I think we all know by now how I feel about fresh lemons and in particular their juice. What I haven’t shared with you yet though is my love of preserved lemons. Preserved lemons, that staple of North African cuisine, are so simple to make it always surprises me that more of us don’t give it a go (You can here). I suspect this is more than likely a by-product of their new and trendy status; gorgeous packaging and sometimes eye watering prices (especially round me where they are only really available in the delis) all give the impression that they are something super special and successfully disguise the fact that they are simply salted lemons. But despite this simplicity, or perhaps because of, they are an ingredient that nobody should have to live without; blessed as they are with that amazing ability to lift even the most mundane food with their unami flavours to something divine.
Spring is now in full swing where I am and so this weekend a couple of days in the garden beckoned. I planned our dinner accordingly. Pork belly would be perfect, I thought. We’d easily be able to make our son’s rugby, come home, bung the belly in the oven and head on outside, leaving it to look after itself in the obliging way that pork belly does. Misguided optimist that I am. Obviously, the British weather was not nearly so obliging. We had, after all, had a run of sun for at least a week. We were clearly due a change. But where my garden (and husband- he still went out there) suffered, I did not. I’d love to say that with the no- stress slow roast approach that you need to take when faced with a piece of pork belly I found the time to put my feet up, it’s just I can’t. That’s not really how things tend to roll round here. But however you choose to occupy yourself (or if you are me, other people choose to occupy you) in the three hours that you can leave it working its magic in the oven, there’s no doubt this has got to be one of the easiest ways to roast a piece of pork and end up with melt in your mouth tender meat every time and cracking crackling.
Deliciously aniseedy fennel, the marmite of the vegetable world (you either love it or you hate it), has made an appearance in my veg box again this week. Being a fan, I’m happy but I know a lot of people who’d roll their eyes faced with fennel. If you fall into that category (and you know who you are), do not stop reading now or think that this one is not for you. Quite the contrary, this one is especially for you.
I feel like I have been playing catch up and dashing around like crazy since I got back from holiday and for one reason or another (well four kid-sized reasons more likely) it doesn’t seem to be easing up. Meals have all had to be under fifteen minute jobs and there’s only so long I can carry on like that. I don’t know about you but need my pottering time. So today I decided to have a couple of hours off and do just that around my kitchen, cooking slowly. Sag Aloo had been on the cards for a while and as I had spinach and potatoes (something of a minor miracle after a weekend in my male dominated house) that seemed as good a place as any to start.
They say necessity is the mother of all invention and there is nowhere where this is more true than in the kitchen. Well, in mine anyway. It’s true, I am always going on about how we should all plan our food more and I do like to try to, so strictly speaking I shouldn’t be needing any necessity inspired invention right? Cue ironic laugh. It is hard for me to admit but there are always times when even the best laid plans (i.e. mine) go astray. Particularly when you have to rely on things like public transport. We’ll leave it at that, suffice to say that sometimes, even here, it’s exit plans; enter necessity and with offspring.
Lamb is got to be one of my favourite roasts; particularly at this time of year. It goes so well with so many different herbs (a fact you may be forgiven for not noticing as it is so hard to break most people away from the ubiquitous delicious but dull rosemary and garlic combination) and the leftovers work really hard to see you through at least one more meal mid week. Moussaka, hotpot or the perennially popular curry are all options, two of which should possible with some judicious bone boiling. And, of course, there is no getting away from the fact that lamb is also the perfect back drop for garlicky and herby beans paired with perfectly cooked seasonal veggies. Continue reading
So broad beans, or fava beans depending which side of the Atlantic you live on, are back already. Spring may not be officially here (or at least if it is, it hasn’t notified my weatherman yet) but broad beans have made it into my veg box so I’m a happy camper. One of the oldest cultivated beans, quick to cook (yes I know only once you have prepped them) and deliciously versatile; I’ve never been sure why they aren’t the cornerstone of everyone’s diet from April on.
I love the idea of using fresh and dried fruits in my baking. It helps to cut back a bit on the fat you have to use but more importantly it keeps my cakes and treats with just the right level of sweetness. Prunes, apple sauce, bananas and beetroot are all great additions to anyone’s baking; but my current obsession is dates. I haven’t found much that dates don’t go with yet, but admittedly my baking does tend to focus on chocolate so I can’t really say I’ve made an exhaustive search. Obviously they might make your sponge cakes go a funny colour so I don’t think I’d recommend going that far but I’m all for using them to help reduce my children’s sugar intake over Easter. Fortunately these chocolatey brownie nests are perfect for this time of year and make a great change from the perennially popular chocolate and cornflake combination that pops up everywhere in April. I’m not knocking that combo, they are a great way to get your children into the kitchen and I don’t know anyone that can resist them, but we all like a change once in a while. And, of course, a brownie. Try them; you’ll definitely get your chocolate fix and (hopefully) this combined with the extra fibre from the dates will keep you from diving back into the cake tin too soon after.