I bought a bird feeder from the hardware superstore the other day. Along with a new huge barbecue and quite a few other things you're allowed when you graduate from Dad school.Except it seems to be badly calibrated. In this part of South east London it seems the only birds it attracts are squirrels. And three very shifty looking pigeons. And while I may proudly wear a 'For the many' lapel badge on my jacket, in this situation I am taking a hardline stance on scroungers and layabout animals wanting something for nothing. I threw a tennis ball in their general direction earlier and they retreated to a safe distance, eyeing me with beady contempt.But while the level of seeds and nuts dimishes quicker than my enthusiasm for the new season's hot weather after two days of sneezing my face off, my excitement at the garden grows daily as new things pop out here and there, seemingly overnight. Violets and forget-me-nots appeared from the garden's edge like a very slow jack-in-the-box and the tulips opened wider than I thought possible to soak up the strong, bright sunlight shining constantly on the borders.We cooked outside for the first time this year. In April. Which surely is unheard of. I over-catered in my excitement. Chicken, slender sausages, langoustines with garlic butter, burgers, lamb chops marinated in harissa, za'atar, cumin and rosemary, flatbreads, charring in parts until the edges shatter when you tap them. I roasted aubergines on the coals until soft and blackened then mashed them with olive oil, plenty of garlic and some more cumin and we sat outside stuffing our faces in the late afternoon warmth.After a weekend of overeating and behaving as if we were battery chickens busted out into the freedom of the garden, Monday night called for a calmer supper.I made this tom kha, trying to recreate the one from our local Thai restaurant. And while not quite the same as theirs -- I have a feeling they may lace it with sugar -- it was fresh tasting, spicy (but with a nice heat that sort of punched you in the face then left you alone, rather than one that slowly builds like a kind of gaslighting) and ready in about 20 minutes. Halve the amount of chillies if you like, but I do rather enjoy the rush you get from something that is almost too much.I put prawns in this one, but chicken is equally delicious. As is pigeon or squirrel. Possibly.IngredientsA thumb sized piece of galangal, finely sliced3-4 red chillies (birdseye or finger)2 sticks of lemongrass, bruised and sliced into 3cm pieces1 tin of coconut milk (400ml)6 or so kaffir lime leaves1 shallot, finely sliced2 medium-small tomatoes, choppedAbout six meaty mushrooms (I used chestnut, but would have preferred oyster)300g raw tiger prawnsJuice and zest of a limeA dash of fish sauce and a little pinch of salt to tasteA bunch of coriander, choppedMethodThrow the galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, shallot and chillies into a saucepan with the coconut milk and slowly heat, stirring gently and occasionally.Cook for about five minutes then add the mushrooms and prawns and bring to just below the boil. Cook for another 5-10 minutes, until the prawns are cooked through then season with the lime juice and fish sauce to taste. Try to get the balance between salty, sour, sweet and sharp.Add the chopped coriander and lime zest and serve straight away with more lime wedges and chilli slices on the side.This weekWatched: Swan Lake ballet for children at the theatre. About my level really. I still found the whole thing preposterous though. I mean really...Read: The Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Sicily, a prince in the 1860s. I mean, it's perfectly readable, but I had no great desire to rush home and pick it up.Eat: Neil from Eugene cooked us great steaks the other night, before he and Linda returned home. Delicious food and great company.Listened: Some new English jazz, would you believe. Ivo Neame featuring Shabaka Hutchings. Good stuff, interesting, and wide-ranging.
