Peeking shyly from sandy soil, these soldiers of Spring are a true April-May delicacy. Whether pale, undercover and interesting, exotic purple or (appropriately) spring-green, asparagus attracts us like no other vegetable. A few of you may demure from its herbal charms, but for the rest of us the arrival of this short-lived crop is nothing short of sigh-inducing. It is one of the few vegetables that really is at its best nearly naked, save for a butter sauce, or something like this carrot-miso concoction. To be honest, I like it best plainly roasted, then finished off with lemon and salt as it comes out of the oven. If I can be bothered it instead gets tossed onto a griddle pan to get those pretty, restauranty charred bits, but the oven is fine. I could eat it this way for days on end, only turning to ‘fancier stuff’ like this sauce when the sudden novelty wears off, or when just a heap of oddly-addictive vegetation – no matter how wonderful – won’t suffice. Continue reading
This redder-than-red curry not only looks amazing (for a curry that is – curries not being known for their looks), but features homemade paneer cheese. Yes, homemade cheese. An easy, fail-safe cheese. How good is that?
It gets better. Well, maybe not better-better, but better for you. Not only is it pretty (-ish) and has homemade cheese, this curry is also cheap, nutritious and quite low in fat. Woo hoo! Continue reading
If today I were writing a recipe reflecting where I am at the moment, this wouldn’t be it. And despite the relative exoticism of the recipe, and therefore the geographic desirability of its origins, I am happy where I am. It is 24-hour warm, which is just about all I need in a place to be content. That and the more obvious things like good food (check), security (check), and enough money to get by (I hope). Regular readers will perhaps know where I might be, but for others, here’s a clue: Mickey Mouse. And another: Gulf of Mexico.
So, unless you think California, Shanghai, Tokyo or Paris are on the Gulf of Mexico, you will have guessed Florida. I am home visiting family, getting a needed hit of sun, not going to theme parks, reading loads, and eating. And eating some more.
At some point I will be whizzing up this spice paste to pop into my Dad’s freezer for him to use after I leave. And if we have time I will knock up the recipe that I will post next week, featuring as it does homemade paneer – ridiculously easy and fun to make. But mostly I am being taken to the many new eateries that are springing up, like enthusiastic Labradors – welcoming and eager to please.
The past few days have been spent on Anna Maria Island, a dot of a place in a string of bridge-connected barrier islands that parallel the southwest mainland cities of Sarasota and Bradenton. It is idyllic with its nearly empty bleached-white beaches, low-rise homes and condos, and lack of traffic. A resort town hiding in plain sight. This is where I was married, but even without this sentimental connection, it would be one of my favourite places on Earth. But it has come to mean family, and holds many happy memories.
Although we ate simply and by our own hand, we did discover upon leaving the island two stylish and delicious new places to eat – Poppo’s Taqueria and Anna Maria Island Donuts. Both are very small enterprises, the latter being just a young bubbly couple making all donuts up to order. I am not normally a sweet person but after our very early lunch next door of – in my case - spiced tempeh with seasoned pinto beans, brown rice, pickled red onions, guacamole, freshly made green chilli sauce, and herbs over honey-lime red cabbage – we each indulged in a bespoke freshly made donut. These were as far away from Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts as is possible to get. The donuts are freshly made with not a trace of the fat in which it is cooked; slightly crisp with a soft but not airy or doughy interior. Not sweet either, although there is of course a little sugar in the dough. It is a donut after all! My sister, who has a knowledgeable and discerning sweet tooth, said hers was the best donut she had ever had. She said they are the kind of treat worth the trip alone. I don’t want to say she has a lot of experience in donut tasting, but I trust her opinion, especially because it mirrored mine. Of the seven icing/coating options I chose caramel, and topped it with chopped peanuts and sea salt. Simple and simply delicious. We all had something different, and we did a thing my fellow non-sharers and germphobes usually abhor: we passed them around for tasting and appraisal. All anyone walking past would have heard was a symphony of satisfied mmm’s and a bit of finger licking.
Both shops are in a tiny and sympathetically designed development on Pine Avenue, light years removed from the soul-less, bland ‘strip malls’ that blight many of Florida’s highways and roads. You could just as easily cycle or walk here as drive up in a car (open-topped or full-spec SUV please), which is unusual in Florida. Impressions are that these businesses are more than thriving, which hopefully means that this area at least is heralding a new wave of confidence in the economy, and life in general. Of course I didn’t think that while I was sitting there, munching down on my spicy tempeh. I was just about happy enough watching the coolest people I have ever seen in real life stroll up and place their orders to the Chris Hemsworth lookalike. But I did just wonder: when can I have a donut?
This Week 2011: Lemon Geranium Cake
This Week 2012: Five Seed No-Knead Bread
Miss R’s Track of the Week: Entertainment by Phoenix – brilliant!
Resist the tempting ready-made spice pastes, with their preserving slicks of oil and their artery-hardening sodium levels, and make this easy, freezeable mix instead. Although rogan josh is usually a rather hot and pungent beast, please tame as required by nixing or reducing the fiery dried chillies. The resulting paste should have a good, concentrated whack of flavour and heat: it will be sweetened and tamed when other fresh ingredients are later added.
This paste is enough to serve four to six in a vegetable or vegetable and protein-based curry. To use once made, add a little oil in a medium-hot pan, karai or wok, and stir-fry a chopped onion and 400-500 grams of meat, chicken, prawns, tempeh or tofu for five minutes, followed by the paste. Add in approximately 750 grams of evenly sliced vegetables, stirring to coat. Stir-fry for a few minutes before adding 500 ml of water or coconut milk, or a combination of the two. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and bubble away until the vegetables are cooked to your taste. I like to add lemon or lime juice at the end of the cooking time, as well as chopped fresh coriander leaves. You may wish to add some salt too. Serve with steamed rice or chapati.
