A Teambuilding Triumph

Dora's Kitchen

Team Build Differently

I was less than thrilled when I heard we had a team building thing as part of the staff Coming Back Week, where all the staff from all of the offices get together for strategy work, training and other discussions. I quickly changed my mind, when I heard about what we were doing.

Ingrdient Boxes, ready to go at Dora's Kitchen

What a Greeting

When you work for an organisation that campaigns to make food fairer, you don’t get to experience team building exercises  like yomping miles through a forest, or trying to get two people from A to B over a 2 m high obstacle with two bits of rope and a plank of wood. No, luckily for us; we get to cook.

Elizabeth of Dora's KItchen

The Warmest of Welcomes

We were going to experience Surinamese cooking. We were ushered in by Elizabeth of Dora’s Kitchen, who greeted us all with a big smile, a plate of tasty snacks and some delicious fruit drinks. Their motto is “Anders Koken”, which translates as “Cook Different”, and this was my first attempt at Surinamese dishes, my first ever cookery class, and it was certainly a different team building exercise. I think they lived up to their motto.

Team Building at Dora's Kitchen

And They’re Off!

After setting the tone for the day, we were divided into smaller teams, and found out what we would be cooking. The choices were Peanut Butter Soup, Bacaljauw moksi alesi (salt cod with coconut rice), Fruit Punch, Spicy Baked Aubergines, and little pastries (I didn’t catch what these were called). I have to say, I was a little sceptical, at the sound of some of the dishes, especially Peanut Butter Soup.

Preparing backaljauw

The Fish Dish

I was in one of the teams tasked with making the bacaljauw. This was more about team building than I had anticipated, because the recipe was a little baffling in parts. At first, I suspected that this was because it had been mangled by an online translation engine, but then I came to the conclusion it was to encourage us to work together to work out what it meant.

Making a pot a steamer

Finding Food Solutions

Team members were swapped around after a little while, but the work carried on.

Making Peanut Butter Soup

Stirring it Up Amongst Colleagues

It was interesting to learn about some new techniques, and from the buzz in the room, it seems that the rest of my work mates thought so too.

Making Fruit Punch

Punchy – The Fruit, Not My Work Mates

Despite the seeming chaos, it all came together pretty well in the end. We managed to produce dishes that the Surinamese teachers were pleased with.

All the best fruit and vegetables

Yes! We Have No Bananas (these are plantain)

Although the teachers were all very keen that the Madame Jeanette peppers (they are a bit like Scotch Bonnets) didn’t go into any of the dishes too soon. All spicy food over here is toned down for the “Dutch palate”. I find it really funny that a nation who got very rich on trading spices around the World don’t appreciate the heat of many of the dishes that people make with them.

making Cassava Balls

The Finishing Touches

The best part was that we got to sit down together and eat the fruits of our labour. I loved the event, I thought that it is a great way to get an organisation to come together and share an experience.

The finished Products

The Finished Products

And it turns out that everything was delicious, too. Even the Peanut Butter Soup – who knew?

The Washing Up!

The Washing Up!

If you are responsible for organising a team building exercise, and you like your colleagues, then I’d recommend giving a cookery workshop a go. Obviously, please don’t try this at home if you work with people who should not be in a confined space with sharp knives!

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A Picnic on Public Transport

Asparagus and Potato Tart

Tarted Up Leftovers

The Big Guy and I are seasoned travellers. If you live in a different country from either of your families, you have to get used to the rhythm of packing, transport, and departure times. Where we can, we take the train; it has a much better rhythm – with a continuity of movement, both in terms of the motion of the carriages, and because there is no hanging about in a departure lounge, or being forced through an array of harshly lit shops. The train gets you where you need to be without fuss; you have space to sit comfortably and to move around.

One of the things that we haven’t got the rhythm of is taking our own food. Although, I do know exactly where all the best places to buy food along the journey are. We have recently returned from one such trip abroad, although this time, we had a leg of the journey on a coach. It was OK, but I will be glad if they ever sort out the troubles on trains run by a certain rail company, which has been unable to run for far too long now.

We decided that we should be better prepared for this journey. Since our usual rhythm was interrupted, I could not guarantee getting to my favourite pit stops. I also had a few ingredients in the fridge that wouldn’t last until we returned. So, the obvious choice was to make something to take with us. A picnic, of sorts.

I had a little of the salad, some cream and some eggs that needed using up from the dinner I made for friends, and a few last sprigs of chervil. As so often happens, the day before I was leaving I woke up and knew that these would be perfect in a tart, with some goat’s cheese. We could have some for dinner that evening, and then we could take the rest as a picnic for the coach the next day.

Like many of the best laid plans, the idea for a nice goat cheese went a bit awry. It was a bank holiday, and none of the usual shops were open, so I had to dispatch the Big Guy to the supermarket. Unfortunately, all they had in the way of goat cheese was some presliced stuff, that could have been any generic cheese. It certainly never has the tang of goat that I was looking for in this dish. Fortunately, he returned with some sharp, crumbly feta instead. This was a much better option, it needed to match the asparagus.

