Tag Archives: Inspired

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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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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A Box Where Sweets Compacted Lie

Foodie Penpal August

Choc Full

“Sweet spring, full of sweet dayes and roses,

A box, where sweets compacted lie”

From Vertue by George Herbert

I thought that the title this month was appropriate for both the parcel that I sent, and the one that I received, as you can see from the photo above, which was jam-packed with goodies, and a recipe for a sweet treat!

This month, I was matched with Emma, and was to receive a parcel from Abbie, neither of whom have a blog (…yet, I believe at least one of them will be joining us soon 🙂 ), but you can go and check out Emma’s gorgeous cakey Facebook page, and you can see what amazing things Abbie has found on Twitter.

Contents of August Foodie Parcel

A Box of Sweets, Unconsolidated

Abbie was very clever with her box, as well as stuffing it to the gills. And it arrived in 3 days between her tweeting to say she’d sent it, and me receiving it. This is an absolute record.

Swedish Biscuits, Manuka Honey, Butterscothch Chocolate

Some Compacted Sweets

For ages, I was thinking that the chocolate was a new brand called M. I am an idiot, and have just realised that it comes from that famous supermarket. Salted butterscotch chocolate, it is delicious, and you would be right in thinking that I have started this one already.

There is a small pot of manuka honey, which I am dying to try. Abbie also thought of the Big Guy, giving him some Swedish ginger thins. This is the first time we have had something that he can reminisce over, and I think I may not see many of these.

Smoked Maldon Salts, Rice Crackers, Ras El Hanout

Compacted Savouries

This wasn’t just a sweet box, though. I also got savoury goodies. I rubbed the Ras el Hanout on a lamb cutlet, and ate it as part of a meal filled with temptations. The rice crackers will make a great snack, but I have an idea that they will also make a really tasty crust for fish, so I think that will be an experiment that I will be making soon. I have heard of smoked salt, but never tried it. It is actually great, bringing a subtle smokiness to dishes. I am not usually a fan of salting things, but have been getting more into it, as I have had quite a few gifts of salt lately.

Tinkerbell Peppers

A Fairy Plate

It was Abbie who sent me the Tinkerbell peppers. She wrote a little card, to say that she had these every day in Ibiza. This was also the first of two recipes she sent me, along with the ingredients. This is genius, and I wish I’d thought of it myself! Abbie suggested that I grill the peppers, and serve them with a sprinkling of the salt. I took most of her advice, but this is what I did with them in the end.

Rocky Road

Can you Tell What it is Yet?

She also sent me the recipe and ingredients to make up her Guilty Pleasure. She has given me permission to reproduce the recipe on ediblethings, so I will let you know about this next week.

Thank you so much for this parcel Abbie, not only has it been an inspiration for future boxes, and fantastic recipes, but I dread to think how much it must have cost you to post this little treasure trove. I am amazed!

Thanks also to the lovely Carol Anne of This is Rock Salt, who hosts and organises us European penpals. This is no mean feat, I can tell you.

Here’s the rough outline of how it works:

  • All interested parties in the UK and Europe – bloggers and blog readers alike – sign up by the form available at the bottom of this post
  • Participants are matched on the 5th of the month
  • Penpals send thoughtful, food related parcels, on or before the 20th of the month. The parcel must include something hand written – a note explaining the box’s contents, a recipe card, whatever you like. The price limit for the boxes is £10 – this is a limit, the point is not the cost, but the thought (no, really!)
  • Penpals open their boxes and rejoice!
  • At the end of the month, everyone blogs about their box, or writes a guest blog post if they are usually a blog reader and not writer. Everyone reads one another’s posts and rejoices some more. Posts are made available on Lindsay’s blog so we can all find each other easily

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Flowers and Spice and All Veg – Nice!

Moroccan Vegetable Stew with Cous Cous and Coriander yoghurt

Souk Food

The other day I wrote about going foraging with Liz Knight with Mum on her birthday. What I didn’t mention is that she also had one of the stalls at the Tudor Farmhouse Market. She sells all manner of spice rubs, sauces, and syrups at fairs and some shops, and they are also available online.

We came away with a honeysuckle and tarragon syrup, and a Wild Rose el Hanout, based on the Moroccan spice mix. The original translates as “head of the shop”and is a blend of the best spices that a merchant has on offer, and is therefore supposed to act as both a luxury product and the best marketing tool that the merchant as at his disposal.

