Sunday, 27 May 2007

Adventures at the Farmers' Market, Episode #3:

Yesterday morning, on yet another cloudy Saturday in this rainy town, Graeme and I awoke at the crack of 7am (which for us, seems impossibly early, but which, when I write it down, is hilariously not so bad, especially as Graeme actually rolled over and slept for another hour while I got started), to do yet another lot of baking for our favourite community farmers' market. This time, we mixed it up with two new additions to our repertoire. I made the pita bread that I posted about this week, which sadly did not turn out as beautifully as it did earlier this week, and, consequently, which did not end up selling at all. Graeme had somewhat more success with baking up a batch of cheese scones, which had been requested by a cheese scone loving lady at the last market we attended. (She apparently went around to all the stalls requesting said scones. We were happy to oblige, and Graeme pointed out while baking that this was "democracy at work." Ah, the utopian idealism of the farmers' market.)

Due to the rain, the market was held indoors again, under the church-turned-Asian-cultural-centre roof that makes for a cozy atmosphere. Graeme and I had a cute corner table in between the farmers who sell produce (and who had the most gorgeous flat beans, that I mistook for broad beans because I am ignorant, in the world yesterday), and the farmer who sells eggs, milk, meat, and other goodies. I should mention that we've been buying her milk lately, in its lovely tall glass bottles, and it is the first time IN MY LIFE that I have been excited about milk. It is thick and creamy and just...full of taste, and I have no patience for supermarket milk anymore. She has spoiled me (no pun intended!) for other milks.

Here is a shot of our neighbours, the produce farmers:
I should mention that these folks are generally the nicest people ever, but they were particular in our good books yesterday, as the female farmer bounded up to us at the beginning of the market telling us that she'd bought a few of our bagels last time, and that they were incredible. so this time she bought A DOZEN BAGELS, saying she would freeze them to hold her over for a couple of weeks. This is the most bagels anyone has ever bought from us, and we were so flattered! And if I do say so myself, I make an awesome fucking bagel.

Here is a shot of the tables directly across from us:
Pictured here you'll see Hayley, who makes the best dips and pestos I have yet to taste in this town. We bought two pestos from her (one with pumpkin seeds, one with almond and parsley), and one tin of feta and broccoli dip. Hayley is in our good books because the last time we sold at the market, it started pissing down rain as soon as we all meant to leave, and she gave us a lift back to my house. Also she's really nice. Next to her, you can see Carla's cakes and other baked goods--we ate a couple of samosas from her for lunch yesterday, and they were killer. She also had the world's most beautiful strawberry cheesecake. Our friendly egg/milk/meat farmers are pictured there, buying from her.

Other warm and fuzzy moments at the market yesterday included a customer who came up to us and asked straight away for some pierogi. This is a rarity at the market, as we tend to find that folks are only adventurous to a degree-they'll try something a little bit new, but something as completely new to them as pierogi (which the British have yet to really discover), is just too scary. We never tend to sell too many bags of pierogi. This particular customer explained that she'd bought some to try last time, and just loved them, and so was excited to buy some more. I am easily flattered and this made my day.

The bagels and scones sold nicely. The cheese scones were much appreciated, and the woman who had originally requested them honed in on them immediately and bought a bunch of them. Pictured here is Graeme with our scones and bagels, and a sleepy smile:
Our most popular item, it seems, are my cornbread muffins. This is a mystery to both me and Graeme, as cornbread is the easiest to make, and likely the least impressive of our wares. But this is the second time in a row that we've sold out of them, and I made a third more muffins than I did last time. People love them, and some allergic folk appreciate that they're gluten free. So in contradiction to what I said about people's lack of adventurousness above, these appear to be something that most people had never had before (cornbread is, again, largely unknown to the British), but that have been a huge hit. Up with cornbread.

