The Man and I have a major cook book habit; whilst this means we are never short of inspiration, it does mean we tend to forget books we have had for a while. Whilst this means that yes there are a number of infrequently used books taking up a lot of shelf space, it also means that you get the joy of rediscovering a cracking book you had sort of forgotten about, in this case Jamie’s America.
I loved this book when I we first got it, but haven’t cooked from it a great deal as I’m easily distracted by new cook books. However, after out trip to New York I decided to have another look and see what Jamie made of it. The book provides a number of Mr Oliver’s (i.e not necessarily totally authentic) takes on key New York dishes and I settled on his Fiery Dan Dan Noodles* as a feisty, New Year pick me up of a dish at the end of the dreaded first week back at work!
I was really pleased with the end result, a quick, tasty, spicy dish that I thinks will become part of the Hungry Sparrow repertoire. The only issue I had, and this may be due to me using a not very spicy chilli oil and Szechuan pepper that is loosing it’s spice but I didn’t find is as searingly hot as Jamie warns it might be, which was puzzling as I’m sure I halved the recipe quite carefully. The Man and I do like spicy food but I’m sure we haven’t burned our taste buds off too much.
- 1 stock cube, chicken, veg or beef
- 250 g wheat noodles (quite thick ones)
- 200 g of minced beef
- 1 tbsp of honey
- Could of handfuls of green veg (I used broccoli and pack choi)
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp of Szechuan ground pepper
- 3 tbsp of chilli oil
- 2 spring onions, chopped
- 1/2 lime quartered ( put the rest in a gin and tonic as you are preparing and cooking)
- Put the stock cube in a big pan of water and bring to the boil ( this will be for the noodles later)
- Dry fry the beef in a large pan until dark and crispy ( about 10-15 minutes), add the honey, stir for 30 seconds, then set aside.
- Place the noodles in the now boiling stock and cook as the packet direct, with a couple of minutes to go remove a cup full of the water and throw in the veg and cook until done to your liking.
- Drain the noodles and vegetables then return to the hot pan with cup of stock, garlic, soy sauce, Szechuan pepper, and chilli oil.
- Divide this between two bowls and top with the crispy beef ( re heated if you like) and the chopped spring onions.
- Serve with a quarter of lime to squeeze over the top.
- Don’t bother trying to eat tidily, this isn’t a first date dish (or maybe it is depending on your outlook).
* A quick Google suggests this version is very far removed from actual Szechuan Dan Dan Noodles, it is however a great recipe, if not one for pureists.
I love Christmas and New Year but there comes a point when I know I should eat something other than mince pies and drink something other than gin and tonics! I look in the mirror and my skin looks awful and the extra pounds are all too obvious. I think it happens to a lot of people at this time of year, hence the popularity of detoxing. I would never advocate detoxing Ben Goldacre does a much more eloquent job of explaining why here but there is a point after Christmas when I need to return to a more sane way of eating, for the sake of my health and my wallet. This salad is from the River Cottage Veg Every Day book and is colorful, zesty, light enough to feel like it’s doing you some good but the avocado makes it a little more substantial. It’s very quick to prepare and the only fiddly bit is preparing the grapefruit.
Slice the top and bottom from the grapefruit. Stand it upright on a board and work your way around the fruit with a sharp knife, cutting off the skin and all the pith. Now hold it in your hand over a bowl to catch the juice and slice carefully down between each segment to release from the membrane, letting the segments fall into the bowl, be careful with the knife while doing this! Squeeze the juice from the remaining membrane in too. Halve, and stone the avocado, cut lengthways into thin slices. Arrange grapefruit segments and avocado on a plate and pour over the saved juice. Sprinkle a little salt and the chopped chilli over the salad. Finish with the coriander and a generous splash of olive oil. Serve straight away.
- 1 ruby or pink grapefruit
- 1 avocado
- 1⁄2 small or medium red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
- A small handful of coriander leaves
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Although I think it’s still unseasonably warm the allotment is winding down, and we should really get on and do those end of season tasks we always put off until the weather turns really wintry; we never seem to learn! Most of the vegetables are over now and the beds have been cleared but there are still a few plants still hanging on though.
We still have a few chillies left, the others are drying at home.
These little chillies are supposed to be mild but a taste test suggest otherwise! I had to pick them all as the plant was looking a bit bedraggled.
The very last of the cherry tomatoes were sweet and delicious,they have benefited from the extra warmth and staying on the vine for longer.
It’s not all digging up and the end of the line, these cabbages are starting to develop hearts and as long as we can keep the slugs off them should be ready in spring. Our cavalo nero is also doing well and should see us through the winter and into spring nicely.
It’s been a mixed year on the allotment with somethings flatly refusing to grow, but grass and weeds doing very well but you can’t complain too much when you can pick a bunch of goodies like these!
The other day, after two very busy weeks The Man booked us a table at Caldesi in Campagna in Bray. Since buying The Italian Cookery Course by Katie Calsesi, (one half of the husband and wife duo behind the restaurant), we had been promising ourselves a visit as a treat so it was lovely to finally go. This isn’t a review site, but the food was wonderful and the staff charming and easy-going; our meal was not cheap but a fabulous treat and one that was much-needed!
The meal also inspired me to go back to the book and try some more recipes. I was keen to use something from the allotment so looked up broad beans in the index and found Stufato di salsicce, fave e patate a much more elegant way of saying; sausage, broad bean and potato casserole.