As the name suggests, the Forage version uses wild roses and spice, giving a heady blend that is every bit as luxurious as the Moroccan version. Liz also recommends adding it to a fish and tomato stew, which I will definitely be trying. If you haven’t managed to get hold of a pot of this lovely spice rub, you can use Ras el Hanout instead.

You may also remember that I resolved to make more Middle Eastern food back in January. I had a Moroccan spice, although Morocco is not exactly the Middle East, I was thinking of the fragrant dishes and spices that also encompass much North African cuisine. This seemed like a good place to revisit those resolutions, and get the whole commitment to them kicked off again.

I made this for a vegetarian dinner party. Because I used fresh tomatoes, I found that the sauce was quite liquid. I actually liked it that way, but you could thicken this by using tinned tomatoes, or add some tomato puree to the stew about 15 minutes before the end of cooking.

It is traditional to keep the vegetables quite big in Moroccan cooking, which also cuts down on the preparation time, making this a pretty easy evening meal.

I garnished it with some yoghurt with chopped coriander stirred through, although it is perfectly good without it, so you can leave this out if you want a vegan dish.

Recipe: Moroccan Vegetable Stew and Couscous

Ingredients:

For the Stew: 

2 shallots, peeled and quartered

1 red pepper, cut into very large dice

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

2 tsp wild rose el hanout

2 carrots, cut into chunks

1 large courgette, quartered lengthways, then in cut into chunks

1 aubergine, cut into chunks

About 400 ml vegetable stock (enough to come about 2/3 of the way up the pot)

1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed

4 tomatoes, quartered

Bunch coriander, including the stalks, chopped

For the Couscous: 

400 g couscous

500 ml vegetable stock

Zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp wild rose el hanout

2 tbsp good olive oil

This recipe serves four people

Method

 

On a low heat, soften the shallot for about 3-4 minutes in a deep saucepan. Add the pepper, and continue to soften. When you can see changes in the flesh of the pepper, after about another 5 minutes, add the wild rose el hanout, and the garlic, and cook until the fragrance hits you.

Add the carrots, courgettes and aubergine to the pan, and cook down for 5-10 minutes, until the courgettes and aubergines start to give and soften. You will need to stir them well when the veg first go in, to distribute the spice mix, then occasionally as they cook down.

Add the stock, and bring to the boil, cover, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are soft.

While the vegetables are cooking, make the couscous. In a large bowl, stir the wild rose el hanout and the lemon zest through the couscous. Add the warm stock, so that it covers the couscous by bout 1cm. Cover and set aside to allow the couscous to absorb the stock.

Add the chickpeas, tomatoes and the coriander to the stew, and warm through for five minutes.

Add the olive oil to the couscous, and fluff up with a fork.

Serve the stew atop the couscous.

I liked this couscous so much, it s difficult to imagine that I won’t be stirring through some wild rose el hanout every time I make it from now on. At least until the jar runs out.

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Finding Food in My Own Backyard

Hairy Bittercress

Salad as Penance

I was a bit preoccupied with the market last week, and spent my time testing recipes and searching for good potatoes to bake. Funnily, the Dutch seem to prefer thin-skinned potatoes, which mash well for stamppot, but don’t really understand that a good jacket potato needs a thicker skin. I was surprised at the amount of stall holders that tried to convince me that their thin-skinned potatoes would be perfect for my needs.

Anyway, this leads to a confession. I completely neglected to eat or blog about salads for the salad challenge. Salad as penance seems like a fitting start to lent. To make up for last week, I  am using up the leaves that survived the snow all this week in my food.

After the first Salad Days, I spent a little while following the links at Veg Plotting, and have found a lot of really useful information, and a lot of inspiration. This year, I have been asked to help a few friends to create balcony gardens, as not many people here have gardens, but almost everyone has a balcony of some sort. I have a lot of ideas for vertical gardens, and windbreaks of dwarf beans and soon. Until now, I had been overlooking the salads. Some of these posts have reminded me that salad is a great start for first time gardeners, with quick results setting them up to feel good about their ability rather quickly. Really not sure why I haven’t thought of it sooner.

I also found a lot of inspiration for my own salads by following the #saladchat hashtag on twitter, and the links on Veg Plot’s newsletter, The Salad Bowl .