The tart was tasty, filling and survived the journey. So did the salad we had with it, because we dressed it en route from a small jar. This is my top tip for picnic salads – if you dress it before you travel, the salad will cook in the acid, and you will be left with a container full of flaccid disappointment.

Cheese Please blog badgeFour Seasons Food Challenge Chez Foti & Delicieux

I know I have entered my dishes into a lot of blog hops lately, but I couldn’t resist entering this recipe into the inaugural Cheese Please Challenge, hosted by Fromage Homage. Then I heard about the inaugural Four Seasons Food, dreamed up by Anneli at Delicieux and Louisa at Chez Foti. This dish is so apt for both.

This was my perfect public transport picnic, and I didn’t waste anything in my fridge. I’d love to hear what appears on your picnic blanket, or even coach seat when you make food for on the go.

Recipe: Asparagus and Potato Tart

Ingredients

For the Pastry: 

100 g plain flour

50 g cold salted butter

Really good grinding of black pepper

1 egg yolk

For the Filling:

100 ml cream

4 eggs

small bunch chervil, very finely chopped

100 g of leftover asparagus salad, or 3-4 small salad potatoes and 5 asparagus spears cooked until just tender, and cut into 5 cm chunks

2 spring onions, sliced finely

90 g feta cheese

Method

Season the flour. I wanted this pastry to taste peppery, the rest of the tart can hold its own. Don’t be afraid of adding  more pepper than you think.

Rub the cold butter (it needs to be fridge temperature) into the seasoned flour until you have a breadcrumb consistency. Add the egg yolk and bring together into a dough. If you need to, you can add a little bit of cold milk to make it all come together. Add a splash at a time.

Form a disc with the dough, and cover it with cling film or foil, and leave it to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes to an hour.

Heat the oven to 200°C. Roll the pastry out thinly on a floured surface. Carefully line a greased flan case with the pastry, and press into the sides or fluting with a small offcut of pastry in a ball, to avoid any tears or holes, you don’t want the filling to leak and burn on the bottom.

Prick the bottom of the pastry all over with a fork. Line the pastry with greaseproof paper, and add a good layer of blind bake – this can be ceramic beans, dried beans or rice – to give some weight help keep it flat and thin. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the pastry looks dry and is beginning to brown on the sides. Remove the blind bake, and put back in the oven to allow the pastry to cook all over to a light golden colour.

While the pastry is browning, whisk together the cream, eggs, and chervil.

Once the tart case is cooked, remove and turn the oven down to 180°C.

Pick the salad over to remove any leftover capers and cornichons. Scatter the rest over the tart case, so that you get pretty even cover. Then scatter over the spring onions and crumble the feta around, again, so that the coverage is quite even.

Pour the eggs and cream over the rest of the filling, shaking the case a little, to ensure even distribution. Return it to the oven and bake for a further 30-40 minutes, or until the centre is just set, but still has a little wobble if you shake it.

As with all quiches, this is great served hot or cold, but if you want to serve it warm, let it rest for about 10 minutes after it comes out of the oven, so that the filling does not ooze all over the plate.

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Dressing Up Your Dinner With Rhubarb

Tilapia Fillet and Rhubarb Vinaigrette

Best Dressed Fish This Season

Following on from my inspiration to pair rhubarb with fennel, I have been doing a few more experiments with rhubarb. I have lifted today’s idea almost wholesale from the Mister Kitchen rhubarb tasting menu. They served a sea bass with spinach and a rhubarb vinaigrette. It was great. Of course, I had to come home and fiddle about with it.

Rhubarb is most frequently eaten as dessert, and I am certainly partial to desserts and cakes with it in. People forget that it is actually a vegetable. It is seldom seen in savoury dishes, although I do know that a few bloggers have been experimenting with salads and as savoury compotes lately, so maybe there is a resurgence of rhubarb as a side dish in the offing. Who knows?

I certainly have a few more ideas that I want to try before my plant goes over this year, or I rest it in preparation for winter. Of course, once I am happy with each of the dishes, I will be sharing them here with you.

The version that I ate at Mr Kitchen had a mild olive oil, finely diced rhubarb and kalamata olives, with the stones pushed out, and the flesh torn into chunks. It was rustic and very simple. And it was delicious with the fish and the greens.

I spent quite a while messing about with various things, including shallots, herbs, black pepper, chillies, and so on. I have come to the conclusion that simple really is best. Shallots and rhubarb are both very astringent, so makes for a very sharp dressing, although that might be because I also acidulated the shallots in lemon juice first to take the rawness out of them. This combination as really an ingredient too far for me, so I ditched the shallots in favour of paring everything down

Raw rhubarb is crunchy and subtle. If you decide to follow my lead and make up a vinaigrette yourself, make sure whatever you use does not over power it. I stuck with very simple flavours for this vinaigrette – in fact it is a classic French dressing, with the addition of rhubarb. It works quite well with a pinch of chilli flakes, and with tarragon or chervil, instead of the mustard. I personally think that it is better with the more grassy olive oils, not the really punchy ones, but you may disagree.

