Showing posts with label herbs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label herbs. Show all posts

Monday, 27 January 2014

How to turn a bird into dinner



When people ask me what my favourite thing about food is, I have an instant answer. Cheese, I say. (No not really). What I love most about food, and increasingly notice the more I indulge and explore my passion for this most fundamental of human drives, is that it's a brilliant social tool. Food can bring even the most unlikely people together. I first became aware of this when I spent two years in the Oxford University Royal Naval Unit during my undergraduate degree. Among the many arduous tasks this involved - sailing warships, trying to cook in a metre-wide sea-tossed kitchen while holding a sick bag to your mouth, shoe polishing, cleaning the ship's toilets, the unpleasant itch of mass-produced uniform, swabbing frozen decks without gloves in the middle of January - was the requirement to attend a fair few fancy dinners with various important naval personnel (OK, so not that arduous, really...until I tell you that I had to both wear and therefore learn how to tie a bow tie). Oh good, I thought. Small talk. My favourite.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Lemon balm ice cream


My mother is obsessed with trying to make a gardener out of me. Ignoring my frequent protests - along the lines of 'BUT I KILL EVERYTHING I TOUCH' - she is adopting sneakier and sneakier strategies to turn me into some kind of green-fingered guru. These include: randomly depositing packets of seeds on my desk when she comes to visit; turning up with unrequested surprise armfuls of courgette and tomato plants; constantly steering any conversation round to the potential of my 'lovely little garden'; asking me just to 'come outside and have a look at these plants', a request that then somehow ends with me and my soil-stained fingernails helping to establish said plants in my greenhouse.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Smoked sardines with harissa mango couscous


For those of us who can't afford those tempting 'winter sun' breaks at this time of year (a notion I generally hate and associate with terrifying mental images of lobster-red English bodies splayed out on the Costa del Vomit), there is a much easier way to capture a little of that summer cheer on cold, rainy days: cook your way to it. In the market the other day, I was transfixed by the sheer brightness and colour of the fruit and vegetable displays: vibrant glossy red and yellow peppers; jewel-like cranberries; luminous citrus globes; vivid, feathery fennel; bulbous gleaming aubergines; hot pink shards of rhubarb; marigold, bulgingly ripe persimmons; dusky pink lychees...it's probably the most colourful and inviting I've seen the market all year, and it seemed very fitting that all this wonderful fruit and veg (admittedly, most of it imported), bursting with colour and flavour, appears at the time of year when we most desperately need it.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Baked fig and smoked mozzarella piadina


Generally, as a culture, we're getting to grips pretty well with the idea of street food. It's been the 'next big thing' in gastronomy for a while now, with nomadic vendors of everything from ice cream to burgers, particularly those in London, drawing huge crowds mainly through that potent combination of word of mouth advertising and a half-decent product to sell. I've heard countless stories of an obscure street trader suddenly faced with queues snaking round several streets, packed with people eager to sample his wares, simply because word got out on twitter. Such places are deeply trendy, especially if they start changing location and requiring you to be 'in the know' to actually be able to locate your dinner.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Clementine, rosemary and white chocolate mini muffins



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

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Picota cherry, smoked chicken and goat's cheese salad


I generally consider myself a sweet rather than savoury kind of girl. By that I refer, of course, to my tastes in food, rather than implying that if you came over and licked my arm it would taste sugary. I enjoy baking and the gentle crafting of desserts more than I do the assembly of savoury dishes, and I have a completely unlimited appetite when it comes to the final course of a meal. Especially if it involves crumble and ice cream. Seriously. I have been known to eat half a cheesecake in a single sitting.

Yet when my attention is drawn to a specific fruit - something on sale in the supermarket, maybe, or something that's just come into season and is appearing in ripe, plentiful boxes at the market - I seem to instinctively bypass the natural reaction of contemplating desserts to showcase it, and instead jump straight to thinking up savoury recipes.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Strawberry French toast with basil sugar



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.

[If you like this recipe, please vote for me in the Allinson recipe challenge! The link is here on their Facebook page - all it needs is a click and I'd be eternally grateful!]

Friday, 16 March 2012

Blackberry & rosemary glazed pigeon with mushroom and chestnut risotto


Look at those pigeon breasts. Don't they look like something you'd pick up in a neat vacuum pack from the butcher? Already filleted and trimmed and arranged so all you have to do is chuck them in a pan? All the hard work done for you?

