New Year Reflections, gremolata and aquafaba!

I was talking with Bruce and Peter this afternoon – something along the lines of  ‘not everything that’s important can be counted, and not everything that is counted, counts’. I think it’s an Einstein quote.

New Year, for me, is always a time for reflection…. what have I done, what will I do this year?  On my list are the following:

– only do work that is of value

– spend more time with people who are kind

– walk daily!

– write more

– try hard to desist from attempting stupid things like standing on cupboards and falling off, being reckless with sharp kitchen knives

– spend more time on the beach

– increase wedding and funeral bookings

I have been thinking about this whilst meditatively (a-la Nigella) making gremolata this afternoon. 

I have also pondered on making small themed books for Will and Anna – family food, family recipes.  For years I have talked about publishing a cook book and it is all there in skeleton form.  But have I left it too late and maybe I should be more picky about where I put my energy? I am undecided. Answers on a postcard please.

Many people have said to me that they see me as someone with loads of energy. And it is true – mostly I have. But sometimes I don’t. Being perceived as someone with boundless energy is great however there are other parts of me to discover! Go on, give it a try! Invite me to do something with you that is something known to you but new to me.

I have a low boredom threshold and it drives my energy bank, of that I am certain. In using energy I create momentum, change, challenge and I like those qualities to be present and tangible in my life.

But in true Erickson terms, the stages of life are evident and although creative, I am also a realist. So I am rethinking that drive, recalibrating it; making it work for me in my mid 60s in ways that will still bring me joy, adventures, new experiences. For the past few years I know I have been drawing on my 40 year old energy bank.

Life remains an adventure. I want to have adventures. Having had a good go at leaving this mortal coil a few years ago, you could say I am living on borrowed time.  I prefer to think of it not as borrowed time but as a gift and the best gift of all.  So sticking around a bit longer, always being up for having fun, always cooking and getting a dozen people around the table will remain key driver for me.  Of that, too, I am certain.

So this weekend has been a time of deep reflection -reading my two new cookbooks – Two Kitchens by Rachel Roddy and The Modern Kitchen by Anna Jones – pootlong  about collecting rosemary from various people (for which, thanks to Bruce and Peter, Anna and Karen) and thinking about friends who have struggled this year. You know who you are. You should know that you inspire me.

I have also been doing further experiments with aquafaba and made the best toad in the hole to date.  I said I would update the lovely Rachel and Dean – this is the next instalment and I think I’ve cracked it – use two tablespoons of chick pea water for every egg you would have used.  I used four tbsp chick pea water in lieu of two eggs.  Whisk  till light and fluffy.  Four tablespoons of plain flour with a little salt, whisk into 200ml milk (any kind), fold in the whipped aquafaba.  I used chestnut and tofu sausages (click here).  Cook toads  as normal.

And so, I wish you a peaceful, healthy and happy 2018.  You deserve it! We all deserve it!

 

 

Quick, light, easy pickles for last minute guests and as gifts

You can make all these in less than 45 minutes!

Davinder’s Lemon Pickle

Sandip brought these round one night – he is always so generous with his foodie gifts and they are always so delicious.  Later on his mum Davinder texted me the recipe for which I was very grateful – it couldn’t be easier.  Slice a lemon into eight pieces. Do this with 6 lemons. Put in a stainless steel bowl with a teaspoon of turmeric, as many chilli flakes as you dare, a couple of fresh chillies if you double dare.  Add six tablespoons of salt and half a small bottle of lemon juice. That’s it.  Pack everything into sterilised jars and add the juice and leave a week before eating. Keep in the fridge.

Cornersmith’s Fennel Pickle

This is from one of my favourite cookbooks – Cornersmith  – which is a co-operative in the suburbs of Sydney.  They take excess garden and allotment produce and make lovely things with it. Including this. I’ve adapted it slightly. One day I will go there. Slice two bulbs of fennel and one brown onion very thinly.  Put in a stainless steel bowl along with one tablespoon of fennel seed, one tablespoon of mustard seed, one tablespoon of nigella seed, one tablespoon of chilli flakes. one tablespoon of salt.  Mix.  Put 500ml organic apple cyder vinegar in a stainless steel saucepan along with 60ml agave syrup. Bring to the boil.  Pack your fennel tightly into sterilised jars and pour over the hot vinegar and seal.  Ready in a week, or sooner.  Will keep in the fridge for about a month but no longer. Great with cold meats and anything vegetarian, it doesn’t mind which.

Gremolata

You’ve read about this  before but it is my go-to condiment for fish, vegetarian, pasta, meat – the lot.  Go out in the garden and cut a very large handful of rosemary. Come indoors and turn on Radio 6Music. Remove all the leaves from the stems by stripping them off against the way they grow.  Use a nifty zester to remove the zest from three lemons.  Chop 4 large cloves of garlic.  Now get nifty with a knife or a mezzaluna and chop everything very fine – don’t use a blender or processor as it over-processes it and loses the freshness.  Put everything in a stainless steel bowl and add an equal quantity of seasalt or rocksalt.  Pour into a jar or jars.  Will keep for ages.  I suggest you don’t use this in cooking but rather use it as a last minute sprinkle just as the dish is finishing off in the oven – or on pasta once its drained.

