If for you, like me, (nearly) a whole summer of warm weather and sunshine means an excuse to be in the kitchen experimenting with ice cream flavours, then no doubt you’ll end up with lots of leftover egg whites. Don’t throw them away – freeze in small plastic bags, labelled with the number of whites, then simply defrost as needed for your recipes (or keep in the fridge for up to a week). I remember once reading Nigella Lawson saying she sometimes separates eggs directly over the sink so she doesn't have the stress of figuring out what to do with all the leftover whites. Nigella, this one is for you.Read More
As food geeks, we all have a few ‘fun facts’ up our sleeve, right? Random snippets of foodie info that we use to pepper the conversations at parties or liven up a boring first date? Don’t tell me you’ve never reached for a bit of asparagus-related trivia to brighten up a dull moment, or quietened a room by pointing out that red Skittles are coloured with smushed-up insects. If you haven’t, I’m certainly never going to a party with you.Read More
They are based on a Danish sweet treat, havregrynskugler, which essentially means ‘oat balls’. I first tried these at one of my favourite hyggelig cafes in Aarhus, a delightful little place attached to a deli and farm shop. For that reason, I assumed the oaty things they had out on the counter would be some kind of worthy, uber-healthy raw cake or similar, and finding myself in need of a snack with my cup of tea one day, I decided to try one. I was surprised by how utterly delicious it was, with the nutty, slightly sweet taste of oats that took me straight back to making flapjacks and oat biscuits as a child. I remember once trying to eat raw oats out of the jar, assuming that they were what made the flapjacks taste so good, so by that logic they should be delicious on their own. I was wrong. I am not a horse. My oats need to be doused in butter and sugar.Read More
One of the biggest disappointments a gastronome can experience is to order their favourite dessert from a restaurant menu, only to find it presented to them in unrecognisable compartmentalised format. Instead of ‘lemon tart’, a Cubist explosion of prismatic pastry shards, perfectly piped mounds of glossy lemon curd, and a smattering of smug mint leaves for garnish. Instead of the glorious marriage of hot, sweet-tart fruit syrup and a toothsome crunchy topping, your ‘crumble’ will instead manifest as something that resembles the dreams of a Scandinavian minimalist with obsessive compulsive disorder; a piece of poached fruit here, a slick of compote there, and a stingy scattering of crunchy granola that refuses to interact on any sensible basis with the other two elements and entirely misses the point of a crumble. Or, heaven forbid, a cheesecake that anarchically ignores the latter part of its title and instead of being a sliceable paean to dairy and biscuit is a Kilner jar full of cream with a shot of fruit juice and a cookie on the side, more like the individual components of a child’s packed lunch than anything suitable for restaurant consumption.Read More
The other day, I bought a bunch of candy beetroots from my local market. I’ve never seen them there before, and because they are one of the prettiest ingredients you can buy, I snapped them up eagerly. ‘Have you tried these candy beetroot things?’ the lady behind the stall asked me. She was making polite conversation, but probably got more than she bargained for. Instead of a casual ‘yes, they’re great’, I proceeded not only to tell her all the best recipes for candy beetroot, but also the correct methods of cooking it so as to preserve its unique coloration (steaming in foil), the best utensils for the job (mandoline), and its Italian name (chioggia).Read More
A friend of mine once asked me what ingredient I cook with the most (staples like salt and oil aside). I answered limes, but on reflection it could equally be raspberries. Having said that, I don’t tend to ‘cook with’ raspberries much: I prefer to eat them unadulterated, scattered over porridge or granola or with cubes of golden papaya or juicy ripe mango for dessert when I can’t quite justify eating loads of chocolate or crumble. I occasionally bake them into cakes: I love the way baking intensifies their sharp, almost grassy flavour, and the way they stew their rosy juice through the buttery crumb, perfuming it with that heady scent of summer. Recently, though, I’ve been thinking about the savoury uses of raspberries.Read More
Pomegranate seeds scattered over a salad has now become such a ubiquitous trope in the world of food that we perhaps take these ruby-like seeds for granted. The other day I was standing over a plate of salad - aubergines charred on the barbecue until meltingly soft and smoky and mixed with date-infused balsamic vinegar, pomegranate molasses, mint, watercress, olive oil and lemon juice - and it occurred to me that it could really do with a jewelled sprinkling of pomegranate seeds to lift it both visually and in terms of flavour. I didn't have any, but I did have a punnet of glowing, fat redcurrants in the fridge, and it occurred to me that their sharp, sour tang would work beautifully with the rich, sweet aubergines. It did, and redcurrants have now become my summer alternative to pomegranate seeds which, after all, most of us associate with Christmas. Add some thick slices of salty, squeaky, grilled halloumi, some toasted pine nuts, and you have an incredible summer salad, an immensely satisfying array of different textures and flavours - salty, sweet, smoky and sour. I'm very proud of this one. Head to AO Life for the recipe!Read More
Occasionally, in my youth, I would go out in the evening, to some throbbing venue slick with other people’s sweat where the music was too loud and the lighting just the right level of dimness to enable middle-aged men to sidle up to you and ‘helpfully’ put their hands on your waist as they squeezed past. I’d dress up. There would be bright colours, sparkly jewellery and painful shoes. Sometimes I would even wear false eyelashes. Once they came unstuck mid-evening, and I spent a couple of hours chatting to people, glass of wine in hand, enveloped in the aura of my own sophistication and blissfully unaware that my spidery plastic eyelashes were hanging away from my eyelids by a strip of congealed glue. I’d drink a bit too much and end up crying on boys I fancied, then try to rectify the situation by offering the excuse that I was ‘on medication’. My girlfriends and I would go to the toilet together and gossip. I’d go to get a drink at the bar of Wetherspoons, step away to go back to my table and find my feet removed from my shoes, which were still stuck fast to the floor. There would be silly photos on Facebook the next morning, always featuring the same core components: a bottle of wine, my wide-eyed leering face next to those of my friends, too much cleavage from all of the girls involved, a wisp of fake tan here and there, a stray false eyelash or two, and probably some poor token male who had been hijacked for the purpose.Read More
There are many benefits to cooking with coconut oil. It’s full of good fats, nutritious, it can replace dairy in many recipes, it has a pleasant slightly sweet coconut flavour…but, if I’m perfectly honest with you, one of the main reasons I love this new trendy ingredient is because you can melt it in the microwave without it exploding everywhere, as butter has a tendency to do. Who hasn’t felt their heart sink as that sickening ‘pop’ breaks the monotony of the whirring, grinding microwave, knowing the next few minutes will be spent painstakingly wiping a greasy yellow film off the hot plastic, the air heavy with the slightly sickly scent of warm animal fat? Who hasn’t opted for the microwave to melt their butter, out of laziness and not wishing to wash up a pan, only to end up spending those valuable saved minutes scraping away smears of grease? (You can, of course, avoid this problem by covering your bowl or jug with cling film while microwaving, but for some reason I take the chance every time…I think I just like to live on the edge).Read More
The glorious bounty of summer is on its way. I don't know about you, but I'm already excited for sunny days spent at the pick-your-own farm, greedily clawing berries off their stalks until my hands are smeared with a dramatic mixture of dark juice and blood from the inevitable gooseberry thorn-pricks. I'll soon be turning on the spare freezer in my shed, ready to fill it to bursting with jewel-like summer fruits: tiny glistening blackcurrants and redcurrants, voluptuously downy raspberries and plump jade gooseberries, all waiting to be enveloped in cake batter, simmered into compotes or churned through creamy frozen yoghurt. Last summer I came up with another wonderful way to use a glut of summer berries: spend a couple of days turning them into gorgeous fruit vinegars. It's very simple, and you end up with the most beautiful bottles, glowing with golden hues of red and yellow and looking like something that wouldn't be out of place on the shelf of a medieval apothecary or the souks of the Arabian Nights. Head over to my post on AO Life to see how it's done, and for recipe suggestions for using these captivating concoctions.
