Wild Garlic and Potato Curry (vegan)
Another seasonal wild garlic recipe to make the most of the delicious harvest before it vanishes back underground for another year. You can substitute spinach for the wild garlic leaves at other times of the year and in that case you might want to add a crushed clove of garlic to the frying onions at the start of the recipe.
As always, please forage responsibly. Take your pick from an area where dogs and walkers don't go, and don't take all the leaves from one plant or denude an whole patch. A little goes quite a long way!
Combine with other curries in different sauces for a Curry Night Feast with friends and family; or make a simple meal with some warm naan and home-made chutneys and relishes.
Chutneys and relishes could include:
Serves 4 as a lunch or as part of a combined curry meal Timings: 30 minutes
In a wide flat pan, fry the mustard seeds and cumin seeds in vegetable oil for a few minutes while they sizzle. Tip in the chopped onion and chilli, and fry for a few minutes. Add the cubed potato and pour in water from the kettle to just cover the cubes.
Mix the powdered spices with some water in a glass to give you a light paste and pour into the pan of potatoes. This avoids you burning the ground spices in the hot oil and gives a more balanced flavour.
Add the lemon juice, a sprinkle of salt and a grind of pepper, then put the lid on and leave over a low heat to simmer for about 15 minutes. The potatoes will absorb the water and flavourings. Don’t let the pan boil dry, keep topping up with a little water if it’s all absorbed. After 15 minutes the potatoes should be tender and cooked and there should be a little flavoured gravy in the bottom of the pan. Add the torn up wild garlic leaves and put the lid back on again for a few minutes as they wilt down and cook.
Adjust the seasonings and serve with plain rice, fluffy naan and your relishes.
The Optimist’s Cake - Golden Syrup Sponge
A rich, juicy sponge, reminding you of syrup pudding and the best school dinners. Golden syrup lifts the mood, you can’t help feeling cheerful. This is a recipe from Pam Corbin in the River Cottage Handbook # 8. Cakes, and another infallible standby for when you need a straightforward cake, oozing with goodness, of which a little goes a long way.
Perfect for school lunch boxes, afternoon tea and taking round to neighbours. It would be a good cake to make if you are selling your house as it fills the kitchen with a welcoming sugary friendly smell which is pretty much irresistible.
The theme this week at the Seniors Lunch Club was “Looking after your own Mental Health” as we’ve had a few people saying they feel down, flat, unmotivated recently. It’s a natural and healthy reaction to the year we’ve had, but we thought we’d swop tips for boosting our natural resilience. These are some of the ideas our fabulous bunch came up with:
Serves 8 Timings: 1 hour
Preheat your oven to 180°C and put the 200g of the syrup and the butter in a little pan over medium heat to melt and mix. Grease and line a 1 litre loaf tin. Sieve the flour and bicarb into the mixer bowl and add the breadcrumbs and lemon zest. Remove the pan from the heat and let the butter/syrup mixture cool a little. Resist dipping your finger in. (I can’t).
Mix the egg and the yoghurt, and beating on a low speed, mix into the flour. Then add the syrup/butter mix and whisk until you get a glossy liquid batter.
Spoon the batter into the cake tin and bake for 40 – 50 minutes until brown on top and a skewer comes out clean.
Mix the remaining syrup, a little water and the lemon juice in a small pan and warm through. Add 2 tablespoons of caster sugar but don’t mix.
When the cake comes out of the oven, leave it in the tin and prick with a skewer through the cake but not right to the bottom. Make quite a few of these holes.
Spoon the warm syrup/juice mixture over the cake, giving it time to dribble into the holes and moisten the cake. The caster sugar will stay on the top and give it a subtle crunch.
Leave the cake to cool in the tin, then remove from the tin and wrap in foil. It will keep 4-5 days, if you can stop yourself from eating it all in one go.
Goujons of Dover Sole, with Minted Peas and Tartare Sauce
This is so delicious, light and crispy that it will convert even a fish-refuser, but Dover Sole isn’t cheap, so feel free to substitute another delicate white fish, such as lemon sole. One reason Dover Sole is expensive is that it doesn’t have that fishy background some people don’t like, so it can be worth it as a treat, and used in a recipe like this one that makes a medium fish go a long way.