One more thing that we should mention about the market, and how much we love selling there--it is packed with awesome, cute, funny, sweet, kids. There is one little girl who must be about three years old, who is a little chatterbox and loves to run up to us and talk about cakes--ones she's eaten, and ones she will eat. Yesterday she and her dad seemed fairly efficient in their shopping so we didn't get to hang out with her much, but we still got a little smile and a wave. We were not lacking for children, though. From the moment we started setting up, the daughter of the lovely couple who have a fair trade products stall at the market (and who love our cornbread), ran up to us and decided that our stall was her favourite, and insisted on hanging with us for most of the market, donning our plastic gloves, and being our little helper. You can see eight-year-old Bella pictured here with me, as long as you ignore my very strange facial expression:
Bella thought our bagels were our tastiest treat, and helped me pack customers' purchases into our big paper bags. She also made up stories about witches and clowns by messing with her plastic gloves. Cutest kid.

Talking about it afterwards, Graeme and I decided that farmers' market kids are the best kids ever--our little helper, for example, was chatty and energetic, but also so incredibly well behaved--she always followed our hygiene rules while helping me sell stuff, she never messed around with anything, she was patient when we were dealing with customers (and always piped in to make her own recommendations!), and was just... perfect. We've noticed this with all of our interactions with the market kids, who usually befriend each other quick and run around the market playing games while their parents buy them treats. It's ridiculously idyllic.

Which can be said of the market itself. June 9th will be the last time Graeme and I sell at it, as we'll soon be leaving Oxford. This has us feeling rather wistful. The market has been a lovely community to us, and this is where it succeeds the most--it is not only a place to purchase high quality, healthy, affordable foods, but it is also a gathering place, where people sit, chat, play, laugh, and befriend one another. We love the ethos of the place--it is small enough to welcome even amateurs like us, and we love the mix of professional farmers, and amateur cooks, all of whom come together for a delicious weekly event. We love how kind everyone is, how excited people get about their food, and how laid back the whole event is. We've been reading lately about a lot of the accusations of pretension about organic food culture, and while we both participate in said culture, we agree that a lot of the class issues inherent in it make us pretty uncomfortable. But our lovely Saturday market is just a bunch of folks, young and old, yuppy and hippie, farmer and amateur, family and student, light-skinned and dark-skinned, of a variety of incomes, getting together to eat happily and ethically. We hope that we'll find something like this back in Canada, but we're not sure--this market is amazing entirely for its ad hoc, bottom up nature. We love it.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007


Back when I lived up in Glasgow and Anna was down here in Oxford, Anna came up with the idea of "food challenges", basically making food that we didn't previously know how to make that seemed a little bit out of our cooking comfort zone. Anna's first challenge for me was paella. I'd eaten paella before but hadn't really thought of making it because it seemed really difficult. I found a reasonable looking recipe somewhere on the internet, followed it, and the results were pretty good. I've played around with the recipe since, and often made the rice on its own, as it's a fantastic fragrant and spicy accompaniment to a lot of meals.

Anyway, I was going through my cupboards today and found some saffron that I'd bought to use in a shakshuka and had since forgotten about. My repertoire of recipes involving saffron includes only two recipes, so I decided to make some paella.

Since saffron is really expensive, it's tempting to use a substitute such as turmeric to give the paella rice that rich yellow colour (Anna tested such a recipe for the BBC's Good Food magazine) but while the results are decent, it isn't a match for saffron. It's worth keeping in mind that despite the cost, saffron is used rather sparingly in most dishes and so a little bit goes a long way.

Paella is a reasonably quick recipe, and it didn't take much longer than half an hour to make tonight. That includes allowing the rice to cook, so it's not all labouring over a hot stove either.

We had the paella with a 2005 Ribera Del Duero by Altos de Tamaron. I don't know much about wines but it seemed fitting to eat this with a Spanish wine and this one won a silver award from Decanter magazine and was reasonably priced.

Two large paellas I made for the family on Christmas Eve 2005.

