I was prepared to like the Biltmore Bar & Grill before I tasted the food. Their upstairs dining area is a wonderful indoor garden, a lovely sprawling array of potted plants, small trees and dark foliage. While I love dining al fresco at home, the pleasure of sipping wine and eating a meal surrounded by blooming flora is always slightly undermined by the fact that all I can think about is how much needs weeding, or pruning, or repotting, or how much the lawn needs mowing, or how much that hedge really needs to come down, or how the apple tree is any minute now going to start hurling its fruit at the garden with a vengeance and that no amount of apple crumbles will even begin to deal with its prolific bounty…you see how it goes. At the Biltmore’s aptly-named ‘Garden Grill’, no such worries could intrude upon my eating experience. Instead, I got to enjoy the somewhat eclectic décor (there are two big white sculptures of deer wearing sunglasses in front of a huge, wall-length drinks cabinet, a curtain of rushing water behind the bar and chairs and sofas upholstered in plush velour) without worry, preferably while taking it in over a cocktail from the extensive menu – the Bellinis are lovely, as is the bourbon-based ‘Old Fashioned’.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.
But then you soak the grilled pineapple in a sugar, lime, and vanilla syrup, cover it with toasted coconut, and serve with a scoop (or two...) of vanilla ice cream. It's still vaguely healthy I guess, and absolutely delicious. I think I've written about it before, but it deserves another mention. Also, I got to use my blowtorch to caramelise the top of the pineapple rings, which was more exciting than it perhaps should have been. My friend Helen tells me that the Japanese love pineapple, so it was actually a very themed meal (accidentally, though).