Things I like in the kitchen (part one)

Just as we've recovered from our trip to Legoland, it's time for the school summer fair. I found myself flipping burgers and sausages for four hours with Mike on a hot Saturday after volunteering to help. I'm sure there must have been some form of mind control involved, or perhaps he asked me when Maya was pulling my nose and Noah was falling off his scooter at speed. However it happened, he must have caught me at a weak moment.But now the meat sweats have calmed down, and I no longer smell like a forest fire and can face eating again it's been little but salads this week, or ham and egg on toast. Simple and quick things that don't require much thought or time.So in light of not a great deal going on in the kitchen for the past few days, here is a selection of things I find essential and interestingly useful from my bulging shelves.La isla bonito:dried and fermented smoked tuna is a surprisingly delicious addition to many seafood dishes and stocks. I particularly like to add it to the pasta when I'm making spaghetti alle vongole. And I occasionally just like smelling the jar for that strange almost fish food smell.We bought a yuzu:I'll often use this in dressings instead of lemon juice to give a slightly different citrus tang or in sorbets and lemon tarts.Yeast today, once more:Usually I make the weekly bread using my sourdough starter, but when I want a quicker loaf, pitta breads, ciabbattas or the like, I'll use this fresh yeast from Sweden (via Ocado or the internet). It's tangy, I much prefer fresh than the dried powdery stuff and I like the packaging.Tarragon with the wind:Not many days pass in this house without a salad and our house vinaigrette. Cider vinegar that has had a small bunch of tarragon steeping in it is key to this. Aniseed and apple flavours make this vinaigrette stand out.Fungi to be around:Dried porcini mushrooms, ground to a powder (or for that matter, dried mushrooms of most kinds) make an excellent seasoning for steak, or beef. I also add it to my mushroom pasta and many other dishes where I want that deep umami hit.Oil be seeing you, in all the old familiar places:I have a standard olive oil to cook with and I have a few special ones to dress with. Food that is, I don't need oil on hand when putting clothes on. Just spending a little more on a really good quality olive oil makes such a difference to finishing dishes or for making dressings or just to dip good bread in.Sitting on the dock of the Old Bay:First of all, I love the packaging. Second, no fish taco in this house is complete without Old Bay seasoning. Easy.Pepper the conversation:Japanese pepper is slightly fruity and lemony, so is great on seafood or with meringues and strawberries. I use it a lot when I want an extra kick without too much pepper flavourAil be seeing you, in all those old familiar faces:A house without garlic is a sad house.Cutting the mustard:Maille is my preferred brand of Dijon mustard. I use it in vinagrettes and it's a must(ard) with roast chicken.Chilli in here:I like chilli heat, we have a variety of hot chilli sauces on the shelves too. And one of my favourite uses for them is hot green chilli sliced onto scrambled eggs. Hot green chillies probably would improve most dishes in my opinion.Herb Salt:A mix of rosemary, thyme, sage and parsley, this salt will turn your morning fried eggs into delicious morning fried eggs. And there are plenty more uses for it than that too. Seasoning chicken skin before the bird goes in the oven, sprinkling over flaky white fish or seasoning, even curing salmon, this salt is just a little bit more than the usual. All you need is a spice grinder and it keeps for a long, long while.

Lamb Shanks with Spaghetti Squash

Last night the oven caught fire. I'd only popped out for a while and left Bee a lasagne to heat for supper. We've had it for about 13 years, and it has seen two replacement heating elements and a couple of glass doors which shattered for no obvious reason. It also has always sounded like a derailing freight-train since we bought it, so perhaps it's time for a new one.The central heating part of the boiler, which now is being called into service after it's summer holiday has decided it also has had enough. Even that has had so many parts replaced I'm not sure if it's the same boiler we started with.And finally, to complete the trinity, the brakes on Bee's car failed as well. It's been a good week for the repair industry.Back in the kitchen, all is not lost without an oven. I'm baking bread in my neighbour, Russel's one, which has its own peculiarities. It's rather like the peasant taking his loaf to the village bakery to be cooked. I can't, however, impose full roasting usage upon him every evening.  So it's pots and pan cookery for the immediate future.Fortunately, the season is perfect for slow cooking. A strong, heavy deep pot, preferably cast iron and with a lid is a kitchen essential. You can make meals with just one burner and fill up on hearty and healthy food.I'm buy our meat from Heal Farm in Devon and the quality is amazing. Knowing where it comes from and being able to speak directly to the farmers is a privilege. It's not much more expensive than the supermarkets and the little extra it costs is, in my opinion a price worth paying for the quality and care.These lamb shanks were so rich and flavoursome. A proper autumn meal, and very easy to cook using one pan. Fortunately, I roast the squash earlier in the day so it only required a quick warming through. You, with your fancy, functioning oven should be fine to cook it as normal. If you can't find spaghetti squash, swap it for pumpkin or sweet potato mash with thyme and almonds.This is a rich and meaty meal. A proper dish if you've just been out hewing logs or something. And one that, after a few minutes preparation, pretty much cooks itself. It's also perfect for the slow cooker if you have one. Eight hours on low should do it.Ingredients for two2 lamb shanksOlive oil1 tin of chopped tomatoes1 bulb of garlic, halved equatorially1 large red chilliA pinch of cumin seedsOne spaghetti squashA pinch of fresh thymeA small handful of toasted almond flakesSalt and pepper to seasonMethodSeason the lamb shanks with salt and pepper then brown them all over in a little oil in a very hot pan.Deglaze the pan with about a mug-full of water and add the lamb and liquid to a heavy, lidded casserole dish.Add all the remaining ingredients and cook for about two and a half hours on a low flame. It's even better if you cook this the day before you need it. It tastes just a little more rounded after a good rest.For the spaghetti squash, roast it for one hour in the oven at about 180c. Leave it to cool a little, so it doesn't steam your face off when you cut into it. Scoop out all the flesh. Sprinkle over some thyme and almond flakes and a little seasoning and serve with the lamb and sauce.

