularly with allergy season in full swing, and not long after chopping the onions...

Nevertheless, from here on, the recipe became much easier to follow, except inasmuch as I really need to figure out what constitutes 'low heat', 'medium heat' and 'high heat' on my hob... Its highest setting always seems a little too aggressive, but the general idea at this stage was to boil off some of the water to thicken up the sauce. That said, the instruction to aim for "a curry-like consistency" isn't especially helpful to one who doesn't tend to eat a lot of curry. I had a broad idea of what was meant, and did a fair job, I think, but still wasn't convinced by the finished product.

Probably the hardest part came when the fish was added, because ensuring white fish is cooked through when it's in a strongly-coloured sauce is a bit of a fine art - it needs to get to the stage where it flakes easily, but not so far along that it starts drying out. Since the instructions say to chop the coriander and mint at this late stage, I made sure to do it in advance to avoid any last-minute stress, or the risk of over-cooking the tagine.

Curiously, while the instructions say to "serve the haddock & apricot tagine over the bulgur wheat", all the photos show the two served side-by-side and very separately. The problem with following the instruction rather than the images is that the sauce is inclined to soak down into the wheat, so what I served up looks much less impressive... and not just because of my haphazard chopping of the coriander and the mint. It also seemed very anaemic - the photos depict a tagine that's bold and warm-looking, all browns and reds... mine ended up more beige and orange.

Now, I described this as the duffer of the set and should explain why. I liked this meal - as did my girlfriend, who actually had her share when she got back home late that evening - but the flavour wasn't as captivating as some of the other recipes. By comparison, I have to say I found it a little bland. It's worth noting that the recipe describes "diced apricots", but what was supplied was a bag of diced, dried apricot, so it's possible that working with fresh fruit would yield better results. Haddock doesn't have a particularly strong flavour of its own, but it didn't really pick up as much from the sauce as I'd hoped... and then the wheat was extremely plain. My girlfriend suggested some kind of seasoning for the wheat, so perhaps cooking it in another batch of vegetable stock would improve it... or, at the very least, adding more than just salt to the water.

With the end result of this being so underwhelming, I'm somewhat keen to try it again sometime - perhaps I missed something, perhaps the incredients weren't quite ideal in some way, perhaps I needed to chop the onion and carrot a little more finely. I'd also argue that, going by the photos on the recipe card, the quanity of mint and coriander supplied for the garnish was far in excess of requirement.

Wednesday 30 May 2018

Experiments with Gousto #7: Crispy Baked Tacos, Refried Beans & Pineapple Salsa

Apologies for the delay in following up the continuing experiments with Gousto - it's been a good couple of weeks since I cooked the last of this latest batch (and ate all of it myself, as my girlfriend was away for the weekend). There's no particular reason for the delay, I just haven't felt like writing about my cooking efforts lately.

Not that they went badly (until the last one - but more on that when I get to it), just that I've been trying and failing to get all kinds of things done, and I wanted to give this the attention it deserved, rather than bashing out three perfunctory posts. This was, I think, the first recipe for the relevant week that my girlfriend and I flagged as a definite choice. Everything on offer looked great, but we're both big taco fans, and we'll often make the fillings from scratch anyway, so this wasn't a massive departure from the sort of thing we've made in the past, just a specific recipe we hadn't tried yet.

The first thing I need to say about this recipe is that it really needs some way of ensuring the tortillas keep their shape during the baking. I spent quite some time trying to even up the distribution of the tortillas in the dish, and ensure they were as close to U-shaped as possible, only for them to curl up, flop over and basically do their own thing in the oven. This led to several of the tortilla/tacos being very difficult to fill when the time came, and at least one had to be cracked to get it open far enough to drop in the refried beans. The salsa, being quite chunky, proved even more tricky.

On the whole, preparing this one went smoothly and was fairly easy - the 30 minute estimate is probably quite accurate though, as usual, I did a lot of prep work ahead of time. The salsa was the first thing I made up, since it required only chopping, mixing and then keeping aside until it was time to dish up. The cherry tomatoes and pineapple rings only needed to be chopped roughly, which is always a good thing in my books, as chopping finely is something I have still yet to master. Next time I do this, I'll probably quarter them as halves are a little too chunky... and, to be honest, I'm not sure cherry tomatoes were necessary, as normal tomatoes could be more easily chopped into smaller pieces while remaining suitably chunky. I'd also query the necessity of adding a teaspoon of juice from the tin of pineapple because, unless the chunks are fully drained, they come soaked with quite enough juice for a reasonable salsa, and deliberately adding more just seemed to leave me with way too much fluid in my salsa - it includes a tablespoon of olive oil as well, after all.