Simple and in Season Blog Badge

 

Since there is nothing simpler than a vinaigrette, and rhubarb is at the peak of the season, I thought that I’d be a bot cheeky and have two entries to this month’s Simple and in Season, hosted by Ren Behan.

I do recommend that you give a rhubarb dressing a go. This one was lovely with salad and great with fish (I served it with tilapia fillet). I bet it would also be perfect with pork or chicken too.

What classic dressings do you know that might benefit from a little rhubarb?

Recipe: Rhubarb Vinaigrette

Ingredients

About 1/2 stalk very finely diced raw rhubarb

2-3 tbsp Grassy extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Zest of half a lemon, pared

Lemon juice to taste

Method

Once the rhubarb is prepared, Whisk together the mustard, zest and olive oil.

I used lemon with this dressing, because I wanted it to go with fish. You could also team the dressing with orange. Grapefruit works as well, although you will need much less than half the grapefruit zest. Which one you choose is entirely up to you, and you can change it to match your dish.

Add the rhubarb, and season. You will need to taste it at this stage. I found that adding a little lemon juice really lifted this into a great dressing, but the amount that you will need will depend on which citrus you are using, and how sharp your rhubarb is; which will vary with age, size and how long ago it was harvested.

Serve immediately if you can, on fish, a salad, or anything you like really. It does keep for a couple of days in the fridge, but it is better fresh, because the rhubarb will lose its crunch. So simple, there’s no excuse not to give this a go!

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First in, Best Dressed

Asparagus Salad, Chervil Dressing and Asparagus Mousse-Stuffed Chicken Ballotine

Made for Each Other

I may have already mentioned how inspired I was by the Rollende Keukens (only once or twice…). I ate so many good things there, that I am now experimenting with.

Nestled in amongst the stalls, was the Bar d’Asperge, which sold all manner of brilliant dishes with asparagus; from the Dutch classic – white asparagus with ham, egg and a bechamel sauce, to grilled green asparagus, pasta salad and all manner of other things. I was in search of something on the healthier side to counterbalance all the barbecued goodies that the Big Guy was queueing for. We were both also hungry, so I wanted something substantial, too.

Asparagus Salad with a Delicious sour cream & chervil dressing

A Healthy Option – Fresh Asparagus Salad

I came across this lovely salad, which contained potatoes, white and green asparagus, mushrooms, capers and cornichons. As the lady served it to me, she smothered it in a dressing, casually mentioning it was home-made. It was good – creamy, rich and spiked with chervil. Asparagus and chervil: if ever a herb were meant to go with a vegetable, it would have to be these two.

I tried many things at the Rollende Keukens, but to be honest, I don’t remember much else from the first day that I went there. This salad, and this sauce have consumed the rest of my memories. I knew I had to recreate it, and I knew that I would need to do a bit of research first. A lot of the sauces I looked at were stock based, and thickened with cream. This dressing certainly had sour cream, but was sharper and fresher than that.

I thought that you would need the thickness of a mayonnaise to give the sauce its consistency. I also knew that a shop-bought mayonnaise would make it too claggy. Then I remembered that it was perfectly possible to make mayonnaise yourself, and I could make it at the thickness that I felt appropriate. And so, a homemade mayonnaise with a neutral-tasting oil was my starting point, and it went really well from there.

This salad, and the sauce went perfectly with the chicken ballotines that I stuffed with asparagus mousse. I am not a fan of white asparagus, so I left it out. The original salad also had silverskin onions in. I am not a huge fan of these, either, as I prefer the sharp tang of a home-made pickled onion to the sweetness of these tiny alliums.

I hope that you have a go at this sauce, I know a lot of people are put off by making a mayonnaise, but with this amount of oil, there shouldn’t be a problem, as long as you add the oil in very small amounts, and whisk it well in between so that it all of the oil is incorporated into the emulsion before you add the next lot.

Herbs on Saturday Blog Badge

As this dish makes use of one of my favourite herbs, I’m entering it into Herbs on Saturday, by Karen at Lavender and Lovage, which is being hosted this month by Anneli at Delicieux. You probably won’t come across chervil in the supermarkets, so look out for it at markets and farm shops. Or, even better, get hold of some seeds; it is one of the easiest of all of the herbs to grow from seed, the flavour is more intense, it has beautiful white flowers that are also tasty and will seed itself quite happily – if you don’t eat all the flowers first.

