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Archive for the ‘Vegetables’ Category

For the last year I have collected glass jars. At first this was because some friends of mine were getting married and they needed many jam jars for decorating the venue, but then the venue changed and I just kept collecting jars. I carefully scrubbed the labels off pots of mustard, sundried tomatoes, honey and cocktail gherkins. It turns out I eat a lot of cocktail gherkins, enough to make me worry that I might be damaging myself with all that vinegar. But anyway, I digress.

Yesterday I realised that there was no more room in my jar cupboard and something would have to be done. I also took a moment to wonder what 18 year-old me would think about 28 year-old me having my own cupboard full of jars.

I selected a jar and pickled some spring onions and fennel adapting a Jamie Oliver recipe from the December issue of the Sainsbury’s magazine. I don’t think of these as a wintery condiment though. They belong to early spring when the days are getting longer and the suggestion to eat outside is an eccentric one rather than just plain mad. They are exactly the right colour.

To make some pickled vegetables measure out enough white wine vinegar to fill a jar, bearing in mind the veg will take up some room. Heat the vinegar in a saucepan along with some fennel seeds, a cinnamon stick, the peel of a clementine and a teaspoon of sugar. For one large jar of pickle I used half a teaspoon of fennel seeds, half a cinnamon stick and the peel of one clementine. Bring the vinegar mixture to the boil. Sterilise the jar you will use (just boil it in a pan or put it in the sink and pour boiling water from the kettle over it). Place the prepared vegetables in the jar and pour over the boiling vinegar mix. In about a week the pickles will be ready to eat. Jamie says they will keep for a few months unopened but, being the kind of person who happily eats around the mould on old cheddar, I would easily double that.

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It seems to me that the best recipes have a strong foundation of classic techniques and combinations that are then elevated by the inclusion of some special ingredient. Hazelnuts in a fennel salad, sea salt in caramel or pickled walnuts in a beef stew all make a fairly conventional dish into something much more delicious.

In the case of this Ottolenghi recipe the foundation is an instantly recognisable combination of pastry base, filled with roasted butternut squash, goat’s cheese, cream and eggs. So far, so quichey and I have never been the biggest fan of quiche.

In this quiche though, before the cream and eggs make an appearance, blanched garlic cloves coated in a thick balsamic, rosemary and thyme infused syrup take to the stage. I think I could easily eat these sweet, unctuous cloves straight from the pan, although I would feel very guilty afterwards and possibly a bit sick.

 

This is the best way I have ever had garlic, better even than when you roast a whole head of garlic with sausages and onions then squeeze out the resultant puree onto your plate. They look lovely in the tart too, bobbing up through the cream like ancient life buoys.

I served this tart with a beetroot salad that would be worth making for the way it looks alone. I used a recipe from the Sam & Sam Clark Moro East book, although from memory so I ended up forgetting to add mint and I blitzed everything in the food processor which gave me a much more vivid green pistachio and parsley sauce.

 

The inky slices of beetroot contrast beautifully with the pistachio and parsley. Essentially all you need to do is blitz pistachios, parsley, lemon juice and zest, olive oil and orange blossom water. I can’t remember the exact amounts as I was in the process of cooking a meal for 20 people and just trying not to freak out. I was very excited to make something that looked so pretty with so little effort.

The full and proper beetroot salad recipe is here, the second recipe from the bottom. Clearly the Guardian love this sort of food.

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I am a complete sucker for vintage jam pots and tins from Asian markets. I love anything that looks like it could be at home in Sophie Dahl’s pretend kitchen.

This tin of smoked paprika is a good example. I fell for its packaging and bought it despite not needing any paprika

When I saw Sophie Dahl pick up an identical red jar on her cookery programme a few months later I nearly wet myself. Anyone would think we’d both visited the same spice market in Marrakech. I can’t remember how she used this aromatic powder, I’m sure it enriches stews and the like.

Until recently I had barely used the stuff. When I read something about adding regular paprika to tomatoes I tried the smoked variety in a cherry tomato salad with lots of chopped spring onions with a balsamic dressing. I usually condemn the utterly excessive use of balsamic vinegar which borders on addiction in some of London’s more leafy enclaves, however I made an exception for this salad. Since trying this I haven’t had a tomato salad without paprika in weeks.

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Soup

More than two months have passed since my last post. It seems like even longer since I was buckling under the weight of the campest cake ever in a North London pub. I am now holed up in my new flat in Crystal Palace ready to regale any friends who will make the trip south east with tales of burning palaces and dinosaur statues.