Jane Perrone mentioned some winter weeds from her garden that she was eating. I already knew about the hairy bittercress, which I had been avoiding weeding even before I knew about the salad challenge, so that I could add it to a salad of some  kind. What  hadn’t realised is that I also have creeping wood sorrel and cat’s ear. I had resolved that the next salad for the challenge would be made up of these.

Grden weed salad, Jacket potato and cream cheese

Salad as everyday lunch

However, the snow had done for quite a few things. So, this week, I am left with salads of hairy bittercress, and a few leaves of rocket. I also have a few potatoes and some cream cheese left over from the market. Together, the salad has made a great combination with the soft cheese and the potato. This is mostly what I am having for lunch this week. This is win/win/win/win for me. I am using up the cooked jacket potatoes; I have a quick, yet hearty lunch; I am weeding the garden in preparation for the plants that will soon fill it; and I have a tasty use for the weeds, so I’m reducing waste.  For me, it has more than made up for the fact that last week I took my eye off the challenge!

CAUTION: Wood Sorrel contains oxalic acid. This is the stuff that makes rhubarb leaves inedible. Wood sorrel is fine in small amounts, but can exacerbate rheumatism, arthritis, gout, and kidney stones, so it is best avoided at all if you have these conditions. Additionally, while foraging for weeds in your own back garden may mean that you know more of what has gone onto the plants (and if you use weedkillers in your garden, don’t eat the weeds in it), it is always a good idea to follow some basic foraging rules to keep you safe.

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A Meal From the Vaguest of Memories

Lebanese Influenced Chickpea & Lemon Curry

Simple, Wholesome, Made up Fare

Since I am so keen on recycling, I thought that I would give you a third-hand recipe this time. The idea for this recipe came from my desire to cook more Middle Eastern food. I was browsing around, when I remembered a recipe that was attributed to an amazing Lebanese woman where I used to work, but was actually cooked for me by a former manager at a team building dinner we had to go to. She didn’t give me the recipe, but the idea was probably the best thing that I learned from her!

I really enjoyed the dish, but only had a vague memory of the flavours. When I found myself with a lot of spinach (after telling the market stall holder I wanted two handfuls of spinach, before I looked at his hands),  and having my memory jogged  while I was looking up Middle Eastern food and seeing all the chickpeas in the dishes, I decided that I was going to try to recreate that meal.

This is what I came up with, which is as close as I can get to a vaguely remembered flavour of a meal I ate over a year ago. I have no idea if it is authentic, or even close to the dish that I tried. But what I have managed is a really easy vegan supper dish that is bright with really fresh flavours. Another bonus is that it is also pretty cheap to make too.

I try always to use dried chickpeas, because I think that the taste and texture are superior to the tinned ones. In this dish they are the stars of the show, so I think that it really is worth the effort. If you want to make a large batch up, they freeze really well, so you can cook up loads, and freeze them in batches for another time. Not for this recipe though, because you will need some of the cooking liquor for this dish.

Recipe: Lebanese Inspired Chickpea and Lemon Stew

Ingredients

200 g dried chickpeas or one tin.

1 large onion, chopped

3 fat cloves garlic, crushed to a paste with the flat of a knife

Little oil for frying

2 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander seed

Good pinch chilli  flakes ( a chopped fresh red chilli would also work here, but I only had dried)

Zest & juice of 2 lemons

150 g baby spinach

Method

If you are using dried chickpeas, soak them in cold water for a couple of hours. Place them in a saucepan, and cover with plenty of cold water. Do not salt them, it makes the skin tough, and it is better to salt the final dish, so you get better balance.Bring them to the boil, then cover and simmer until they are just tender. Drain them, but reserve the cooking liquid. This is important, you will need it later.

Toast the cumin and coriander seed in  dry pan. I used the one I was going to cook the rest of the ingredients in, because I am averse to washing up. Grind them with a pestle and mortar until quite fine.

Add the oil to the warm pan, and sweat the onion until it is translucent. Add the garlic, chilli, and the ground spices for a few minutes until the heat from the chilli hits you.

If you are using tinned chickpeas, drain them, but reserve the tinned liquid as well. Put the drained chickpeas into the pan, and let them cook for a couple of minutes with the spiced onion mixture.

Add the juice and zest of two lemons. Be careful not to get any pips in the dish. I got a stray one, and it was a really unpleasant mouthful after I bit through it. If you like, you can add a lemon shell or two, as it cooks to give an extra lemon hit. Pour the reserved cooking water into the pan to just cover the chickpeas. With the tinned chickpeas, add half water from the tap and half from the tin.

