Monday 28 October 2013

A Mathematical Vegetable

I like most foods and will eat almost anything, but the one vegetable I can take or leave is cauliflower. It tastes bland and produces a slightly dodgy smell while you cook it. Every now and again I feel like I should give it another try and I look up some recipes, but the only ones I can ever find have it smothered in cheese, I think that says a lot! The problem is it is in season at the moment which means it regularly makes an appearance in my vegetable box. A few weeks ago I had a beautiful orange cauliflower. A friend of mine suggested a recipe for cauliflower couscous. It worked well. I blitzed the cauliflower in a food processor till it resembled couscous and then pan fried it with spring onions, tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice, and some herbs. I kept it a bit crucnhy for texture. I was elated, I had finally found a way to make cauliflower that I actually liked. It was a great accompaniment to some fish and meant we could have a carbless dinner for a change.

Then last week there was yet another caulifower in my box. Only this wasn't just any cauliflower, it was probably the most amazing vegetable I have ever seen. If you've ever seen it before you will now what I mean. It's called a Romanesco cauliflower. This beautiful vegetable forms a logarithmic spiral where each bud is composed of a series of smaller buds, all arranged in yet another logarithmic spiral. This repetitive pattern continues at several smaller levels forming something called a fractal. It amazes me how nature can produce something so mathematical and so astounding.

The minute I saw it it reminded me of the scaly skin of a dinosaur. A friend compared it to an alien! It looked so fantastic I couldn't bear to put it through I chopper and turn it in to couscous. I had to find a way of keeping the florets whole. I ended up adding some to my French fish soup and throwing a few in a stir fry. I think they would also make a great vegetable side dish particularly at Christmas as the florets look like mini fir trees! I wonder if it will still be in season then...

I still have some left so I am on the look out for some other ways to use it. If you have any suggestions for this wonderful mathematical cauliflower please do leave me a comment. Or if  you have any other cauliflower recipes that don't involve masking it with melted cheese I'd love to hear them!

Thursday 17 October 2013

Muffins for an Autumn Day

Autumn.  It is without a doubt my favourite season. I'm not exactly sure why though. At the moment the only way I can describe the days are generally cold, wet and dreary. But there is something about the way the nights draw in and the leaves change colour that makes saying goodbye to summer a little easier. And on the rare occasion that we get a sunny day, like today, it reminds me why I love it so much.

The other great thing about the season is the variation in fruit and vegetables that becomes available. Normally I buy whatever I want whenever I want it, that's the beauty of supermarkets. But I am vaguely aware of how many miles my produce has travelled and how fresh it really is. And there is something very special about eating things grown on our home soil and supporting our local farmers. For this very reason I decided to sign up to receiving a weekly organic fruit and vegetable box. So far I am loving it. I have had so much fun finding new recipes and coming up with new ideas, especially because N is a creature of habit and often reluctant to try different things. My only real complaint is the boxes always seem to contain a cabbage and some apples! I guess it's because they are seasonal and grown abundantly in the UK but the cynic in me is convinced it's because they are cheap!

So this week my fruit bowl contained an awful lot of apples. And as they are not my favourite fruit I had to find a way of using them up. Normally I'd make a crumble but I find it's too much for just N and I to eat so I thought I'd make something that could be distributed. I decided to make some apple and cinnamon muffins. I had some raisins in the cupboard so I threw those in for good measure. I looked at a few recipes to get some ideas and then made one up based on the ingredients I had at home. A lot of recipes said to grate the apples but I found cutting them into chunks makes the muffins much more interesting and the taste of apples more noticeable. I invited a friend round for a coffee and we ate them warm, straight from the oven. The warmth of the cinnamon and the juicyness of the apple gave me a feeling of comfort from top to toe. If autumn could to be described by something edible then this would definitely be it.

Apple, Cinnamon and Raisin Muffins
(Makes 12 | Total prep and cooking time approx 50 mins - 1 hour)
Melted butter or margarine (optional), for greasing
300g plain flour
1 tbs baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
120g golden caster sugar
2-3 medium apples, cored, peeled, chopped
125g seedless raisins
125g butter or margarine, melted, cooled
2 eggs, lightly whisked
185ml milk

 - Preheat the oven to 180 degrees- Grease a 12 hole muffin tin or line with cases- Sift the flour, baking powder and cinnamon together into a large mixing bowl.- Stir in the sugar, apples and raisins until well combined- Whisk together the butter, eggs and milk until well combined. Add this to the flour mixture and stir with a large spoon until the ingredients are only just combined. Make sure to not over mix- Spoon the mixture evenly into the muffin tins- Sprinkle each with a little sugar on top- Bake for approx 20 mins until golden brown and cooked through. Check that a skewer comes out clean to make sure they are done.- Cool for a few minutes before transfering to a wire rack  

Monday 7 October 2013

A Taste of the Coast

Some of the best dishes I cook have been inspired by things I have eaten on holiday. This summer N and I decided to have a staycation. We drove down to Sandbanks to spend a few relaxing days by the coast.Walks along the beach, hours of reading books in a cafe (far too cold to sit on the balcony sadly) and long leisurely dinners of fresh seafood. Bliss.

One of the restuarants we went to was a very trendy place called Club Shore. If you've ever been to Sandbanks I am sure you know of it, from talking to people it sounds like it's the place to be! We managed to book an table right by the window so our dining experience was accompanied by an unrestricted view of the sun setting over the sea. The view was beautiful and with the sun warming my face through the glass I honestly could have sat there forever.

The special of the day was crab linguine with chilli and lime. I'm not a big fan of crab. I find it a bit bland and if the only way to make something taste good is for it to take up the flavour of something else I personally can't see the point. But it came highly recommended by the waiter so we tried it. I am so glad I did otherwise I would have missed out on discovering one of the easiest and tastiest dishes I have ever made. The linguine at Club Shore was made with white crab only which makes it look very elegant. The first time I made it at home I did the same and it tasted great.  But then someone suggested I use brown crab as well, as although it is a lot cheaper and hence food snobbery made me turn my nose up at it the first time, it really does turn this great dish into a fantastic one. It doesn't look as good but what it loses in aesthetics it makes up for in flavour. I now make it with a mixture of brown and white crab and throw a few prawns in to add some texture. This dish is quick and delicious and makes a regular appearance on our dinner table. I ration it to once a week as if I let N have his way I'm sure he would request it every night!

Crab Linguine at Club Shore
Crab Linguine Chez Preeti (not as beautiful but very very tasty!)
Crab Linguine with Chilli and Lime
(serves 2 | Total prep and cooking time less than 30 mins)
- Olive oil
- 120g dry linguine
- 100g brown crab meat
- 100g white crab meat
- 150g cooked king size prawns
- 1 lime - squeeze the juice out of half and keep other half for garnish
- 2 sping onions - chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic - finely chopped
- 1 small chilli - finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
- 125ml white wine
- Cook the linguine according to the packet instructions
- Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the garlic and the spring onions until softened
- Add the chilli and stir for a few moments
- Add in the brown and white crab and the prawns.Stir well
- Add the white wine and cook on a high heat for approximately 4-5 minutes until most the wine has evaporated
- Stir in the lime juice and the parsley
- Drain the linguine, reserving the cooking water
- Add the linguine to the crab mixture and stir well. Add a little of the pasta water to loosen the dish and mix well on a low heat.
- Serve with a simple salad and a wedge of lime