Cooking up a Storm

The joke in our house is that I can only cook for armies. If I’m making something, the portions are invariably enormous and we always have leftovers no matter how many people we’re feeding. This week I put my grand-scale cooking skills to work in order to feed one of the best “armies” I can think of: future me!

With our Baby Girl arriving sometime in the next three weeks (gosh, I wish she’d RSVP with an exact ETA), I’m stocking our freezer with meals that I can have after the little one arrives. This week’s creations: spinach lasagna and dal with kale.

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I made the lasagna without a recipe. Risky? Yes, but boy did it turn out tasty! Luckily, I learned to make lasagna with my Italian-American stepmother when I was a child and those skills have stuck with me. Also, you kinda can’t go wrong with lasagna as long as you just keep adding cheese… yum.

The dal with kale was made using a recipe my mom shared with me from the blog The Spice Spoon. This dish is so simple to make, nutritious, and deliciously comforting. A must for cold wintery nights!

Ston Easton Park Hotel

I probably say this all the time but one of the perks of living in the UK is our proximity to gorgeous and historic locations. It seems everywhere you travel you can find places that are filled with history and character.

Our trip to Cheddar last weekend is a perfect example of this. I’ve already told you about the attractions of Cheddar itself but I haven’t mentioned the place where we stayed: Ston Easton Park.

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This 18th century Palladian mansion hotel is the perfect place for a weekend getaway in the English countryside. The hotel is situated about 10 miles outside of Cheddar and is surrounded by lovely grounds which are available for country walks. These are some pictures we snapped during a quick walk we did before breakfast.

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The inside of the hotel is equally enjoyable. It has gorgeous sitting rooms, dining rooms, a library, an Edwardian kitchen, and a billiard room which are available for the guests to explore and relax in.

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Even with these beautiful surroundings, I have to admit we spent most of the time lounging and napping in our cozy top-floor room. I am 8 months pregnant after all!

We did manage to venture out of our room for dinner and breakfast downstairs in the dining room. Both meals were excellent. For dinner, there was a 5-course tasting menu which included an amuse bouche of french onion soup foam, a salmon starter, a nutmeg sorbet, partridge with vegetables, and lemon posset with lime sorbet for dessert. The entire meal was delicious from start to finish but I think my favorite part was the nutmeg sorbet. It was so unique and incredibly tasty!

With lots of relaxation, comfortable surroundings, and delicious food, this was definitely the perfect place for our “last hurrah” weekend! If only we could have a “last hurrah” every weekend 🙂

Stir up Sunday

I’m back trying my hand at “British” things again. This time I embraced the tradition of ‘Stir up Sunday’, making traditional Christmas pudding on the last Sunday before Advent. I was a little late so technically my stir up happened on Stir up Sunday + 2 weeks, but in every other way I strove for authenticity!

First, we had to go grocery shopping for all the ingredients. Having never made a Christmas pudding before or even seen anyone make it, everything seemed a bit foreign to me. Candied peel, suet – what are these things? Peter and I spent a good 5 minutes looking for vegetable suet in the grocery store before finally asking someone. In the end, she led us back to the exact same aisle we’d been before! Turns out suet comes in a box, not a jar. Who would have guessed?

All ingredients assembled, I headed for the kitchen and started stirring up this concoction with a special added element: charms.

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When I moved to the UK, my aunt gave me some silver Christmas pudding charms that she’d purchased in England years ago. They are meant to be stirred into the pudding and whoever finds the charm gets good luck.

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So we have six charms in the pudding which gives plenty of change for good luck. Also, stirring the pudding is meant to bring good luck so I made tons of wishes and stirred, stirred, stirred!

Cooking the pudding was an interesting adventure too. It needs to be steamed for 6 hours and then soaked in brandy. I’d never heard of that technique but it seemed to work. This is the finished product, all topped off with brandy and ready to be heated up again on Christmas Day.