The Recipe:

Short grain rice
Enough chicken or vegetable stock for the amount of rice you're using
Onion, chopped
Garlic, chopped
A pinch of saffron
Crushed chili flakes (I suppose fresh chilis would also work)
The zest of one lemon
Chopped parsley
A bay leaf
Salt and pepper

Skinless and boneless chicken breasts
Whatever seafood you can get your hands on

An authentically Spanish paella recipe will call for a paella pan--basically a large and somewhat shallow pan, but I've found that a large saucepan or even a wok works well.

Brown the onions and garlic and add the rice. Fry the rice until it's a little bit translucent and then add in the stock. Add a bay leaf, the crushed chilis, the lemon zest, and the saffron, stirring occasionally. When the liquid is almost gone, stir in the chopped parsley and season to taste. I added some chopped tomatoes and some green peppers into the rice tonight, but those aren't necessary.

While the rice is cooking, chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces and coat these with paprika. Fry up the chicken and chorizo. How you do the seafood is up to you. Tonight I used one of those precooked seafood mixes from Tesco and threw it in the pan when the meat was done just to warm it up. I used really good seafood in those two large paellas and I steamed it with white wine. In any case, when both the rice and the meat and seafood are finished, arrange the meat and seafood on top of the rice and serve.

What is healthy about this recipe: The glass of red wine accompanying it.

What is seasonal about this recipe: It's mostly rice so this doesn't really apply.

What I learned from this recipe: Saffron is great and I should learn more than two recipes that involve it.

What I will change next time: I'll check my cupboards and plan things better next time. For example, I thought that I had much more short grain rice than I actually had and so the paella was a mixture of short and long grain rices. I likewise didn't have a lemon on hand for the zest until Anna got back from work with one and so I added the zest right at the end. Planning things really isn't my strong suit.

Whole wheat pita bread

I am always, always disappointed in supermarket pita bread. Even if you bite into your pita the moment you pick it up off the shelf at the store, it already tastes a couple of days old (and likely is!). I spotted a recipe for pita bread a couple of months ago, tried to make it, and was disappointed when it came out dense and sort of gross and heavy. But I am not one to quit, and today I tried again. And it was glorious.

In the same way that I always talk about how cool it is to watch bagels poof up when you boil them just before baking them, making pita bread is awesome because it is so cool to watch it balloon up like a bag of popcorn in the oven. I have no idea that the "pockets" in pitas are not man made, they occur entirely of their own volition. It is truly magical to watch the blow up like they do! And it is even more magical to rip them up when they're hot right out of the oven, and dip them straight into some hummus and devour them.

These pitas came out so light and lovely that Graeme and I could not stop eating them. I made them almost entirely out of whole wheat flour, so I was very pleased to see that they came out so light, and I'm excited to add a whole wheat bread recipe to my repertoire. I wouldn't see any advantage to making this with white flour.

I'll be baking up a couple of batches for the farmers' market this weekend, so I look forward to watching them go crazy in the over again!

The Recipe:

3/4 cup white flour
2.5-3 cups wholewheat flour
1 (7g) packet of instant dry active yeast
1 tblsp honey
1 tsp salt
1.5 tblsp oil
1.5 cups warm-hot water (should be warm enough that it'll stay warm for a little while, but not so hot that you can't rest your fingers comfortably in it)

Pour the water into a bowl, and mix in the honey until it disolves. Sprinkle in the yeast, stir a bit, and let it sit there for 10 minutes or so. The yeast should poof up and rise a bit--this means its been properly activated and that it will work.

Add in the salt, and mix in the flour, 1 cup or so at a time. I always prefer to mix with my hands, so that the transition from mixing, when everything is still liquidy, to kneeding, once the dough gets firmer, is effortless. Add in the oil as well, and once you've got a dough, turn it out onto a flat, floured surface, and kneed for 10 minutes. It should feel elastically, you should feel like your arms are tired.