Some beautiful things are born out of frugality in my kitchen. Dense, fudgy loaves of banana cake made to rescue two blackened bananas from the fruit bowl. Bowls of healing broth whipped up from the sad-looking carcass of a picked-clean roast chicken. Glossy, scarlet chilli jam that has saved a bag of overripe tomatoes from a tragic fate in the compost bin. I love averting waste and turning ingredients that were so nearly rubbish into something delicious, particularly when it encourages me to try new recipes in the process.Read More
I’ve eaten more peaches this summer than probably the last five or six summers combined. I usually give up on peaches in England, because they’re imported rock hard and never ripen properly, tasting sad and woolly and a tragic shadow of what you know they could be. But they’re so cheap and abundant right now that I can’t resist buying a punnet or two in the supermarket, safe in the knowledge that, if all else fails, I can at least rescue them with the application of some sugar and searing oven heat.Read More
1. Hutong, the Shard.
I won a meal at Hutong after taking part in the Cote de Rhone Chinese takeaway blogger challenge a few months ago. Last weekend, we made the (for me, stricken by vertigo, terrifying) journey high up the Shard to indulge in a leisurely four-hour, multi-course lunch in the gorgeous surroundings of Hutong. Resplendent with red lanterns, carved wood and ornate ironwork, you feel like you're eating lunch in old Shanghai or Hong Kong. We started with a pot of jasmine tea and some beautiful, delicate dim sum (crab; lobster; vegetable and bamboo; wagyu beef puffs; scallop and pumpkin; and some unusual dumpling parcels filled with a savoury, delicious meat broth that were unlike anything I've ever tasted before). Next came crispy duck, carved ceremoniously at the table, its lacquered skin sliced through like butter and placed in neat, glistening rows on a plate for us to enjoy with pancakes and hoi sin. The cocktails were incredible, presented like little glass-held meals in themselves, decorated lavishly with fresh herbs and fruit and bursting with unusual aromatic Eastern flavours.Read More
I've been trying to figure out what it is about gooseberries that makes me love them so. These are the kind of questions I ponder idly, you see, while rolling out pastry or chopping up fruit; measuring out tablespoons or stirring something around a pan. Cooking for me isn't something I do just to feed myself; it's something I like to think about, to analyse, to question and explore. I guess that's why my cooking is also something I balance alongside an increasingly difficult and mind-bending PhD. One of these days I'll find a hobby that doesn't involve thinking...I tell myself, knowing it'll never happen.Read More
Have you ever tried whitecurrants? I bet you haven't.
Even I, until today, had never tried whitecurrants, and I've tried a lot of weird and obscure fruits and vegetables. I bet you go your entire life without ever seeing whitecurrants in the supermarket or market; in fact, you may never see them in the flesh at all, unless you're lucky enough to spend a lovely couple of hours at a pick your own farm that has them (and even then, space is usually devoted to the more popular red and black varieties). Or, of course, unless you're lucky enough to have a PhD supervisor who frequently bestows her home-grown fruit and veg on you.
She referred to them as 'a challenge', and it's not hard to see why. You can't exactly pick up a cookbook and find a selection of recipes for whitecurrants. The only recipes I've ever seen are in a tiny chapter devoted to the fruit in Nigel Slater's Tender Part II. Even there, he remarks upon the sourness of the currants and therefore their difficulty as happy bedfellows with other ingredients. There is, though, a luscious-looking whitecurrant tart that I have my eye on, with a ginger biscuit crust and a fromage frais and cheese filling.
We don't really seem to 'get' currants in the UK. You can sometimes find them at markets and supermarkets in summer, but only for a very brief period of time, and no one really seems to know what to do with them. They do present a problem, being fiddly to remove from their stalks and, to some tastes, unpleasantly sour. The trick, I find, is to couple them with sweeter fruits: redcurrants are lovely with peaches, for example, or strawberries, and blackcurrants work well with apricots, pears and apples. If you're looking for a reliable supply of these treasures, pick your own farms are probably your best bet, or growing your own (or, as I did, accidentally but conveniently choosing as your supervisor someone who grows their own).
Whitecurrants, though, are the most elusive of the lot. While redcurrants can be found, fairly reliably, in the summer, and blackcurrants do usually make an appearance in some supermarkets, whitecurrants are just not cool in the world of currants, apparently. Maybe it's their lack of bright colour, unlikely to catch the capricious eye of the passing supermarket shopper. Maybe it's their intense sourness, an acquired taste. Maybe it's a vicious circle: the less we see these currants, the less we know what to do with them, therefore the less likely we are to buy them.
So why bother with these little globes of sourness? Because, as you can see, they are totally gorgeous to look at. Up close, they have an eerie translucency to them; you can just make out the seeds inside, while the skins have a pearlescent sheen. They are not really white, but myriad shades of cream, jade, beige, almost giving off a muted glow as they sit in a bowl, waiting to be made use of. They really do look like a string of culinary pearls, begging to adorn your food in the way you might use pomegranate seeds or dried cherries. And food, in my opinion, should be adorned. Even if it's just a scattering of bright herbs, it can make all the difference.