Eventually I will buy a table and then people can come for dinner. For now I am just pleased to finally have the internet. It only took eight weeks.

Rest assured, to those who were concerned, that my absence was only due to lack of internet access. I have not stopped eating. Three meals a day and additional snacks is still my routine and I have a shiny new kitchen to make a mess of plus a host of new food shops and restaurants to explore.

One of my New Year’s resolutions that has lasted was to start making soups to take into work for lunch. This has lead to much experimenting with flavours and sieving techniques. I like a smooth soup and when I have cut corners and only liquidised the hot broth I have found the result disappointing on both a textural and a flavour level. Perhaps something in the slow process of pressing liquid and mulch through a fine mesh sieve brings out depth of flavour. 

 My two favourite soups are a Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato and a Butternut Squash, Bacon & Chestnut. It all sounds very Covent Garden but home-made soup tastes so much better than that.

You don’t really need to follow a strict recipe for a soup and I certainly haven’t kept any measurements when I have made them so all I can offer is a rough guide.

Roasting seems to me to be a great way to add depth of flavour if you are lacking the good stock that will elevate your soup to a higher level. If this was the olden days and I had a family then I would be boiling bones all day and I’d have stock coming out of my ears. As it is I use Swiss Bouillon powder because I refuse to use those disgusting plastic sacks of posh stock that look like bags of saline.

The recipes follow.

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Fresh start omelette

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Sometimes life can get in the way of food. This is something I try to avoid; even at the most traumatic points in my life I have been able to ravage a curry and ask for seconds. I am, perhaps regrettably, not one of those people who sheds pounds in times of crisis. I won’t even let a razor sore throat prevent the consumption of solids.

 

Recently I have been stressed, away from home a lot and forced to enter my 28th year on this planet. I have found myself eating a litany of soulless yo shushis and ping pongs rather than cooking something delicious myself. The result is a few extra pounds around my middle and a palpable feeling that something isn’t quite right.  I need a fresh start.

 

I know it looks like a mess, this dish is beautiful on the inside.

I know it looks like a mess, this dish is beautiful on the inside.

 

So this evening I rifled through the fridge and removed the mould from anything that could be saved. Two eggs were judged to be edible despite the box advising a use by date of the 8th September. If I’m dead in the morning please point the coroner in that direction. I also had some red chillies, an onion, garlic, yoghurt and frozen broad beans.

 

My egg phobia has been mentioned in a previous post and this fear does extend to omelettes which I have never loved. Does anyone really love omelettes? I associate them with leftovers and muscle men. The omelette I conjured up though was made divine by the garlic yoghurt and egg combination which is Skye Gyngell’s invention. The broad beans, red chillies and sloppy presentation however are mine, all mine.

 

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Having had thirty minutes to digest and with the garlic aroma still lingering on my tongue I am filled with a sense of satisfaction and calm that yo sushi can never deliver. For the first time I understand the point of omelettes and I think that makes me an adult…or a muscle man, I’ll let you know.

 

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Continue reading for the recipe

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Chilli Eggs

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On Sunday afternoon I went to see Julie & Julia at the Picturehouse cinema in Clapham. It was just me, a large glass of red wine and a room full of fellow moviegoers. When I took my seat and the adverts began I felt one of those sudden bursts of utter contentment which threatened to erupt from me in an uncontrolled yelp of joy. Does anyone else experience sudden waves of excitement when going to the cinema alone? Throw in a packet of Maltesers and my ecstasy hits levels I can only imagine is comparable to that of drug users.

 

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The joy I take in my unaccompanied cinematic experiences does give me a rather rosy view of many films since my overall bliss at being alone tends to bathe the feature in a reflected glow. Of course the odd horror of a flick can penetrate my cinematic ardour (The Proposal anyone?) but this is a rare occurrence. Sadly this means that I could never be a film critic despite feeling so at home in a movie theatre. As is so often the case with food I am unable to look at a film objectively and my experience of it is intrinsically tied to my mood.

 

Julie & Julia I am happy to say was excellent. I could be wrong of course, it might be an absolute stinker but I was feeling so happy how could it not be great? There wasn’t nearly as much food porn as I expected but perhaps I am used to things a bit more hardcore, so to speak. It was very funny, or at least the Julia Child sections were. Honestly I’d have happily done away with the sections based on Julie Powell but hey, I’m no film critic.