My next post will tell you how I use this paste to make a delicious and beautiful beetroot, tomato and homemade paneer curry.
Ingredients and Directions: Puree together 3 fat peeled garlic cloves with a thumb-sized (30g) piece of peeled gingerroot, juice of half a lemon, 1 red chilli (deseeded or not, as you wish) and 1 tsp of salt.
Roast in a hot dry pan (I use a cast iron skillet): a 5 cm piece of cinnamon stick, 4 green cardamom pods, 5 whole cloves, 1 tsp peppercorns, 2 tsp coriander seeds, 2 tsp cumin seeds, 3 birds’ eye chillies (optional – very hot). Whiz these up to a powder in a spice or coffee grinder, then mix with the pureed garlic, ginger and chilli, 2 tsp ground turmeric*, 2 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp hot paprika or chilli powder (optional), ¾ tsp fenugreek powder (or roast 1 tsp of the seeds, above) and 3 heaped tbsp of concentrated tomato paste.
Use immediately or pop into a clean jar, label and store in your freezer. To use from frozen, let the paste defrost enough to loosen from the jar; use as for freshly made.
This week’s recipe is a transitional one. Much like how we will wear a poloneck jumper under a summery shift dress, or pair thick wool tights with strappy sandals (at least here in the UK), today I am using a rather S/S ingredient in a slightly A/W way. When I think of grilled polenta and beans together, my immediate thought is mmm, stew with polenta. Or mmm, a bean and polenta bake. Very wintry, very -5C. What I don’t automatically think is wouldn’t this be nice with stir-fried new season’s chard.
But chard is an early-ish, cooler-weather crop, with more than a hint of hardy wintriness about it – even when young and small of leaf. It is a robust, no nonsense kind of vegetable that stands up to rough winds, cold temps and punchy flavours like no other. I would love to persevere with more adamantly Spring dishes such as last week’s crab one, but we still need the warmth of this sort of dish, combined with the promise of what is to come. For after chard comes asparagus and watercress, then broad beans, beetroot and courgettes. And then the flashier summer crops of tomatoes, artichokes, corn and aubergines, and as many tender herbs as you can ever wish. I am already making haphazard lists and scribblings of the many spring and summer-crop recipes I want to make because, like Little Orphan Annie says, “the sun’ll come out tomorrow.” Crossed fingers. Continue reading
A few months back I eavesdropped on a Twitter conversation. This is unusual for me as I’m not normally prone to eavesdropping. Unlike in real life, where I am shy and retiring (cough), on Twitter I have no qualms about twanging a conversation thread with an unasked-for opinion or observation. Most people are pretty polite, as long as you don’t insult them. But in this case I wanted to know more. And I didn’t want to look foolish about my lack of experience.
Before you jump to all kinds of inappropriate conclusions, I was in fact eavesdropping on a conversation about chestnut flour. I know, how exciting is that? Other folk are meeting friends for drinks, or trading bonds and whatnot and I’m lurking on Twitter following a convo about flour. Continue reading
No apologies for another lentil recipe in such quick succession. It’s the blinkin’ weather, I’m afraid. We really should be flirting outrageously with the new season’s produce, but since none of them are up for it – being under the snow and all – we are still indulging in stews, roasts, crumbles and other wintry fare.
No matter. It’s a great excuse to eat potatoes. And spicy potatoes at that. Thinnish coins of scrubbed new potatoes; little hash-style cubes of plump, regal eggplant; hearty, toothsome obsidian-black lentils. All sizzled up in a heady fug of Indian spicing. Although I am still a bit cross that someone ordered a double winter, Asian comfort food provides needed warmth and welcome spice. Continue reading
I love breakfast. No, make that I LOVE BREAKFAST. It is without question my favourite meal. As you can tell from this blog I love other meals too. A lot. But breakfast is sine qua non to my daily happiness. Although it is rarely elaborate, and often involving no equipment other than a knife and hot overhead grill – or bowl and spoon – any sustenance is gratefully received. If ever I have to skip breakfast (I can’t remember when that last happened) I get seriously grumpy. Dropped pacifier, burst football, home team lost kind of grumpy. Stay the heck away if that happens is all I can say. Continue reading
If you don’t know what a shawarma is, this recipe will not particularly surprise. But, if you know shawarma, you could be forgiven for uttering a popular acronymed Anglo-Saxon epithet beginning with W and ending with F. If you are from the Levant, you will no doubt be thinking an equivalent in Arabic or Turkish. Just perhaps not as rude. Continue reading
Have you got your romantic meal planned? Asparagus? Oysters? Caviar? Perhaps Spaghetti Bolognese a la Lady and the Tramp? Or, are you being whisked off for a slap up meal, after having sipped Champagne in a rose petal bath? Well, if you are like me and not particularly romantic, forward planning, or fond of lolling in baths, this quick and easy recipe is a cheat’s way of getting in the spirit of Valentine’s Day. Continue reading
It can’t have escaped your notice that Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. Florists, candy manufacturers, card, lingerie and condom makers (!) are gearing up for one of their biggest days of the sales year. Even the most tasteful of shops will have at least one display teetering under the weight of pink and red swathed cardboard boxes. Most of it containing chocolate. Continue reading