The only really substantial task in this recipe is making up the refried beans, which is surprisingly simple... So much so, in fact, that I may take to doing it more often, since my girlfriend and I both like refried beans. The specifics of the process, as dictated by Gousto, seem a little strange to me - adding the dry stuff (smoked paprika, ground cumin and chilli flakes) before the chipotle paste, tomato frito and the hundred millilitres of water was more than a little counterintuitive as the powders tended to clump rather than properly mixing in with the beans. I think I ended up cooking the beans for longer than the 5-8 minutes suggested, but I'm still not entirely sure what constitutes "a medium heat" on my hob, and probably spent too long adjusting it up and down, according to how it seemed to be going. The final stage - adding in the lime juice, seasoning and following the instruction to "gently crush a few of the beans" - is very much a personal taste thing. When ordering refried beans in a restaurant, you can expect anything from a full-on bean mash to something where the individual beans are still easily discernible... The photos on the recipe card seemed to suggest a middle ground, slightly beyond the "gentle" crushing of "a few of the beans" the text described, so I just aimed to mash them up to the exteny that I, personally, prefer.

I do feel obliged to quibble the quantities, as a single tin of beans (plus the other stuff) ended up equating to approximately half the quanity of refried beans I would want to divide between six tortilla/taco shells... perhaps that just proves what a porker I can be but, like I said, I really like refried beans. Put it like this: The first three tacos each received a heaped tablespoon of beans... after that, I had to start getting stingy and, by the last taco, I was literally scraping the bottom of the pan for a decent portion.

As mentioned, actually transferring the beans into the part-cooked tortillas was troublesome, and I think what's really needed is a sort of toasting rack, where the tortillas can be wrapped around a framework to ensure they keep the optimal U-shaped-ness for the 5-minute initial bake. Once done, these can be transferred to the oven-proof dish to be (ahem) filled with the refried beans, and returned to the oven for the final 5-minute bake.

Given that - as mentioned at the start - the salsa was rather more fluid than it needed to be, the finished and garnished tacos were somewhat flooded, and really didn't need any additional lime juice to be drizzled over. Portion-size aside, though, the tacos were very tasty, and I'll definitely be giving this recipe another try at some point.

One huge advantage to this sort of thing is that the recipe for refried beans is so easy to embellish - more or less of the herbs or the chilli flakes, dark chocolate could be added, pinto and/or kidney beans could be used along with the black beans, etc - so the possibilities in that alone are virtually endless. I'll certainly double the quantity of beans next time, even if I don't add another variety. I'll likely chop the pineapple a little more, use normal tomatoes rather than cherry, and absolutely not add any additional juice. A standard onion - brown or red - could be used in place of, or as well as the shallot, too... so, really, this whole recipe encourages experimentation.

Aside from the frustrations caused by the uncooperative tacos, this was great fun to prepare and, being very simple, could easily become a go-to, either in and of itself for a quick veggie meal, or as a component of a more diverse, Mexican-themed dinner, since both the refried beans and the salsa could be served on the side.

One sidenote is that, where a recipe card states, for example, "this is your pineapple salsa", I've previously been inclined to read an emphasis on "your", because it's often come straight after the bit about seasoning... Looking at this particular recipe card, I suspect I have done so in error, as this seems to be more matter-of-factly stating "this is your x" by way of saying "this portion of the recipe is concluded".


Wednesday 16 May 2018

Experiments with Gousto #6: Sweet Mixed Pepper & Chive Risotto

Of all the Gousto recipes I've tried so far (cooking myself, that is), this is probably my favourite so far. It turned out to be pretty much as quick and easy as the recipe suggests, but there were still a couple of things I didn't get quite right...

For starters, I've got into the habit of doing as much chopping as possible in advance, since I can never be sure I'll be able to keep to the timings if I have to chop on the fly. For this one, I also put the sweet tomato stock together in advance. This almost came a-cropper before I'd started, as my usual jug is far smaller than the 700ml required, so I had to resort to a crappy (but larger) plastic jug from my Ikea kitchenware set. I don't particularly like using it - especially for hot things - but there's really no rational reason for that... I just prefer working with glass/Pyrex jugs where available.

