Officially it's Spring now, I'm sure you had noticed by the fact that you've shelved all of your 100 denier tights, stored your winter coat away until next year, flung wide the windows and welcomed golden sunshine, streaming into your home. No?
No. I'm sitting here with the windows clamped shut, the radiators on and clad in not only 100 denier tights, but cardigan and jumper too. What a miserable April it has been.
But in the vegetable world, Spring marches on apace, and new season's asparagus is in the shops. I had some delivered in my fancy-pants organic veg box (it's cheaper than buying and wasting veg in the supermarkets honestly! My austerity measures haven't gone out the window just yet) so I decided to make a lovely risotto primavera, primavera being Italian for Spring, and that's the season we're in. Keep reminding yourself.
Risotto primavera is a jolly sunshiney dish which is also cheap and easy to make because it's mainly storecupboard and freezer things. Here's how I make it.
Serves 3-4 with a salad.
A large handful of risotto rice per person + 1 for the pot (this is not very scientific)
1 large onion
2 fat cloves of garlic
1 large leek
a slosh of wine if you have it (if you don't, don't worry - or use martini like I did - yum?)
2 pints (or therabouts) of veg or chicken stock
2 big handfuls of frozen peas
2 big handfuls of frozen broad beans
a bunch of asparagus, snapped at their bending point and stalks shopped into 1cm rounds - reserve 2 stalks per person for garnish
1/2 lemon squeezed
a big handful of parmesan
a handful of chopped parsley and mint
Fry the diced onion and crushed garlic in a bit of olive oil in a large saucepan. Set your stock on to boil in another pan, and also put another large pan of water on to boil for your peas. Add the chopped leek and a little knob of butter for good measure. Let it all fry away for a little while on a low heat until everything is soft but not coloured at all. Add the rice and give it a stir.
Chuck the wine in and let it bubble for a little while, stirring the rice. Add a ladleful of hot stock and stir it until it's all absorbed into the rice. Do this again, and keep doing it until you're about two ladlesful from the end. Keep tasting the rice to see if it's cooked - if it isn't add ladlefuls of kettle water if you can't be bothered to make up a new batch of stock.
When your rice is almost cooked add your peas and broad beans to the boiling water (you could add them directly to the risotto but I've done that before, then realised the rice isn't cooked, and by the time it is the peas and beans are all mush - bad times) and let them cook for about one minute. Drain and set aside.
Put a frying pan with a little oil in it onto a medium heat. Add the chopped asparagus to the pan of risotto off the heat and leave to stand for around five minutes. The asparagus will cook through in the heat from the pan but still be crunchy.
Meanwhile add the whole asparagus spears to the pan of oil and let them fry for a few minutes until done. Don't panic if they look a bit charred. Whilst they're frying, grate some parmesan and chop some parsley and mint.
Finally stir a knob of butter through the risotto, add the parmesan, lemon juice, herbs and adjust the seasoning. Pile onto plates, top with the whole grilled asparagus, a drizzle of oil if you're feeling fancy and some more parmesan. Then turn your heating up and pretend it's Spring for 20 minutes.
Cheap is the order of the day for food in my house at the moment. Since deciding (I mean really deciding, not moaning on and on to my friends but not really doing anything practical to ensure eventual success) that I don't want to spend the rest of my life renting someone else's house, I've been saving like mad. Oh the cuts I've made!
So out with lovely luxurious food (like meat and butter) and in with beans. Beans, beans, beans, with the occasional lentil thrown in for variety. Lentil night is a real thrill in my house, I tell you.
Last night I made this thing which was very cheap and actually quite tasty, and not very bad for you - so it's the holy trinity of weekday dinners. If you make it with dried and soaked beans it's even cheaper and the dream of home ownership will become a reality even sooner.
Serves 3-4 (4 with a salad)
1 tin of cannellini beans
1 tin of haricot beans
1 little pack of lardons or some snipped up smoked bacon
1 large onion
2 fat cloves of garlic
1 pepper (and any other veg you've got hanging about)
1 tin of tomatoes
1 big squeeze of tomatoe puree
Stock cube (I used beef but only because that's all I had) and water.
Fry the bacon in a slosh of oil until it's quite crispy and has released most of it's lovely tasty fat, then add the chopped onion and squashed garlic and fry until soft.