Would you ever guess that they were the result of some extremely amateurish home butchery, mainly involving the hacking of pigeon flesh from bone using a small paring knife and - towards the end, out of frustration - a pair of kitchen scissors? Note to self: there is very little point in buying whole pigeons and not getting the butcher to take the breasts off for you. There's about as much meat on the rest of a pigeon as there is on my little toe. 

Kitchen carnage aside (there was a definite Lady Macbeth moment once I'd finished), these plump, juicy pigeon breasts - once separated from their owners - were the perfect choice to showcase a very special ingredient I picked up at the Feast East food festival in Cambridgeshire a couple of weeks ago.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Mango and avocado salsa - my entry for the Ryvita Challenge


Do you like the look of this mango and avocado salsa? It's a creamy, guacamole-style avocado dip with chilli and lots of fresh herbs (basil, mint and coriander), beautiful sweet chunks of ripe, juicy mango, and lashings of zesty lime goodness.

If you do like it, please click HERE to vote for me in the Ryvita Challenge (the challenge being to create a winning dip to accompany new Ryvita Thins). It'll only take a second (you just have to click an option on a poll) and your help would mean a lot to me.

Thank you!

(Should you want the recipe too, read on.)

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Rosemary honey cupcakes


I'm a bit late for National Cupcake Week, which was 12-18 September, but I think I have a fairly valid excuse. You see, dear readers, when you may have been in the kitchen whipping up delightful sugary treats, I was twenty metres below sea level.

I spent that week in Gibraltar, learning how to scuba dive. It was without doubt the most terrifying experience of my life. In second place would be learning to ski for the first time, but at least when skiing there's no risk of running out of air. Or sharks. Or jellyfish. Or the bends. I suppose you could argue that diving is safer than skiing, with no risk of sudden death by broken neck or back, but it didn't feel that way when I was twenty metres below the ocean surface, freezing my face off in a wetsuit that didn't fit properly, twelve kilos of lead strapped around my waist and almost certainly causing irreparable damage to my ovaries, being asked by my instructor to remove the oxygen-giving device from my mouth or take off my mask underwater and put it back on again. They like to call this "safety drills". I like to call it "torture".

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Honey mango tartlets with basil sugar


I was amazed by the number of responses to a recent Facebook status of mine. I simply updated the world with the fact that "Elly McCausland may have just purchased twenty mangoes", and an hour or so later there were 24 comments. I usually think of this blog as pure self-indulgence, a way of reminding myself that perhaps I'm not completely useless in life and can at least throw together a decent meal and take a half-decent photo. I still think that no one actually reads my posts or cares about the super-delicious cake I baked yesterday or my plans for this season's fruit. Yet I'm constantly surprised by the rate at which my readers are growing (I don't mean literally, though if they are also cooking from this blog as well as reading it, they may well be growing physically too!) Every time I receive a comment on a blog post it feels like an exciting novelty. Few things have made me happier than the time a friend made my fruit cheesecake recipe and posted pictures of the success on Facebook, or when another friend of mine informed me that her mum had been using recipes from my blog, because "it's such a good cooking resource!" I appreciate every single comment, whether from friends who are my avid followers and seem to read about everything I make, or from people I don't know who have just stumbled across this blog and found they rather liked it (they were probably looking for Jamie Oliver's fish recipe or Nigella's teriyaki chicken, which is how most people find this site...but I'm sure it's only a matter of time before a quick google of 'Elly McCausland's sheer gastronomic genius' is the most popular referral for this blog).

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Smoked chicken and mango rice salad


I was once trying to decide what to cook for a group of hungry navy people at our weekly drill night. The options were beef goulash, or an all-time favourite of mine: chicken with apricots, almonds and coriander. Unable to decide (as so often in my life), I asked a friend of mine who shares my passion for all things edible. He suggested that the latter sounded "much more of an 'Elly' dish, being full of fruit". Such is my love of introducing the sweet, tart and juicy to savoury dishes that apparently they deserve to be named after me. I'm practically up there with the likes of Caesar, Eve and Arnold Bennett (of salad, apple pudding and omelette fame, respectively). Incidentally, for those of you who, like me, are now curious about the number of foodstuffs named after people, Wikipedia has an excellent article on the subject here. It's surely only a matter of time before dishes like this salad appear on the list as "Elly dishes".

(Disclaimer: I don't actually have such an over-inflated and grandiose sense of self-importance that I really believe I am unique and revolutionary in liking fruit in my savoury dishes, or that I deserve to have food named after me).

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Sage-crusted veal with summer vegetables

This week Rachel from The Crispy Cook is hosting Weekend Herb Blogging, and I'm going to explore the summery possibilities of sage.


