Monday, 28 April 2014

Five things I love this week #9

1. Central American food. I spent a couple of weeks in Costa Rica and Nicaragua this April, and although the prospect of rice and beans for every meal did start to get a little tedious (never before have I found myself going out for a pizza while abroad somewhere that isn't Italy...oh the shame), I am a fan of this simple yet hearty, wholesome, bolstering combination of ingredients. Rice and beans (all the better if fried with a little spice), fried plantain (sweeter and more caramelised in Costa Rica, like bananas, while crispier and more starchy in Nicaragua, like potato cakes), tortillas (soft and nutty, unlike the pallid flavourless things we buy in packets over here), and some form of protein: eggs for breakfast; fish, steak or chicken for lunch. You might also get some fresh cheese and/or avocado if you're lucky, and pico de gallo: a tangy relish of ripe tomatoes, onions and coriander. Perfect for breakfast and lunch, though I did crave a bit more variety for dinner. Luckily, there was ceviche to satisfy that requirement.

2. My gorgeous new kettle: the DeLonghi vintage icona.  I got this from Argos a couple of weeks ago, and have immediately cleared an entire section of kitchen worktop to allow space for its full glory. As far as fairly everyday kitchen electricals like kettles go, this is an absolute beauty. It comes in a range of pastel colours, but I love the jade/brown combination; there's something quite understated and 'retro-kitchen' about it. Obviously, it does its job and boils water (much more quickly than my previous kettle). But what I especially like about the design is that it's not chrome or stainless steel, so watermarks don't show up and ruin the look of it. The element is also concealed so less chance of it getting clogged up with limescale, and the base unit has a handy space for you to tuck the electrical cord in, so it doesn't clutter up the worktop. It's very light to hold and easy to clean, and pours nicely (which is not something I ever thought I'd look for in a kettle, but apparently now is). Not just a pretty face, so to speak.

3. Wild garlic. It's that time of year again, when the woods are wafting with its sharp, earthy scent and those glossy, vibrant leaves cluster en masse alongside rivers and streams. I picked a couple of large armfuls and blitzed them in the blender with olive oil, lemon juice and zest, anchovy fillets, fresh rosemary and mint and clove garlic, then rubbed this pungent paste all over a shoulder of lamb for Easter lunch. Roasted slowly for four hours, it had the most divine crispy, salty, tangy skin and moist flesh; by far the best lamb I've ever cooked. The paste would also be beautiful tossed through cooked pasta, though, maybe with some nuts mixed in to make it more of a pesto.

4. Diana Henry's new cookbook, A Change of Appetite. Based around the idea of healthy recipes, but emphatically not a diet cookbook, this is a beautiful collection of culinary ideas revolving around less meat, more veg, less fat, more flavour. Dishes are inspired from all areas of the world: Scandinavian salmon burgers; Japanese chicken with smashed cucumber; Persian salad; Vietnamese beef...What they all have in common is an ingenious combining of often humble ingredients with a potent arsenal of spices, herbs and other flavourings to produce satisfying food that will make you feel nourished and healthy. Just as important, the photography is absolutely stunning, showcasing Henry's beautiful medleys of vibrant veg and succulent fruit. This is the sort of cookbook that I'd be ecstatically proud to produce.

5. Papaya. Well, actually, this fills me with a little bit of sadness, because I've been feasting on it daily for the last couple of weeks in Central America, where a huge papaya that must be carried like a baby due to its weight and luscious ripeness costs about 60p. Here, a tiny specimen barely bigger than an apple will set you back a couple of pounds. Still, I can't resist its beautiful coral-coloured buttery flesh and sweet, fragrant flavour. Although best served in huge wedges sliced from the mammoth fruit with a machete, it can still be enjoyable here, scooped from its diminutive skin and piled into a bowl with lashings of lime juice. I have a couple of recipes I'm keen to experiment with coming up over the next few weeks, so watch this space (if you like papaya, that is - I met a tragic number of people on my travels who didn't, claiming it smells and/or tastes like socks/vomit. Philistines.) 
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