This year January has taken its cue from Christmas with gluttonous ease. Rather than observing an abstemious month of little or no alcohol, fewer desserts, low-fat-this and diet-that, we’ve eaten and drunk our way round London, Paris and Yorkshire. A birthday was celebrated several times over with rounds of cake and cocktails, an anniversary with an epic ice cream pie (more on that next week, just you wait) and Paris passed by in a blur of macarons, garlic butter and a Paris Brest the size of a tyre (albeit an elegant, pastry cream-filled one). Today we’re not going completely cold turkey, but these Apple, Maple & Walnut Cookies are at least a step in the right direction.
Over the last couple of years, a range of healthy little snack bars has been inching its way into our everyday lives. Nakd bars (or Larabars as they’re known in the US) bridge that gap in the sweet treat on-the-go market between an apple and a chocolate bar. They’re small but mighty, packed with energy in the form of good fats and natural sugar, and despite their hippy credentials are now available to buy in supermarkets and service stations all over the country. Continue reading
This time one week from now I’ll be hundreds of miles from home, sitting by the side of the pool at my parents’ house in Italy. We haven’t left the country since our honeymoon in Bali last year and I’m itching to get out of London, away from my daily commute and into the holiday swing. This year we’re spending the week with both my parents and big brother as an Italian family warm up to my 30th birthday at the end of July. There will be barbecues and sunbathing, amazing food (made by both my Mum and restaurants like this) and plenty of wine enjoyed over meals where we wonder for the umpteenth time if we might prefer a permanent life in the Tuscan hills over London. Continue reading
‘When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,’ said Piglet at last, ‘what’s the first thing you say to yourself?’ ‘What’s for breakfast?’ said Pooh. ‘What do you say, Piglet?’ ‘I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?’ said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. ‘It’s the same thing,’ he said.
Reading this quote from A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner, I can’t help but smile. In just a few short sentences, the author manages to capture both the thrill and satisfaction of finding pleasure in food. Any foodie worth their salt (or should it be honey?) will always have thoughts of their next meal ticking over gently at the back of their mind, and after the enforced fasting that comes with a good night’s sleep, there are few greater pleasures than waking up and deciding what to eat for your very first meal of the day. Continue reading
I really couldn’t decide whether to post this photo. After the success of my Double Chocolate Cardamom & Rose Cake, and so many lovely comments about its elegance and beauty, these crudely thrown together kebabs felt like a bit of an eye sore. They were far more rough and ready; simple skewers of spiced minced meat wrapped around a stick. And in all honesty, if asked to conjure up an image of beauty in food, meat on a stick probably wouldn’t be your number one choice.
Or maybe it would. I’m sure a food stylist could have drizzled them in creamy yoghurt and sprinkled over some chopped mint, found some suitably colourful prop to offset the darkness of all that meat and tinkered and tweaked until they had a plate that looked the picture of foodie beauty. But I’d made these kofte for a friend on a work night, and after we finally got around to getting them off the BBQ, sizzling hot and smelling divine, the last thing I wanted to do was faff around taking proper photos. This is real life, and sometimes hunger wins out over art.
So why did I decide to post these pictures? The answer’s pretty simple really; the recipe is too damn good not too.
When I first started writing this blog just over six months ago, I set myself the challenge of baking real bread on a weekly basis. As a self-confessed bread addict and self-styled ‘little loaf’, it seemed madness not to be making my own dough, especially when the average British shop contains such a sad little cardboard collection of bland, sugar-laced loaves.
Since then, I’ve started to eagerly anticipate the ritual of Sunday morning baking; dusting down the work surfaces with flour, kneading and shaping the dough, waiting patiently for it to rise, then slinging it into a super hot oven to bake as delicious smells begin to waft through the house. I’ve experimented with different flours and flavours, from fluffy focaccia to crusty white bloomers, seeded spelt, nutty wholemeal, flatbreads, buns and even croissants. But recently, with six months’ baking under my belt, I felt the need to inject some new inspiration into my bread, so I decided to join the Fresh from the Oven community.
This weekend I realized I’ve only actually posted two bread recipes (malty wholemeal and focaccia) since I first started this blog. I generally bake a batch of bread every Sunday to last throughout the week, and have been doing so since my last bread post, but as I tend to stick to very minor variations on a basic wholemeal loaf, I didn’t really think any further recipes worth posting. Poor excuse. And no two ways about it; I’ve been neglecting my duties as resident littleloaf.
