I am absolutely thrilled that Nutmegs, seven has been shortlisted for Food Blog of the Year at the Guild of Food Writers Awards 2016. Since I started this blog six years ago it has been a dream of mine to be nominated for this prestigious award, and I couldn't be more excited that it has actually happened. It is a privilege to be in the same shortlist as so many other wonderful writers and broadcasters, and I feel very proud and very lucky. The awards ceremony is on June 22nd, so keep your fingers crossed for me!
This is just a quick note to say that I will be taking a bit of a break from Nutmegs, seven for the next couple of months. Things are quite busy right now, what with navigating the tempestuous waters of early career academia (that's a euphemism for 'trying to find a job'), various writing projects and bits of travelling here and there, and I want to make sure I can give this blog my full time and attention. I'll be back some time in July/August with lots more posts and recipes, so please do watch this space.
In the meantime, here is a photo from my current location, beautiful Kerala in south India. I can't wait to share some recipes from here on my return.
My latest project for Great British Chefs has involved playing with matcha, the glorious Japanese emerald green tea powder hailed for its health benefits, refreshing bitterness and versatility in the kitchen. It also makes a good latte, so I'm told, but instead of frothing it with milk I've been stirring it into cake batters and using it to cook meat and fish. I've come up with three recipes using this beautiful ingredient: a matcha loaf cake with candied lemons and lemon syrup, a soba noodle salad with matcha tea-poached salmon, avocado and edamame beans, and a mango rice salad with matcha-smoked chicken, brined and smoked with aromatic matcha. If you've never tried cooking with tea before, or are keen to experiment with something new, I'd encourage you to give these a try. For all the recipes in one place, head over to my contributor profile at Great British Chefs. Enjoy!
After my recent adventure with a bundle of beautiful, exotic, mystery lemons, I’ve fallen prey to another rare and ravishing winter citrus fruit: the bergamot. Famous for imbuing Earl Grey with that unmistakeable, love-it-or-hate-it musky, floral aroma, bergamots seem to be tragically underused outside the teapot. Cut one in half and you may see why: they are peppered with pips, and their flesh is tougher and less yielding than that of a lemon or orange. I like to think that this is because bergamots have suffered less from the rampant perfectionist cultivating impulse that has so plagued modern fruit and vegetable production; rather like quinces, these are a niche, knobbly little fruit for which demand is low. As a result, there’s no need to train them into perfect orbs of glowing colour or buff their skins with wax to a lustrous sheen. Instead they are squat, milky yellow, often slightly blemished, and heavy in the hand. A delightful rarity, I couldn't help buying them in bulk when I spotted them in Waitrose a couple of weeks ago.Read More
1. Health food paradise at the new Holland & Barrett More store in York. I was recently invited to the opening of Holland & Barrett’s palatial new store in the centre of York. I’ve long been a fan of the brand for their organic dried fruit, nuts and muesli mixes, and for their supply of esoteric health ingredients from around the world (they were probably stocking quinoa and tahini way before Ottolenghi emerged on the scene). The new store is a bright, vibrant space filled with all sorts of healthy treats, from nut butters to smoked tofu to their huge range of ‘free-from’ products. However, the expansion means there’s also space for a selection of beauty and makeup counters brimming with natural products to make you lovely on the outside as well as the inside. I had great fun creating my own body scrub at the Beauty Kitchen stall, using a delicious-smelling array of natural ingredients (my personal combination involved bitter orange, Epsom salts, and a zingy lemongrass oil), and enjoying a 60-second manicure with the same nourishing combination, leaving my hands gloriously soft and fragrant.Read More
This luscious loaf has all the buttery crumb of a good brioche, without the faff. It's made from a soft enriched dough using eggs, butter and milk, and studded with dried fruit soaked in Earl Grey tea. A smattering of warm spices gives it the unmistakeable flavour and aroma of a hot cross bun, but this easier version is simply plaited into a big loaf rather than shaped into buns, with no need for crossing. It's soft and slightly sweet, fragrantly spiced and rich with the bite of sharp-sweet currants, candied peel and sultanas. A toasted slice of this, spread with salted butter, is the perfect treat for breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea as spring approaches and the year moves towards Easter. For the recipe, check out my latest post on Great British Chefs!