I got my girlfriend to explain how she would go about dicing onion, because my 'method' invaribly ends up making a lot of mess and leaving me with streaming eyes. In fact, in a previous recipe (not one I've documented, as far as I can remember) I diced an onion using our mandoline with the additional blades intended for slicing potatoes into French Fries. This time, I just used a standard kitchen knife, though I did have to sharpen it beforehand.

I was a little concerned by step 4 of this recipe, where smoked paprika, ground turmeric and chopped garlic are added in along with the dry arborio rice, as I don't feel especially confident about adding dry rice to anything where there's not much liquid available. One of these days, I'm sure I'll just end up with Rice Krispies... Not this day, though... thankfully...

Also, to be honest, it's only in the pan for about a minute before the stock is gradually added in, and this stage takes about 15-20 minutes for it to be absorbed by the rice, while the sliced peppers are being roasted in the oven. I think I started this stage a little too late - with only about 17 minutes remaining on the peppers' cooking time - so I ended up switching the oven off for the last few minutes of the risotto's cooking time.

The fact that almost everything for this recipe comes together in a single frying pan is a huge bonus. It means less to keep an eye on, and less to wash up at the end. I do have a few objections to the act of adding cheese to something that's already a hot, sticky mess in a frying pan, because I know from previous experience how troublesome that sort of combination will be to clean afterward. I also found the cheese supplied to be extremely crumbly, which made grating it an absolute chore, and I came dangerously close to grating my fingertips whenever a chunk broke off.

To be perfectly honest, I'm not certain whether or not any pepper was added for seasoning, along with the cheese and chives, but I'm pretty confident - having tasted the end results - that it would work well enough without. The final stage was a bit of a rush, as I had to dish out the risotto, add the remaining peppers, cheese and chives, drizzle on a bit of olive oil (also, I strongly suspect, surplus to requirement), and take some photos before announcing that dinner was ready... and I hadn't even brought the camera into the kitchen in advance this time...

This is the first of the new batch of Gousto recipes that arrived yesterday, so the rest have a hard act to follow now. The next few will be interesting as, after tonight's, I'll actually be cooking for myself for a couple of nights, as Courtney's out for the evenings, then away for the weekend... and I'm not sure keeping some of the ingredients till she's back - even keeping them in the fridge - will be viable. Chances are, I'll be cooking up the whole recipe as usual, but keeping a portion in the fridge (or the freezer) till she's back.

Experiments with Gousto #5: Scandi-style Mackerel & Potato Salad with Spinach

The final recipe of the first new Gousto box didn't really require that much actual cooking, and yet I still managed to balls up one of the simpler tasks on my hob. This is partly due to the wonky timings in the recipe - something of a running theme, I'm finding - but mainly due to me splitting my attention between two small tasks that shouldn't have been attempted simultaneously. Nevertheless, this turned out to be a rather anticlimactic finale to my first foray into preparing evening meals for two again.

It probably would have been a lot simpler to break this up into two entirely separate tasks - the potato salad being one, with everything else in the second.  The potato salad is the most complicated task, in that the potatoes have to be chopped in half, then boiled for about a quarter of an hour, then drained and, ideally, allowed to cool. It's entirely possible, given the length of time it generally takes me to chop things, that the whole point of the recipe as it's presented is that you complete step 1 (cooking the potatoes) before even starting on step 2 (preparation of the spinach salad). However, since I wanted to ensure everything was ready ahead of time, I'd chopped the dill, the spring onions, the garlic and the potatoes as one task, a couple of hours earlier than necessary, and put the results back in the fridge till they were needed.

Then again, this particular recipe was a little 'pre-disastered' by the fact that the yoghurt container had apparently exploded in transit. It was in a small, sealed plastic pot - a miniature version of the average yoghurt pot you can buy in a supermarket - contained within a plastic bag of its own. When we unpacked the box all the ingredients came in, the inside of the plastic bag was coated with yoghurt, so the whole thing had to be thrown away. Thankfully we had a large, open container of essentially identical yoghurt already in our fridge, and we had more than the 80g worth required by this recipe. I was a little worried during the last stage of preparing the mustard dressing, in that it initially seemed as though the lemon juice was curdling the yoghurt. Thankfully a good stir sorted that out. The real problem - but still not the balls-up I mentioned at the start - was that the potatoes were still quite warm when I added them to the dressing, so it immediately got thinner and runnier than it should have been.