Leave to simmer for a further 15 minutes, by which time the liquid in the pan will have reduced, so that it is still fairly liquid, but more soupy and glossy. If you use the lemon shells, remove them at this point. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper as needed. Add the spinach, and cook until it has wilted.

I served this with some brown basmati rice, but I think that it would also be great with bulgur wheat, some crusty bread or even as a side dish.

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Signs of Life and an Unexpected Salad

First Anemone

First Flowers

Apart from going to the Neighbourfood Market, I also found some inspiration in the garden this weekend. As always, I was late with getting my broad beans and alliums in. They should get planted before the first frosts so that you get an early crop in the early summer.

We haven’t had any frost yet, as far as I can tell, so I was still able to plant them out, although they will be a bit later than I had hoped. In an attempt to do some decent successional sowing, for once, I have only planted half a bed with beans, so I can plant more later. I also still have onion sets, but no space in their designated beds, so I will plant them in planters when I get some potting compost mixed up. I planted Troy white onions and Onion Electric (red) from sets, and Marco Garlic. I only used the fattest cloves, from the outside of the bulbs. The rest are waiting in my cupboard to have in some dish or another. No point in wasting them! The beans were Aquadulce Claudia and the reliable Sutton.

Primula

Early Colour

I also planted a French leaf salad mix, and some rocket to grow indoors as cut and come again salad, because I need something to use for the 52 Week Salad Challenge, as issued by Veg Plotting. I have decided to join this, because I like to grow my own, and forage for food. Salad leaves grow fairly quickly, so they should be good to help me get much better at the rhythm required for successional planting, which I am not great at. And I hope that it will help me to be more creative when it comes to salad. We eat a fair amount of salads, but they tend to be very samey, so I hope this will force me to think of more diverse things to go in them, and more creative dressings.

Raddiccio & Leaf Chicory

Hidden Gems, not Little

I currently have some rocket, mizuna, endive, perpetual spinach, fennel, beetroots, flat leaf parsley, and some carrots in the garden, all of which can be used as salad leaves, so I have time before my other seeds grow.There should be loads of things already starting in the wild that I can pick, but I won’t get foraging for a couple of weeks. We were also clearing an unloved part of the garden at the weekend, and we found some bonus lettuce in a planter that had seeded itself – a radicchio and I think the green one is a leaf chicory.

I only heard about the challenge when I got back from Australia, so this will have to be a 50 week challenge for me. I may not post about this every week, although I will tweet my pictures weekly. I guess it depends how excited I am about my salad in any given week!

Egg Mayo & Rocket

Salad as Comfort Food

Last week was my first. I was fresh back from Australia, and away from all the lovely fresh, summer produce I cooked with there. I didn’t want a salad in the traditional sense, I think it would have disappointed. Instead, I found myself craving the comfort of an egg sandwich. Nothing goes better with egg mayonnaise than some sharp, peppery rocket. I found that I couldn’t shake the idea long enough to find any other kind of salad inspiration, so that was what I had.

This week should have been altogether more exciting. I had an aubergine that needed to be used up, and I had decided to use that bonus radicchio, although it will be sad not to have it sitting resplendent and red in the brown winter garden.

I made Divalicous’ Aubergine, Tomato and Sumac Salad. I am trying to cook with more spicy food, and I found this one last summer. Do give it a go – sumac can be found in many local stores these days. I left out the tomato this time, because I have no interest in the kind of watery tasteless ones that you can get at this time of year. Instead, I used more flat leaf parsley, added some carrot leaves and upped the amount of dressing. I also served it hot.

I had intended to quarter the radicchio, and put it onto the griddle pan after the aubergine had cooked. I wanted it to char, along with some red pepper, and serve it with a lemon and parmesan vinaigrette. The charring softens the radicchio’s sharp quality, and gives it a nutty flavour. If you try it, be really careful, they will burn in seconds, once they start to char. Slightly blackened edges is what you should aim for, but no more. I would have stirred through some quinoa for bulk.

However, while my back was turned, as I put the first batch of aubergine on, the Big Guy came along, and separated the leaves of the radicchio, making it too flimsy to try to char. So a rethink was required. Inspired  by Divalicious’ mention of fattoush on her salad post,  I decided to make a kind of fattoush sandwich in pita, with the radicchio and aubergine salad on top. It wasn’t as substantial as the other way would have been, but it was really tasty nonetheless.

