Tuesday, 25 September 2012

California prune, broad bean, feta and pecan salad

Prunes are an unfairly overlooked ingredient. Perhaps this is because of their rather menacing appearance: prunes are dark, wrinkled and gnarled in comparison to their plump, sunny cousins - dried apricots. Apricots just look much more user friendly, with their fat, honey coloured flesh. They crop up in many more recipes and seem to be the 'go-to' dried fruit for a lot of cooks, perhaps after raisins or sultanas. I think prunes carry a lot of unfair associations with school dinners, health food, and elderly people. It's sometimes easy to forget that they are, in fact, just dried plums - nothing remotely ominous about that. 

Prunes have a huge amount to offer, both raw and cooked. They have a gorgeous rich stickiness to them that, in common with dates, I think makes them just as satisfying as a dessert. They have a real complexity of flavour, with notes of berry, wine, sometimes even chocolate. They are hugely versatile, working equally well in both sweet and savoury dishes - lending a sweet squidgyness to a chocolate brownie or tart, for example, or a bite of fruitiness to a rich lamb tagine.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Clementine, rosemary and white chocolate mini muffins

We don't really tend to think outside the box that much with clementines. Unlike oranges, which permeate our gastronomic consciousness in all manifestations, clementines seem generally reserved, in the popular mindset, simply for raw eating, usually around Christmas. The few times clementines have cropped up on my culinary radar in other guises, they seem wildly exotic. I noticed cartons of clementine juice on the shelf in M&S a while back, which held a great allure for me simply because of its novelty factor. It is also, I suspect, a cunning ploy to charge twice the price for it because of said novelty; a bit like the fact that you can buy 'Pink Lady apple juice' and pay through the nose for the privilege of having a branded apple pulverised inside your carton.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Good morning Vietnam: pineapple pancakes

I've just returned, jet-lagged and completely dazzled by my month-long trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. I'll be posting more about my trip in due course, but for now I want to share a little post about breakfast, my favourite meal of the day; particularly when the day promises to be a hot and humid one full of stunning scenery, tasty food and Asian splendour.

Breakfast in Vietnam falls into two categories: what the locals eat, and what you find in all the hotels catering for Western palates. In the former category you have pho, the 'national dish of Vietnam', a rich meaty broth housing a comforting combination of slippery rice noodles, fresh herbs, and tender pieces of (usually) chicken or beef. (More on this in another post - I too, with my Western sweet tooth, was sceptical about the notion of noodles for breakfast, but I soon became a convert.) 

In the latter category, you have the usual suspects such as eggs, omelettes and baguettes, but also recognisably Western dishes given a bit of tropical flair, like these pineapple pancakes.