Oil up a bowl, place the dough in it, and cover it with a damp, warm, wash cloth. Put the bowl somewhere warm and let it rise until its doubled in size, about a "Jewish hour" (ie a bit longer than an hour, go by your intuition not by these goyishe things known as "clocks"). Once your dough has risen all beautifully and you feel like a proud parent, remove the dough from the bowl, place it back down on the floured surface, and punch it down. Divide it in 8-10 pieces (depends on how big you want your pitas to be--I made 8 pieces, and they were huge!), make each piece into a nice little ball, and then cover with your damp washcloth and let them rise for another 20 minutes or so. Preheat your oven to 400F/205C, and stick your baking tray in there to heat up as well.

Once they've poofed up again, roll each ball out into a circle, or an oval, depending on which shape you prefer for a pita. They should be around 1/4-1/8" thick. Again, go by how thick or thin you like your pita!

Take out your baking tray and place the pitas on it and bake for approximately 4-5 minutes! Marvel at the poofiness, and devour while hot.

What is healthy about this recipe: What isn't? I'm so pleased to have been able to make such a delicious whole wheat pita bread--once you try this, you will never go back to the white variety!

What is seasonal about this recipe: Not really applicable.

What I learned from this recipe: That pita bread is awesome and the easiest ever bread to make and not to be feared.

What I will change next time: The bread came out so nice and fluffy, that I think I don't really need my crutch of adding a bit of white flour in there, to keep it from being heavy. I think I may try doing this 100% whole wheat.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Bulghar Wheat Smorgasborg Salad

It's been a long and sometimes difficult few months, which means I've been eating lots of comfort food. So sometimes, every once in a while, I get a moment where I crave a fully healthy, wholesome meal. Lately, I turn to bulghar wheat and a whole crapload of vegetables.

I used to be sort of meh about bulghar wheat, I think I found it too, well, wheaty, but I've come to love it. I treat it as a slightly more chewy, nutty, couscous, and I crave meals with it! My usual trick is to chop out a whole lots of tasty wholesome stuff and mix it together with the wheat, and scarf it down until I can wheat no more. This post illustrates one such example, and perhaps my most extreme one yet. I practically emptied my fridge in this salad attempt. Obviously, this is hardly a recipe that needs to be followed to a T--you can throw just about whatever you want together.

I served this with some salmon fillets doused in lemon juice, harissa, and something else that I've forgotten now.

The Recipe:

150g bulghar wheat

1 small aubergine, chopped
1 big courgette, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 small head of broccoli, divided
2 medium carrots, chopped
Small bunch of salad greens
Handful sprouting beans
Half an avocado
1 orange
1 tblsp fresh harissa
1 tblsp stilton
Lemon, for juicing
Olive oil, for frying
Salt and pepper

Boil up some water, pour the bulghar wheat into a large bowl, cover with the water until it covers it and then some. Cover the bowl and let sit for at least 20 minutes.

In the meantime, heat up a frying pan, throw in some olive oil, and fsautee the garlic, broccoli, aubergine, courgette. Add in the harissa, and let the veg sautee until they're nice and soft.

Once the bulghar wheat is ready, throw in both the raw veg, and the cooked veg. Combine, season, and douse it with a little lemon juice, until it's too your liking.

Eat, and feel virtuous.

What is healthy about this recipe: Everything! A good meal for when you are craving something that will fill you up, but not weight you down. And bulghar wheat has a puny glycemic index and lots of fibre. Lucky us.

What is seasonal about this recipe: This was made with seasonal veg I had on hand. And the great thing about these sorts of smorgasborg recipes is that you can use whatever you'[ve got, no matter the season. I'm a big fan of meal ideas that are this versatile.

What I learned from this recipe: I love bulghar wheat!

What I will change next time: I loved the addition of the orange, which was the first time I'd done that, and I'd love to experiment more with citrus in salads. Also, beets! Beets should really be in everything!