Every year as summer starts to approach my eating habits begin to change. Gone are the warm, comforting dishes of the winter months, replaced by simple salads, fresh ingredients and anything that can thrown on the BBQ and chargrilled to perfection. While the BBQ lends itself to strong, hearty flavours, I also crave dishes that zing with spice, and the delicacy of a beautifully cooked fish dish. This curry is the perfect summer supper – clean, fresh flavours bound with beautiful spices in a silky, refreshing sauce.
Nowadays you can buy perfectly good pre-made curry paste in the shops, but if you have the time I’d definitely recommend making your own. Not only is it hugely satisfying, but you can use exactly the combination of flavours you like, and if you read the recipe below it’s really very simple. You can also double or triple the quantity of paste and freeze it for future occasions – as quick and easy as popping to your local shop.
In this recipe I’ve used some beautiful whole prawns and meaty chunks of haddock, but you could use any combination of fish and shellfish – pollack, gurnard (an ugly fish but so delicious), strips of squid, scallops or even handful of crabmeat for a really indulgent curry.
For the curry paste
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
3 small green chillies, seeds included, chopped
50g fresh ginger, chopped
1 lemograss stalk, finely sliced
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
Juice of half a lime
2 kaffir lime leaves, chopped
1/2 tsp shrimp paste
Scrunch salt & pepper
For the curry
1 tbsp groundnut oil
1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
3 spring onions, thinly sliced lengthways
Bunch of asparagus, each stalk sliced in 3
300g haddock, cut into bite-sized portions
Large handful king prawns, shelled and deveined
Handful coriander, roughly torn
Thai fish curry
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz til smooth. You could do this in pestle and mortar if you’ve got a bit more time on your hands (or a muscley sous chef . . .).
Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan or wok. Scrape in the curry paste and fry for 3-4 mins over a medium heat. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce and sugar and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 mins.
Add the asparagus and spring onions and cook for a further 2-3 mins. Then add the fish to the pan, cover with a lid and simmer for another 5 mins or so until the fish flesh flakes easily and is just cooked through.
Remove from the heat, scatter with the coriander and serve with steamed rice.
This month Carniverous Boyfriend has decided to ramp his protein obsession up a notch by moving onto a strict no carb diet. A kind of crazy cross between Atkins and Dukan, it’s intended to turn him into a lean, mean, muscle-beach-bound machine in time for our trip to Spain in early June. Good for him. Possibly a little less good for me as I’ll no longer have a partner in crime to share the breads, brownies and other spoils of my baking obsession. Never mind, I guess my inner greedy child should see that as a positive anyway.
On another positive note, this new-found protein obsession means I’ve been experimenting a little more in the kitchen. Although CB seems pretty content to chow down on multiple chicken breasts, tins of tuna and dozens of eggs, I think it’s nice to tuck into something a little more adventurous of an evening. This weekend, I stuck my nose into our local fishmonger and came back laden with beautiful specimens; a crab shell packed with freshly picked meat, a dozen giant head-on prawns, thin opaque fillets of gurnard, some gorgeously glossy squid tubes and a little pot of tiny peeled prawns.
One of my favourite blogs at the moment is Food Stories written by Helen Graves. I’ve been eyeing up her various recipes for stuffed squid for a while now (recipe here), and thought this was the perfect opportunity to give it a go. Squid is one of my all-time favourite ingredients – flash-grilled with chilli, lemon and rocket a la River Cafe or slow-stewed with soft, melting ingredients like fennel and chorizo – but can be so easy to get wrong. A few minutes over or under and the resulting rubbery consistency is as pentitential as it gets. I was therefore a little concerned as Helen’s recipe called for baby squid, and my tubes were more of the giant variety. However a little common sense prevailed and I got the cooking time pretty much spot on, creating a dish of wonderful contrasts – melt-in-the-mouth squid packed with firm, textured prawns and punchy flavours.
What follows is recipe I pulled together using a few basic ingredients – pungent crushed garlic, fiery chilli, a zing of lemon and freshly torn parsley. If I hadn’t been under strict no-carb intructions from CB, I’d be inclined to throw in a handful of breadcrumbs or pulses (lentils or the black beans that Helen uses would be good) to help bind the filling (it slightly fell apart as you cut into the tubes), but if you’re looking for simple, strong flavours over presentation, what follows is more than adequate. My photo of the finished article is a little dodgy as by this point I was more interested in eating than snapping, but please take my word for it, these really are very nice. Perfect with some steamed woody green veg and a splash of fruity olive oil.
