Saturday 28 May 2011

Amazing cheeses from Neal's Yard Dairy

If I had to choose only one food to eat for the rest of my life... then I'd probably choose cheese. I love it so much that I find it very difficult to walk past a Neal's Yard Dairy without making any purchases. Since I have just been paid, I went a little wild in there today, buying four of the little blighters:
Cardo - an amazing, semi-soft cheese from Somerset, which is only made at certain times of the year, so you need to try it right now!
The Innes Brick - a smooth, tangy and rather traditional goat's cheese
Berkswell - a pecorino-style cheese from a small family-run farm in the West Midlands
And Mileens- the sort of cheese you'll appreciate if you are a massive cheese lover - like a Stinking Bishop, but an Irish sort, with a bit of a story behind it
One of my dreams has always been to own a goat and make my own goat's cheese. I even briefly considered it on buying my flat, because now I have a garden with room for a goat, potentially. Then someone told me that they eat everything, non-stop (sounds familiar somehow...) and that within a week both mine and my neighbours' gardens would be completely decimated. Then, I heard that you may need two goats to make cheese, because to produce milk, the goat needs to be pregnant, which would make sense, I suppose. Though, does that mean, you always have to have lots of goats (and baby goats) to produce cheese? And lots of land to decimate? It all started to seem quite a bit more complicated than I imagined it would be. I guess it was just one of those totally naive, rose tinted fantasies that all city dwellers have at one point or another, having no idea of what it entails, or what it would actually mean. However, it doesn't take away from the fact that I love cheese with all my heart. And who knows, perhaps one day I'll meet a hot farmer who happens to make goat's cheese and enjoy dancing (specifically in the east end of London, so that I can actually meet him), who falls in love with me and takes me to his farm to passionately make... a little baby goat's cheese with me? Or does this kind of thing never happen in real life?

Thursday 26 May 2011

Quinoa with Asparagus and peri-peri butter

At certain times of the year, it just feels instinctively right to be eating certain foods. In the Autumn, I go mad for squashes - you've probably deduced this from the sheer amount of squash recipes that you are presented with around that time. In the Springtime, this is replaced by an asparagus frenzy. I eat it ever other day in one form or another. One day, I'll have it with olive oil, balsamic and parmesan shavings for a quick lunch, another day I'll make a risotto or an asparagus salad. I won't tire of it until the season is over, because I am always looking for new and exciting ways of using it. The other day, I found this brilliant, and very simple recipe (my favourite kind) on 101 Cookbooks. As usual, I changed it, so that I could use up the ingredients I already had at home, but the concept's the same - it's still based around the main ingredients of quinoa, asparagus, butter and creme fraiche, but instead of pine nuts I used sunflower seeds, English mustard instead of Dijon and peri-peri instead of Tabasco. So I guess you can't really call it "Tabasco and Asparagus Quinoa" anymore. I used exactly the same techniques as 101 Cookbooks, so I won't go into them all again, but, as a brief outline: the first four ingredients are combined to make the peri-peri butter, before being added to the cooked quinoa, toasted seeds and lightly cooked asparagus. it really is as simple as that, so if you are a reasonably confident cook, you may not even need to read the long version

Ingredients (serves 4)

1/2 cup butter, salted
1 1/2 tsp English mustard
2 tblsp peri-peri sauce
Squeeze of lemon juice
400g asparagus aprox.
4 cups cooked quinoa
1/2 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
4 dollops of creme fraiche, to serve

I love the concept of a flavoured butter. It's so simple and so perfect. Watch this space for more on that. And more asparagus recipes, of course

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Pasta e fagioli - Pasta and bean soup

I have an easygoing cooking style, improvising on the ingredients and/or techniques more often than not. I keep in mind the millions of people that have made a particular dish throughout history and all the hundreds of people that are probably cooking it right at this very moment - each one, their own version. So when Mr. Carluccio told me there are as many pasta e fagioli as there are political parties in Italy (regrettably not in person, but through his cook book "Vegetables"), I recognized immediately my type of dish: relaxed and fuss free. They don't have borlotti beans in Tesco? No problem, replace them with cannellini beans, for pasta e fagioli southern-style. So I improvised quite a lot with this one, and the recipe below can now only really claim to be inspired by Mr. Carluccio's