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Fingers crossed it’s edible!

Games Night

I love hosting gatherings! In my book, it’s always “the more the merrier” when it comes to food and friends. The thrill of planning and prepping never gets old and I especially love seasonally themed get-togethers.

As the leaves turned and the temperatures dropped this year, my heart started to hanker for an autumn gathering so Peter and I invited our friends over for a low-key chili dinner and games night.

My first order of business was to send out an invitation on Paperless Post (my fave).

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Then I started compiling recipes, including some old favorites and new discoveries. I used Pinterest to keep every all the recipes in one place and give me some ideas for fun desserts. The menu ended up being:

Pre-dinner nibbles: veggies, cheese, chips and dips

Dinner: veggie chili, beef chili, cornbread, all the fixins

Dessert: reese’s peanut butter cup popcorn, millionaire shortbread, birthday cake

The menu was simple but really fun to prepare. Recipes here for those who are interested.

I began cooking mid morning and was well underway when we started getting regrets from several friends who had come down with colds and wouldn’t be able to make it – oh no!

By the time of the event, we ended up with a cozy gathering of six and enough food to feed an army. On the plus side, we could all sit at the dinner table and there was plenty of food to go around!

After dinner, we settled down to play Cards Against Humanity. We were having so much fun I forgot to take pictures throughout but here are a few I snapped at the end of the card game and the aftermath of our dinner.

Here’s to another great gathering and more to come!

Something Old, Something New…

As of late, I’ve been ending my work weeks on quite a cultured note. Last week, Peter and I attended a classical concert on Friday night and this week my friend Andrea and I went to an exhibit at the Victoria & Albert museum. When did I suddenly become so grown up?! I guess that’s what pregnancy does to you… 😉

This week, our Friday night started with a quick Lebanese dinner at Comptoir Libanais. I’d been wanting to try this restaurant for a while so I was thrilled when Andrea suggested it. The atmosphere was the right mix of casual and festive and all of the food looked incredible! I couldn’t decide on just one thing so I ended up ordering the mezze platter which was a little bit of everything. Such a great choice – I literally wiped the plate clean with pita bread at the end.

After dinner, we walked over to the Victoria & Albert for the Wedding Dresses: 1775 – 2014 exhibit. What a fun, girly thing to do on a dark and rainy Friday night! Pictures weren’t allowed in the exhibit but I took a few sneaky ones which I’ve included throughout this post.

As you’d expect, the exhibit starts with dresses from the 1700s and shows examples of the finest frocks of the time and also dresses from less affluent brides. At that time, it was not uncommon to wear your wedding dress for other occasions after the big day so many brides opted for colored or patterned material and detachable sleeves that could be removed after the church wedding.

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As the times (and exhibit) progressed, fashions changed and more modern, sleek silhouettes appeared. Gone were the enormous skirts and puffy sleeves. Especially in the 1930s, the most fashionable dresses had quite form-fitting cuts with very long trains. For some of the dresses, the exhibit incorporated video footage from the day, showing the bride in the dress and, in the case of celebrity weddings, the huge crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of the happy couple.

The upper level of the exhibit had all of the modern dresses — short, mod styles from the 60s, peasant style dresses from the 70s, and billowy costume-like gowns from the 80s. They even included wedding dresses from different cultures and celebrity frocks. Here’s an example of a dress from China and Gwen Stefani’s wedding dress from 2002.

Gwen Stefani’s pink dip-dyed dress designed by John Galliano was definitely a highlight for me in the exhibit. I’d seen the dress in pictures before and it always looked lovely on her. What I didn’t realize was just how crazy the actual design of the dress is! There are decorative zippers, asymmetrical folds, and diagonally placed buttons. The dress is fascinating. All the things you think shouldn’t or wouldn’t work actually do! The effect is beautiful but the individual elements seem insane.

Such a treat to see all these gowns in person. Makes me want to play dress up and get married to Peter all over again!