For a recipe with a fairly simple list of ingredients (sausage, potato, beans, tomato, chilli & garlic) it was a really rich, tasty stew, with a good kick of heat. Perhaps better suited to winter or autumn eating, but with fresh ingredients picked and dug up earlier in the afternoon on the allotment it made sense. The Man pronounced it ” a triumph” so it must have been good.
We ate it with a slice of home-made rye bread to soak up the sauce, (the bread maker has really been earning its keep), and a glass of italian red. I’ve got a feeling this recipe will become a regular fixture even if visits to the restaurant don’t.
We finally dug up some of the Shetland Black potatoes, they got hit by a late frost and haven’t grown as quickly as normal because the poor things had to re grow most of their leaves!
They were still very small, but have an incredible purple skin when given a good scrub. They also have white flesh with a purple ring running through it.
I’d love to be able to include a photo of what they look like cooked, but I took my eye off them and they boiled to mush, so no pictures and a slightly odd dinner. I’ll have to pay more attention to them next time but here are some broad beans instead!
I used to hate them when I was little but growing them and eating them fresh has rehabilitated the humble broad bean in my eyes. That’s lucky really because for the first year The Man and I have managed to grow enough for a few dinners worth.
The long dry spell in April may seem a long way away now, but it seems to have taken its toll on the allotment, at least that’s my excuse! Things are slowly getting going. The courgettes had been dawdling, after a really good start with the bottle cloches, but are finally catching up.
This one has a way to go before it’s worth eating but I’m relieved they are getting a move on, in previous years we have been eating courgettes for a while, and are probably a bit fed up of them (so perhaps it’s a bit of a saving grace).
The broad beans on the other hand are doing very well for once and there is the real possibility we will be able to have them with more than one meal this year, a break through!
I love rhubarb! As a kid my Dad used to let me eat the very young stems raw with an egg cup of sugar on the side to dip them in. When we first took over the allotment Dad split one of the crowns in their garden and gave it to us, I could get quite sentimental about it but I’ll try not to. It was the first thing we planted, well I planted (The Man was away) and I still remember an old man wandering over to tell me that was exactly the sort of thing I should be planting, but “why wasn’t my husband helping me”, kindly meant I’m sure so I didn’t challenge it!
Luckily rhubarb seems to travel well and it’s been very happy in it’s corner of the allotment ever since. It’s a versatile vegetable, yes vegetable, and can be used in meat dishes as well as more traditional desserts and puddings. This was a gorgeous pud, but it didn’t photograph well.
Inspired by Peck Peck’s honey and lavender ice cream at the underground night market, and with a big lavender bush on the allotment I wanted to try adding lavender to my cooking. This combination was picked on a whim when I was weeding round the plants but a quick google shows it is fairly common. The highly perfumed flavour of the lavender seemed to make the rhubarb, well more rhubarby and more complex tasting than straight up stewed rhubarb.
3 sticks of rhubarb, leaves removed
50g caster sugar ( more or less to suit your taste)
3 sprigs of fresh lavender
4 tbsp water
Place all ingredients in a pan and simmer gently until rhubarb is soft ( I went over board and over cooked it ). Can be served hot but I left it to cool and served it with Greek yoghurt with honey from Tims Dairy which I love! It’s rich and creamy with a lovely but not overpowering honey taste. Lavender in cooking, watch this space for more ideas..maybe brownies next, any suggestions?
I’ve been practicing my courgette recipes ready for later in the year! Only kidding, but with the weather turning warm I instinctively move away from heavier food and towards lighter more summery food.
Quinoa has an interesting history, it is much beloved of Gillian McKeith; but don’t let that put you off! Originally grown in South America it was regarded as a sacred food by the Incas with its cultivation actively suppressed by Spanish colonists for its links to non-Christian ceremonies. Now widely available, it is mild, slightly nutty little bundle of protein and easy too cook and use much like rice or cous cous. The Man pronounced this dinner ” a triumph”, the highest level of praise in our house; and is a great light and tasty supper.
2 courgettes cut into rough slices, drizzled with oil, salt and pepper.
2 tbsp pesto, your choice but I used nettle
1 can chickpeas
1 red chill finely chopped
1/2 bulb fennel finely sliced
1 can chick peas, drained
100g feta diced.
squeeze of lemon juice
Heat the oven to 180 degrees, and roast courgettes; this should take 20/30 minutes but how well you want them done is up to you. Boil the quinoa with 300ml water, for approx 20 minute, until tender. The rest is really and assembly job. Drain the quinoa and place in a mixing bowl, add the pesto and mix well. Add the remaining ingredients and stir together. Serve with lemon squeezed over to taste.
Although it still hasn’t rained very much here, Windsor seems to have a dry micro climate ( I think the Queen has something to do with it) things are growing really well.
The DIY cloches have worked a treat and all the courgette and squash seeds have germinated and haven’t been nipped by the very cold night last week which has trashed the potatoes. Too embarrassing for a photo but they have been set back a good month, but we lost a whole row last year so I should look on the bright side. They are now covered up with fleece just in case there are a few more cold nights.
Luckily the strawberry patch hasn’t been affected and is doing really well. If the weather stays fairly sunny we should have strawberries earlier than ever, fingers crossed and with some help from some of these…