I found a lobster in the freezer yesterday. Cooked and frozen solid. I'd forgotten about it, languishing there like an extra in Quincy. I gave it a hot bath, and a little shine up before taking it apart, post-mortem.Not having been able to establish a cause of death, and I know it was dead when it went in under some Vienetta, I'll have to leave an open verdict. Frozen lobster is obviously not a patch on fresh. And I'd far rather some plump tiger prawns anyway, unless I'm sitting on the shore watching the fishermen haul them up from their lobster pots and bring them clattering to the shore while singing sea shanties and talking of the sea as a 'capricious mistress'. Seeing as we live in London, this is not a fantasy I can often indulge in and I'm certainly not going to turn down this treasure from the deep-freeze.One of my favourite things to do with shellfish is keep their shells and bits for bisque. You can freeze them after cooking to do this at a later date, although in this case, I just used the one shell and made the soup straight away. I love the grittiness, the deep spiciness of the soup and it also makes a great sauce for pasta. The recipe is here.I would recommend using fresh lobster where possible, this simple dish really sings and zings so the better quality you can get, the better the end result. To state the obvious.The sweet lobster tail, the delicate claws. The quick pickled apple salad, sharp and crunchy with the aniseed hit of fennel. The warmth and freshness of ginger and the cooling cucumber, mixing among the crisp potato (let's call them chips, for that's what they are) and the punchy garlic aioli dressing that will breathe fear into your neighbours. This is a lunch worthy of any table from the city to the huts in Cadgwith or white sandy beaches in Sri Lanka. And all from the freezer and the fruit bowl.Ingredients for two1 medium lobster per person1 Maris piper potato, finely sliced into matchsticks1 apple, cubed1 small fennel bulb, sliced1/2 a cucumber, deseeded and cubed1 thumb of ginger, peeled and finely chopped50ml cider vinegar1tbsp caster sugar1 large garlic clove, crushed2 egg yolks150ml olive oil1tbsp Dijon mustardA little squeeze of lemon juice or sherry vinegar1tbsp chopped chives2tsp fresh thyme leavesSaltRapeseed oil for fryingMethodMake the aioli by whisking the ingredients (apart from the oil) together and slowly drizzling in the oil as you whisk, until it makes an emulsion. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Cover and set aside.Do what you need to do to the lobster. Cook it and cool it in iced water (probably about 12 minutes cooking depending on size) or defrost it. Carefully remove the tail and claw meat and keep the shell if you're making bisque.Mix the apple, fennel, cucumber and ginger with the vinegar and sugar and let sit for 15 minutes.Meanwhile, heat about four centimetres of oil in a heavy-based saucepan andfry the potato until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper and season well.Serve the salad topped with the lobster and chips, a good dollop of the aioli and a sprinkle of cress and fennel fronds.
Before you start, this isn't ramen in the proper ramen way, more of a broth with some things in, one of those things being a beautiful piece of seared sirloin.But as with real ramen, the key is the depth of the stock, so try and use a homemade one full of flavour, and when heating it up for the final dish, add in kombu, plenty of fish sauce, lime and lemon juice. It's quick (well, once you've made the stock), nutritious and rammed with flavour.Ingredients (for two)150g sirloin fillet per person1l chicken stock1 book Choi, halvedA few slices of gingerTwo or three red chilliesA couple of garlic cloves, sliced60g cooked buckwheat noodles (soba)A few sheets of kombu, slicedA handful of coriander leaves2tbsp lime juice2tbsp lemon juice2tbsp fish sauceMethod:Bring the stock to the boil and keep hot.Sauté the garlic and sear the steak, then remove from the pan.Sear the book Choi quickly then add the kombu, lemon, lime and fish sauce to the broth with the chillies, ginger, noodles and garlic.Cook for a minute then put the cooked noodles, bok choi and steak in a bowl and pour over the broth and serve with coriander.
With spring barking at the door like an excitable, just woken puppy it's time for fresh flavours. We've not been eating gruel all winter, but we have relied somewhat on spices and aromatic herbs to get us through. Now it's time for green vegetables.This soup is a nice mix between the more substantial dishes we eat in the cold weather and the lighter ones we are starting to have as the blossom appears on the trees. You can use whatever veg you fancy, but I'd advise sticking to ones with crunch rather than starch. I'd also advise you make your own pesto, but if you can't be bothered, there are pretty good 'fresh' ones available.Ingredients6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon or pancetta1 medium brown onionA selection of vegetables such as cauliflower, courgette, carrots and a little sweet potatoA handful of cherry tomatoes3l chicken or vegetable stock (preferably homemade, this soup relies on a good base)8tbsp basil pestoA huge grating of ParmesanMethodStart by chopping the bacon into small pieces and do the same with an onion.Cube your veg and set aside. I also found a couple of shallots and some green beans at the back of the drawer which went in.Heat some olive oil in a large, deep pan and gently fry the bacon until it starts to crisp. You can then add the sweet potato cubes and the rest of the vegetables, apart from the courgette, if you’re using it. Courgette is a little flavour and crunch held together by water, you pretty much only want to cook this for seconds, so add it just before serving. Pour in three litres of hot chicken or vegetable stock, bring to the boil then simmer for four to five minutes. Add the courgette, turn the heat off and stir in the pesto and grate over much more Parmesan than you think you need. A good fifteen twists of black pepper and you can serve with more pesto and Parmesan on the side.