Given their sourness, whitecurrants need to be paired with something very sweet - my thoughts initially turned to cheesecake and meringue. However, I then considered their potential in savoury recipes. Sour ingredients - those that spring to mind are gooseberries and rhubarb - are often combined with fatty meat or oily fish, their astringency used to balance the richness of the protein. Always one to go for oily fish over pretty much any form of meat, I just had to choose the best oily fish of all: mackerel.
The sour nip of a whitecurrant works perfectly with the moist, rich, crispy-edged flesh of a seared mackerel. The combination is unusual and refreshing, surprising with every mouthful. To make the mackerel even more flavoursome against the currants, I coated the fillets in a mixture of lemon salt (I'd really recommend this if you don't have any; it's just salt mixed with dried and ground lemon peel, and you can get it from JustIngredients online) and smoked paprika. It's an incredibly flavoursome, moreish combination: smoky and salty with an addictive tang from lemon. I think I might always cook mackerel in this way now; it works with so many accompaniments, and it really brings out the intense character of the fish.
To go alongside, a salad of whitecurrants and lentils. This is basically taken from Nigel Slater's Tender, where he suggests serving it with the leftovers of a roast. It works so well with my mackerel idea, though, that I don't think you could find a better combination. The lentils are nutty and earthy, a pleasant canvas for the other dancing flavours, while the burst of sour juice from a currant peppers each mouthful. There is freshness and zip from masses of shredded parsley and mint, and finally that gorgeous, succulent, crispy-skinned spiced mackerel.
If you can't get whitecurrants, you could make this with redcurrants, or pomegranate seeds, or even dried sour cherries or raisins at a push. If you don't like or have mackerel, use trout or salmon, or go the meat route - smoked chicken, sausages, roast pork, lamb and game will all work well. If you're vegetarian, try it with some crumbled goat's cheese and toasted walnuts or pecans. Either way, you'll be rewarded with a simple but beautiful plate of food, packed with nourishing and delicious vibrant flavours.
And, of course, garnished with a string of pearls.
A big thank you to Trev for the gift of whitecurrants - I hope you approve of what I did with them!
Smoky spiced mackerel with whitecurrant and lentil salad (serves 4):
- 400g puy lentils
- Sea salt
- 6 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- A small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
- A small bunch of mint, finely chopped
- 200g whitecurrants (or redcurrants if you can't find whitecurrants), stalks removed
- 4 mackerel, filleted (to get 8 fillets)
- 3 tsp lemon salt
- 3 tsp smoked paprika
- Olive oil, for cooking
Cook the lentils in plenty of boiling, salted water for about 15 minutes until tender but still nutty. Drain and return to the pan. Mix the olive oil and vinegar with a teaspoon of salt and some black pepper, then stir into the lentils while still warm, along with the herbs. Allow to cool a little, then gently stir in the whitecurrants. Check the seasoning - lentils need quite a lot of salt to make them sing.
For the mackerel, dry the fillets on kitchen towel. Mix together the lemon salt, paprika and some black pepper, then spread over the fillets. Heat a glug of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan, then sear the mackerel on both sides over a high heat for about 2 minutes each side (you may need to do this in batches if your pan isn't big enough). Serve on top of the lentil salad, garnished with a little extra parsley.
It's strange how some foodstuffs are a totally normal, everyday part of the scenery in some countries, and then we come along, get our health-obsessed five-a-day superfood-crazy label-mad hands on them, slap on a massive price tag, and turn them into something chic, exclusive, expensive-because-healthy. When I was in Vietnam, there were smoothie bars perched on every street corner, churning out giant plastic cups of heady made-to-order mixtures; everything from fresh coconut to dragon fruit and durian fruit would be blended in front of your eyes into a sweet cupful of nourishing deliciousness. None of these ever cost more than around 80p. Come home, go to a smoothie bar (if you can find one, that is), and you'll pay at least £3 for the privilege of having some inferior fruit crushed into a cup.
The same goes for Japanese food. Nourishing noodle soups, slimming sushi and protein-rich tofu are staples of the Japanese diet, taken for granted, almost. Everyday food, they certainly don't cost nearly the amount they do over here, where you seem to pay for the privilege of ingesting something that isn't likely to give you a sumo wrestler physique overnight (and, of course, for the importing of certain ingredients).
The first time I tried goji berries was at a Chinese friend's house. She had made Chinese hot pot for me, and I had been avoiding the little red blobs floating around in the broth, thinking they might be some kind of super-spicy little dried chilli. Upon closer inspection, I realised they were goji berries, plump and swollen from their bath in the hot liquid. Later, she made me a cup of green tea, throwing in a handful of the berries for good measure. It was delicious, the berries imparting a sweet, slightly musky flavour to the tea.
I was amazed at the apparent careless abandon with which she put these berries into things. But then, I realized, I am used to the Western treatment of goji berries - a sort of awed and slightly confused reverence. As something bearing that elusive and exclusive 'superfood' label, goji berries are to be respected, to be treated with admiration, even if we are never likely to try them because they're often pretty expensive. In China, where the berries have been grown for hundreds of years (they're the biggest cultivators and exporters of goji berries in the world), they're probably a little more blasé about these little fruits, free from the ludicrous superfood-mania that has swept the UK in recent years.
Goji berries' superfood credentials stem from their large quantity of antioxidants and vitamin A. However, there's no real evidence to suggest they're any better for you than berries in general, which are also classed as 'superfoods'. Still, I find them a rather intriguing little fruit, with their beautiful dusky red colour and diminutive puckered appearance. You can get them in most health food shops and even some large supermarkets now, and, while they're not cheap, they're not much more expensive than your average dried berry.
Lucky enough to have a bag of goji berries in my cupboard, I decided to experiment with a new granola recipe. I figured that if more common dried berries - blueberries, cranberries, etc - work in granola, why not up the 'superfood' credentials by adding some goji berries too?
I've long been a fan of making my own granola, ever since my first attempt a year or so ago. There are several advantages to doing it yourself.
Firstly, commercial granola is astronomically high in fat and sugar. Not to bore you with my health-nerd neuroticism, but it is. If you're lucky enough not to need to worry about such things, then good for you, but it still can't hurt to cut back a bit on these ingredients. The reason shop-bought granola is so delicious and tastes like flapjacks is because it's drenched in oil and honey/sugar before baking. Tasty, but not the most nutritious breakfast. By making it yourself, you can drastically lower the amount of calorific rubbish that goes into it, while still having a delicious-tasting end product. The trick is to use apple puree and honey to coat the granola mix before baking. Yes, there's still sugar in the form of honey, but much, much less, and no fat - just apple.