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Rice 'n' Beans

Due to our impending relocation back to Canada, Graeme and I have spent a fair bit of time reflecting on the transient nature of Oxford. It can be bittersweet--you live in this place, become accustomed to the faces you see and the places you go, but while the old stone buildings have not changed in centuries, everything else comes and goes very quickly. We've formed our attachments here: workplaces, friends, favourite cafes and our infamous market, and while it's time for us to go, it is certainly difficult to let all of that go.

The good thing about this transience, though, is meeting and befriending people from anywhere and everywhere, and bullying them into cooking you their regional specialties. When those people inevitably leave you and return home, they may at least let you have their recipes. I have gained countless recipes over the past 4 years that I've lived here in that way, and I'm all the more richer for it.

The following instructions for cooking good 'ole Louisianian style rice and beans came from my dear friend Brooks, who I spent a lot of time with in my second year. Brooks would cook up whole pots of this stuff for large groups of friends, ranging from Canadians, Americans, Italians, Greeks, Germans, etc. Brooks is now back in New Orleans doing her thing, but I forced her to teach me how to make this wonderful comfort food dish. I made it a couple of weeks ago when I was craving kidney beans so bad it was unbearable. Yes, I know I'm the only person who craves things like kidney beans.

The Recipe:

Rice and Beans à la Brooks


200g kidney beans (soaked overnight)
1 large onion, chopped up relatively finely
Several cloves of garlic, minced
Several stalks of celery, chopped up relatively finely
Meat (I tend to use bacon), chopped up
Seasoning: I use salt, pepper, bay leaves, Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning (this was a gift from Brooks from a recent visit to Oxford!)
200g or so of rice

Put the soaked beans in a large pot, and cover them in about an inch or two of water. Cook this over a low heat, with the pot covered, while you do everything else.

Sautee the meat in a pan until it's well cooked. Add the meat to the beans, but save the drippings in the pan. Use the drippings to fry up the onion, garlic, and celery (and I quote Brooks here, affectionately called 'the holy trinity' by Catholicchefs down in New Orleans"). Add said trinity to the beans as well. Season the beans.

This concoction will have to cook for a while--like making chili, the longer you let it cook, the better. I'd say that at the bare minimum, you want to give it a good 45 min. As the beans get softer, smash some of them up against the wall of the pan while you stir it--this will give the mixture a creamier texture. In the meantime, boil up the rice, and serve rice and beans together, in harmony. Delicious, filling, and comforting.

3 of us ate this with at least a serving and a half to spare. We served it with my housemate's awesome Slovenian stuffed peppers on the side, making a truly Oxford international dinner.

What is healthy about this recipe: Depending on the meats you add, what kind of rice you use, etc, this recipe can be super healthy (wouldn't be hard to make brown rice and vegetarian rice and beans), or not so much (white rice and bacon, like I made it this time). Everything in moderation.

What is seasonal about this recipe: Celery is in right now, but otherwise rice and beans defy all seasons.

What I learned from this recipe: I have only recently finally learned how much better it is to cook with dried beans as opposed to canned beans. So much more texture! Not as scary as it seemed to just need to soak them beforehand! Dehydrated beans forever.

What I will change next time: Someday, when I own a slow cooker, this would be a perfect slow cooker recipe. Just throw your stuff in in the morning, and leave it stewing all day at a low heat, and voila, a gorgeous dinner in the evening. I want a slow cooker.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Farmers' Market Adventures: Installment #2

This past Saturday we trudged out in the crazy rain to sell at the farmers' market once more. Due to the abysmal weather, the market was held indoors. The indoor setting was fine, and allowed for more chatting as we were all crammed closer together, but the Too British even for the Brits showers that were happening outside did mean that things were quieter than usual. And we discovered how unpredictable the public was: while last time the pies and the pierogi were what disappeared quickest (we nearly sold out of both!), this time, we couldn't seem to get rid of those guys. The bagels, cornbread (this time, gluten-free, which pleased the allergic folk), and scones, sold well.