 

All of this leads me to eggs, sort of. The Julie of the film was a food blogger who had never eaten an egg before commencing her mission to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in just one year. This might sound like a travesty to any food-lover but, whilst I have eaten many an egg, I understand Julie’s reluctance.

 

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There is something about eggs (I’m talking poached, boiled and fried here) that makes me nervous. It’s not to do with eating embryo; I have not a shred of a principle when it comes to eating animal babies born or otherwise. It’s something about egg white, a substance with the potential to be quite revolting in an uncooked state. How can this gloop be married to the delicious and beautiful yolk? The white of the egg is the challenge and the yolk the reward. Don’t let meringues blind you.

 

The exception to this is my father’s chilli eggs. I like a runny yolk as much as the next person but I am ashamed to say I frequently sacrifice this to the greater good of a solid egg white. In this dish though I am always able to produce a runny yolk and cooked egg white.

 

Chilli eggs is a delicious mid-week meal. You can throw in any old vegetables you have knocking around the fridge. Speaking as an eggphobe I can vouch that this dish wins me over every time. Bon appetit!

 

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Taste buds are a curious thing, a physical extension of an intangible sense. Science can dissect the tongue along acidic and base lines, marking sections which amplify saltiness or sweetness like continents on a map, but there is an unscientific aspect to taste which is composed of memories and traits unique to every one of us. If your mother forced gristly liver onto your plate every Tuesday for 18 years then there is a chance you will find the rich, pate-like consistency rather unpalatable. Calf’s liver in my mouth tastes wonderful but on another anatomically identical tongue it tastes revolting.

 

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Taste and memories are obviously intrinsically linked, it seems almost a cliché to say it. Coriander reminds me of a walk along a canal where I discovered a plant with some white berries which I squashed between my fingers. The strong, rotten smell which coated my hands reminded me of rancid cheese. When coriander became huge years later (and it really is huge, is there a herb more ubiquitous than coriander?) my first whiff of the innocent looking leaf sent me hurtling back to that canal-side walk. Suffice to say I loathe coriander with every fibre of my being.

 

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Until recently I wasn’t keen on beetroot. You might say that since I now rather like beetroot I was mistaken in my dislike, yet isn’t taste an entirely subjective thing? When I hated beetroot I hated it and now I like it…well…I like it. There is no objective beetroot taste which we can judge to be good or bad, all that matters is your taste in the present moment. Most adults keep trying things because there is nothing more embarrassing than being thought of as a fussy eater. If we didn’t persist with things we don’t like at first then the landscape in the south of France would look very different, there would be no need for Fairtrade coffee and the sea would be swarming with anchovies.

 

Beetroot has been a very exciting discovery. I have moved on from the vacuum-packed, quartered beetroots with spring onion that I tried to avoid when I was younger. Recent experiments produced a raw beetroot salad with pear and feta and, most excitingly, a pearl barley and beetroot ‘risotto’. It’s not a risotto at all of course but it looks a little like one. Anyone traumatised by early memories of chewy little beads of barley in stews will have to be gently coaxed into trying this dish but they may be pleasantly surprised.

 

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Pearl Barley and Beetroot ‘risotto’

 

Serves 2

 

2x small raw beetroot

75g pearl barley (uncooked weight0

1 small red onion

1 tbsp Balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp redcurrant jelly

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

3 tbsp oil

A little feta cheese and ½ tbsp chopped mint

Salt and pepper

 

Thoroughly clean the pearl barley in cold water. Place in a saucepan, cover with cold water and simmer gently for 45 minutes to an hour.

 

Whilst the pearl barley cooks cut the beetroot into thin strips or half-discs and dice the onion. Gently fry the beetroot and onion in a little oil. Add the balsamic vinegar and continue to fry gently. By the time the pearl barley is cooked the beetroot and onion should have cooked for about 30 minutes. The beetroot will be softened but still have a bite to it.

 

Drain the pearl barley and use the saucepan to melt the redcurrant jelly. Whisk the liquid and add the vinegar and oil until it has emulsified. Return the pearl barley to the pan, there will be quite a bit of liquid but this will reduce down. Add the cooked beetroot and onion to the saucepan and stir.

 

Continue to stir the mixture on the heat until the sauce has reduced. It won’t coat the grains like a risotto but it’s ready when a wooden spoon pulled along the base of the pan leaves a clear path which doesn’t immediately fill with liquid, in the case of this dish it is rather like the parting of the red sea.

 

Stir in most of the chopped mint then serve with the remaining chopped mint and the crumbled feta cheese on top.

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