I imagine a lot of you are wondering if it's less tasty for this reason. It is certainly less sweet and flapjack-esque, but I find that the dried fruit makes up for this, adding plenty of sweetness. The granola base mixture (oats, barley, etc) toasts wonderfully in its covering of apple puree and honey, turning deliciously golden, toasty and crunchy. It's the perfect base for the dried fruit and nuts, allowing them to really shine. I actually prefer it, now, to commercial granola, which just tastes overly sweet and buries the flavour of the fruit and nuts within.
Secondly, homemade granola is cheaper. You won't save yourself huge amounts of money, but you will save a bit. If you buy decent granola or muesli, you often spend around £3-4 for a 750g box. To get all the ingredients to make your own (depending on what you put in it) usually costs around £5, but it makes about 1.75 kg. Plus some of the ingredients you only need to buy once to make several batches - apple for the apple puree, honey, flaked almonds, and dried fruit like raisins.
Also, it really is wonderfully satisfying to make your own. I appreciate not everyone has the time, but this takes under an hour from start to finish, and there's barely any hands-on work involved - just mixing everything up, then stirring it from time to time in the oven so that it toasts evenly. The sweet, spicy, toasty smell of the grains cooking warms your kitchen and hovers around you for hours afterwards.
Thirdly, you can customise home-made granola however you like. I've never found a muesli or granola in the shops that quite fits my specifications - I love brazil nuts, chopped dates, and tropical fruit, but this combo has never been found to my knowledge on the supermarket shelves. Now that I make my own, I can put in my favourite things. Until now I have made two versions: one, a tropical granola with brazil nuts, flaked almonds, dried papaya and dried pineapple (sometimes adding banana chips or coconut flakes); two, a delicious cinnamony version with chopped apricots, chopped dates, raisins, flaked almonds and brazil nuts again. Both are utterly delicious, but it was time to experiment with a new version.
Enter this 'superfood' berry granola, featuring goji berries, other dried berries (I used a mixture of cherries, blueberries and cranberries), sunflower seeds and toasted pecan nuts. I've wanted to try pecans in granola for ages, because they're my favourite nuts after brazil nuts, and I can't get enough of their toasty, caramel flavour. Sunflower seeds add crunch and also healthy nutrients, while the granola base is enriched with cinnamon and a good dose of vanilla. After a spell of baking in the oven, the sweet, spiced granola is mixed with jewel-like dried berries.
I haven't added too many goji berries here, because they're quite an acquired taste. Instead, their pleasant, earthy flavour combines with the more assertive sweetness of dried cherries, cranberries and blueberries. The result is a joyous medley of colours, the bright and muted reds of the berries contrasting beautifully with the nut-brown blanket of toasted oats and pecans.
I actually wrote all of the above post, up until this point, having not yet tried the result of this granola experiment. I figured it would be good enough to share with you all, though. This morning I poured my first bowl (and took the photos). I made a mug of green tea. I chopped up some blood orange and put it into the bowl with some ginger- and brown sugar-stewed plums left over from dessert last night. The dark juice of the blood oranges mingled with the magenta syrup from the plums, soaking into the granola. The tea sent wisps of grassy, fragrant smoke into the air. The dried berries and pecans winked invitingly up at me from the bowl, a glorious mass of syrupy red.
Ignoring all the blood orange and plum madness going on (which just lifted breakfast to dizzying heights of incredible deliciousness), this granola was incredible. So much better than I had expected, even though I expected good things. I think the key lies in the sunflower seeds and the pecans - the seeds contribute an amazing nutty toastiness that underlies the whole thing, combining wonderfully with the sweet, caramel notes of the pecans and then the sugary berries. Heavily attached to my brazil nut and tropical fruit version, I hadn't expected this to be quite as good. Instead, I think it's a new favourite. It allows me to indulge my borderline indecent love of pecan nuts and dried cranberries. It looks gorgeous. I can claim it's vaguely healthy, both because of its lack of oil and refined sugar and because it has some goji berries in (tenuous yes, but every little helps). As well as sunflower seeds and pecans, which are full of nutritious good fats.
I promise, this will surprise you. Both because it's incredibly easy, and because it's so much better than granola from the shops. The combination of ingredients just makes for the best ever breakfast bowlful. Even better if you add some segmented orange and stewed plums, although I think serving it with some fresh berries would also be a great idea, or some sliced banana (or both).
You may, like me, be sceptical of the superfood label. But this granola is both super and food, so I think it deserves the accolade. Get your hands on those crazy goji berries and get this granola in your life.
'Superfood' berry granola (makes around 10-12 servings):
(I'd like to add that the serving estimate here is strictly that - an estimate. I eat a lot of granola in a single portion, and this is so good that you might want to rethink your normal cereal serving size...)
- 320g apple puree*
- 110g runny honey
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- Seeds of 1 vanilla pod, or 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1kg muesli base mix
- 200g pecan nuts, roughly chopped
- 90g sunflower seeds
- 50g goji berries
- 150g mixed dried berries (e.g. blueberries, cranberries and cherries - or just one type)
Pre-heat the oven to 160C.
In a large bowl, whisk together the apple puree, honey, salt, cinnamon and vanilla. Add the muesli base and stir well to combine. Spread this mixture out evenly between two large baking sheets.
Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the trays from the oven give the mixture a good stir around. Return to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes, then stir again. Finally, bake for another 10 minutes, then add the pecan nuts and sunflower seeds. Bake for 10 minutes more, then remove from the oven and leave to cool.
When cool, stir in the berries. Store the granola in an airtight jar or box.
* To make apple puree, simmer peeled, chopped cooking apples in a lidded pan with a splash of water until they turn to mush, then roughly crush with a potato masher or fork. It's worth making a big batch of this then freezing it in individual 320g portions, so you can easily make a batch of granola whenever the whim takes you!
Do you remember that Ribena advert, proudly proclaiming that '95% of Britain's blackcurrants end up as Ribena' (or something to that effect)?
How many of you, like me, ponder that figure in your food-addled brain and think, 'wow, what a waste'?
A recent study discovered that blackcurrant juice, from concentrate, only accounts for 5% of the total Ribena product. You don't have to be a mathematician to work out that something is tragically wrong here. Take 95% of a crop of something totally beautiful, and dilute it to the point of vapid, watery nothingness? This is not how blackcurrants should be treated.