I'll explain the ginger later, but this week, we have decided to stop eating refined carbs and sugar for the foreseeable future. So I did what any sane person would and have stuffed my face full of cake, crumpets, pancakes, sandwiches, potatoes in their various, seductive guises, ice cream and chocolate. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although my stomach may have had a few complaints.In my daily life working with food, I often munch and graze my way through the day like a goat eating a coat sleeve just because it's there. And while a lot of the recipes are not too unhealthy, when you combine that with three meals a day it's easy to see why my clothes from ten years ago have inexplicably shrunk.When I'm out, I find it very difficult to buy food on the go that isn't stodgy and carb heavy. Now, I think hard about snacks and what I'm eating. It's shocking how much rubbish food we buy. I'm not going to turn into a health nut, but I feel excited by the thought of returning to eating how we were designed to. I will, on occasion, allow myself to revel in a burger, or have a great pile of steamed basmati rice with a curry, or some silken home-made pasta with ragu in a seaside Italian restaurant, or hot, salty chips with vinegar on the beach. I'm not a freak.So, I've stunk the house out with chicken stocks and chinese spices bubbling away in mysterious pots. I've worried about where I can store all the veg in addition to the fruit and veg I was already buying for my morning Nutribullet. These days, a liquid breakfast or lunch means a very different thing... Breakfast this morning, as an aside, was some sliced roast pork from the weekend, two fried eggs and a pile of steamed spinach with herb salt and chilli flakes. It took a little while longer than toast, but not much.This week, apart from the soups and stocks, and leftover meat, I am making a batch of ginger beer. My usual brand, 'Granny Steads' has sugar in it. And while I love its warming ginger heat, it's time to say goodbye. I'll use date syrup in this one. Adjust the quantities as you see fit. Bottoms up! (and with hope, smaller too...)Ingredients:2 large ginger roots, scrubbed and grated2tbsp date syrup250ml water1tsp yeast1 small red chilli1tsp turmericJuice of up to one lemon2l waterMethod:Heat the ginger, syrup, chilli, turmeric and water in a pan until just below the boil, simmer for a few minutes then turn off and leave to cool completely.Strain the syrup and add the yeast. Divide between two litre bottles and fill up with water (I'd use plastic ones at this point, just until you're ready to decant into glass and store in the fridge. You don't want to risk having to redecorate the kitchen. Add the lemon juice and shake well.Leave these for a week at room temperature, checking occasionally for excess gas buildup then transfer to glass bottles in the fridge. This will stop any further fermentation.
This is one of the simplest and quickest meals you will ever make. And one of the most delicious. To make it work, though, you must get absolutely fresh tiger prawns and plump, large scallops. Don't be tempted to scrimp here, this is such a pure tasting dish and as there are so few ingredients there is nowhere to hide.I don't think you can beat a really good prawn. I prefer them to lobster. Keep the shells and heads in the freezer to use for bisque or stock. If you're feeling hungry, a small bowl of jasmine rice on the side should satisfy you.I often will have a cup of miso in the morning, instead of tea or coffee. I feel purified and revitalised when I drink it. Again, buy a good paste, I like to use Clearspring's unpasteurised barley miso, it's organic and has nothing nasty in it. You can keep miso in a sealed jar in the fridge almost indefinitely, so it makes a great staple for when you're stuck. You can add some dried mushrooms to it or some fresh vegetables and you have a nutritious dish in a few minutes.I eat this more than an hour ago, and I still have flavours coming back to me. Like the best of things, this simple dish has left me wanting to come back for more.Ingredients (Serves 2)2 squares of dried kombu seaweed2 tbsp miso paste1 tbsp yuzu seasoning (lemon juice will do if you don't have any)2 large tiger prawns2 large scallops, coral attachedA small handful of samphire1l water2 tsp black lumpfish roe (or caviar if you're rich)MethodSoak the kombu in boiling water for about 20 minutes.Sear the scallop on both sides in some hot brown butter, then set aside.Bring the water back up to the boil and add the prawns. Cook for a couple of minutes then add the samphire and yuzu. Stir in the miso paste and make sure it blends in well.Peel the prawns, leaving the tails on if you like. Cut the seaweed in two and place at the bottom of a warmed shallow bowl. Add the scallops and samphire.Add a teaspoon of roe on top of the scallop then pour over the hot miso and serve immediately.