Unfortunately, my camera's batteries died somewhere on the way to the market, so all I have our photos of the cooking process beforehand. Things were much less hectic this time--no cooking disasters like we'd had last time around (pierogi all gluing together, an entire loaf of cornbread not cooking in the middle and getting chucked, not nearly enough shortcrust pastry), everything timed in such a way that we didn't wear ourselves out completely, and even a good 6 hours sleep for each of us the night before. Seriously! I woke up at quarter to 7, and somehow managed to have produced four dozen bagels (and two dozen cornbread muffins) by 10:30am. We ended up having to sit around for a while because we'd finished our cooking so early!

Here are a few choice moments in the process, which unfortunately only feature scones and bagels, and not our other excellent products:

Action shot! Scone master Graeme removes a batch of his tasty scones from the oven.

An army of bagels, waiting to be boiled.

Somehow the neat process of watching bagels poof up when they boil never gets old. I still think it's the coolest.

This is likely the oddest thing that happened during the baking process. Graeme pulled a batch of scones out of the oven and we found one scones, the one on the bottom right in the above picture, in the above state. It seems to have exploded? We could not figure out how exactly it is that a scone can explode.

Bagels and scones, cooling! (It should be noted that, in true DIY fashion, our cooling rack is actually the grill for our bbq.) Don't they look pretty?

Next market date is May 26th! Pray for good weather! Hopefully we'll be more on the ball with our camera then.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Broccoli, Aubergine, and Pea Tart

We were recently given a couple of bags of whole wheat flour from our flour supplier who encouraged us to experiment with it as he was proud of its mixture of grains. He suggested that it would work well in my shortcrust pastry, but I was skeptical as shortcrust can be a bit finicky to work with. I wasn't sure what to make for dinner tonight, but we received our organic veg box and I had this bag of flour so I decided to make a tart.

Tarts seem difficult to make, but once you know how to make a good shortcrust pastry, they're relatively simple and are extremely versatile. This one was made with vegetables and other ingredients I had on hand, but the tart filling can be virtually anything.

The whole wheat crust worked out really well. It was a little bit more difficult to work with than white flour, and I had to patch up holes in the crust, but it was impossible to tell this in the end. It was also delicious and didn't taste in any way inferior to the white flour version.

Serve with salad, bread, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

The Recipe:

For the shortcrust pastry:
200g whole wheat flour
100g butter
1 medium sized egg

For the filling:
1 medium sized aubergine
1/2 head of broccoli
1 medium sized onion
about half a cup of frozen peas
small bunch of coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley
soft goat's cheese
parmesan cheese
2 medium sized eggs
1 small container of single cream

To make the shortcrust pastry (this can be done in advance): Chop the butter into cubes and add to the flour. Keeping the ingredients as cold as possible will yield the best results. Work the two ingredients together until the mixture has the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs. Add in an egg and mix together until you have a dough. Put this into a clean plastic bag and either refrigerate it or freeze it, if you are making the pastry well in advance.

When you're ready to make the tart, butter up a tart pan, flour your work surface, and roll out the pastry (if it's frozen, allow it to thaw first) to about an eighth of an inch thick. Place the tart pan on the rolled out pastry and cut a circle about an inch more than the diameter of the pan. Place the circle of dough in the centre of the tart pan and press the outer part of the dough against the walls of the pan. Press the dough into the pan and try to push out any air bubbles. If the dough has cracked anywhere, just patch it up with the excess dough that you will have cut away earlier.

To make the filling, chop up the onions, aubergines, broccoli, and peas. Fry them up with some olive oil and once they're done, transfer them to a bowl. Add in the chopped parsley, the goat's cheese, the egg, and the cream, and mix this all together. Season.

Pour the filling into the tart shell, sprinkle it with parmesan cheese, and put this into an oven preheated to 180 degrees. The tart is finished when the filling is solid--about 30-35 minutes.

