Sunday, April 23, 2006

Spring is in the air!

Spring is slowly finding its way to the UK. For most of the last week the weather was pleasant enough that I wasn't miserable about leaving the sun in California the week before. However, as I write this, it is pretty gross outside. It's isn't raining so much as it is grey. So I decided not to leave the house today and spend it in the kitchen.

One of the nice treats in the shops coming back home was the appearance of this season's Jersey Royal new potatoes. The gorgeous little potatoes have such a great taste and a fab story behind it that I get really excited when I see them in shops or on a restaurant menu this time of year. Jersey Royals are only found in Jersey and were discovered in the late 19th century by a farmer and were first called Jersey Royal Fluke. It is the growing conditions that make this potato. The slope of the island allows extra sunlight to hit the growing fields in season. Locally collected seaweed is used as fertislier and much of it is dug up by hand.

In the end I decided to boil and crush mine with the rosemary and lemon Chiara sent me in EBBP4. I didn't think that The Boy would be very fond of lemons with his potatoes but he gave them a thumbs up. The leftovers will be used in a salad for lunch tomorrow.

Crushed New Potatoes with Lemon and Rosemary

Serves 2-3

500g Jersey Royal new potatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 sprigs of rosemary, chopped

Clean and scrub the potatoes and boil in salted water for 15-20 minutes (or until cooked). Once the potatoes are cooked, drain and put to one side.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the lemon zest and chopped rosemary and fry for 30 seconds.

Add the potatoes and lightly crush with a fork or masher. Add the lemon juice and fry for5 minutes. Don't over stir the pan or the potatoes will crumble; the idea is to get a light crust on the potatoes.

Sprinkle with sea salt for an extra crunch before serving.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

EBBP4 - Italian Delights

You have probably guessed that I like food already. But I also like presents and I like getting post. Combine all that and you get EBBP4 (Euro Blogging By Post). It happens every couple of months - I'm guessing it does as this was my first time taking part- and is "hosted" by someone different each time. This time, the gracious host was Andrew from SpittoonExtra (Check out his blog here.) Andrew had the task of organising myself and 24 other bloggers in an exchange of food filled pressies. How cool is that!

My package went to Cindy of Cindy's Kitchen in Montpellier. I hope she enjoys what I sent and can make some treats from it. While I was sad that my package hadn't arrived before I went on holiday. I have to admit though that it was great to get something happy in the post instead of the usual bills that remind you how much you spent on holiday!

Imagine my joy when a box from Italy appeared. I tore into that box quicker than you can say risotto milanese. I'm happy to report that Chiara from La Cuoca Petulante (oh how I wish I spoke Italian! But check out the site for pretty photography) sent a box filled with (mainly) Italian delights. Inside there was:

1. Lemons and Rosemary - From Chiara's garden on Lake Maggiore near Milan
2. Gianduitti - Creamy chocolate and hazelnut paste candies from Turin. I usually find these too sweet but these are lovely and creamy and not too sugary sweet.
3. Sundried Tomatoes - Homemade. Lovely. I think I may use Chiara's suggestion to put them in a jar with capers, garlic and olive oil for a week and then eat it with bread.
4. Salted Capers - A nice little jar from Pantelleria (a small island near Sicily).
5. Anchovies in hot sauce - One of her favourites; she eats them with bread or in a tomato sauce.
6. Carnaroli Rice - For risotto. Yum.
7. Honey from Provenza
8. Pickled Ginger - She enjoys Japanese food and makes her own pickled ginger. It has a nice fresh taste and is not too sweet.
9. A small notepad - For writing my recipes in.

