It’s a savoury recipe! We all know what that means. Winter, or as it shall henceforth be known, the ‘anti-food-blogging season’, is over, and with its welcome departure come lengthy summer evenings, with the sun still high enough in the sky to guarantee reasonable photo opportunities for one’s dinner. People often ask me why I chose to move to Denmark, and although my usual response is a raised eyebrow and the simple statement ‘er, they offered me money’, I think I might now answer by pointing out the excellent food photography conditions provided by the languid, almost never-ending Scandinavian twilight.Read More
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!
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
‘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
"I think I'm going to smoke something this weekend!" I announced excitedly to my friends last week. There were raised brows and quizzical looks. As probably the most straight-laced person in the entire universe, someone who has never in her life been properly drunk, stayed up all night, got in trouble at school, inhaled a cigarette or toyed with the boundaries of the law, someone who would much rather have a quiet evening in with friends and go to bed at 10pm than attend a party or - heaven forbid - a club, someone who is, let's face it, boringly calm and neurotic and ripe for a career as a cat lady, their surprise at my suggestion of forthcoming tobacco/illegal substance consumption is perhaps unsurprising.Read More
When I was a child, I used to collect the Michelin ‘I-spy’ books. These were little pocket guides to various aspects of the natural world – birds, flowers, rock formations – that gave detailed and illustrated overviews of the various things you might encounter within these genres, and a handy checklist for you to tick off whenever you’d seen one. While the guide to exotic frogs remained largely unticked during family holidays to rainy National Trust properties throughout the UK, I had largely more success ticking off fossils, plant and bird life, getting incredibly excited when I encountered a new bird species or tree that I could proudly tick off as ‘done’. It’s a habit I’ve retained in adulthood with countries of the world, although unfortunately this is a far more expensive hobby than ticking off different types of fern.Read More
When you hear the word ‘wine’, what images fill your imagination? Undulating hills, perhaps? Charming French campagne ? Rolling swathes of gnarled, creeping vines, festooned with plump and plentiful grapes? A plate of buttery escargots, or a giant, bloody steak frites? Perhaps a charming French market, oozing with ripe cheeses and pungent saucisson, sturdy twines of garlic, the scent of baking bread and some fragile, sugary patisserie?
You’re probably unlikely to think of tropical rain showers, shirt-sticking humidity, the fragrant perfume of bulging mangoes, sickly, pungent durian and glossy persimmons. Glowing paper lanterns, and the ever-present aroma of wispy incense fumes. The urgent cries of hawkers and the blaring of motorbike horns. The sizzling of hot woks and the grind of blenders crushing ripe tropical fruit and coconut cream to a chilled and ambrosial pulp. Searing tropical sun, so hot it melts the nail varnish on your toes. Sugar cane peppering the vistas of the lush and lime-coloured countryside. Palm trees. Chopsticks. Rice.Read More
You're going to be seeing a lot of avocado recipes on this blog in the foreseeable future. For the next year, I'll be receiving fortnightly baskets of the fruit to experiment with in the kitchen (I'll be talking a bit more about why in a future post). Before I even start on the potential of avocados in the kitchen, though, let me suggest another unexpected use for this beautiful fruit. You may not have realised, but suddenly becoming an ambassador for avocados gets you a surprising number of friends. I have yet to meet anyone in my close social circle who has not, upon hearing my news, promptly and enthusiastically declared themselves a lover of avocados and hinted that they would be willing guinea pigs for any recipe development. Extra friendship points to those who have recommended favourite avocado recipes, and über bonus points to those whose list of avocado recipes included ice cream. You are people after my own heart.
So there you have it. Nutritional powerhouses, definitely; delicious and versatile, yes...but avocados are also a quick and easy enhancer for your social life.
However, avocados do have one serious inadequacy in terms of their culinary usage: they are possibly the least spontaneous ingredient ever. One does not simply decide one day to whip up an avocado salad that evening. Recipes involving avocado need notice: time for you to buy your 'perfectly ripe' specimens from the supermarket, discover they are sour and rock hard, and then postpone your plans for a week or so until the fruit has softened into creamy, buttery jade goodness. By which point all the other ingredients you bought will probably have gone off, so you'll need to start again.
Incidentally, the same rule applies to mangoes. The two fruits are often used together by unrealistic recipe writers who, irritatingly, do not adjust the 'prep time' for their recipes in order to add a week or so's 'ripening time'.
Receiving fortnightly baskets of perfectly ripe avocados is a luxury I do not intend to take for granted. I am very excited to be able to experiment with an ingredient I love but don't get to enjoy enough. My experience with avocados is fairly limited to guacamole, chicken, bacon and avocado salad, and a favourite dish of orzo pasta with broccoli pesto and avocado. I have big plans for these beauties, so watch this space.