Chop the pepper and any other veg you've got sitting in the fridge making you feel bad (courgettes, carrots, aubergine would all be nice) and sling them in to fry away for a couple of minutes. Add your tomatoes and a squeeze of tomato puree.
Add the drained beans and enough stock to cover them. Boil away for 15 mins and then serve with some pesto (a packet of basil whizzed up with some oil, lemon, a garlic clove and a bit of grated parmisan) drizzled on the top. I had an old sad bit of focaccia in the fridge too so I drizzled it with oil, rubbed a garlic clove on it and grilled it. For waste is the enemy of frugality.
Being a true sucker for a food trend (with several failed attempts at macarons under my belt) there was only one thing I wanted to pour all over my pancakes this year - salted caramel. Thankfully it's much easier to make than f*£$%@#g macarons thanks to Nigella. Armed with her Stylist recipe I set to work on Monday night, decadently doubling up the ingredients, as I feel it's what she would have wanted.
I'm just going to copy the recipe wholesale from the Stylist website, since I followed it to the letter (but with twice as much of all ingredients)
75g best quality unsalted butter
50 g soft light brown sugar
50 g caster Sugar
50g golden syrup
125ml double cream
half to one-and-a-half teaspoons fleur de sel (Note: don't be faint-hearted with the salt, otherwise it's just caramel sauce)
Step 1: Melt butter, sugars and syrup and butter in a small heavy based pan and let simmer for 3 minutes, swirling every now and again. Step 2: Add cream and half a teaspoon of fleur de sel salt (not table salt!) and swirl again, give a stir with a wooden spoon and taste – go cautiously so that you don’t burn your tongue – to see if you want more salt before letting it cook for another minute on the stove, then pour into a jug for serving.
Now you’ve got your sauce, you’re ready to take your next steps: eating it. My suggestions are as follows: In the first instance, and for ease, just dribble it over vanilla ice cream. But next up, please consider adding a warm brownie (regular, not the bacon ones) to this pairing. Or drizzle over chocolate melting-bellied fondant puddings or chocolate cake. Or pour over clotted cream and Christmas pud (and see below). But it is not just this realm that welcomes the sauce: it makes a divine and rakishly chic accompaniment to apple crumble, apple cake or simple baked apple.
I filled a medium sized tupperware with sauce, took it to a pancake party of eight people and had some to take home. Which I will probably eat tonight in front of some sort of guilty pleasure TV program (New Girl in all liklihood) since Simon is in Manchester so we don't have to watch subtitled dramas or Nicolas Cage films.
I'm aware that this is turning into a sauce blog. I promise I'll cook something solid soon.
On Saturday me and Simon were walking to the Tate Modern and we were hungry. I suggested we stop off for some melted cheese on potatoes at The Real Food Market at the back of The Royal Festival Hall (until end of March).
Before we went to buy tartiflette with sausages (me) and raclette with salami (him) we spotted some really good looking English muffins at The Flour Station and decided that they would make a good Sunday breakfast or tea.
So on Sunday I made eggs benedict for brunch (except it was 2:30pm before I managed to get my act together) and this is how I did it.
For 2 greedy people.
2 English muffins
4-6 slices of Parma ham
4 free range/organic eggs
4oz (110g) butter cubed
1 desert spoon of cold water
2 large free range/organic egg yolks
Squeeze of lemon to taste
Put your grill on and set a shallow pan of water on to boil for poaching your eggs.
Set a bowl over a pan of just simmering water, you don't want it to be too hot, a gentle heat is best.
Put the 2 egg yolks and spoon of water in the bowl over the water and whisk until paler and slightly foamy. Start adding the butter a few cubes at a time and whisk until incorporated. Don't add more until the last lot has disappeared. You might need to take the pan off the heat to let it cool down if it's getting too hot - keep an eye on it. You should be able to touch the bowl comfortablywith your hand, if you can't that means it's too hot.
You egg poaching pan should be coming to the boil by now. Drop your eggs into the water whole, with their shells on, for ten seconds then remove them. When you come to crack them into the water they will hold their shape much better, allegedly. Whenever I poach eggs, no matter what method I use they always look frilly and ghostly, but I only really care about the yolk in any case. Poach your eggs until soft-yolked and set-whited and set aside on a plate somwhere warm (the oven should be pretty hot by now anyway if you've got two pans on the go and the grill on full - mine was.)