Squid stuffed with garlicky prawns
2 medium squid tubes, cleaned
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 birdseye chillis including seeds, chopped
Handful pinenuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
2 large handfuls tiny prawns, shelled and finely chopped
Juice of half a lemon
Large bunch parsley, chopped
Handful breadcrumbs or lentils (optional)
Heat a lug of olive oil in a small saucepan and gently fry the crushed garlic and chilli til coloured. Add the pinenuts and prawns and continue to cook a couple more minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, parsley and breadcrumbs/lentils if using to form a thick, coarse mixture.
Stuff each squid 3/4 full with the mixture, securing the end with a cocktail stick. Heat a heavy based grill pan with a little oil until smoking, then grill the squid for around 3 mins each side, adjusting depending on the size of your tubes. This would also work really well on the BBQ, with the black grill marks adding extra flavour.
Test that the contents are warmed through by inserting a skewer. Serve drizzled with fruity olive oil and accompanied by earthy rich greens.
Summer is just around the corner. With warmer days and longer light evenings, bringing out the BBQ and indulging in some outdoor action is feeling more like reality than the distant dream of a few weeks ago. We’ve got to that time of year when simple, fresh flavours replace the slow-cooked comfort food of winter, colour reappears on our plates and cooking is as much of an assembly job as hours of pouring over a hot stove. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still be baking my favourite breads and treats, but my main meals will become a lighter, more summery affair. Something we could probably all do with after a chocolate-laced Easter and two boozy British bank holiday weekends.
In the spirit of some simple summer joy (with a potential to BBQ), I bought a couple of beautiful sirloin steaks for our supper. Unsure what to serve them with, I went for a nosey round the Union Market on my way home from Fulham Broadway. If you live locally and haven’t been, this place is well worth a look. Located in the old tube station, it houses a wide selection of food counters (bread from The Flour Station, cheese from Neal’s Yard, fresh fish, British meat, seasonal veg etc) as well as a small restaurant, coffee shop and a wine store. The idea is to provide local residents with all the theatre and authenticity of a farmers market with the reliability and convenience of a supermarket (it’s open til 9pm on weeknights). In comparison to the plastic-packed shelves of the local supermarkets, it’s a breath of fresh air to be able to try before you buy, to have your meat weighed and sliced in front of you and to pick your own veg into brown paper bags.
I came away with a muddy bulb of fennel, a box of fresh rocket, a bunch of radishes and a beautiful purple aubergine; colourful, fragrant, robust ingredients perfect for some textured summery salads. I made two; thick strips of the firm, glossy aubergine grilled and tossed with simple, punchy flavours for a more meaty option and chopped fennel, radishes, avocado and rocket as a lighter second. Two delicious summery salads which work well on their own as well as being a great accompaniment for rare barbequed sirloin steak, chicken or meaty fish.
I may have mopped it all up with freshly baked crusty bread. With a brownie for pudding. Old habits die hard, even in the face of a beautiful summer.
2-3 red birdseye chillis, chopped (I included seeds but if you’re less of a chilli fiend I’d leave them out)
1 clove of garlic, sliced
A handful salted capers, rinsed well
A generous lug of olive oil
1 large/2 medium aubergines
*Quick note: I’ve found the trick to perfect aubergines is grilling them without any oil, then marinading in infused oil afterwards. This results in smoky, firm flesh rather than the flabby, slug-like consistency of over-oiled aubergines which tend to leach up any surrounding liquid as they cook. If you’re not using the BBQ then get a really hot ridged grill pan – it’s important you get those beautiful black lines for both flavour and appearance*
Put the chilli, garlic and capers in a small bowl and cover with the oil. Leave to infuse.
In the meantime, slice the aubergine thickly. Get your BBQ or grill pan nice and hot – it should be smoking – then lay the aubergine slices flat across the ridges. You may need to cook in batches. Cook until you have thick black grill marks on both sides.
Remove the aubergine slices to a serving dish. Pour over the garlic, chilli and caper oil and mix thoroughly. Best served at room temperature after 30 mins or so of infusing. This would also be delicious with torn mint leaves and feta, finely chopped parsley and coriander, or with a creamy tahini and yoghurt dressing.
This is so simple it’s hardly a recipe at all. The perfect summer crunch.
A handful of radishes, around 10
1 bulb fennel
1 small avocado
1 small baby gem lettuce
A handful of rocket
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp mustard powder
Salt and pepper to season
Thinly slice the radishes and fennel into a large bowl, removing any tough outer bits. Peel and roughly dice the avocado into chunks and add. Tear the baby gem into the salad along with a good handful of rocket.
Mix the olive oil, balsamic, mustard powder, salt and pepper in a small jam jar. Shake throughly then pour over the salad, stir and serve immediately.