Archive for March, 2012

Weekends are all too often over in a flash, usually crammed with visits to see family and friends, catching up on dull chores, shopping, out for celebratory meals…occasionally, just occasionally, there’s one blissful day when there’s time for a little self-indulgence and kitchen therapy. This was one such day.

It started, as all perfect days should, with a lie in followed by a lazy brunch; perfectly poached eggs, ham, muffins and perfect hollandaise combined to make a dreamy eggs Benedict.

A brisk walk in the wintry sunshine set us up for a hearty Sunday dinner. Perfect roast chicken, roast potatoes and gravy with plenty of veg preceded a perfect rhubarb and apple crumble. The day ended, after stripping off the rest of the meat from the chicken carcass, making the perfect stock ready for a soothing broth in the week ahead.

That week we also dined on perfect omelettes, cottage pie, kedgeree, coq au vin, guacamole and flapjacks.

The simple meals in life, done well, are comforting and hard to beat. A number of the recipes in Felicity Cloake’s Perfect may be simple, every day dishes and perhaps well-established in your culinary repertoire but I’d like to make the case that her book isn’t, as you might think from the dishes I made, just for beginners but also for keen and competent cooks who are willing to look at ways to improve on their results or understand why the way they’ve always been doing it is the right way.

Felicity has trawled through recipe book after recipe book and thoroughly researched each and every dish in her book. She’s tested umpteen different versions of the same dish, pitting many a chef against a host of cookery writers, to discover how different preparation techniques and ingredients affect the end result and, most importantly, where recipes work or fail. From that she determines what makes the perfect dish and provides us with her ultimate recipe.

OK, so perfection is subjective and not all the dishes we tried from the book met completely with my idea of perfect (after all, I’ve spent quite some time aiming for perfection myself with a number of the same dishes) but having said that we thoroughly enjoyed everything we ate, all the recipes were successful and a doddle to follow.

Felicity’s straight-talking style makes this book easy and enjoyable to read. It’s well-written and thoughtful and I very much envy her for being able to spend so much time reading cookery books, delving into the history and origins of food, testing recipes, writing and eating!

If you’re still not sure then check out Felicity’s column in the Guardian where some of the recipes featured in the book and many more can be found. Just for the sheer amount of washing up she must do this lady deserves our support by buying the book!


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I’ve struggled this week – not because supplies are running out, far from it, I’ve got wild garlic coming out my ears; not because I’m running short of ideas, they’re still coming thick and fast; but because I sadly haven’t had enough time in the kitchen.

I fear the same may be true next week, the week before we move house and much of the kitchen is in boxes. I will soldier on and do my best to at least make a few wild garlic dishes. A girl has got to eat after all!

This is what we’ve been dining on this week:

Beetroot, feta and wild garlic sandwich. I really like the combination of salty feta and sweet beetroot with a grinding of black pepper, but a couple of wild garlic leaves is what had apparently been missing all this time.

Creamy wild garlic mushrooms on toast. Fried mushrooms, a few shredded wild garlic leaves, black pepper and crème fraiche. Simple. I had mine on toast for lunch but it would work equally well with pasta. Throw some chicken, bacon or ham in too if you want to make it meaty.

Wild garlic parathas with keema. The star of the week. Making parathas, if a little time-consuming, is quite therapeutic and most definitely worth the effort. I mixed shredded wild garlic leaves into the dough and next time would also try infusing the ghee with wild garlic for added flavour.

Wild garlic bread. Like garlic bread only better and slightly addictive! All the garlic flavour but none of the harshness you sometimes get with garlic bread.

Wild garlic guacamole and wild garlic salsa. Fresh accompaniments to our chilli con carne.

Chicken goujons in wild garlic crumbs with wild garlic coleslaw. Finger food for children and adults alike. You couldn’t particularly taste the garlic but it just added a little something very satisfying to the overall flavour of the dish. The wild garlic bread crumbs would work equally well for coating homemade fish fingers.

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Week two of my wild garlic challenge is behind me. It’s all going well, I’m still bursting with ideas and enthusiasm.