I have gently calmed myself to sleep the last couple of days with thoughts of the tasty dishes I could make with my ingredients. Should I use the lemon and rosemary with roasted and crushed potatoes? Or in a simple pasta with some of the capers and a bit of Parmigiano? Do I use the tomatoes in a salad or on bruschetta? How about the anchovies- in a spicy arrabiatta sauce? What about the honey? One thing I do know. The Gianduitti won't be around much longer!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Spring Salads

Xochitlcooks has been on a well needed holiday the last week and as I write this I am warmed by the sun in Southern California. Fortunately my pasty white skin hasn't burned- more importantly nor has The Boy's for that matter. If I were to use food to describe our current skin tones, mine would be vanilla cream- slightly off white with yellow undertones- and The Boy would be something along the lines of a marshmallow. White with a bit of white added and a splash of translucent for good measure. But it has been nice to venture outside sans heavy wool coat. The weather has been like a perfect English summer's day; the problem will be the shock to the system when we leave in a few days.

Staying with the folks means that even though I am on hols, I am still kicking it in the kitchen. Cooking in someone else's kitchen (even though it is the kitchen I grew up with) made me realise how attached you get to your own cooking utensils, pans, knives, oven. This hasn't altered the quality of the dishes, but I look forward to giving my kitchen a big hug when I get home.

No trip back here is complete unless I make lunch for the Lunch Bunch (AKA my mother and her posse of discriminating foodie friends). On this occasion, given the lovely weather, I decided that a trio of salads was in order. Lunch consisted of a Tomato and Mozzarella salad, Tabbouleh and Salade Nicoise. The Salade Nicoise was done specially for my mother in memory of her last trip to London, in which we went to the South of France to visit friends of mine. My mother had never had Salade Nicoise before and in spite of a dislike for tuna, we both enjoyed it. It's a great salad to eat in the middle of summer to refresh and cool down but equally as nice in the winter to remind you of those heady days of summer.

serves 4


1 head of romaine lettuce, chopped
1-2 4 1/4 oz tin of tuna in olive oil (if only serving this I would double the amount of tuna)
4 tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cucumber, sliced and halved into 1/2 inch chunks
4 hard boiled eggs, quartered
16 black olives, whole
8 anchovy fillets, whole (you can either use tinned ones or get some from the deli counter)

for the dressing:
4 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. Herbes de Provence

Mix the dressing ingredients together and either shake or whisk until it emulsifies (until the oil and vinegar combine into one liquid). Put to one side.

Put the romaine lettuce in a large bowl. Arrange the remaining ingredients on top. Drizzle the dressing over the salad. Serve.

NB: When serving each person should get a quarter of the salad ingredients (meaning 4 pieces of tomato, 4 olives, 4 pieces of egg, etc.).

To keep the salad light, I haven't over dressed it but you can add more dressing if desired.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Veg Fest

After an absolutely hectic week which saw me help cater a party, teach a couple of cookery classes and find a job, and which was preceded by a few weeks of partying, I needed a detox. Even The Boy was requesting a meal with vegetables! I was in the mood for something with a twist but nothing that would overtake the pureness of the vegetables. I went back and tweaked a recipe for grilled vegetables I devised for a BBQ a few weeks ago (a BBQ in February? It's a great way to beat the winter blues.).

Marinated Grilled Vegetables

Serves 2-4

1 tbsp. cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. crushed chili flakes
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
5 tbsp. olive oil
1 courgette, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
8-10 whole mushrooms
1 fennel bulb, sliced

Put the sliced vegetables in a medium size bowl.

Mix the spices and the olive oil; pour over the vegetables and toss to lightly coat all the veg. Allow to marinate for at least 15 minutes.

Heat a grill pan over medium high heat and cook the vegetables to your liking. Personally I like my mushrooms and courgettes well grilled but prefer peppers and fennel with a bit of crunch.

Below is an extra recipe for a quick salad using the grilled fennel. It makes for a light, refreshing lunch and a nice change from a green salad.

Fennel and Orange Salad

Serves 1

1 blood orange, peeled and sliced
1 fennel bulb, sliced and grilled
20g. feta cheese, crumbled

Layer the orange and fennel on a plate and sprinkle the feta on top.
Olive oil can be drizzled on top but I find the salad better without it.