Asparagus Salad and Chervil Dressing

This recipe serves 4 people

For the Dressing:

1 egg yolk

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Lemon juice to taste

100 ml sunflower oil

100 g sour cream

15 g chervil, finely chopped

salt

For the Salad:

The proportions that I mention here are approximate. You can also adjust or add to your taste, things such as silverskin onions, hard-boiled egg, different mushrooms (Morels would be great if you can find them), spring onions, and probably many other things.

250 g small salad potatoes

100 g chestnut mushrooms

400 g asparagus (white, green or both)

2 tbsp capers

50 g cornichons

Chervil leaves to garnish

First make the dressing. Start with an egg yolk in a mixing bowl. Add the Dijon mustard, a pinch of salt and a good squeeze of lemon juice, and whisk together well. I did this by hand, because the heat from a food processor or stick blender is enough to scramble one egg yolk. You need a little lemon juice, because the you are essentially making an emulsion, and the acid helps to stabilise it, and stop it splitting. Don’t worry if you don’t think it is enough, you can add more later.

Then slowly add the oil, a little at a time. Make sure that it is well incorporated into the egg before you add more. Keep doing this until the oil is finished, or you think that you have a fairly thick mayonnaise. The exact amount that you’ll need will depend on the size and the age of the yolk.

Once you have a thick mayonnaise, whisk in the sour cream. Stir in the chervil. Season with salt, and taste to see if it is sharp enough for your tastes. If it isn’t, squeeze some more lemon juice into the mix. Set aside to allow the flavour to develop.

Boil the potatoes until they are just tender. Drain and set aside to cool.

Cut the mushrooms into quarters, grind over some black pepper and salt, and fry in a little oil or butter until the mushrooms have given up their moisture.

Break off the woody ends from the asparagus, and cut into 5 cm chunks. Blanche in boiling water for no more than 3 minutes, you want the asparagus to retain some bite. Refresh in iced water, or by running the pieces under a cold tap. Drain, and add to a salad bowl.

Cut the potatoes in half. I did mine on the diagonal for interestingly shaped salad. Add to the salad bowl, along with the mushrooms, capers and asparagus. If the cornichons are really tiny, add them whole. If they are slightly larger cut them in half lengthways, or into large chunks. Stir well.

Serve garnished with chervil leaves and with a generous helping of the dressing.

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A Mousse Ate In a Windmill (In Old Amsterdam)

Asparagus Mousse and soft poached egg on sourdough toast

Twist on a Breakfast Classic

This year is the first year that I have been able to harvest my own asparagus. As you must, I planted four crowns two years ago, and it has been an agonising wait. I also thought that I’d been a little over zealous with the first harvest. I waited until I had a good few stalks, and before they got too long, then I plucked them all with the eagerness of a beaver who had just been presented with his own river that runs through a hardwood forest. I had the first batch simply steamed, and accompanied by a soft-boiled egg.

And then I waited. And waited. And the anxiety rose. And I started to worry that, having waited so long to crop them, I had been too impatient or greedy and that I would have to plant more crowns and wait another 2 years.

Asparagus Shoots Coming Anew in My Garden

Hope Springs Eternal

And then I went into the garden this morning, and was delighted to find this stalk poking its way through the soil and mulch. I will have more home-grown asparagus again this year, after all.

I had a few friends round to dinner at the weekend, which coincided with my panicky dearth of my own asparagus. But, I really wanted to  make asparagus the star of my main course, given that it is only with us for such a short time. So I dreamed up a main course that consisted of an asparagus salad, and a ballotine of chicken, stuffed with asparagus mousse. I have to admit, the food was lovely, seasonal and fresh, but my ballotine-making skills definitely require honing. They were not the most beautiful, and one or two lost some of the stuffing. But my guests enjoyed them, so I guess that is what matters.

Chicken Breast Stuffed with Asparagus Mousse

A Total Farce!

I also made far too much mouse for the number of chicken breasts (and, indeed, guests) I had. So, the next morning, I cooked up the rest in a water bath, and had it for breakfast on some sourdough toast and topped with a poached egg. It was a great breakfast. I can also imagine this mousse served as a starter, with crayfish, or maybe even lobster, if you want to push the boat out.

Simple and in Season Blog BadgeOne Ingredient, Asparagus How To Cook Good Food Blog Badge

I can’t get enough asparagus at this time of the year, and of course, there is never any waste, because I always use the woodier ends to make soup. I can eat them simply, or in recipes. But I’m always looking out for new recipes to make and to inspire. We have a few more weeks of the season left, so if you have some great asparagus recipes, link them up in the comment section. I’m also entering this into Ren Behan’s Simple and in Season, since there is nothing more seasonal than asparagus right now; and into One Ingredient, hosted this month by Laura at How To Cook Good Food since it is really appropriate right now.

Recipe: Asparagus Mousse

Ingredients

700 g asparagus

2 small shallots, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, sliced thinly

1 tbsp oil

100 ml cream

2 eggs

20 g chervil

Plenty of salt and pepper

Method

Remove any woody ends from the asparagus, by gently snapping them. As I have mentioned, no need to waste this bit, it may not be good to chew in a dish, but makes a great soup, or you can add it to vegetable stock, for an additional chlorophyl hit.