To answer those who’ve asked, I’m not bored of wild garlic yet and don’t worry that I will be. Once the season is over, I’ve got until next March to recover! I’m making the most of it whilst it’s here.

I’ve also enjoyed the talk on twitter this week about wild garlic, with people sharing their hunting grounds and recipes. There’s much interest and excitement out there and some wonderful suggestions too. Follow or join in with #wildgarlic.

In week two, we’ve been tucking into:

Lemon and ginger salmon with broccoli and wild garlic stir-fry. I used wild garlic leaves in the stir fry in a similar way to any Chinese leaf or spinach, gently wilting it in the heat and soy at the last minute.

Indian carrot salad with wild garlic. We had this salad with a spicy coconut and lamb curry, lemon and cashew nut rice, and tarka dhal. It was based on an Anjum Anand recipe from I Love Curry. The grated carrot is combined with crushed peanuts, lemon juice, coriander, mustard seeds and, in our case, wild garlic.

Mushroom and parmesan stuffed chicken breast wrapped in wild garlic and prosciutto. We had the stuffed and wrapped chicken with mash, spinach and mushroom sauce. This would make a simple yet stunning dinner party or special occasion dish.

Wild garlic mash. Wild garlic works incredibly well with mashed potato. Just like the eggs last week, potato and wild garlic have a real affinity with each other. I infused chopped wild garlic leaves in warm milk before adding to the mashed potato. It went really well with our casserole.

Linguine with wild garlic, hazelnut and rapeseed oil ‘pesto’. Wow! Delicious and yet powerful. This was the pungent dish of the week. I liked the idea of making a British ‘pesto’ by using a British produced oil instead of olive oil as well as hazelnuts rather than pine nuts, whilst the seasonal wild garlic replaced the basil.

Smoked trout pate with wild garlic. This pate is great as a starter, lunch or light supper. I added a hint of horseradish, chives and wild garlic to lift the flavour.

Pea soup with wild garlic jelly, crispy prosciutto, oven dried wild garlic leaf and wild garlic oil. My experimental, Heston Blumenthal-inspired, dish of the week. I got my hands on some agar-agar, a regular in his kitchen, and made a wild garlic jelly. It worked well but needs some refining to improve the flavour. Once perfected I think it could be used with roast chicken, with fish or perhaps even in a terrine. The wild garlic oil was a cracker though and needs no enhancement. Oven drying the wild garlic leaves intensified their flavour and added another texture along with the prosciutto. (Thanks to througheye for the photograph.)

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I’ve set myself a challenge: to eat as much wild garlic as possible! Well, strictly speaking my challenge is to try and create a different dish incorporating wild garlic each day until the end it’s relatively short season.

The joy of finding, picking and eating wild garlic (also known as ramsons) can only be rivalled by the arrival of forced rhubarb in January or the first of the British asparagus dipped in runny egg yolk and perhaps an early crop of home-grown peas eaten in the garden. Wild garlic is one of the first signs of spring but before long woodlands and canal paths are carpeted with the plant, a forager’s dream.

The garlicky bright green leaves are best eaten whilst still young and before the plant has flowered, though the star-shaped flowers are lovely in salads. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked; made into soups and sauces, added to sandwich fillings and salads or simply used as garnishes. In Cornwall, the leaves are even used to cover cheese; wild garlic yarg is one to get your hands on if you can. Though save some for me!

Wild garlic is not only tasty, it’s good for you. Said to be anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and, as with bulb garlic, it’s good for your circulation and the immune system. There’s nothing to stop you munching on those leaves!

Having found a sustainable and regular supply of wild garlic close to home, I’m now one week into my challenge; the ideas are flowing and the results have been tasty though, at times, pungent!

Glass noodle salad with chicken and shredded wild garlic. Quick and easy for after work, I made my usual noodle salad, this time with leftover roast chicken and a few shredded wild garlic leaves for some extra punch.

Crispy lamb and barley salad with wild garlic green sauce. There was just me for tea this evening and there were more leftovers to use up. I perked up the leftover breast of lamb and barley with a wild garlic green sauce (salsa verde) and served it on a bed of leaves and grated carrot.