What is healthy about this recipe: The usual caveats about butter, eggs, and cheese apply (but they are so delicious), but the whole wheat flour does provide a healthier alternative to a regular shortcrust pastry.

What is seasonal about this recipe: The peas were frozen, but the rest of the veg was seasonal. The nice thing about tarts is that you can vary them to fully take advantage of seasonal produce.

What I learned from this recipe: Flour is an ingredient that we generally take for granted, but we've increasingly been learning that it is an interesting and important ingredient and it's worth paying attention to. The flour we use comes from a local cereals farmer who grows an organic medieval blend of flour that is stoneground (this gentler process keeps more nutrients in the flour than the usual industrial process). I've been seriously impressed with this flour and think that it's worth the extra effort to track down organic and stoneground flour. The results are worth it.

What I will change next time: This is the first time that I've used whole wheat flour to make shortcrust pastry and it needs a little bit of work until I'm ready to use it for my pies, where the visual element is more important. Still, this pastry was promising and I'll be sure to use it again.

Monday, 7 May 2007

Sorrel Sea Bass with Cuttlefish Ink Fusilli


One of the things that I enjoy the most about shopping at farmers' market and the like, and buying foods from the people who grew them, is the opportunity for new discovery. Being able to have conversations with producers about their foods, how they're grown/made, how to cook them, etc, is such a great way to learn. This year I've tasted a number of new fruit and veg I'd never touched before--e.g. purple sprouting broccoli, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, to name a few--and I appreciate being broken out of my habits.

The newest addition to the list of new discoveries is sorrel. I spotted its lovely dark green leafs when buying my produce at the market last week, and asked what it was. I learned that it's a sharp tasting leaf that is often pared with fish. I decided to experiment.

(In the interest of transparency, I should mention that I've since figured out that I've actually had sorrel before. There is a traditional green herby cold summer soup in Poland that my family sometimes makes, and they've never known how to translate what goes into it. Last summer my grandmother and father got frustrated trying to explain it to me, and finally settled with, "just eat it and stop asking questions! It's good!" Having read around a bit, and now understanding the taste of sorrel a bit more, I am pretty sure that that's what the mystery ingredient in the soup was.)

I cooked up my lovely bunch of sorrel this past Friday evening in a "it's been a long damn week, let's have a nice dinner" sort of effort. I got a massive wild sea bass for it, as Graeme had been whining about how much he wanted to have some sea bass for a couple of weeks now. And I paired it with another new food--cuttlefish ink fusilli. Graeme and I tried squid ink risotto once in Croatia, and enjoyed it, so when I spotted the sinister looking pasta at our local Italian deli, I could not resist trying it again. The flavour is quite subtle--rich and just a bit fishy, but not overwhelming in any way. The fish and pasta paired wonderfully, and I was particularly pleased with the ad hoc veg-and-cheese preparation of the pasta--it had a perfect saltiness and creaminess to suit its fishy needs.

The Recipe:

For the fish:
1 enormous wild sea bass, cleaned
1 bunch sorrel
1 bunch kale
1 bunch parsley
3-4 slivers of butter
1 lemon (be generous with the lemon as its a natural cohort of sorrel)

For the pasta:
200g or so of cuttlefish (or squid) ink pasta
bunch of mushrooms, chopped.
bunch of peas (in this case they were frozen, so I thawed them)
3 cloves of garlic
50g creamy goats cheese
Olive oil

Chop up the sorrel, kale, and parsley roughly, and combine them so that you have one big leafy mixture. Slice open the fish, and line with your slivers of butter. Then stuff it to the brim with your greens, and douse it in a stupid amount of lemon juice. Wrap in foil and bake in a hot oven for 30-40 min (until the sea bass is cooked!). Serve with additional slices of lemons for more dousing in lemon juice.