Aubergine & sumac Salad on Raddiccio

Salad as Improv

Something else that I have found this week is Foodcycle, who collect surplus food, and cook it in a café where you can pay what you can afford. Inspiring stuff, doing things that are close to my heart. I think their project rocks, and they are trying to crowdfund to enable them to keep running. They only need £5k to run for a year, which is a ridiculously small amount for all that they achieve. They have 4 days left to hit this target. If you can, please go along and pledge a little, you won’t have to pay if they don’t hit target, but every little helps, as they say.

Unfortunately, the crowd funding scheme is currently only set up for people in the UK, so if you are outside of that jurisdiction, then you can make a direct donation through their money giving site. I know they are very grateful for all donations as well. Or try and find a local scheme that you can help out. If you do, I’d love to hear about it.

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Local Inspiration

Amsterdam Neighbourfood Market

A Room of Inspiration

I was alerted to the brand new Neighbourfood Market by a friend on facebook. The first market took place yesterday, and we went along, albeit a bit later in the afternoon. I may have missed a couple of stalls and a fair bit of the produce as a result. But I was quite excited by what I did see.

Local restaurants  Frenzi and Radijs were there, as well as the street food vans from De EspressoBus and Waffels op Wielen

Then there were the stalls from caterers and market regulars (there are a number of daily and weekly markets in and around Amsterdam), which included Pieman, The Soup Sisters, Olivity, and  Bocca Coffee.

There were also smaller producers – a man who sold his own honey; the Amsterdam Cupcake Company; and, I think, another, there was definitely a stall that had sold out of its goods and was packing away when I got there.

The decor and, it has to be said, much of the ambience comes from the vintage stylings of Found (who also provide flights of lovely organic wines at very reasonable prices), Chatoui (who had a really nice stall with pretty remade items on it), and Kringloop de Lokatie. there were long trestle tables for sharing food experiences and discussion with friends and strangers, and there were gezellig little nooks with sofas and standard lamps for the more intimate discussions.

Chatoui stall

Recycled Chic at Chatoui

So far, so regular market, I hear you say. But the idea is that you come and hang out with friends, have brunch or lunch, and talk to local producers, so in that respect it is a little more like a café, but you are not limited to one proprietor. They also have an eye to reducing their waste (which will always win points with me!) and encouraged people to bring their own plates, cutlery and cups. This was well advertised on the website and in the marketing beforehand, and it seemed as though a lot of people did do this, judging by how busy the washing up area was.

The crowd was fairly young, and hip, but it was busy, which was great for the first ever market. And this is where the inspiration came in. This was full of people who were real enthusiasts for food, and living lightly. People who couldn’t find the right niche for themselves, so they went out and made one, and brought a load of enthusiastic people with them. There was a real buzz about the place, and I heard loads of snatched conversations about food, and the produce, and what people were making themselves.

It felt like I was at the start of something exciting. And it made me realise something. I want to be a part of it. I have spent too long in Holland not looking for the kind of things that interest and excite me. If it hadn’t been for an alert from my friend, then I probably would not have found out about this market. If I don’t get involved with other people who are trying something, and try a few things for myself, then how do I know if I can cut it? What’s more, what do I have to lose? Even if my interest in food goes no further than having had a market stall once, I am bound to meet interesting people, and be able to talk with them about our shared passions – food, sustainability, waste reduction. I can find other people with a higher geek tolerance for food things than the Big Guy. I may even find some good people to collaborate with on a few ideas that I have that are too big for me to do alone. So, I am going to find out how I can be a part of this, and give it a go, and put myself out there.

I may not be able to make the next market in a month, because I have no idea how one goes about equipping oneself, and all the other things one might need to sell food to the public, but I am going to fire off an e-mail to the Neighbourfood crew and find out. It would be nice if any friends are interested for company and moral support, and I will reach out to one or two that might like to have a go with me,  but it will still be fun if I do it on my own.

I would love to do A Little of What You Fancy, so I can bring homemade products, and a loose title like this could be the way to go, so I can bring things that I have made or found, or that excite me that month, instead of having a regular speciality.

And you know, they do say a little of what you fancy does you good. I wonder if that will translate into Dutch?

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