Sage is a herb I rarely use. I think, like most English people, I associate it simply with the stuffing for the Christmas turkey, or other heavy, pork-laden winter fare. When I think of cooking with herbs, I think of gorgeous, vibrant bunches of coriander, with their bright, yellow-green leaves the exact colour of ripe limes. I think of feathery dill, in large quivering bunches, with its slender leaves like little jade needles. I think of fresh mint, possibly my favourite aroma in the world, reminiscent of lemons in its freshness. I once stalked a small boy halfway across the suburbs of Marrakech because he was carrying the biggest bunch of mint I've ever seen in my life, and it was perfuming the surrounding air with its zesty scent. I think of the sharp, astringent, aniseedy snap of fresh basil or the beautiful delicacy of a sprig of thyme, barely wider than one of my own hairs, with its tiny pointed leaves, those ready for picking sporting a delightful purple blush where they meet the stem. I had never noticed this until a chef I once worked for pointed it out to me, instructing me to harvest only the leaves with a deep, flushed underside for whatever dish he was cooking at the time. But rarely do I think of the braille-like pebbly texture of sage leaves, the muted jade green of a Regency drawing room, with their deeply aromatic and somehow comforting scent; designed, it seems, to be paired with other comfort foods to bring cheer in the darkest winter.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Lemon sole with caramelised fennel, lentils and salsa verde


Now that the time is approaching when I will have to leave Oxford for good, my thoughts have turned to my freezer. Well, actually, my thoughts have turned to a sense of impending doom, devastation and heartbrokenness at the thought of leaving my lovely room, this lovely city, and my lovely friends. However, in quasi-Freudian style I am transferring all those worries, too large and emotionally incapacitating to deal with in one go, onto my freezer, which is at least a tangible and vaguely solvable problem. Namely, there is too much stuff in it. The other day I told a friend what was in my freezer, and they suggested I should post the list on Facebook as evidence that I am "the most middle class person ever". 

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Inspiration from Damascus: lemon and mint cheesecake


Last summer I travelled around the Middle East with some friends. The highlight of the trip was definitely Syria, a country I'd been longing to visit for ages, though without knowing precisely why. I was captivated by its heat, its chaos, the charm of its people, and - above all - its food. One of the many gastronomic items that stand out in my recollection is actually a beverage, which is unusual for me - I tend to only ever consume four drinks: water, tea, wine and gin. Smoothies sometimes, if I've made them myself to use up overripe fruit, and occasionally the odd sip of juice from my boyfriend's glass if he offers it to me, but that's about it. I don't go in for fruit juice, generally seeing it as unnecessary calories that could be better expended on a large piece of cake.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Lemon thyme ice cream with orange souffl├ęs


I've decided to get involved with Weekend Herb Blogging, which is being hosted this week by Cinzia from Cindystar. This basically entails blogging about using a herb or plant ingredient in cooking. I always think it's rather a nice idea to use a recipe to showcase a single element, particularly where it's used in a way that you might not have considered before. This lemon thyme ice cream does exactly that: highlights the sheer beauty of what I believe is a sadly underrated herb, but in a surprising context: sweet rather than savoury. At the moment I'm rather excited by the potential of herbs in ice cream: I've already tried bay leaf ice cream (brilliant with orchard fruit crumble) and basil ice cream, and I have a (top-secret) list of other ideas I can't wait to try out. I can't resist lemon thyme in my cooking lately. It has an indescribably alluring aroma, with citrussy overtones as the name suggests, but tangy herbal notes like you might find in coriander. I'm always surprised at quite how lemony it tastes. Adding it to a dish results in a burst of freshness, with a wonderful floral backnote.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

A feisty fish and a sexy salsa


I have made this several times, and every time I eat it I wonder why I don't make it every day. Then I remember why: because if I bought fresh swordfish for dinner every day, I would be bankrupt. It also works with tuna, but again, bankruptcy is imminent if one makes a lifestyle choice to live off fresh tuna. Unfortunate, because fresh tuna and fresh swordfish steaks are two of the most delicious piscine ingredients (albeit ones that are hard to eat with a clear conscience - get yours from somewhere reputable and committed to sustainability, or risk depriving the seas of these truly beautiful creatures). Much denser and meatier than a delicate fillet of something like cod or seabass, or even salmon, they are at their best (I think) when seasoned, rubbed with oil and slapped on a smoking hot griddle pan. Or even better, a barbecue. Given that in my house a barbecue is about as rare as a British barbecue summer, I got a little bit overexcited at the prospect of cooking swordfish on the barbecue for the first time this weekend.