Blackcurrants are another of those slightly elusive and much-underrated fruits that I have a certain penchant for. By 'penchant', I mean 'tendency to buy large quantities and hoard them in the freezer for months on end'.
While I'm self-confessedly awful at hoarding foodstuffs in general in my freezer, there are some things that find themselves in there much more frequently, and in greater quantity, than others. Beautiful bright pink Yorkshire rhubarb is one, for the main reason that the season is so short and you just can't get that gorgeous colour all year round. Odd cuts of meat are another, because I find myself carnivorously intrigued by them and know I won't be able to get them just anywhere - ox cheeks, goose breasts, pigs cheeks, grouse breasts, whole stuffed wild ducks and venison loins have all found themselves snuggling in the frosty depths of my voracious freezer at some point or another.
Other peripherally but not immediately useful things, too, like bags of egg whites (usually a relic of a vigorous ice-cream making session), breadcrumbs, homemade stock, and apple purée (great for baking and making homemade granola), also take up valuable space in there.
The worst, though, for catching my eye and ending up consigned to the chilly white halls of the freezer, is fruit. Specifically, seasonal fruit that is only around for a short time (gooseberries, redcurrants, cranberries...), and which I therefore snap up in order to indulge in when it is in short supply.
Except I don't. I buy it all, it sits in the freezer awaiting a recipe idea worthy enough to make the most of its sumptuous scarcity...until the season comes round again, thereby totally invalidating the idea of saving it for when it's not available.
I realised quite recently that this saving of gluts for hard times is completely ridiculous, because there is always something new and delicious in season at any given point of the year, which more than makes up for the lack of something else. I save winter rhubarb for the summer months, yet in the summer months I'm far more likely to make the most of the fresh apricots in the market than want to make a rhubarb crumble. I bottle those apricots for the autumn, yet when it comes around I'm gorging myself on beautiful juicy English pears and gorgeous plump Turkish figs. Even winter isn't exactly barren of delicious things: imported lychees and persimmons, fresh cranberries, and fabulous blood oranges. I don't think there's ever been a point where I've wished for a fruit outside its season, because there's simply so much else around to tempt me.
So, in the spirit of using up things in the freezer and trying to break this compulsive hoarding habit, I decided to finally use up a punnet of blackcurrants that have been sitting there since last summer.
There's a reason I bulk-buy these little black beauties. They are quite unlike any other fruit or berry, possessing the most amazingly complex flavour and fragrance. I always think there's something floral, even grassy, about their aroma and taste. They have a mouth-puckering sharpness, but one that is infinitely more pleasant and complicated than that provided by, say, a lemon, adding its unusual qualities to whatever you choose to do with those currants. They're also beautiful, often ranging in size from tiny black dots like little bullets to much rounder, swollen globules, their skins somehow matt yet glossy at the same time, utterly fragile and yielding to the slightest bump or pressure.
And when they do yield, they pour forth a deep, rich purple liquor, possessing a gorgeous fragrant sharpness and an addictive sourness. A mass of blackcurrants, softened in a pan until just starting to release their shining juice, is a lovely addition to so many things.
Why on earth you would take that potential and water it down and sugar it up until it barely resembled the original product, I really don't know. I can think of so many better ways to use our blackcurrant crop.
They do have an affinity with apples, a pairing capitalised upon by many a soft drink, although I actually think they do better with pears, which are less sharp than apples and therefore form a beautiful soft, fragrant partnership to the assertive currants. They are also delicious with anything buttery or crumbly, as are most tart fruits.
Where blackcurrants really come into their own, though, is with dairy. Nothing like the beautiful bland, sweet foil of dairy to let their complex aroma shine, as well as set off their vibrant purple colours.
These cheesecakes capitalise upon all those partnerships: apples, butter and dairy. There's a buttery shortbread biscuit base, somehow richer than the usual Digestive biscuit base and a mellower match for the currants. There's a sweet unbaked filling, perfumed with vanilla and rippled through with a basic blackcurrant compote. There are spiced, caramelised apples on top, providing the deep warmth of ginger and mixed spice (from JustIngredients) to complement the sweet dairy and buttery base.
These are inspired by a cheesecake I had recently for dessert at one of my favourite restaurants in York. The combination of sharp, fragrant currants, creamy cheese filling and that super-crunchy buttery base is fantastic. The spiced apples on top lend a sweet and warming note to the whole thing. I made these in individual glasses, for the very pragmatic reason that I knew if I made a whole cake, I'd end up going back for seconds and then thirds and disgusting myself. That said, you can pack quite a bit of cheesecake into my individual dessert glasses, so I ended up feeling pretty gluttonous anyway.
Totally worth it, though - these are delicious. Clearing out the freezer has never tasted so good.
Apple and blackcurrant cheesecakes
This recipe can either make one cake, between 18-20cm diameter, or several individual cakes. Depending on the size of your individual moulds/glasses and your appetites/greed, it will make four to six individual cheesecakes.
- 10 shortbread finger biscuits
- 50g butter, melted
- 250g blackcurrants, stems and leaves removed (frozen are fine)
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 250g Quark
- 250g light cream cheese
- 150g icing sugar
- 1 vanilla pod
- /1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp water
- 1 sachet powdered gelatine
- A large knob of butter
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp mixed spice
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 2-3 apples, cored and cut into thin slices
First, make the base. Blitz the shortbread in a blender to fine crumbs, then stir into the melted butter. If making one large cake, grease and line an 18 or 20cm springform cake tin and place a circle of greaseproof paper in the bottom. Pour the biscuits into the tin and press down to form an even layer. If using individual glasses or moulds, use the biscuits to line the bottom of each. Chill in the fridge for an hour.
Meanwhile, make the blackcurrant compote. Place the blackcurrants in a small saucepan with a tiny drop of water and the caster sugar, then cook over a low heat just until they've started to soften and release juice. Set aside and leave to cool.
For the filling, beat together the Quark, cream cheese, icing sugar. Either beat in the vanilla extract or, if using a pod, scrape the seeds from the pod into the cheese mixture. Beat together until well combined.
Bring the 3 tbsp water to the boil in a small saucepan, then remove from the heat. Immediately sprinkle the gelatine evenly over the surface, then leave for a minute. Stir the gelatine into the water, until it has all dissolved. You need to work quickly now before the cheese mixture sets. Pour the gelatine into the cheese mixture, then quickly whisk it in. Pour half of the blackcurrant compote (reserve the rest for garnishing) into the cheese mixture, then stir gently to ripple it through the cheese.