The list of ‘annoying things I have read recently on obsessive clean-eating blogs’ is a long one, but hovering somewhere near the top is the suggestion that you should keep loads of cooked quinoa in your fridge, ready to whip up into a healthy salad or a ‘snack’ at a moment’s notice. There are two things wrong with this recommendation. Firstly, quinoa is not a ‘snack’. Snacks are portable and easily nibbleable commodities, like apples, granola bars and – if you must – almonds. They are usually sugary and designed as treats between meals. Much as I love quinoa, I would not consider munching on its dry, nubbly grains much of a treat if I were in the middle of a catastrophic blood sugar slump between lunch and dinner, with only the prospect of cake standing between me and an otherwise inevitable desk nap. Nor would I carry it around in my handbag. But the main gripe I have with what I shall henceforth term ‘The Cooked Quinoa Fallacy’ is, simply, who on earth can afford to cook quinoa in large batches just so it can hang around in the fridge on the off-chance you might use it in the next few days?Read More
I learned to make Thai soups on a cooking course in Chiang Mai, and couldn’t quite believe how little effort went into something so vibrant, flavoursome and punchy. The creation of a prawn tom yum took under five minutes, and simply involved throwing some ingredients into a wok of simmering water. The resulting broth was heady, sinus-clearing and fresh, and I resolved to make these simple soups a staple in my kitchen upon my return. Now there is something vaguely ritualistic about their creation, as I chop through galangal, lemongrass and chillies with the small cleaver I bought in a Thai market, picking kaffir lime leaves off the plant in my conservatory and pouring rich, zesty coconut broth into deep bowls lined with a tangle of soft rice noodles.Read More
This post combines two things I don’t normally care about: tailoring blog recipes to specific seasonal food-related occasions, and Valentine’s Day. You won’t find me whipping up treats for National Tempura Day, National Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day or World Tripe Day (if you needed proof that these ‘food days’ are just the farcical inventions of bored and desperate PR companies and marketing boards, there it is: World Tripe Day), because there is apparently some silly culinary designation for every single day of the year now, so by that logic I would never ever be able to make a spontaneous decision regarding what I cook. I can also take or leave Valentine’s Day, and it certainly doesn’t inspire me with culinary ambition (if I see one more hackneyed recipe feature telling me that I must serve oysters and fillet steak on the special day, I might find a decidedly more violent use for my oyster knife).Read More
It physically pains me to put food in the bin. So much so that I often have to recruit a willing helper (read: boyfriend) to do so, on the rare occasion that I cannot rescue whatever is languishing in my fridge or cupboards. I try and engineer my kitchen design around being able to see, clearly, what I have to use up, before it’s too late, but there are occasions when even this doesn’t quite work out. One of the most depressing moments of my life took place several months ago, when I had to throw two free-range chickens in the bin. Whole, oven-ready, uncooked chickens, for whom I had had big plans involving Thai spices and Vietnamese broth. They had been kept at a market stall in a fridge that was too overcrowded, resulting in poor cold air circulation, and had started to turn rancid, emitting a strange aroma of French cheese that warned my primitive survival instinct not to let them anywhere near my kitchen or stomach. Throwing away food is always sad, but it’s even sadder when an animal has died in vain. That said, I get upset even just having to pour the remnants of a bottle of milk down the drain, or throwing a mouldy lemon onto the compost heap – it just seems irresponsible and an insult to beautiful ingredients and the hard work of farmers and producers.Read More
I’ve become a bit obsessed with pumpkins since the start of autumn. Their golden flesh is so versatile that I’ve managed to incorporate it into nearly every recipe I’ve cooked over the last few months, from Thai coconut soups to pesto pasta, macaroni cheese to breakfast scones. I love their dense, almost fudge-like texture, and the way they roast into warming caramelized perfection in no time at all. Their slight sweetness pairs well with so many ingredients, particularly salty things like bacon and cheese, although it is also fabulous with sturdy winter herbs and a variety of spices, piquant smoked paprika being one of the best.Read More
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. So the saying goes. What about when life gives you one of the strongest El Niños on record, floods the city in which you live and numerous others across your country, veils the sun in a shroud of grey fug so thick that it takes three months to emerge again, smothers your house in a perpetual coat of damp that sees a bloom of bright algae spread like a butterfly across your kitchen window, has you hiding under your duvet for a good forty-five minutes every morning willing the sun to rise properly, none of this pallid half-light please, and bestows upon you a case of seasonal affective disorder so violent that no number of light boxes, sunrise clocks, daytime walks or Vitamin D pills can encourage it to dissipate and leave you feeling like a normal human being again?Read More
Once, when I was studying at Oxford, I found myself staring blankly at the ready meal aisle of M&S for over an hour. I’d come down with some horrible bug and was feeling exhausted and sorry for myself. Convinced I had no energy to cook, I thought that once, just this once, I would ‘treat myself’ to a nice ready meal. Except it turned out to be not such a treat after all. They all looked so soulless and tragic in their sterile little boxes, the portions stingy, the ingredients congealed, with the kind of matt, pallid hue that only a flimsy black microwaveable box can bestow. They all had unnecessarily unpronounceable ingredients in them. They were all far too expensive to justify their meagre contents. Paralysed with indecision, probably exacerbated by my increasingly ill and fuzzy mental state, I stood there for over an hour, wandering the aisles, trying to find something I fancied, trying to justify spending five pounds on a tiny tub of ravioli that I was convinced would only leave me hungrier, trying to urge myself to just get over it and stop being so precious about what I was going to have for dinner (I have urged myself to do this on a daily basis for nearly a decade now, incidentally - it never works).Read More
