Back in March we spent a week in St. Lucia. As well as making it a blissful place to flop flat out and drink cocktails, the blazing sunshine gives the island the perfect climate to grow sweet bananas, pineapples, papaya and coconuts. Every day at the beach the same elderly man would walk past touting the ‘best water in the world’, and each time he cracked open a fresh coconut and inserted a straw I felt like we’d escaped into a Bounty advert (minus the dodgy ’80s hair and make up). Continue reading
While I’ve not quite reached the age where I’m ready for children, I often wonder what it will be like to have them around: how I’ll bring them up, how their personalities will develop and, importantly, what I’ll feed them.
I want my children to understand where food comes from, how important it is, to realise that meat doesn’t just arrive pre-packaged and devoid of all fat and sinew and that the investment of just an hour or so a week can produce better bread than you could ever buy pre-sliced and stacked sky high on the supermarket shelves. Continue reading
Like it or not, we live in a consumer culture. Whether it’s Prada or Primark, foie gras or filet-o-fish, we’re a society that knows the meaning of money and (with some exceptions) we like to spend it. Some more than others. What exactly is it that makes people fork out for a designer dress, an eye-wateringly expensive hair cut, a £100+ bottle of wine? Is it an assurance of quality that we often seem to accept as going hand-in-hand with a high price tag, the status and sense of self-importance that comes with flashing one’s flexible friend, or are these products actually better, more rare, made from finer products and with more love, care and attention?
Any review of The River Café is going to mention price, so I’m not going to pussy-foot around it. Renowned for its incredible approach to food and fabulous ingredients, this Michelin starred restaurant is also much maligned for its extremely expensive menu. Jay Rayner has described it as ‘peasant food at plutocrat prices‘, and there seems to be a great divide in the foodie world as to whether it falls into the category of the sublime or the ridiculous. Or as A.A. Gill puts it in his full marks review for The Times, ‘Depending on the delicacy of your own social digestion, the River Caff either fills you with syrupy feelings of excitement, warmth and nameless intellectual superiority, or it makes you want to join a nihilist terror cell’. . . Continue reading
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.