This recipe is, if you'll believe it, something I dreamed up on the spur of the moment and 'threw together' in a slightly haphazard fashion. Inspired by some beautiful wild Alaskan salmon that I picked up on special offer, and which seemed too good to ruin with any sort of cooking whatsoever, I decided to serve it as sashimi. Too lazy to bother rolling sushi, I decided to pile all the components of sushi into a bowl: salmon, toasted sesame seeds (I also use nigella seeds when I make sushi, because I love their strong earthy flavour), pickled ginger, cucumber, a sauce of soy and wasabi, and sushi rice mixed with vinegar, sugar and salt. The rice is delicious when freshly cooked and still slightly warm - a completely different taste and texture experience to when it has firmed up and is tightly rolled in seaweed.
I love sushi rolls that feature avocado, in delicious creamy contrast with the tangy rice and the subtly sweet fish (often crab or salmon), so topped my sushi bowl with ripe avocado, mashed with smoked salt and lime juice to bring out its flavour, plus a heavy-handed dose of fresh mint, which might sound unusual with Japanese flavours but works very well - you could, however, use coriander to equally good effect. I also added some cooked soya beans, because one of my favourite Japanese dishes is one of the simplest: sweet, salty steamed edamame beans, fresh from the pods.
I was expecting this to be tasty, but I wasn't quite prepared for how ridiculously delicious it was. Raw fish sometimes lacks flavour, but this salmon was utterly gorgeous, soft but still with that delicious salmon richness. It was the most beautiful coral colour, too, possessing none of those fatty white stripes you get with farmed salmon. The rice was soft and tangy, the seeds nutty and crunchy, while the beans and cucumber added a delicious fresh crunch. The mashed avocado really does make this dish, though, providing a nice bridge between the crunchy ingredients and the sticky rice, the hint of lime sharpening everything up. The tangy pickled ginger and salty soy is essential, making the whole thing moreish and addictive.
This makes me want to throw away my sushi-rolling mat. Why bother, when you can just throw everything into a bowl? It's quick to put together, looks absolutely stunning, and is incredibly healthy (although maybe less so when you consider it's so good that you'll want a second helping).
Sushi bowl with salmon sashimi, avocado, lime, edamame and pickled ginger (serves 2):
- 200g sushi rice
- 320ml water
- 3 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 ripe avocado
- Juice of half a lime
- 1/2 tsp flaky sea salt (I used smoked salt)
- A handful of fresh mint or coriander, finely chopped
- 200g Alaskan salmon, very fresh
- A quarter of a cucumber, finely diced
- A couple of handfuls of cooked soya beans or broad beans
- Pickled ginger (from oriental shops or large supermarkets)
- 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds and/or nigella seeds
- Soy sauce
First, cook the rice. Rinse it three or four times then drain. Place in a pan with the water, cover with a lid, bring to the boil then reduce the heat to very low. Cook for 15 minutes, without removing the lid or disturbing the pan. Meanwhile, mix together the rice vinegar, caster sugar and salt. Halve the avocado, remove the stone, then scoop the flesh into a bowl. Roughly mash, using a fork, with the lime juice, salt and chopped mint or coriander. Set aside.
Once the rice is cooked and has absorbed all the water, stir in the vinegar mixture while still warm. Divide the rice between two bowls. Very finely slice the salmon using a sharp knife, then add to the rice. Spoon the avocado mixture on top. Scatter over the cucumber, soya beans, and some pickled ginger, then sprinkle with the seeds. Mix together a little soy sauce and wasabi, then drizzle this over the bowl and serve immediately.
Sometimes, you just have a bit of a brainwave in the kitchen. A sudden spark of inspiration, filling you thrillingly with the utmost conviction that yes, these two ingredients are just made for each other, or that wow, that would be the perfect cooking method for this particular thing, or that yes, it is completely a good idea to alter such and such a recipe in a certain way to make something new and wonderful. These are wonderful little moments of insight, familiar no doubt to anyone who is lucky enough to indulge in the creative process as a hobby or even as a career path. I only wish I had as many moments of revelation during my PhD work as I do during my kitchen hours.
Perhaps this is okay, though - convenient, even. Nature, observing that I am spending my working hours grappling with ridiculously abstract concepts, horrifically complex academic treatises and a general nebulous mass of incoherent ideas, kindly decides to make everything come together and make sense in at least one area of my life. And let's be honest, if there's one time when you want everything to make sense, it's when eating is involved. Far more important than academic matters.
A bowl of kumquats had been providing me with a source of anxiety for a couple of weeks.
(This, in my world, is a totally normal sentence.)