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the start of a new year and a new way of eating, involving absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. No roast meat, root vegetables, sticky condiments, pastry, alcohol-soaked dried fruit or marzipan. Enough is enough. I feel like my tastebuds have spent the last two weeks immovably swaddled in a beige, bland cocoon of stodge and sickliness. I’ve tried to counteract this by throwing Thai curry paste, chilli and lemongrass at all my Christmas leftovers in every way imaginable, but I’m still longing for the new year and the lifting of that pressure to constantly bring a touch of Christmas sparkle to everything that emerges from the kitchen. If I read one more article claiming to have ‘the recipe to convert even the most ardent sprout-haters’, or find one more chef attempting to sneak clementines into a savoury dish, I might emigrate to a non-Christian country.Read More
Sugar is a miraculous thing. Although so demonised these days, the complexity of this ingredient – once considered the rarest of luxuries – is far greater than those who decry ‘the white stuff’ would have us believe. For a start, it isn’t always white: those snowy crystals that you spoon into your tea (you philistine) are just the tip of the iceberg. Along the spectrum from refined white sugar to the thickest, inkiest treacle are golden-hued caster and granulated sugar, crunchy demerara, classic honeyed golden syrup, the butterscotch sweetness of light muscovado, the heady sticky toffee notes of dark muscovado, and the burnished caramel of molasses sugar. That’s not even counting variations on a theme: palm sugar, coconut sugar, rice syrup, honey, date molasses…Read More
Making granola is always a happy event in my kitchen, because it means I have time to potter around for 45 minutes whisking together delightful combinations of honey and spices and stirring huge oven trays laden with toasting, cinnamon-scented oats. It leaves the house smelling like a Scandinavian bakery for hours, and, best of all, enables me to stockpile a couple of big jars of glorious homemade granola to last me the next few weeks. Now that the festive season has arrived and I have handed in my PhD (just thought I’d casually drop that in - !!!), I thought I’d use a bit of newfound free time to experiment with a Christmassy version of this breakfast staple. It has the familiar nutty crunch of baked oats enveloped in honey, but with added seasonal twists.Read More
I know that Christmas gift suggestions are rife at the moment, and that providing a list of ideas for ‘the foodie in your life’ is hardly original. But this is slightly different, firstly in that it in no way claims to be directed at any ‘foodies’, given that the term is an abomination and a plague upon the English language, and secondly in that this is a list compiled from my own personal experience, rather than from whatever has caught my eye in the numerous catalogues and PR emails doing the rounds at this time of year. It’s essentially a collation of food-related items that I own and love, and would love to have received (or did in fact receive) at some point in my life under the Christmas tree. There are also some suggestions for homemade food-based gifts that are guaranteed to please almost any audience. I haven’t been asked to promote these brands or items, incidentally – they are recommendations based on things I genuinely love or find useful. So here they are: fifteen ways to make someone who likes food happy.Read More
The time has come to update my ‘Where to Eat in Yorkshire’ list (for the original post, see here). I’ve continued to eat my way around this fabulous county and its diverse culinary influences since moving here in 2012, and every now and again stumble upon a gem that simply has to make it onto this blog. Here are a few new recommendations, ranging from a quirky meatball restaurant to a Spanish tapas bar, and including two of my favourite rustic pubs with some of the best gastropub food (and roaring fires!) in the country.Read More
‘Sometimes simple is good’, my boyfriend intoned while eating this. Although I would put most of my cooking under the ‘simple’ bracket, the ninety minutes or so it inevitably takes me to make a meal every night might suggest otherwise. While I don’t begrudge any time spent in the kitchen, I think I do have a tendency to eschew the overly simple out of some kind of strange culinary logic whereby a meal only tastes good if you’ve spent ages faffing around over it and it contains at least three separate components. This fifteen-minute pasta dish has proved me wrong.Read More
One of my biggest gardening successes this year has been lemon verbena. This victory has been made all the more profound by contrast. Two years ago, I bought a little lemon verbena plant from a market stall, its pale green, needle-like leaves clustered in a delicate furl. It grew slowly in my conservatory for a few months, before a plague of whitefly descended and slowly sapped the leaves of their springy vitality. I was left with a tragic tangle of spindly, pale twigs and a few yellowed, curling leaves, along with a sticky whitefly residue smothered over the floor and windows where the plant had stood. It was a depressing sight. Undaunted, I still attempted to make tea and ice cream from the leaves, but attempting to sieve small whitefly corpses out of boiling liquid is not one of my favourite kitchen jobs and somewhat hampered my enjoyment of the creative process. The plant eventually perished, robbed of life by a combination of those insidious little creatures and a harsh frost that delivered the final blow after I’d put it outside in the hope that a Samaritan ladybird would come along and deliver me from the whitefly plague.Read More