Where it went undeniably wrong, and mostly down to my mismanagement of the tasks, was with the almond toasting, believe it or not. It should only take about 2-3 minutes according to the recipe, but it was at this point that I realised I hadn't sorted out the mackeral, so I started to remove the skin and flake the fish while the almonds were still on the hob, resulting in a selection of flakes ranging from 'lightly brown and toasted' to 'utterly burnt'. Next time I do this - and there almost certainly will be a next time for such a simple and delicious meal - I'll make breaking up the mackerel one of the first tasks because, once flaked, it can be put back in the fridge till it's needed. I'll also be sure to boil the potatoes further ahead of time so they have a chance to properly cool, and possibly put them in the fridge at that stage, rather than just after chopping them. Everything else is quick and simple - preparing the entire meal is timed at about 20 minutes, after all - though I reckon a more generous portion of mackerel would improve it no end. The other issue is that the spinach salad seems like a bit of an afterthought - a plate-filler - compared to everything else. It's literally just baby spinach drizzled with olive oil, then seasoned with salt and pepper. A more complicated dressing may have helped but, obviously, you wouldn't want it to clash with the mustard dressing in the potato salad.

The next batch of Gousto recipes arrived yesterday, and I've prepared the first of them already... but expect a slight delay in posting about it as I'm trying to get other stuff done in the meantime.

I just hope I don't leave it too long, resulting in another batch of drafts that I can't finish...

Friday 11 May 2018

Experiments with Gousto #4: Roasted Portobellos, Garlic Bean Mash & Chimichurri

In an attempt to get back into cooking while I'm not working, I ordered a box of four Gousto recipes but, due to a bunch of 'real life' issues leaving me a little frazzled the week they arrived, my girlfriend ended up having to cook the first two. For the third, since she was headed out around the time we'd normally be eating dinner, necessity dictated that I get my act together and do some proper cooking.

Now, the distinct lack of new posts on this blog over the last couple of years has been partly as a result of a distinct lack of cooking on my part. Lack of practice has left me feeling a little uncertain of myself in the kitchen - perhaps moreso than when I started this blog because, back then, I had the benefit of ignorance. Having done a fair bit of cooking back then, I learned a lot... and a lot of what I learned was how complicated some recipies are, even when they purport to be 'quick and simple'. Hell, when I left my job, one of my leaving gifts was Jamie Oliver's book '5 Ingredients'. Reading through this, it becomes quickly apparent that the five ingredients are normally supplemented by some sort of seasoning or oil that, in any other cookbook, would count as another ingredient. Sure, some can be considered kitchen staples, but I wouldn't think that red wine vinegar, for example, is quite as common as salt or pepper.

But I digress.

Interestingly, while both Gousto and Hello Fresh seemed to be operating a subscription model when I first used them, Gousto now has an additional 'dipping in' option, whereby you can simply pick a number of recipes - four being considered optimal - which will be delivered, along with all the required ingredients (bar kitchen staples like salt, pepper, olive oil, etc.), precisely measured and securely boxed.

Courtney and I picked four recipes more on the basis of how delicious they looked than anything else, but we did also keep an eye on the preparation times, aiming to keep to about 30 minutes, since that often equated to more like 50 minutes when I was doing the cooking.

By sheer coincidence, the first of the four recipes I cooked - since Courtney was working her usual hours today, with an appointment in the evening when we'd normally be having dinner - was centred on mushrooms, just like the first Gousto recipe I ever attempted. It didn't require any particularly fussy chopping, though it did require potatoes to be peeled, and it did require a couple of things to be on the go at the same time, with some fairly precise timing to get everything onto the plate while still warm.

The design of Gousto's recipe cards has changed quite a bit since 2015, with clearer and more detailed nutritional information on the front, along with the inclusion of allergen information, with the trade-off being even smaller images of the individual ingredients. The steps in the recipe, on the back, are now vertically sequential, rather than horizontally, but they're just as clearly numbered as before. I've yet to encounter a recipe that goes beyond eight steps, but I think that's largely down to the creative way they define a 'step' in each process. It's perfectly acceptable to group tasks that need to be done around the same time, and using a specific group of ingredients, but some of these recipes do resort to starting a new step "Meanwhile..." so it's imperative that one read through the full guide and assess the tasks logically, rather than attempting to follow the steps on the fly, which is my usual, carefree method. For example, with this one, I prepared the chimichurri several hours ahead of everything else, and stashed it in the fridge till it was needed. I also peeled and chopped the spuds and garlic well ahead of starting the oven so, technically, I followed the recipe by starting at step 4-5, then skipping back to the middle of step 1, and only really started at the beginning of step 1 when it was time to heat up the oven.