Cut the asparagus spears into 3-5 cm lengths, and blanch in boiling water for about 2-3 minutes, depending on the width of the stalks. Refresh immediately under a running tap, or in iced water. You don’t want them to continue cooking, as they do cook for longer later in the process.

Soften the shallots and the garlic in the oil, until they are translucent. Keep them moving, so they do not catch. I always find that shallots will burn much quicker than onions. Once they are done, blend up with the asparagus, and the roughly chopped chervil. If you want to be really cheffy, you’d blend them then pass them through a drum sieve or something similarly fine. I am less cheffy, and was perfectly happy to have a bit of texture in my mousse, so I blended it up as fine as I could get it in my food processor.

Asparagus mousse of the right consistency for stuffing

Stuffing Thick

Beat the eggs and cream together, and stir in the asparagus mixture. The mixture should be pretty thick for a stuffing, but you could thin it with a little more cream if you intend to make a mousse. Season it really well. It will need it.

Then you can either use it to stuff meat, which should be poached gently in water or stock; or you can put it into greased ramekins or dariole moulds, and cook it in a bain marie until it is just set. The time you need will depend on the size of your mould. It took me about 20 minutes, but I was using pretty large ramekins.

If you have greased your dish well enough, you should be able to turn it out. I did this, but decided that I wanted to serve it on toast, and you’ll find it also spreads nicely.

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Young and Foolish

Fennel Rhubarb Foolish

Going Foolish Over Spiced Rhubarb

Today’s inspiration has come from two places. During the rhubarb tasting menu at Mister Kitchen at the Rollende Keukens, I had a bit of a revelation. As part of the main, they had roasted a few chunks of rhubarb and served them with pork, and a slice of their very good sausage. The sausage had fennel seed in it, and I tried this with a bit of the rhubarb, and the combination is incredible.

I came back from the tasting with a head full of experiments with rhubarb, both sweet and savoury, and if they work, you’ll see some of them on edible things soon.

But, I knew I needed to do something with the fennel and rhubarb as soon as possible. I am still playing with this, but one of the first things that I did was to stew some up with a few fennel seeds. This really is amazing. And surprisingly, the fennel seems to sweeten the rhubarb, so you need a lot less sugar. I had this with some plain yoghurt for breakfast.

swallow-recipes-for-life

Then, I saw this Month’s Recipe for Life, held by Vanesther over at Bangers and Mash. This is in aid of Swallows, a charity that supports adults with learning difficulties. Vanesther is much more eloquent than I could be on the subject, so please do check out her site to read more about it.

This month, she has chosen rhubarb, spice and lemon as the three key ingredients this month, and I knew this was the challenge for me. It will be good to share the brilliant combination of rhubarb and fennel as, really, more people should know about this.

I deliberated for a few days as to how I could best bring some lemon into the mix. Then I got invited round to a friend’s with some other fabulous ladies, and it prompted me to come up with the dish I am entering. The dish needed to be simple, mobile (because I was going to take it round to my friend’s) and most of all the lemon needed to balance with the subtle fennel.

The obvious choice would have been a classic rhubarb fool. Fools are pretty nice, but there is also something to be said for a syllabub, which is essentially cream and alcohol, and what’s not to like about that? Some kind souls had left a bottle of Pernod, and one of Limoncello following a party sometime, and then I had the basis for a few experiments in syllabub. Turns out that both of these are pretty good, but the Limoncello just about had the edge.

Whilst thinking about this, I decided to try to add some texture with some candied fennel, which I’ve also been thinking of having a go at for a while. It really does add interest and an additional subtle fennel taste, but it would also work without it. And now you know what the suspense was all about from my last post.

So, here is the recipe for my Fennel Rhubarb Foolish. Not quite a fool, and not quite a syllabub, and there’s not a lot that’s foolish about that.

Fennel Rhubarb Foolish

Not Fool, Not Foolish

Recipe: Fennel Rhubarb Foolish 

This recipe is enough for 5 people if you serve it from a wine glass

Ingredients

300 g rhubarb, chopped into chunks

1/2 tsp fennel seed

Juice of half a lemon

splash water

2 tbsp sugar

250 ml cream

50 g sugar

250 ml greek yoghurt

25 ml Limoncello

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Juice of half a lemon

Candied Fennel

Method

Firstly, lightly stew the rhubarb with the fennel seed, lemon juice, and sugar. Add a splash of water, to prevent the rhubarb from burning as you apply the heat, but be aware that it will give off liquid itself, so don’t add too much, you don’t want it swimming. As I said, the fennel takes the sharpness off the fruit, so don’t add too much sugar, you can always add more towards the end of the cooking process if you need to. Cover the pan, and stew it on a low heat until the fruit just starts to break down. Taste for sweetness and fennel, and add more sugar or fennel seeds (not a lot) if necessary.