#12Days Crunchy salad Day 6

p1000972After a fundraising curry night here, and staring at the carnage and leftovers in my kitchen this morning, I think we all need a crunchy salad today.  This one is actually for one of my oldest and dearest friends – Marion – who requested the recipe after I made this as a contribution to her wedding feast when she and Andrew a few weeks ago. To be fair it was a hastily constructed piece of work as I was juggling the five tier wedding cake at the time – and the picture of the cake is much more attractive than a bowl full of salad!

Anyway, this salad is either for your Christmas repertoire, or would serve as a saintly dish after all the festivities have died down and you just need something wholesome, non alcoholic and low fat!

Use any mixed green salad leaves as a base – lettuce, crunchy chicory, spinach leaves. As for proportions – well it depends on how many people you are feeding so you will have to judge this one. Chop a small butternut squash into 2cm dice, and drain two tins of chickpeas and put them all in a bowl with some olive oil, salt, black pepper, crushed garlic and smoked paprika. Mix them around a bit to distribute the seasoning then roast on a shallow baking tray for about 45 minutes until slightly charred at the edges.  Grate one large carrot. Cut a cucumber in half and scoop out the wet middle, then chop the whole cucumber into wedges.  Chop cherry tomatoes in half. and season separately with salt and black pepper.

Open one vacuum pack of freekah (green wheat) – about 100g.  Open one vacuum pack of mixed sunflower and pumpkin seeds (about 100g) – drizzle these with a little honey.

Now make the dressing.  As a base, use the following: two grated cloves of garlic, one teaspoon salt, one tablespoon agave syrup or honey, two teaspoons Dijon mustard. Place all these in a 450g jamjar. Add white wine vinegar or lemon juice and olive or rapeseed oil to the proportions 1:4 (acid to oil).  Shake vigorously.

If you are making this salad in advance, put a good amount of the dressing in the bottom of the bowl. Then add the tomatoes, the carrot, the cucumber, chopped spring onion tops, and chopped basil and flatleaf parsley.  Season.  Then add the green leaves on top.  Do not mix at this stage (this is a good tip – leave the wet ingredients at the bottom of the bowl steeping in the dressing, add the leaves but dont mix until you are ready to serve).  When you are ready to serve (and you can leave the bowl – covered – for many hours and so long as the green leaves are not touching the dressing it will stay fresh) mix the green leaves into the rest of the salad and put in your serving bowl, then add the roasted squash and chickpeas, seeds and freekah and mix it all around. And it is done.

The basic dressing you can enliven with a range of ingredients depending on your taste – you could add fresh basil, or dill, or yogurt with mint. You could add chopped capers or cornichon. However if you are making the dressing for the festive season, I suggest make a jamjar full of the basic dressing then enliven it with other ingredients as you wish.

Now.  Having hosted a lively Christmas curry event last night there is a scene of utter devastation to deal with in another part of the house. Bin bags at the ready!

#Addingflavour

There is no magic, no mystery, about adding flavour to your food.  It’s simply a matter of understanding how flavour wimg_3148orks; on the tongue, with the nose, in your mind, with your mood.  If I am not in the mood for cooking, then it never tastes right even though I want it to. But if I am on a roll, steaming along in the kitchen with the radio on and all the ingredients I need, then a little bit of magic comes into it.  That magic affects everyone else. Then the flavours are proclaimed to be fabulous.

I guess its a bit like running when you getimg_3149 in the groove (I don’t run) or swimming when the stroke and the breath come naturally (I do swim!)  It all just flows.

So there are certain things that to my mind add the magic. It’s the alchemy I talk about on the front page of this blog. And over the next few weeks I am going to add a few things I have learned then use the category #addingflavour so you can easily find them again .  So watch out for new posts and tweets. The first is gremolata.

Gremolata  is one of my favourite mixtures for adding flavour. I was introduced to it by Enzo, an Italian and maker of great pasta. He whispered conspiratorially, when I asked him what it was on his barbecued chicken that made it taste so wonderful,  “Its rosemary and lemon zest and garlic and salt cara mia. it improves everything it touches, a bit like wine”!

Chop rosemary and lemon zest (I use a mezzaluna) then chop garlic then add seasalt.  It is as simple as that. The proportions are always approximate and according to  your own taste. There is no real ‘recipe’.  In the picture at the top I have used a large handful of fresh rosemary leaves removed from the woody stalks, the rind of 2 lemons (using a zester, not a grater).

img_3151Then added six to eight fresh garlic cloves, chopped finely, and about 75g of seasalt.  Mix it all together and you have a fine mixture that can be stored in a jamjar by the stove, and will keep really fresh and fragrant for about 2 weeks. I have tried keeping it in the fridge but the jar gets condensation in it and it loses its crispness.

How do I use it?  Here’s a list, but you will find your own preferences I am sure.

  • sprinkle on chicken before or after you roast it
  • sprinkle on freshly grilled fish just before it is ready
  • add to fresh tomato dishes
  • add to a marinade for fish, meat, aubergines
  • sprinkle on roast potatoes 5 minutes before they are done
  • flavour squash or pumpkin or sweet potatoes when frying
  • chop tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions and season with gremolata before adding a mustardy vinaigrette
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