Wednesday, 25 April 2007
Tuesday, 24 April 2007
It is late afternoon on a warm spring day. I have just returned from scoffing down the perfect hangover breakfast (halloumi and spinach on toast with a side of grilled tomato and chips) at Cafe Z Bar, followed by a carefree afternoon of newspaper reading in Clissold Park with Kelly and Andrew.
There's a load of washing on the go, and I've opened every door and window in the flat to welcome in the glorious spring breeze.
And now it's time to get down to some serious culinary business.
My Vietnamese mint plant needs a little trim and I have been thinking about what I want to do with its bitter spicy goodness. Vietnamese rice paper rolls are an obvious choice. Problem is, I have none of the ingredients handy and either does the corner shop.
After excavating part of the pantry I discover some polenta and coconut milk, a quick fridge rummage yields some lemongrass and coriander.
Look out everyone! Asian fusion is in the house!
This makes about about 8 portions
What you need
500g polenta (NOT instant)
3 short stalks of lemongrass
5-6 dried kaffir lime leaves (fresh is infinitely better - if you have some, use 3-4)
4 tsp stock
1 tsp chilli flakes
bunch of coriander with roots intact
1 can coconut milk
sweet chilli sauce (bought from Chinese grocer)
Wash the coriander very, very thoroughly and chop off the roots. Bag the top and keep in the fridge for later. Chop the roots up as finely as you can be bothered. Set aside.
In a big heavy based pot, bring the water to the boil. Prepare the lemongrass by smashing the butt of your knife down onto the base of the stalks a few times, exposing the inner core of flavour.
Throw the lemongrass into the pot along with the kaffir leaves (rip these in half as you put them in), chilli flakes and stock. Simmer for 30 mins or longer - add salt or more stock to taste, it should be like a light fragrant soup. Fish out the lemongrass and leaves. Add coconut milk and chopped coriander root. Stir.
Turn the heat right down so the water is still. Add polenta slowly in a thin stream, mixing as you go along. Keep mixing every so often for around 30-45 minutes or until the polenta comes away from the side of the pot.
When ready, wet a slice tray and spread the mixture in evenly with a wet spatula. Cool and keep in fridge. Once set, it can be kept for a later date or used straight away.
To serve, pan fry on medium heat in a generous lug of oil, until it develop a nice golden crust, flip over and repeat.
Pile torn Vietnamese mint leaves and coriander on top, and drizzle with sweet chilli sauce.
Friday, 20 April 2007
Whilst traipsing about Laama Island in Hong Kong last year, we discovered an adorable little herb garden and tea hut where we could rest our weary legs.
As we sipped on our freshly brewed herbal teas (mine was a refreshing lemon balm one) we enjoyed the antics of the resident orange cat, cheekily jumping up on tables to drink water from the flower vases when Mr tea maker wasn't looking.
While I was reminiscing about this the other day, I decided to turn my herbaceous thoughts into reality. I cycled down to the local garden centre and came home with a bike basket full of apple mint, oregano, Vietnamese mint, thyme, chives and lavender.
For me, 'herbal' belongs to the same word family as 'hemp', 'dread lock' and 'fire-twirling' - but I assure you, tea made from herbs freshly plucked from your own garden is so refreshing and delicious, that such unpleasant thoughts will soon be washed away quick smart.
Pluck a few leaves from your herb of choice, throw into a mug and pour boiling water over them. Leave for a few minutes.
I usually make mint tea, but I also love lemon verbena, chamomile, thyme and lemon balm. For more varieties of herbal teas look here
Friday, 13 April 2007
Thursday, 12 April 2007
The Tuesday back at work after Easter weekend was a bit of a struggle for me. For most of the day my brain was still curled up in bed and copious amounts of coffee would not wake it from it's slumber.
When I got home I was faced with a dilemma. I was lazy, starving and didn't want to eat anything bad.
So this is what I did.
Preheat oven on high.
Get some small sweet potatoes (big ones are fine too, but the small ones are softer and fluffier), cut into thick slices leaving the skin on. Place in baking tray and toss in some smoked paprika (for 4 potatoes I used a small teaspoon) and olive oil.
Bake at 150-180 until you can poke a fork in them, then crank it to 200 to char the outsides a little. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
In a big bowl, throw in your favourite salad leaves, baby tomatoes, chopped avocado, chopped chives, sunflower seeds and some roasted pine nuts. Add the sweet potato whilst still warm. Drizzle with oil and squeeze some lemon over the salad.
This is the smoked paprika in a pretty tin that I used.
ESTRELLA DILL CHIPS
I would rather give birth to a chair than go to IKEA again.
But there's no doubt in my mind that I'll revisit Hades, because I'll see something nifty in a their catalogue while I'm killing time at some one's house. Then I'll make the long trek out there by tube and bus, only to discover that there is only one of what I'm after left...and it looks like it has been thrown off the top the highest thing you can imagine.
If you also experience sadness and disappointment qualities whilst paying for the 200squid worth of stuff you didn't need, but bought because you didn't want to feel like you'd wasted part of your life going out there...
Chin up. Lug all that crap over to the Swedish food shop and get yourself some Dill chips/crisps or whatever the hell you want to call them.
It makes all the pain worthwhile. Well almost.
SILICONE PASTRY BRUSH
This has got to be the best silicone product on the market. Look at it! Ingenious!
Tuesday, 10 April 2007
I spent my Easter weekend in the Cotswolds wandering around in fields of perfect green grass, petting cute lambs, clambering over stiles and squeezing through kissing gates. Oh and I ate a lot too.
Dinner #1 was consumed at The Fox Inn in Stow-on-the-Wold. A few vegetarian options graced the menu; a pumpkin risotto; mushroom tart; poached pear, endive and Roquefort salad; and a lasagne.
I went for the mushroom tart and the lasagne. The mushroom tart arrives. It is little frisbee of deliciously light puff pastry with a haystack of rocket on top. After some poking around with my pitchfork, I uncover some mushrooms which are very tasty but lacking in quantity.
My main is a little better than the usual token vegetarian lasagne. Unfortunately the redeemable qualities of the eggplant/aubergine, capers and sundried tomatoes are drowning in an ocean of cheese and white sauce. Strangely enough, the other orders of lasagne at our table received a sensible distribution of dairy - the chef must have had some sort of fit whilst assembling my dish.
The Fox Inn had a nice atmosphere and the staff were great. I'm unable to comment on the meat dishes, but the vegetarian dishes I tried could be pretty good with a little extra thought.
Dinner #2 was an EXCELLENT four mushroom (shitake, enoki, shimeji, and the normal white cup variety) risotto prepared by Guy of Guy's Opinions fame.
For a similar recipe, take a peek at Joan's risotto
And for a good mushroom guide check this out
Near our temporary home was our one-stop organic gourmet shop - the Daylesford Organic farmshop. Noteworthy items were the olive, cornichon (mini gherkins), pickled garlic, and caperberry mix; and the herb and gruyere tart.
All the food available is of a high standard, but shopping here WILL break the bank. Food education and good, simple, organic fare should be accessible to all, not just the obscenely wealthy. Nevertheless, 2 cents aside, I'll be savouring every skerrick of my £5.95 organic blood orange marmalade.
The past few days have made me fantasise about my dream farm. Fully self sufficient with a huge vegetable and herb patch, 2 dogs, a few cats - including my cat Mr Meow and a Russian blue, 2 goats, 2 miniature goats, 2 alpacas a few chickens and a Shetland pony.