Divide the cheese filling between the individual moulds, or pour into the cake tin. Place in the fridge and chill for a few hours, or overnight.
For the spiced apples, heat the knob of butter together with the brown sugar in a non-stick pan until foaming, then add the spices and sliced apples. Sauté over a fairly high heat until the apples turn soft, brown and caramelised. Turn off the heat and set aside until ready to serve.
When ready to serve, spoon the apples over the cake(s) to decorate, then finish with the remaining blackcurrant compote.
[Just a quick - and excited! - note to say that I've been nominated for Best Food Blog in the Cosmopolitan Blog Awards 2012!]
I'm pretty sure that there has never been an occasion over the last three years when I haven't had at least one punnet of blueberries either in my fridge or freezer. I would hoard them obsessively during my time at Oxford, where they could regularly be found at the Wednesday market priced at a mere pound. Given that I've seen punnets fetching up to £4.49 in Marks & Spencer, this was a pretty bargainous find. (Luckily I have a mother who insists on blueberries with her morning muesli, so we now have a constant supply in the fridge, which I don't have to pay for - win). I'd stash them away for a later date, a date which actually rarely happened to be much later, because the uses for blueberries in my kitchen are numerous.
I like to use them to stud a moist, squidgy loaf of banana bread, perfuming the crumb and creating sweet little pockets of purple. Continuing the banana theme, they also work well folded into banana pancake batter, or simmered gently in a pan until their skins burst and they release tart inky juices, which can then be spooned dramatically over a pile of pancakes. I also use them in every variation of this baked oatmeal I make - sometimes the chewy crust hides a hot-pink bed of tart, tender rhubarb, sometimes a comforting blanket of baked banana, and sometimes a marigold shock of jammy soft apricot slices, but there are always blueberries infusing their mild sweetness into that molten fruity puddle.
I like them folded through hot, bubbling porridge, engulfed in its nutty, milky blanket, sending ribbons of juice twisting through the creamy canvas like capillaries. They work well in this context with all fruits, but particularly - again - chopped banana, or grated apple.
They're also rather good in savoury dishes, for example as a sauce for venison steaks, and sometimes I use them instead of pomegranate seeds to add a welcome burst of sweetness to a wild rice or couscous salad with shredded duck or chicken.
Yet I rarely bake with blueberries. Maybe I consider them too obvious - I generally like to bake vaguely unusual things with tragically underrated fruits, such as rhubarb and gooseberries. In fact, maybe that should be my blog's new tagline.
'Nutmegs, seven. Baking vaguely unusual things with tragically underrated fruits.'
I was leafing through this month's delicious magazine when I came across Signe Johansen's recipe for blueberry and elderflower cake. It's taken from her latest book, Scandilicious Baking, and I was drawn in both by the title - a combination I'd never come across before, having only used elderflower with gooseberries - and the enticing photo, depicting a rustic-looking wedge of cake topped with a juicy, dimpled purple carpet of squishy berries. The colours really struck me - such an intense, vibrant blue-purple, a hue you very rarely see in food.
Today, in need of a summery cake to combat the distinctly un-summery torrential rain occurring outside my kitchen window, I put on my apron, rolled up my sleeves, unearthed several punnets of blueberries from the freezer, and got to work.
This is an upside-down cake. The blueberries are scattered over the base of a cake tin, drizzled with elderflower cordial, left to steep while the cake mixture is made, then covered with a layer of batter before being baked. After its spell in the oven, you turn it over to reveal a beautiful purple topping that has soaked down into the crumb, as if the whole thing has been drenched wantonly in ink.
I made a few changes to Signe's recipe, using a sponge recipe that I came up with myself and always use in upside-down cakes, mainly because it uses a lot less butter than standard recipes but still tastes incredible, therefore I can justify eating more cake. (Right?) However, it actually relates pretty closely to her original, just with fewer eggs and less butter and sugar. I added ground almonds to my cake mixture, as she does, for a light texture and to help give a moist crumb. I also used spelt flour, as she suggests, because I think it lends a lovely nutty texture to the finished cake, which is a great contrast with the sweet, vibrant fruit.
This emerged from the oven everything I hoped it to be. The crumb has a really lovely mellow flavour to it, from the use of yoghurt in the sponge and from the almonds and hint of vanilla. It tastes robust, somehow, because of the spelt flour - subtly nutty, with a hint of biscuit about it. It has the perfect light, crumbly texture. The blueberries burst and drench the cake in their sweet juices, lightly perfumed by the elderflower cordial, giving a delicious contrast in both texture and flavour. Rich, earthy cake, and juicy, sweet berries.
Above all, I just love the look of this cake. It's so vibrant and joyful; just the thing to perk up a somewhat lacklustre British summer. The berries glisten in a jewel-like fashion; dark, inky and mysterious. Fresh from the oven, it is exquisite with a cup of tea in the afternoon - it's substantial enough to raise your energy levels and fill that sad gap between lunch and dinner, and it's not too sugary or sweet so still feels vaguely nutritious. It's also delicious served warm with ice cream for dessert.
I'm ashamed to admit this, but I ate half of this entire cake in one day. That's how good it is.
Blueberry and elderflower upside-down cake (serves 6-8):
- 200g blueberries
- 50ml elderflower cordial
- 50g soft butter
- 2 eggs
- 150g caster sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 160g spelt flour
- 40g ground almonds
- A pinch of salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 200ml plain yoghurt
Grease an 18-22cm springform cake tin with butter (I used an 18cm tin, but a 20/22cm tin would also work fine, it will just give you a shallower cake). Tightly wrap a piece of foil around the outside edge of the tin to prevent any juices escaping. Scatter the blueberries over the base and pour over the elderflower cordial. Toss them together and leave them to soak.
Pre-heat the oven to 170C/160C fan oven. Put an oven tray under the shelf you'll be baking the cake on, just in case some of those lovely purple juices do escape.
Mix together the butter and caster sugar in a large bowl using an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well. Sift in the flour, baking powder and ground almonds then add the salt and vanilla. Fold in until you get a stiff dough, then mix in the yoghurt to form a soft batter.
Ensure the blueberries are arranged in a fairly even layer over the bottom of the tin, then top with the cake mixture. Bake in the oven for 40-60 minutes (a smaller tin will mean a thicker cake, which will mean longer in the oven) - it's ready when a skewer comes out clean, or when the top springs back when pressed and isn't wobbly inside.