Ingredients (serves 2)

2 x 400g tins cannellini beans
100g tubatini or lumache pasta
Garlic clove
Red chilli
100g cherry tomatoes
1 Tblsp tomato puree
Handful finely chopped fresh onion
Garlic salt
Black pepper

Puree half the beans, while frying the chilli and garlic in some olive oil, followed by the tomatoes along with the tomato puree. After a few minutes, add the bean puree and the whole beans, drained. Cover with about a pint of hot water (just over half a litre). Add the garlic salt and pepper and bring to the boil, then chuck the pasta in and cook for a further 10 minutes. Allow to rest for 5 minutes, then serve with some fresh onion on top (or hot pepper sauce)
I won't rant and rave too much about this dish, even though I really want to - lets just say that I have made a friend for life, and like the people I love, it's warm, comforting and generous (and no effort at all, of course). The only thing I did question is whether it could have been even better had I used tubatini pasta as Mr. Carluccio had suggested. Of course, I couldn't find it and used lumache instead. They were, perhaps, just that little bit too big. In terms of shape, however, they were ideal, because they caught all the juices and even whole beans at times, transforming them into delicious little morsels

Sunday 15 May 2011

A very special beans on toast

What an amazing, wild Saturday night I had last weekend. And, boy did I pay for it. In short, lets just say that it's been a long week, and there was only one thing for it - beans on toast. I believe this to be one of life's undervalued little gems. It's healthy, comforting and with oh-so-many variations. I made a great one today, with cherry tomatoes, my mum's meatballs, parmesan and peri-peri-sauce. I fried the little tomatoes in olive oil until they sizzled, then added the tin of baked beans. The meatballs I cut into fine strips and dry fried for a few minutes, before adding to the rest. I finished it off with grated parmesan and peri-peri for the extra kick. Other great combos include garlic, chillies and coriander, and crispy bacon and onion bits

Being a bit of a bitch this week has it's advantages - I have sorted out many issues, which normally I lack the energy, will and heart to even think about. For example, I made an insurance company that was asking me for £300, apologize and give me money instead (in case you are wondering how it's done - you simply keep cool and friendly while calmly raising the stakes every time you hear something you don't like). I guess it's good to come out of my bubble sometimes and see the world for what it really is. But a week is enough, thank you

Thursday 5 May 2011

Pearl barley, pomegranate, mint and feta salad

So I had this amazing bulgur wheat salad at the Boddington Cafe (we finally got a table, whoop whoop!) a couple of weeks ago, and I decided to make a pearl barley version, since I am constantly looking for ways to reinvent it, and I always have some in my larder. I can't remember exactly what went into the Bonnngton Cafe one (we'd had a couple of drinks by the time the main course arrived), I only remeber the crunchy texture and the parsley -which I am not a massive fan of - so you could say this salad was a bit of an experiement. And it turned out to be successful one. I had some friends coming round for a relaxed lunch in my garden, so we ate this salad, grilled Polish sausage, corn on the cob and roasted red peppers


Pearl Barley
Vegetable stock
Carrot, grated
Feta cheese
Fresh mint
Lemon juice
Olive oil

Cool the pearl barley in the vegetable stock and allow to cool. Smother in lemon juice and olive oil, then add everything else! Easy. I had a lovely chilled Bank Holiday weekend, and as I have been on a bit of a health kick, I decided to treat myself to a reflexology session and a natrual body scrub, which is mixture of yoghurt, oats, orange peel and sesame oil. You rub it into your face and body and leave it for a few minutes before washing off, and are left with the softest, smoothest skin. You should take your time in washing it off properly, because otherwise you end up finding oats in odd places. So that's been me recently, and as much as I've enjoyed looking after mind, body and spirit in recent weeks, I am really ready to go on a massive night out soon