Considering how frazzled I've been of late, and how nervous I was of taking the reigns on an evening meal after relying on my girlfriend to prepare dinner for so long, this actually went really smoothly. It's certainly not the most complex recipe, but it does feature two "Meanwhile..." steps, and it's a little imprecise in some directions - "drizzle with olive oil", for example, is used for preparing the mushrooms on a baking tray and for preparing the potato/cannelli beans to be mashed. I suspect I should have 'drizzled' a little more olive oil into my mash but, to be honest, I'm more used to using butter and milk in mashed potato (when I'm not copping out and using instant mash, to the eternal horror of my girlfriend's family)... It ended up OK... not dry, but not properly creamy either. It's also tricky to judge seasoning, particularly when there's something like this chimichurri involved. I didn't want to add too much salt or pepper to the mash, even, but I could probably have added more than I did without any ill effects.

Another thing I kind of take issue with on these new recipe cards is their wishy-washy guidance on the seasoning, mashing and dressing. The phrase "this is your x" comes up alarmingly often. I get what they're trying to say - that one should make it according to one's own preferences - but I tend to think it's better to follow a recipe precisely the first time, and make alterations the next time based on how it turned out. For example, I've never even heard of a 'chimichurri' before, let alone made one, so telling me to "Season generously with salt and pepper - this is your chimichurri" doesn't seem very helpful. I don't know what it's supposed to taste like, nor do I know what effect salt/pepper will actually have on the end result.

Still, this was fairly simple - easing me back into the kitchen reasonably comfortably - and the end results were delicious. I'm not entirely certain of the merits of the tomato as a component of the meal (hell, it doesn't even rate a mention in the title!), and I think I'll aim to cut the coriander a little more finely next time (perhaps grinding it, and the shallots, a little longer with the mortar and pestle), but I'm broadly happy with what ended up on our plates...

Hopefully I'll be cooking the last of this batch over the weekend, and we have another box of four recipes arriving next week... Round two of my attempts at Gousto recipes is definitely off to a good start.

O Hai, Food Blog...

...Long time, no see.

The last couple of years have been pretty bizarre and, to cut a long story short, I have deliberately left full-time employment to recover a little of my sanity and, with any luck, get a bit of cooking done.

Due to the hours I was working and the length of my journey into work/back home, it just hasn't been feasible for me to cook evening meals for myself and my girlfriend over the last few years. Thankfully, until the end of last year, Courtney was mainly at home, studying for her degree or working at a part time job. Having successfully completed the course last year, she quickly found a full-time job in much the same area as me, but with more favourable office hours, so she continued to prepare evening meals for the both of us.

It might have been fun, at the start of this year, to document our foray into Veganuary... but, frankly, I added meat to my plate at every opportunity, so I wasn't very successful. A colleague asked me if I felt any healthier during Veganuary and I really didn't. Granted, most of the time I was physically and emotionally exhausted (I actually handed in my notice toward the end of that month), but the only really significant difference I noticed in myself - or, more accurately, my digestive system - is probably not something I should be writing about on a food blog.

But, to get back to the point, when my girlfriend and I discussed the idea of me leaving my job, it was agreed on the basis of her being in full time employment (thankfully her 3- and 6-month appraisals were extremely positive), and me taking on more - if not all - of the household chores, cooking included. The good thing about that is that taking on the cooking would mean that I would once again have reason/opportunity to post to this very blog.

And so, here I am again... I'm not going to say "I'm Back!" because I wouldn't want to imply that I'll suddenly be posting more often or more consistently. Pretty much the first thing that happened once I finally got out of my old office for the last time was that my computer died... and that's not even the first unexpected and stressful occurrence this year. I'm still not quite back on track with anything, as I'm just trying to relax for a while... But I did, finally, do some cooking today, and I'm hoping to do some more over the weekend.

Watch this space...