Leave to cool for five minutes in the tin, then run a knife around the outside of the cake. Open the side of the springform tin, then put a plate over the top. Carefully invert the cake and remove the base layer of the tin to reveal gorgeous moist inky berries. Serve warm, with a cup of tea or some ice cream.
I was recently invited by Allinson (the bread and flour company) to take part in a recipe challenge. Harking back to founder Thomas Allinson, who in the nineteenth century encouraged healthy eating by prescribing the consumption of two salads a week, Allinson are encouraging consumers to grow their own herbs by offering them a Kitchen Herb Garden when they send off tokens from the Allinson bread range. The herb garden includes a box for growing the herbs, compost, and three packs of seeds - basil, parsley and chives. The challenge was to come up with a recipe featuring one or more of the herbs along with bread from the Allinson range, and to focus on healthy eating, in the spirit of the company's founder.
Like many pioneering geniuses, a lot of Allinson's ideas were regarded as a bit mad during his time. He outlandishly believed nearly all ailments could be cured by a good diet, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle. Apparently this was regarded as 'rebellious' by his peers. Oh, how times have changed.
I've never had much success with growing my own herbs. I did try, diligently, when I moved into a house in my second year of university and found myself with a window ledge. It was promptly filled with pots of mint, coriander and parsley. They all showed promising progress for a while, and then almost as promptly decided to stop growing altogether and die. From then on I kept mint in my room, and had a bit more success, but it still had a tendency to grow rapidly for a couple of weeks then stop, turning wispy and lacking in foliage to be used for Moroccan tea-making.
I've always been so envious of people who complain that fresh mint grows like a weed in their garden. Oh, to have my own giant supply of this wonderful, fresh, versatile herb. I've tried so many times and failed, and I think I deserve a successful mint plant far more than most people, seeing as it's one of my favourite herbs and I would actually use and treasure it rather than dismiss it as a weed and moan about it.
In spite of these failures, I gave the Allinson box a go. I sprinkled my seeds - which came in cute little sachets bearing quotes from Allinson himself, such as "Pure air is our best friend", "A man is what he eats" and "Brown bread is not a luxury but a necessity" - into the soil, watered, and waited.
Lo and behold, after a week or so, green shoots started to appear.
Despite this promising start, the shoots still remain in this state, several weeks later. The basil has gone a bit mouldy and the chives have wilted, but the parsley is still growing, I think. Perhaps this is due to my assiduous over-watering. I did desperately try not to over-water them, but I'm useless at knowing when to stop. Here's a tip if you're thinking of collecting the Allinson tokens (6 tokens and £2 P&P, or 3 tokens and £5 P&P) and getting your own herb garden: if you think it needs watering, it probably doesn't. Err on the side of dryness, and you'll probably have much more success than me. It's a lovely little box and I love the idea of it growing happily away on the kitchen worktop. If only I'd held back with the water.
Fortunately I wasn't required to use my own home-grown herbs for this competition, or you might be looking at a recipe for 'strawberry French toast with a tiny sprinkling of mouldy basil shoot'.
I had numerous ideas for recipes involving bread and a combination of chives, basil and parsley. Cheese was involved in nearly all of them, as were eggs. However, I wanted to do something a little bit different.
Generally, people think of herbs as an ingredient for savoury cooking. However, the dessert potential of herbs is something I find fascinating, and enjoy experimenting with. I once made a rosemary ice cream which was beautiful with slices of poached quince, and I imagine would have worked well with poached pears too. Bay leaf ice cream was another hit; served alongside a very spice-heavy, fruity crumble, it added an intriguing herbal note that cut through all the other flavours.
Perhaps the most common herb used in desserts now is basil. It has a fairly sweet, citrus flavour which makes it easily adaptable for sweet dishes; you'd probably have a harder time getting chives, sage or parsley to taste good alongside sugar (although I love a challenge in the kitchen...maybe I'll have a go one day). Basil ice cream was a hit with everyone who tried it; they were often expecting to be repulsed, and ended up going back for thirds. It worked beautifully alongside strawberries, whose light, fruity sweetness sits comfortably with the more complex, slightly metallic flavour of basil.
Basil sugar was an experiment for me last summer; I used it to sprinkle over these honey mango tartlets, giving them a fabulous crunch and another dimension of flavour to set against the super-sweet Pakistani mango topping and soft, creamy ricotta filling. When I entertained the concept of doing a sweet dish for this recipe competition, I immediately decided to incorporate the basil sugar. It's different, interesting, and surprisingly delicious, delivering a totally unexpected flavour and texture.
It's the simplest thing to make, too - you just blitz caster sugar and fresh basil together in a blender, until the sugar becomes pungent with heady basil flavour, and the leaves disintegrate to colour the sugar. It ends up looking rather like green snow.
French toast seemed the obvious sweet way of using bread in my recipe. You might argue that French toast isn't exactly healthy, and the emphasis is supposed to be on healthy eating, but I disagree. French toast is actually healthier and more nutritious than toast itself - you're soaking it in milk and egg, which are good sources of protein and nutrients. It's basically the same as having toast, a boiled egg, and a small glass of milk. I used wholemeal bread, too, which ups the health quotient a bit. You add a tiny amount of sugar and pan-fry it in a very small amount of butter, no more than you'd have on your normal toast.
The result is, of course, a delicious crispy, chewy exterior giving way to a fluffy, soft, gooey crumb, subtly flavoured with vanilla and a touch of cinnamon. It's also a great way to salvage stale bread, which makes the best French toast as it soaks up more milk.
The French call it pain perdu, 'lost bread', which I quite like - I have this image of the lost souls of countless loaves wandering bread purgatory until their redeeming kitchen angel decides to save them through a good baptism of milk and egg.
So, then you cover your little lost bread it in sliced strawberries - one of your five a day - and sprinkle over a little of this delightful basil sugar.
The sugar is the star of this recipe. OK, so the delicious squidgy French toast is pretty spectacular, and the sweet strawberries go very well with it, but it's the herbal, citrussy crunch of the basil sugar that turns the whole thing from an ordinary breakfast or brunch to something classy and a bit special. It gives another texture to the plate, adds a pretty green finishing touch, and works harmoniously with the strawberries.
This is probably a breakfast or brunch dish, but if you made the portion a bit smaller it would make a lovely dessert after a light meal, too. You could swap the strawberries for raspberries or even blueberries; basil would work well with them all, I think.
