Saturday 25 June 2011

Pearl barley, courgette, creme fraiche, bit of lemon juice...

In a strange way, being completely broke can be quite fulfilling. You sort out your living space rather than going out and getting drunk, you sell stuff that you don't need or use on ebay rather than buying more clutter, and you use up all the random ingredients in your kitchen cupboards. It can be quite fun being creative with what you have. It's a good job that I have started to see the positives of being broke really, because now that I own a flat, the end of each month is pretty dire, financially speaking. Yet, somehow this doesn't affect my level of happiness, and that's a valuable lesson to learn

Pearl barley
Vegetable stock
Lemon juice
Creme fraiche
Garlic salt
Olive oil
Hot pepper sauce to serve

I get so much satisfaction from cooking a meal like this - it's rustic, simple and totally delicious, while costing next to nothing. I cooked the pearl barley in the vegetable stock and grilled the courgette slices with olive oil, garlic salt and pepper until crispy. When the pearl barley is cooked (after about half an hour), you just add all the other ingredients, and warm it all up together, until it has the consistency of a risotto. I feel like I'm on a bit of quest for simplicity and purity, in every area of my life right now - sometimes this goes tragically wrong, as with the infamous chocolate mousse incident - but on the whole, I feel healthier for it. I can't wait to go to Greece next week, the food there is exactly like the sort of things I feel like eating at this time of year and in this state of mind - fresh and fuss free

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Asparagus, tomatoes and parmesan

Sometimes, only the simplest ingredients in the most classic combinations will do... I found the recipe for parmesan and basil tomatoes in the Observer a couple of weeks ago, and wondered why I hadn't thought of baking them like this before - drizzled with olive oil and simply seasoned with (garlic) salt and black pepper, with fresh basil and grated parmesan for flavour. Since the discovery, I have eaten them like this about four times, so you could say that they're my current obsession. As far as obsessions go, they're definitely one of my healthier ones
Then, there's the asparagus. What can I say, as Carluccio  points out in his book "Vegetables", "the combination of the melted butter and the nuttiness of the parmesan is a simple one but nonetheless very, very good". I don't even boil the asparagus, I just let them stand in the boiled water for 15minutes while the tomatoes are baking
Be warned: If, like me, you don't have any bread in the house to mop up the juices, you may end up being completely disgusting and using your fingers, or even licking the plate

Monday 13 June 2011

Beetroot and goat's cheese salad

This is a salad inspired by my friend Lou Lou and a sandwich that we ate together last weekend in Oxford. I had no idea that beetroot and goat's cheese went together so well. You also need something nutty in this salad - I used toasted sunflower seeds, Lou Lou says she used walnuts in her version. You can replace the baby salad leaves with rocket for a more peppery flavour. I bought all my ingredients at Rectory Farm near Oxford, which is where I always stock up before going back to London. You can pick your own here, so this time we braved the thorny gooseberry bushes, as they won't be around for long and I hadn't eaten gooseberries in years. I cooked them for a few minutes before blending them with cinnamon, honey and natural yoghurt


Beetroot, cooked and peeled
Baby salad leaves
Crumbly goat's cheese
Toasted sunflower seeds
Good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Garlic salt

Monday 6 June 2011

The Trout, near Oxford

The Trout is where Lou Lou's grand parents spent the one night of their honeymoon sometime in the 1940s, so when I went to visit her in Oxford, we had to come here. They had one night before he had to return to the army, can you imagine? How times have changed. We drank some amazing wines from all over the world rather than the cider that they managed to get during ration times, and we ate the sort of food that wouldn't be out of place in some of London's best restaurants, at Oxford prices (the whole meal came to just over £30, without wine)
The Gambas with aoli were incredible, I don't know if this picture gets across how massive they were

Then to follow, and to Lou Lou's great distress, I had the duck salad. We'd been walking around looking at the ducks and geese with their young, and as a veggie Lou Lou couldn't understand how I could then eat them. But, for some strange reason, it's all that I felt like eating. I thought long and hard about it, but there was no escaping it, and I had zero regrets - this was the best duck salad I have ever tasted! Probably because of the fact that it was made from the very ducks we had been cooing over all afternoon, sadly. For them not for me obviously
And that down there is the other stuff we ate - mushroom pizza, carrot, cumin and orange salad, watercress salad, and chips. The carrot and cumin salad was my kind of thing - Middle East inspired, those flavours go together amazingly well. I intend to make it myself very soon, as I've bought lots of  sweet, young carrots from the farm we went to this morning
We were catching up here for hours, so I also got to try a few wines by the glass - the Italian rose was very light in colour, and bit too simple and fresh for my liking. The New Zealand Sauvignon was Lou Lou's favourite, and really nice, but a bit too fruity for me (I think I have overdone the Sauvignons to be honest). The star of the show (well, my show) was the South African Chenin Blanc - I don't want to sound pretentious by describing it for ages, so if you ever come here, and if you are the sort of person who likes interesting white wines, that make you think about them, then you've got to try this one

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Aubergine medallions

I never thought I cared for spring much, preferring hazy summer days and golden autumn with that smoky smell. Then this year it came around and, completely unexpectedly, filled me with hope. The smell of grass and earth and young flowers awoke in me the kind of pure emotion that I haven't felt for a long time, making me grateful just to be alive. It truly has been the perfect spring - warm, bright and friendly, the island breeze a blessing rather than the burden it is during the winter months.  It's been a time for sangria under the cherry blossoms and long lunches in the garden. And an ideal time to rediscover Carluccio's "Vegetables" - a cookbook full of easy, fresh, natural recipes, perfect for now. So when my brother came over for dinner the other day I decided to make aubergine medallions, though I made them slightly differently to the way Carluccio does, replacing tomato pulp with real tomato and using a British cheese, rather than the pecorino and parmesan that he suggests. The medallions were followed by spaghetti putanesca and rocket salad, and washed down with a light, peachy rose. Then Moroccan mint tea to finish
Ingredients (serves 2)

6 thick round aubergine slices (from the middle)
6 basil leaves
6 tomato slices
A hard cheese like pecorino - I used Berkswell
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Fry the slices on both sides until golden. Place on a baking tray. Put the basil leaf on top of each slice, followed by a teaspoon of pesto, and the tomato slice. Grate the cheese on top and season, then stick under a grill for 4-5 minutes. So easy!