Seriously, though. I was wracking my brains to decide what to do with them. Although I could have made this delightful kumquat and vanilla cheesecake again, I figured I should branch out a bit. I thought about an upside-down cake, but it never materialised. I wanted to use them in a savoury dish, given my penchant for fruit in savoury food, but the ideas weren't really flowing.
While I pondered, there they sat in their little punnet, looking totally inconspicuous in an orange, bulbous sort of way, until I realized that a couple at the bottom of the pile had turned blue and furry, and were thus polluting and infecting the rest with their mouldy pestilence.
Thus began a battle against time, to save the kumquats before that tragic disease of the blue furry coat spread throughout their ranks and decimated the lot.
Gosh, it was stressful.
Kumquats aren't the most common of ingredients. I reckon many of you won't ever have tried them. They look like little elongated oranges, with a firm shiny skin. Their flavour is intensely refreshing, quite sharp and sour but with a really strong citrus hit. They are a powerful little ingredient, and need something quite strong (or sweet/creamy, hence the cheesecake) to balance them out.
I'd been pondering various uses: in salads, as a compote alongside meat (they're quite good with venison), as a compote on top of porridge...until one day, I don't even remember why or how, I suddenly had the brainwave to roast them with some wedges of fennel and serve them with fish.
I can't really tell you why I thought this would be a good idea. I guess it started because I love the combination of fennel and fish. I usually just shave it wafer-thin and serve it as a salad, but I thought its aniseedy crunchiness would be wonderful roasted into soft, melting, sugary tenderness in the oven. I thought roasting the kumquats would concentrate their intense citrus flavour and also soften them a little, as they're quite hard and crunchy when raw. I figured the whole lot - sweet, fresh, crunchy, sour - would pair very well with the rich oiliness of cooked salmon.
I could have complicated this recipe quite a lot. Added some wedges of cooked beetroot, maybe. Some grains or pulses to bulk it out a bit. More herbs. Some toasted pine nuts for crunch. Wilted spinach for greenery. All of these would be excellent additions, I'm sure, but for once I wanted to keep it simple. Just salmon, fennel, kumquats, and mint. Fresh mint works very well with fennel and with citrus, and here it is perfect, giving a lovely freshness to the roasted vegetable and fruit medley.
I sprinkled the kumquats and fennel with a little sugar and drizzled them with oil before roasted them for half an hour or so. Their edges scorch and become burnished and caramelised, while they soften and become more concentrated in flavour, much sweeter and almost melting in texture. Tossed with salt, pepper and fresh mint, they are absolutely delicious.
Finally, a drizzle of some fabulous bergamot-infused olive oil from this wonderful range of infused olive oils that I've mentioned before (see this chocolate and mandarin olive oil cake). If you've never tried bergamot before (apart from maybe in Earl Grey tea), it's fantastic - incredibly zesty and fresh, rather like a cross between a lime, lemon and grapefruit. This oil really packs a punch - it was the first time I'd used it, and I couldn't believe the amount of flavour it brought to the salad, combining really well with the rich fish and the zesty kumquats. If you don't have bergamot oil, though, you could just add a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lime.
This is an incredibly simple recipe, but it is unusual and delicious. The roasted fennel and kumquats with the mint and bergamot oil would make a fabulous side dish to accompany most things: chicken, fish (particularly trout, mackerel and salmon), pork and grilled halloumi cheese would all work wonderfully with it. As it's quite sweet, it works very well with rich things that need a little taming, like oily fish or cheese. It's a real riot of fresh, zingy flavours, yet warm and comforting at the same time from the soft caramelised fennel. I'm pretty proud of this ingredient combination, as it's not one I've ever seen before but it just works so well.
A perfect way to use up an anxiety-inducing bowl of maturing kumquats.
Salmon with roasted kumquats and fennel (serves 2):
- 1 large bulb of fennel, sliced into wedges
- 12 kumquats, halved
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- A few sprigs of fresh mint, leaves finely chopped
- 2 fillets ready-cooked salmon
- 2 tbsp bergamot-infused olive oil (optional - you could also use lemon-infused oil, or just olive oil with a squeeze of lemon juice)
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Place the fennel and kumquats in a baking dish and drizzle over a little olive oil. Scatter with salt, pepper and sprinkle with the sugar. Toss together. Roast for around 30 minutes, until starting to scorch and caramelise, and the fennel is tender.
Divide the fennel and kumquats between two plates. Sprinkle with the mint and flake over the pieces of salmon. Finally, drizzle with the bergamot oil and serve.
(Recipe inspired by Diana Henry's version, here)
Wrap tightly in clingfilm then put in a dish. Find something that will fit inside the dish that you can place on top of the salmon – if using a round dish, a plate should work; if using a square dish, a small chopping board – then put it on top of the fillets and place several weights on top (you can use tin cans).