Wild garlic and black pepper cream cheese with smoked ham in a toasted sesame bagel. Nothing fancy but still tasty. Wild garlic made it into my lunchbox today.

Scrambled eggs with wild garlic on seeded wholemeal toast. What a way to start the day! Who needs a caffeine boost in the morning when you’ve got wild garlic?! I think I might have to go as far as to say these were the best scrambled eggs I’ve eaten.

Leek and wild garlic sausage rolls. Delicious, though you might not want to eat these in the office! The wild garlic flavour intensified in the sausage mix and was the most potent of the recipes so far.

Wild garlic and chive scones. Chopped wild garlic and chives were added to a standard cheese scone dough. I garnished them with oven dried wild garlic leaves and simply served them with cream cheese.

Oxtail stoup with wild garlic ‘gremolata’. My oxtail turned into a cross between a soup and a stew. After cooking, the rich stoup was given an Italian style lift with a sort of gremolata made with the wild garlic leaves, parsley and lemon zest.

There’ll be more vampire-warding, cold-busting and immune-boosting wild garlic delights here next week. Until then, start foraging!

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Wrap up warm and be prepared to be taken on a journey. Tread in the deep, crisp snow, wander through the colourful and narrow streets, forage in the vast woodland, gaze into and fish in the bright blue waters and feel the warmth of family and friends as you simply break bread or share a feast with them. Be guided through the land, the culture, the food, the atmosphere and the seasons by the Scandinavian Cookbook.

As you might expect, the Scandinavian Cookbook is cleanly, clearly and efficiently laid out. The month themed chapters help you to eat with the seasons, though of course there are recipes which will see you right at any time of year.

And the recipes don’t disappoint: with a great deal of dishes quite unique to Scandinavian cuisine, the food is fresh and healthy and packed with flavour. There are a fair amount of fish recipes but also a lot of baking, desserts and treats as well as a wide selection of meat and vegetable dishes and not forgetting the pickles and berries.

Recipes are accompanied by snippets of background information, insights into the Scandi way of life and some very personal stories about the author’s Danish upbringing. The photography, from Lars Ranek, combined with these accounts, brings the book to life, giving the reader a real sense of the place as well as the obligatory dishes to drool over.

But what might you be feasting on? There is, of course, a recipe for Swedish meatballs and I urge you to go ahead and make your own, the result was much more satisfying than Ikea meatballs, though there’s nothing wrong with indulging in a plate of those every once in a while to help you survive a trip to the big blue and yellow place!  We had ours accompanied by some roasted potatoes, greens, pickled cucumber and berries (we used the suggested substitute of cranberries due to a lack of lingonberries). The only thing missing was the ‘gravy’ but a quick search on Google and the meal was soon complete.

But, not surprisingly, there’s more to Scandi food than meatballs. The Scandinavians have, as have many cultures, adopted the burger and made it their own. There are two unusual recipes: Bif Lindstrom, a beef burger containing capers and beetroot, and an incredible fishy equivalent; salmon burger with a chive and mayo dressing.

A trip to Scandinavia wouldn’t be complete without some reindeer (well, we had moose which we found in Lidl). Reindeer (or moose) steaks with their spicy black pepper and aniseed crust, served with a potato and celeriac gratin and roasted sprouts was a perfect wintry Sunday dinner.

The veal with baked rhubarb and barley salad was a great way to enjoy the vibrant pink forced rhubarb available in the early months of the year, whilst, if baking is more your thing, we had fun experimenting with the yoghurt and wheatgrain bread and the spelt buns.

For dessert, some apples, past their best, and some stale bread magically transformed into a divine apple trifle, and to accompany your Danish blue cheeses, how about the walnuts pickled in wine?

This beautiful book brought back memories of a wonderful and chilly week exploring Stockholm two years ago. Let yourself be transported to Scandinavia and embrace the Scandi in you. You won’t be disappointed. With recent publications such as this, Trina Hahnemann’s other book, the Nordic Diet, and Signe Johansen’s Scandilicious, it’s no wonder Scandinavian food is so popular at the moment, and long may it’s popularity last.

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