Strawberry French toast with basil sugar (serves 2):
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- A small bunch of fresh basil
- 4 slices wholemeal bread, preferably a bit stale
- 2 eggs
- 150-200ml milk
- 5 tsp sugar (caster or light brown)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- A pinch of cinnamon
- A knob of butter
- Sliced strawberries, to serve
First, make the basil sugar. Put the 2 tbsp caster sugar in a blender along with the basil, and grind until the sugar turns green and fragrant with the basil - there should only be tiny bits of basil leaf still visible. Set aside.
Cut the crusts off the bread and cut into triangles. Mix the eggs, milk, 5 tsp sugar, vanilla and cinnamon in a shallow dish using a whisk. Put the bread into the dish to soak up the mixture for a minute or so, then flip over and soak the other side. You may need to add a bit more milk, depending on how 'thirsty' the bread seems.
Heat the butter in a non-stick frying pan until foaming. Add the bread slices and cook for a couple of minutes, until they develop a golden crust, then flip over and cook the other side in the same way.
Place the toast on a plate to serve, and scatter over the sliced strawberries and basil sugar. Serve immediately.
Whenever I cook with nuts, I find myself thinking about which is my absolute favourite. I suppose in the same way I often wonder which meat or fish I would choose if I could only eat one for the rest of my life (I still ponder this question in moments of boredom, but I think it'd have to be lamb, for its sheer culinary versatility, and mackerel, again for the same reason). I can never reach a conclusion, though, I think because nuts have such diverse flavours and are suited to such a range of different culinary applications. Hazelnuts, to me, belong firmly in the realm of sweet things - desserts with chocolate or pears or bananas, for example. Then there are almonds, which are usually too bland to use in desserts but taste wonderful toasted and added to fragrant Middle Eastern or Indian dishes. Pistachios have a toasty gorgeousness that I love both with fruit - apricots in particular - but also with some meat dishes. I wouldn't normally cook with brazil nuts, but their grainy creaminess is wonderful in muesli.
Sometimes, though, I think the pecan is 'the one'.
Attractively shaped, easily crumbled (unlike almonds or hazelnuts, which are an absolute pain to attempt to chop without a food processor), the pecan possesses a richness that makes it interesting enough to stand up to strong flavours, both sweet and savoury. Pecans are wonderful with chocolate and bananas, for example, but also delicious in savoury dishes, as this amazing recipe proves.
I received Diana Henry's beautiful book Roast Figs, Sugar Snow for Christmas. I admit, I largely requested it on the strength of its title, without really looking at what it was about. Anyone who reads this blog will know I am a fiend for figs. When it arrived, I discovered it to be a book full of recipes from colder climates - "food to warm the soul", as its subtitle proclaims. What a brilliant idea, I thought - how has there not been such a book before? Having just returned from a week of skiing in the Alps, I recognised the familiar tartiflette and cheese fondue gracing its pages, as well as other dishes to be reserved for days of strenuous physical activity, such as an Austrian pasta creation that includes nearly a litre of sour cream. Might save that one for a time when I'm not still eating my way through the Christmas cake.
The book is beautiful, divided into chapters based on classic warming winter ingredients, like chestnuts, apples, quinces, smoked food, game, cream, pork and beans. I particularly liked the section on cranberries, where Diana bemoaned the fact that we reserve them for the Christmas sauce only, rather than making the most of their refreshing tart sweetness in recipes all year round. There's a recipe for a pecan and cranberry upside-down cake that I am dying to try.
However, one of the most intriguing recipes was this one - a wild rice salad with dried cranberries, toasted pecans, green beans, a maple-cider vinaigrette dressing, and sliced roast duck breast.
Fruit with meat?
Thinly sliced rare duck breast, barely seared in a hot pan?
All these things I love - it just had to be made.
This is a very simple dish to make - after cooking the rice (I used a mixture of basmati, red carmargue and wild rice, which you can buy from Waitrose and is delicious), you stir it together with dried cranberries (soaked in hot water to plump them up), toasted pecans, blanched green beans, chopped parsley, and the dressing.
The dressing is what really makes the dish - it was a complete revelation for me. I eat wild rice a lot, in salads, but I have never added a dressing. This simple elixir of maple syrup, vinegar, mustard and oil lifted the combination of ingredients to a totally different level. It coated the rice, giving it a gorgeous silky feel in the mouth, and it also provided a sort of salty-sweet flavour that brought all the other ingredients together perfectly.
It's honestly so hard to describe the incredible deliciousness of this salad. If you're sceptical about all those ingredients together, don't be. The nuttiness of the pecans and the wild rice is a perfect match for the sweet cranberries and gamey duck breast, and then you have the freshness of green beans and parsley and the tang of mustard to balance everything.
I can't wait to make this again. I could probably eat it every day for the rest of my life.
In which case, I might have to change my 'desert island' meat to duck.
Wild rice, toasted pecan and cranberry salad with rare duck breast (serves 4):
(Barely adapted from 'Roast Figs, Sugar Snow' by Diana Henry)
- 50g dried cranberries
- 30g pecans
- 250g mixed wild and basmati/brown rice
- 500ml chicken stock
- Salt and pepper
- 3 large or 4 medium duck breasts, skin on
- 200g green beans, trimmed and halved
- 3 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- For the dressing:
- 1/2 tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
- 1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
Cover the cranberries with boiling water and leave to plump up for 20 minutes or so. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 200C. Toast the pecans in a dry frying pan, then let them cool before crumbling them roughly.
Put the rice in a pan and pour over the chicken stock. Put on a lid, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer for around 25 minutes, by which point the rice should have absorbed all the stock and be cooked but still with a slight bite (different rice mixed vary, so follow the packet instructions with regard to timings). Leave the lid on to keep it warm.
Make the dressing by whisking together all the ingredients. Season the duck breasts, then get a frying pan really hot and sear them, skin-side down first, in the pan until golden brown. Once browned, put them in an ovenproof dish and place in the oven for 5 minutes (this will give you rare meat - if you like it a bit more well done, allow 7-8 minutes). Remove, cover with foil and rest for 5 minutes.
Cook the beans in boiling water until just tender, then drain. Put the rice in a large mixing bowl and add the beans, cranberries, pecans, parsley, and the dressing. Toss it all together well and check the seasoning. Divide between four plates or bowls.
Slice the duck breasts thinly and arrange over the salad. Garnish with a little extra parsley and toasted pecans.