If there is a lot of liquid, strain it off. Don’t throw it away, it is great to macerate strawberries and raspberries in, or to use instead of a simple syrup in some cocktails.

Set the stewed rhubarb aside to cool. Meanwhile, whip up the cream, sugar and lemon zest until the cream forms soft peaks. Add in the yoghurt, and fold it through. A classic syllabub is usually just cream and wine, but I wanted this to be slightly more substantial, hence the yoghurt.

Once the cream and yoghurt is well combined, add the lemon juice and the limoncello. Taste to make sure it tastes lemony enough for you, but not so lemony that your face puckers like a disapproving octogenarian. Add more lemon juice or limoncello to taste.

Finally, layer up in wine glasses, with rhubarb, candied fennel, the syllabub, a dollop more rhubarb and the candied fennel stalk to finish. Then bore your friends while you take photos and they wait hungrily for a lovely tagine (that was made by my friend, not me at our dinner party).

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I Want (Fennel) Candy

Candied Fennel

Sweet and Fresh

Having been inspired to start blogging again, I have been making the most of recent inspiration for the next few Feast posts. The cooking and recipes, as always, are my own, but credit for the dishes are definitely due elsewhere. I take a magpie approach to food, often finding shiny little pieces here and there. Maybe one day I’ll enter the 21st century and get myself a smart phone, but for now, I forage for ideas, as well as edibles, and record them all in a series of notebooks, which I have to go digging through in order to remember the inspirations. Does anyone else do this? Please tell me that I am not the only one scribbling things down furtively in restaurants, shops and even the street. For me, it is like foraging and farming in note form, and as much of an obsession as they are for me in real life.

I’m sure we are all familiar with candied peel, and even crystalised angelica, if you are fond of cake decoration. These days , it seems that candied vegetables of all nature are appearing on both sweet and savoury dishes in restaurants and pop ups up and down the country. One of the first, and the one that instantly caught my magpie eye was candied fennel. I have also seen candied celery and beets (especially chioggia beets) among other things on menus, although I find the idea of them much less appealing.

Fennel is one of my favourite vegetables, and I love it in risotto, soup, and salad, braised, roasted and raw. This is a great way to use the tougher outer leaves and stalky bits if you are not keeping them for stock, too.

This version is really simple, despite my fears that it may require multiple exposures to sugar syrups of varying strengths, it isn’t the case. I kept mine plain, but they are also good served as sweets, and sprinkled with sugar.

Today’s recipe was inspired by Simon Rogan, who is a far better forager and cook than I could ever hope to be. I can’t remember where I first heard about it, but I suspect it was on a cookery programme, because  I have written down “candied fennel, Rogan. V. interesting, possibly for strawberry tarts? Experiment”. I finally got round to making this, as part of an even wider experiment, that does not involve strawberries or tarts of any kind, but you’ll have to wait until my next Feast post to find out more about what I wanted them for. This cliffhanger is not quite of Eastenders Duff Duff proportions, but hopefully, you’ll want to keep reading.

Recipe: Candied fennel

Ingredients

50 g sugar

50 ml water

1 tbsp lemon juice

Half a fennel bulb diced

Method

Make a simple sugar with the water, sugar and lemon juice. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.

Add the fennel. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer until the fennel is translucent, but retains some texture. It took me about 15 minutes, but it depends on the size of the dice,  and how much bite you want them to have.

Remove from the heat, and strain off the cooking syrup. Don’t discard this, it is perfectly good for other uses, and you know it’s a shame to waste such a tasty sauce.

Put some greaseproof paper, wax side up on a baking tray, and spread the fennel dice out into a single layer. Allow to cool on the tray, then store in an airtight container before use.

Enjoy them on their own, with sugar or as part of something delicious.

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Let The Good Times Rollende

Fire breathing dragon at the Rollende Keukens

They’re Back, and This Time, They’re Smokin’

Hello, I’m back, and so is the Rollende Keukens! Unlike me, who has had an unexpected break for very dull reasons, the Rollende Keukens is an annual event, and this year it’s bigger, bolder and busier than ever.

Oysters, Razor Clams and Prosecco to Kick Start Rollende Keukens 2013

Shellfish and Prosecco: Always the Perfect Start to Any Festival

There are many of the same stalls as we found last year, but there are a lot of new stalls, and also new concepts from old favourites. This year there is much more music, although sadly there are fewer lectures.

BBQ At Rollende Keukens

On Trend

As we made our way around the stalls yesterday, some trends were very clear. Last year, cocktail bars reigned supreme. This year it is all about the barbecue, with many stalls selling spit-roasts, pulled pork, char-grilled chickens, and much more.