Ail Be Back

I seem to be roasting rather a lot at the moment. Maybe it's down to this peculiar summer we're having or perhaps in a counter-intuitive way because I'm busy.As I've mentioned before, letting the oven take care of things is a great way to cook if you need to be getting on with life.I'm not suggesting here that you just eat a load of garlic for supper (although just spread on good bread it makes a pretty good snack) but it can be part of a good spread of charcuterie and salad if you're after something light.I clearly remember the first time I had a whole bulb of roast garlic. At a pub called The George in Alfriston, West Sussex (one of our favourite villages) back when we were footloose and fancy-free. Angels sang, light poured from the heavens and I was enlightened. I've used fresh garlic here, as it's now bursting forth everywhere. It's mellower and milder than the winter stuff but equally interchangeable and delicious in this recipe if you don't have any.Just get a load of garlic, wrap in foil with some thyme and rosemary, drizzle with olive oil and roast for about and hour at 160c. So simple, and the kitchen will smell amazing.

Wild garlic risotto

wildgarlicrisottoWild garlic is in full flower in late April and May, so now is the time to get it. Mine grows in the garden, but it’s easy to find in churchyards, woods and fields. The flowers are edible and tasty, as well as looking really pretty on the plate. Its uses range from pesto to soups and, in this recipe, risotto. I like to use Carnaroli rice for its creaminess, but feel free to use other types. You could even substitute spelt for the rice, adjusting the liquid and cooking time as required.Serves: 4Preparation time: 10 minutesCooking time: 25 minutesIngredients1l vegetable stock, preferably homemadeOlive oil2 garlic cloves, finely chopped4 small shallots, finely slicedHalf a glass of white wine, better still, vermouth (optional)A large handful of wild garlic leaves and a good sprinkle of the flowers2 tbsp butter2 tbsp grated parmesanA dash of truffle oil if you’re feeling luxuriousSalt to season Method

  1. Heat the stock in a saucepan and keep it warm on the stove.
  2. In a deep, heavy bottomed pan sauté the garlic and shallots in a little olive oil until soft, then add the rice and a pinch of salt. Stir well and toast the rice for a minute.
  3. Add the vermouth if using and let it reduce right down. Add the stock a ladleful at a time, only adding another when the previous ladleful has been absorbed. Make sure you keep stirring the rice to release the starch for a creamy risotto.
  4. Halfway through, add half of the finely sliced wild garlic leaves and stir well.
  5. Finish adding the stock, then vigorously stir in the butter and Parmesan while shaking the pan.
  6. Stir in the remaining leaves, cover and rest for five minutes. Check the seasoning; add the garlic flowers and serve.

Quick carb-free crab ‘courgetti’

courgettiThis is a take on one of my favourite pasta dishes. It’s a great way to cut out carbohydrates if you're on a health kick, and it really stands out as a dish in its own right.It’s so quick to make, as long as you have a spiralizer. If not, you’ll have to slice the courgettes very finely by hand. I have a small hand-held spiralizer that only cost a few pounds and I highly recommend it.Use good olive oil, juicy tomatoes and adjust the chilli to your taste. Don’t overdo it though, this is a delicate dish. It also works very well with prawns if you prefer.Serves: 4 Preparation time: 5 minutes Cooking time: 5 minutesIngredients2 tins of crab1 large courgette½ a clove of garlicA large handful of cherry tomatoesOlive oilA pinch of chilli flakes2 tbsp fresh chives, finely slicedSalt to seasonMethod

  1. Prepare the courgette and set aside for a minute.
  2. Gently heat the olive oil and add the garlic, then cook for a minute.
  3. Add the courgette, season and toss in the pan for a minute or two, until it starts to soften.
  4. Add the crab, tomatoes and chilli flakes and cook for a further minute to warm through.
  5. Check the seasoning and stir the chives through just before serving with a salad.