Split your muffins (ooh matron!) and put them under the hot grill. Put your slices of Parma ham into a dry pan to crisp up slightly. Set aside.
Keep adding your little cubes of butter until it's all whisked in and then add a squeeze of lemon to lighten it up. It should have the texture of thickish mayonnaise, but not as globby. Taste it for seasoning - I used salted butter and found that I didn't need any extra salt. Also ham/bacon is salty. I used Parma ham since it tastes like lovely bacon but is only 35 calories per slice, should you be worried about such things.
None of the aspects of this dish are difficult, but I found it very challenging to get everything cooked to the right stage at the same time. I ended up cooking things and setting them aside as they became ready and keeping them warm untilI wanted to assemble them. As long as it isn't hours I think it's ok. The main thing is that your sauce is fresh and hot, and your eggs aren't over or under cooked. I think then you will be forgiven a slightly pale or charred muffin.
I was sent a jar of Tracklements cheery Cherry Tomato Relish to try, and the good news is I thought it was great!
They recommend making little crostini spread with the tart relish and topped with goat’s cheese which I think would be a great dinner party canapé, and no work at all to put together.
After some exhaustive testing (such a hard life!) I can report the following: it’s good with cheese (obviously), it's tasty on burgers (naturellement) but also good spooned onto a piece of fish and grilled, or served alongside cold meats.
The relish is packed full of sweet cherry tomatoes, flavoured with onions, coriander and thyme with a hint of garlic. It is a must at any BBQ and jazzes up a dusty old pasty or drab sandwich lunch a treat.
This versatile condiment from the rising stars of the jam, jelly, mustard and chutney world will find a place on the plates of even the most exacting of consumers.
Tracklement's dedication to creating natural products in small batches really shines through in the quality of their produce, which is available via stockists to be found on their website.
I went to The Hollybush in Hampstead last night, previously a student haunt of mine, though in those days I took my own gin as it's pretty pricey in that neck of the woods.
I had a scotch egg on the recommendation of a work colleague, and it really was exemplary. Well seasoned meat encasing an egg with the holy grail; a runny yolk! Crispy breadcrumbs completed the picture. Seldom do I feel such joy as when I find a runny yolk in a scotch egg.
Mine was served with an over-sweet onion chutney, which didn't go very well - a nice bit of sharp piccalilly would have been better, but my colleague assures me that this was the case when she visited, so maybe they'd just run out or something.
At £4 the scotch eggs are not cheap, but this is Hampstead after all, and at least I can afford the gin in my gin and tonics nowadays.
Well-loved (and justifiably so) butcher, The Ginger Pig has answered every carnivore’s prayers with the long-awaited publication of their The Ginger Pig Meat Book. I went along to the launch to sample some meaty treats and get my gravy stained hands on the new book.
Held in the pretty Edwardian interior of Daunt Books on Marylebone High St, just around the corner from The Ginger Pig, the tables beneath the sky light heaved with pies, pasties, hams, their world famous sausage rolls, pink tinged roast beef, sausages and other delights. A sight to truly gladden the heart.
Not usually a fan of pork pies, I decided, in the interests of journalistic integrity to dive in at the deep end and get my chops around a traditional pork pie. The hard, cloth-y tasting golf ball of mystery meat surrounded by unappealing quivering jelly wrapped in greasy and bland pastry are the usual hallmarks of a supermarket pork pie, hence my avoidance up to now. The Ginger Pig’s pork pies were a sagey, buttery and rich revelation and would happily have a place at any future picnic, party or lunchbox of mine. Ditto the sausage rolls, which knocked every other sausagey snack into a cocked hat.
As for the book, it’s a beautiful bible of recipes by Fran Warde and Ginger Pig farmer Tim Wilson. Covering the classic (roast partridge, slow roast pork belly, duck with plums) and the more contemporary (venison burgers, Moroccan chicken with preserved lemons) the recipes are arranged by month according to seasonality, and each chapter begins with an insight into what’s happening on the farm in the form of a farm diary, a lovely touch which brings the farm and the table closer together.
Not only a recipe book, the title also provides over 100 pages of instructional detail on different cuts of meat, what to look out for when buying, things to ask your butcher and information on the suitability of certain cuts for certain dishes. Step-by-step instructions and pictorial guides to boning, rolling, stuffing, butchering and tying all manner of meat make this an absolute essential in the kitchens of any committed carnivore.