Monday, 30 April 2012

Mexican spiced chicken salad for Cinco de Mayo

In honour of the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo (the 5th of May) this Saturday - from what I gather from reading various US-based food blogs, across the pond it's basically known as an excuse to gorge oneself on nachos, tacos, enchiladas and the like - the lovely people at Discovery sent me a load of fajita-themed goodies to celebrate with. I have a bit of a soft spot for Discovery ever since I won a KitchenAid blender at one of their competitions last year, and am still trying to work my way through the huge stash of goodies I picked up then. Included in this treasure trove are their new Green Jalapeño Relish, a fajita kit and their mild and medium salsas; pretty much everything you need to whip up a perfect Mexican celebratory supper. They were even nice enough to send me a pan and a chopping board, so I literally had everything I needed to cook said supper...apart from maybe a hob. (Note to Discovery - I'd like an induction one, please, and you can deliver it any time that's convenient).

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Tuscan temptation and Romagnan revelry: my Italian Easter holiday

There's a famous saying about Parma. A Parma si mangia due volte. Prima si mangia, poi si parla. In Parma one eats twice: first you eat, then you talk. 

What is this blog, if not an opportunity to eat for the second time by reliving recipes through writing? As I sit here examining my furious scribbles in the notebook that accompanied me round Italy three weeks ago, I feel like I'm back in my favourite country, savouring all these exquisite gastronomic moments for the second time. I'm writing this out of a purely selfish desire to reminisce for a little longer, to make those memories a little more permanent, to indulge my greed and love for Italian cuisine once again. But I also hope that this provides an interesting insight into the real food of Italy; not just the ubiquitous lasagne, carbonara and Bolognese that have become student staples, but lesser known and intriguing dishes from a country with fascinating culinary diversity.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Five things I love this week #4

1. Tracklements Pear & Perry chutney. If you're feeling a bit jaded by the world of condiments, this is one for you. It's much lighter tasting than a traditional chutney, which I often feel can be rather overpowering in its flavour and end up masking the ingredient you want it to complement. Made with British pears and a 'generous dash' of Perry (pear cider), this chutney is lovely and sweet with a delicate fruity flavour and lots of nice textures - tender pieces of onion and juicy sultanas that burst in the mouth, plus a little kick from mustard, ginger and cinnamon. Tracklements recommend pairing it with salty cheeses like mature cheddar or Pecorino; I found it worked beautifully with a mild goat's cheese. I'd also suggest serving it with cold meats, particularly pork.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Homemade sourdough bread

It's impossible to deny the rush you get from pulling a loaf of homemade bread out of the oven. It's the result of a potent combination of the seductive scent of toasted flour, the sudden burst of steamy warmth as the door opens, and - most of all - the sheer pride of having created something so appetising all by yourself. It's odd, really, that we should get so much satisfaction out of cooking something so simple, something that would have been commonplace in most homes less than a century ago but now has become a rarity in the domestic kitchen, such is the widespread availability of all kinds of ready-to-buy loaves. Bread, for me, is the ultimate harbinger of culinary pride. Nothing else makes me feel as much of a domestic goddess as pulling that steaming loaf from the oven.

Imagine, then, how much this domestic goddess feeling is multiplied when the loaf in question has been approximately seven weeks in the making.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Rhubarb, blueberry and almond baked oatmeal

(...or, "look, crumble for breakfast - but it's healthy!")

Sometimes I think that recipes shouldn't be allowed to tell you how many people they're supposed to serve. I wonder who those portion-control fascists are, that believe they have the right to dictate to us exactly how much of a glorious pan of food we are legitimately allowed to dole out to ourselves and devour with a clear conscience. I wonder why we allow ourselves to trundle on in this Nineteen Eighty-Four style existence, nonchalantly turning a blind eye as the food police worm their way into all aspects of our lives. No longer are we allowed to eat one of those big packs of sushi for lunch; no, the packaging tells us "One serving = half a pack" and then proceeds to blare out those guilt-inducing red and orange traffic light symbols that mean we couldn't enjoy scoffing a whole pack even if we tried, because those garish warning colours are now forever imprinted on our retinas, basically indicating that a single mouthful of the other half of the packet will send our blood sodium levels skyrocketing into stroke-inducing territory, and our arteries to immediately clog with lipids and refuse to let anything important - like blood - past.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Quail in rose petal sauce with toasted pistachio couscous

"Tita wasn't there, even though her body was sitting up quite properly in her chair; there wasn't the slightest sign of life in her eyes. It was as if a strange alchemical process had dissolved her entire being in the rose petal sauce, in the tender flesh of the quails, in the wine, in every one of the meal's aromas."

For my birthday this year I was given the Mexican novel Like Water for Chocolate. It was a present from two good friends of mine, chosen - I think - because it is very food-centric. It recounts the story of Tita, the youngest daughter of the De La Garza family, who has been forbidden to marry because Mexican tradition dictates that the eldest daughter must remain single to look after her mother until she dies. She falls in love with a man called Pedro, who marries her sister Rosaura out of a desire to be near Tita. This doesn't quite go to plan, and - as the blurb of the novel states - "for the next 22 years Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all the odds."

The novel tells the story of Tita and Pedro through the medium of food; each chapter begins with a different recipe, and tales of Tita - who we are told has a "sixth sense" about "everything concerning food" - preparing numerous exotic and seductive dishes are interspersed with the story of her emotional life and her encounters with Pedro. There is a scene where Pedro stumbles upon her grinding toasted chillies, almonds and sesame seeds together on a stone, and is "transfixed by the sight of Tita in that erotic posture". Everything in the novel revolves beautifully around the domestic world of cooking and food preparation, intertwined with passion and romance.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Cardamom treacle tart with poached rhubarb

Now, I'm a firm believer in not messing around with the classics. The saddest thing I have ever eaten was a 'deconstructed rhubarb cheesecake'. I had actually awaited it with great anticipation. Quite naturally, I thought this 'deconstructed' business would essentially mean 'more biscuit base', so I was definitely game for that. In fact, I was basically imagining a huge bowl full of biscuits mixed with butter, and maybe some creamy concoction alongside. There may have been a bit of salivation occurring.

Imagine my utter horror when I was presented with a shotglass full of rhubarb juice, and another containing a bland white creamy substance with a few stray biscuit crumbs strewn across the top.

I feed the birds in my garden more crumbs than that.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Smoked duck, mozzarella and baby fig salad

How utterly gorgeous are these little baby figs? I found them in M&S months ago, but dismissed them as the kind of gimmicky, ludicrous, overpriced fruit that I generally tend to avoid, preferring to buy stuff that's in season and hasn't been shipped from halfway across the world (exceptions: pineapple, bananas, and Alphonso mangoes). They were something like £2.50 a box, which for some reason at the time seemed an inordinate amount of money to spend on just a handful of tiny fruits that would probably prove tasteless, fuzzy and disappointing.

Then I saw them again the other day, and thought...what? Two boxes for £3? Three pounds. That is, in the grand scheme of things, not a lot of money. I couldn't quite think why I hadn't just bought them before. Maybe because real, normal-sized figs were in season. Maybe because they seemed extravagant when I was still a student and not earning money. But now that I am, in fact, earning (some) money, they were just the treat I needed at the end of a long day.