While the fish is cooking, boil up the pasta as one boils up pasta. Heat up a frying pan, and throw in a generous amount of olive oil. Fry up the garlic, and then add the veg. Let that cook until the peas are a lovely bright colour and the mushrooms are suitably dark and soft. When the pasta's done and strained, throw it in with the veg, and let everything sautee for a couple of minutes, while seasoning with salt and pepper. At the last minute, add in your creamy goats cheese, and stir just until it melts enough to make the past a bit creamy.

You final product will look something like this:

And it will be a tasty treat, especially with a nice bottle of white wine to accompany it!

What is healthy about this recipe: I don't think I need to extol the usual virtues of fish here, but yeah: fish is great, fish is tasty, let's all eat lots of fish. A tiny bit of butter is the only sinister culprit here, and the super duper health conscious can always find a more heart-friendly option. If I may continue being a spokesperson for sorrel, our bitter friend is an excellent source of vitamin C.

What is seasonal about this recipe: Everything! Sorrel is something to buy now now now! (Especially as current leaves of sorrel being sold are still young, and so not extremely bitter in taste. As summer advances, they'll get stronger tasting, so the stuff for beginners is the stuff that's available now.)

What I learned from this recipe: That I rule at making stuff up off the cuff, and that I love our farmers.

What I will change next time: I am now keen to figure out how to make this sorrel soup. It's apparently also very good raw in salads. And we're going to be eating that inky pasta for a long time to come, it's just lovely.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Not sure what foods are seasonal right now?

The River Cottage website has a handy table showing which foods are seasonal and when. It's broken down by food group--vegetables, fruit, fish, game, and so on--and is cross-linked with recipes on the site. It obviously applies to the UK, but if anyone can find a similar resource for elsewhere, please post it in the comments.


Here's another recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's 'The New Vegetarian' column in the Guardian's weekend magazine. This is an aromatic North African dish and it seems to be a real 'kitchen sink' type of dish that a lot can be added to--Ottolenghi suggests preserved lemon or feta, but I think that even some meat like lamb, especially if it was tender and falling apart, would go really well with it.

One of the joys of this dish was the scent in the house as I was cooking it. The herbs and saffron filled with air with a mouth-wateringly fragrant scent and it was hard to not pick too much from it while it was cooking.

The Recipe:

(Reproduced without permission from the Guardian's website. The recipe given is for 4, but I halved the quantities when I made it.)

½ tsp cumin seeds
190ml light olive oil or vegetable oil
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
2 red and 2 yellow peppers, cored and cut into 2cm strips
4 tsp muscovado sugar
2 bayleaves
6 sprigs thyme, picked and chopped
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 bunch fresh coriander, chopped
6 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ tsp saffron strands
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
Up to 250ml water
8 free-range eggs

In a large saucepan, dry-roast the cumin on high heat for two minutes. Add the oil and sauté the onions for two minutes. Add the peppers, sugar, bayleaves, thyme, parsley and two tablespoons of coriander, and cook on high heat to get a nice colour. Add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for 15 minutes, adding enough water to keep it the consistency of a pasta sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning. It should be potent and flavoursome. You can prepare this mix in advance.

Place four saucepans on medium heat and divide the mixture between them. Break two eggs into each pan, pouring into gaps in the mixture. Sprinkle with salt, cover and cook very gently for 10-12 minutes, until the egg just sets. Sprinkle with coriander and serve with chunky white bread.

What is healthy about this recipe: Since the recipe is mostly just vegetables, herbs, and spices, it's actually pretty good. The usual caveats about eggs apply, but everything in moderation...

What is seasonal about this recipe: Not that much, to be honest. If you're focused on seasonal eating, it's best to leave this dish to the late summer.

What I learned from this recipe: I'm usually a lot stingier with herbs than I was with this recipe--this one uses handfuls of chopped coriander and parsley--but I think that it's worth trying to use more herbs with other dishes because the results can be spectacular. I should also make an effort to incorporate more saffron into my cooking.

What I will change next time: I'd like to try the same dish but with different vegetables and maybe some meat.