Chickens in one of the stalls

Chicken: On Many Stalls, and In One of Them

Of course, there is more to offer, from around the world, from Indian and Thai to Mexican. There are new styles of cuisine, and even some healthy options. The crew from Fifteen Amsterdam have brought a mobile kitchen this year, although there was no sign of Jamie Oliver. I noticed that a lot more stalls have an eye on sustainability, with great organic, more local, and brilliant seasonal fare on offer.

Asparagus Salad with a Delicious sour cream & chervil dressing

A Healthy Option – Fresh Asparagus Salad

There are also a good deal more sweet vans, selling ice creams, cakes, churros, crepes, poffertjes, and all manner of delicious puddings.

Speakeasy Oyster bar

Putting on the Shellfish Ritz

It also seems that there is a lot more glamour this year. The stallholders have really upped their game, with stylish stalls, and beautifully decorated servers. The vans are festooned with beautiful and themed decoration, that matches the beautiful food. 

Rabarcello - tasty rhubarb schnaps

Rabarcello – Delicious and Inspiring

Of course, as one of the organisers of the Rollende Keukens, Mister Kitchen is back, with another lovely rhubarb tasting menu, which at €15 for three courses is an absolute steal. We have lined this up for Saturday, but places go quickly, so we’ll need to be prompt. I can already heartily recommend the Rabarcello. Delicious and refreshing. Of course, I’m eyeing this up to experiment with for my rhubarb glut.

World's Smallest Restaurant

The Littlest Resturant

The most exciting concept I found so far this year is the World’s Smallest Restaurant. Although I didn’t take my tape measure, This cannot be larger than 2m x 1.5m, and is really cute. You get a reservation for 10 minutes, and booking is essential, because this is popular, although the waiting list is not too long.

Inside the World's Smallest Restaurant 1

Tasteful Decor

Inside is lovely, with cute decor, and well-thought out features. The curtain at the front is very fine, and you can see out onto all the people getting excited about the restaurant, but they can’t see you.

Ordering at the World's Smallest Restaurant

Short Orders

The restaurant feels very private. And is so small that the waiters can’t fit in it too. You order through a letterbox…

Service at The World's Smallest Restaurant

Through the Hatch!

…and receive your food through a hatch in the back wall. There is a limited choice, although for €3.50 per person, it really is exceptionally good value for money, as you get two tapas dishes and a drink. The smallest restaurant in the World, with the smallest prices in the World.  You can’t say fairer than that.

A Very Unusual DJ Booth

A Very Unusual DJ Booth

Rollende Keukens is on from 13.00 – 23.00 for the whole of Helmervaart Weekend (Thursday 9th May to Sunday 12th May). This is long enough to break your visits into bite-sized pieces, so you could conceivably eat from every stall.

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Making Plans with Nigel

Vegetable, Bean & Citrus Stew

Stew, Changed

(c) I. Nemes 2013

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that a few fellow bloggers had, like me, received Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries II. Like me, they had also read it cover to cover, and enjoyed it as much as his first diary (which I have also read; I’m afraid my shelf life is too short for 50 shades, when I can fill my head with the sights, sounds and smells of food). Unlike me, Janice and Susan decided to pay him homage by hosting the Dish of the Month in his honour. Obviously, I was keen to join in, whilst cursing the fact that I hadn’t thought of it first!

I decided to cook from both books, on alternate months. Originally, I had intended to cook things I haven’t tried before from each of the books in turn. However, I was cooking stew for my new team, because I could make it the night before. One of them professed a love for beans and chickens. And just like laid plans, and mice; my intentions gang aft agley.

Once I knew of these preferences, I had to cook the humbly-named Chicken Stew and Mash from Kitchen Diaries (p.79). It has become a favourite. Although it uses winter seasonal vegetables, it tastes a bit like summer.

Two of my team are vegetarian. And you know me, I had to make them  feel as welcome as the others. So I needed a veggie stew. But couldn’t get away from the thought that this stew was the one I wanted to make. So, I had to come up with a vegetable version that would still hit the citrus and savoury spot, but with the same depth of flavour as the meat version.

The depth came from caramelised onions. The bulk came from pumpkin, as being in season, and good with orange. And a few chickpeas, because I had some that I’d cooked and frozen previously.

What I ended up was reminiscent of the original stew, with the savoury, citrus, and sweet tones from the orange, herbs and balsamic vinegar; but by necessity was pretty different. Since Nigel himself says in the introduction to Kitchen Diaries II “neither am I someone who tries to dictate how something should be done, and I am never happier than when a reader simply uses my recipes as inspiration for their own”, I think he won’t mind too much, do you?

If you’d like to enter Dish of the Month, then you can find the full details over at Farmersgirl Kitchen or at a Little Bit Of Heaven On A Plate. Add your post to the linky there, so that we can all see what dish you’ve chosen.

Dish of the Month

Recipe: A Bright Vegetable Stew

Ingredients

100 g white beans,

100 g chickpeas

1 1/2 onions, sliced

2 tsp herbs de Provence

2 bay leaves

3 cloves garlic

Pared rind and juice of an orange

2 leeks, sliced into coins

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

2-3 tbsp plain flour

1/2 butternut squash, diced

Vegetable stock 

Method

If you are using dried beans and chickpeas, soak them in plenty of cold water overnight. Cook them in fresh, unsalted water. They will cook further in the stew, so make sure they are not soft when you drain them. Nigel and I agree on about 40 minutes.

Some of the depth of flavour in Nigel’s version of this stew comes from the Maillard reaction that occurs as the meat browns. I had to replace this somehow, and probably the best way is to allow onions to caramelise really slowly until they are brown. As they started to turn golden, I added the herbs and the bay leaves.

As the onion reaches a deep brown, add the garlic cloves and the orange rind, and cook for a further minute. Add the flour, and mix it in well, followed by the juice of half an orange once you’ve cooked the flour through.

Add the squash and the beans to the a deep casserole dish with a lid, then add the cooked onion and flour mixture.

In the same pan as you browned the onion in, soften the leeks, being careful not to burn them. When you can separate the concentric rings, they are about ready. Add the juice from the rest of the orange, balsamic, and about 500 ml of veg stock to the softened leeks. You can also add a pinch more of the herbs de Provence too, if you feel it needs it. I did. Bring all of this to the boil, season generously with salt and pepper, and then pour this over the vegetables in the casserole dish. 

You want the liquid in the pan to come about three-quarters of the way up the vegetables, bearing in mind that the veg themselves will give off extra liquid as they cook. If you need more liquid, add more vegetable stock.

Cook for 40 mins to an hour at 180°C, until the butternut is tender, but still holds its shape. The flour that you have added should have thickened the sauce somewhat, but if you want to thicken it further, slake a little cornflour in a few drops of cold water, and mix that in. Return it to the oven for 5-10 minutes, until it has thickened up. If you are gluten intolerant, skip the flour at the beginning, and just do this step instead (you’ll need about a tablespoon if you are not using flour, then slake and add as instructed)

I return to Nigel’s instructions, and recommend that this is also served with a big pile of creamy mash  – potatoes, or a mix of potato and celariac – so that the juices can form little puddles in the mash.

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A Fruity Little Snifter

Japanese quince brandy

There’s Brandy in the Jar – Oh!

As you will probably have gathered if you have read more than this post, I do like to get the maximum use from my produce, especially if I have grown or gathered it myself. In this, the last of my Japanese quince posts, I am getting even more out of my harvest. I’m also starting right in on my resolutions, by blogging about booze. And I assure you, this one couldn’t be easier.

I have read a lot about quince liqueurs with vodka and honey. I have also read a fair bit about quince brandy, which sounded a lot better to me. Especially after I was given a copy of Salt, Sugar, Smoke by Diana Henry for Christmas, and she gives some really tempting takes on Kir Royale using quince brandy and either French cider or English sparkling white wine. I am also thinking of taking the best of both ideas and making something with the brandy and this very special cider from Sussex, Gospel Green Champagne Method Cider (look out for them, they are from West Sussex, but don’t have a website. This is truly remarkable “bubbly” style cider) if I can get hold of some.

Fruit brandies of this kind, and those distilled from scratch used to be pretty popular. You may know them as eau de vie, rakia, or brandywine, and they are still popular across Europe, but especially in the Eastern countries – Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, and as far down as Turkey.

Of course, these are meant for quince or Cydonia oblonga, but I see no reason why they shouldn’t translate into Japanese quinces too. I selected some of the nicest fruit, and set them aside.

Then the next dilemma was whether or not to go with sugar.  For advice on this, I turned to Twitter. Luckily for me, preserving queen, Vivien Lloyd and beekeeper extroadinaire, Zoë Lynch were listening, and they both said sugar was wise, so sugar it was. Thank you both, if you are reading, although I didn’t go with that much, because I figured that I can always add sugar, but I can’t take it away if the brandy is too sweet.

The brandy needs to steep  for anything up to a year, so I haven’t tried this yet, but when I do, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Recipe: Japanese Quince Brandy

Ingredients

5-6 Japanese Quince

50 g muscuvado sugar

2 star anise

Brandy

Sterilised jar wide enough to get the fruit into

Method

Slice the quince, but leave the seeds in. Layer the quince into the jar, and sprinkle the sugar and the star anise between the layers.

Top the jar up with brandy. The fruit will be fine in here, as long as the jar is full, and the fruit doesn’t get exposed to air. I used a 700 ml jar, so needed a fair bit of brandy.

Leave it in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months, taking it out to shake it when you remember.

Strain off the brandy, and pour into a sterilised bottle, where it will keep until you have tracked down some of that excellent cider. Top up with more brandy, if necessary.

Oh, and I’m also thinking that there will be a good use for the fruit, possibly added to apples. I’m sure I’ll think of something tasty to do with them.

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