Home-made tartare sauce beats the bottled stuff hands down, do give it a go, it isn’t at all difficult and might even reduce the kids’ tomato ketchup consumption slightly! If you don’t like capers generally, leave them out, but you don’t taste them strongly in the sauce, so be brave and try. Some recipes give garlic in the tartare sauce – I think this would overwhelm the delicate fish so I prefer it without, but try it if you think it would suit your more robust tastes.
Minted peas are a joy. I’m a fan of frozen peas anyway but jazz them up with some shallots, mint and a bit of a change of texture, and you have something that makes the family go “yum, I’ll have more of these please.”
Serves 4 Timings: 30 minutes
Using scissors, cut each fillet into three pieces and then cut thin strips lengthways. Dip each strip into the seasoned flour, then into the egg and then into the breadcrumbs. Put them on a baking tray to firm up while you make the sauce and peas.
For the sauce: combine all the ingredients. Check the seasoning, adjust as needed – you might need a bit more lemon juice or a little more mayonnaise depending on the sharpness of the pickled gherkins and capers you are using.
For the peas: fry the shallots very gently in a little butter for a few minutes, until transparent - don’t brown them. Add half the peas and mash them in the pan with a fork, breaking up the texture but not making them into a puree. Add the other half of the peas and the teaspoonful of mint sauce, the fresh mint, and warm through over a low heat while you cook the fish.
In a deep fryer or large flat frying pan, heat the oil. The goujons are so slender that you can probably fit the whole fish into one large frying pan in one layer, this is your aim. Fry the goujons in bubbling oil for about 2 minutes, turn over and fry the other side. When nicely browned, remove from the pan and drain on kitchen towel.
Serve with the peas, the sauce, a slice of lemon and possibly some good chips or fried potatoes.
Wild Garlic Pesto with Grilled Chicken and Tagliatelle
Juicy, mild, garlicky but not overdone, delicious, and so very easy. Marinate any meat in any pesto and grill it, and you have a straightforward and tasty meal, but take it to that extra dimension by making your own pesto from foraged wild ingredients. You can really taste the countryside in this wild garlic pesto. It’s nice that wild garlic is so seasonal – it welcomes the spring, stays around for a few weeks and then leaves you for the year.
The pesto can be made and kept in a jar in the fridge for at least 2 weeks if you drizzle a layer of olive oil on the top. You can then use spoonfuls as you need and put the jar back in the fridge.
Of course, only pick your wild garlic where the dogs and walkers don’t go and wash it well when you get home. Don’t take all the leaves off one plant or empty a patch of it; you want it to come up again next year.
Serves 4. Timings: 10 minutes for the pesto, 1 hour marinating (or more), 30 minutes final preparation
Blend all the pesto ingredients together thoroughly – I find a stick blender works best for this. Adjust the texture and seasonings – you might need to add more lemon juice or a little more oil depending on the texture and freshness of your leaves. Scoop the pesto into a jar (this much makes about two small jars full which is about double what you need for this recipe) and drizzle a layer of olive oil on the top to stop it discolouring if you aren’t going to use it straightaway. Store in the fridge.
Marinate the chicken breasts in 2 tablespoons of pesto in a bowl for at least one hour and up to 12 hours.
When ready to eat, pre-heat your oven to 200°C and cook the chicken breasts on a metal cooking tray for about 20 minutes until cooked through and no longer pink inside. The pesto will combine with the juices to make the most gorgeous saucy crozzly bits.
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water for the time recommended on the packet, drain and retain a cupful of the cooking water. Mix 2 tablespoons of pesto with the tagliatelle and mix through along with some of the cooking water – adding a bit more to adjust the consistency and make the sauce cling to the pasta. Serve with the chicken sliced on top, drizzled with more pesto and any sauce you can scrape from the cooking tray. Finally, sprinkle with parmesan.
A simple green salad is all you need on the side.
St. Patrick’s Cake – Guinness and Chocolate
What else could I make for the Seniors Lunch Club in St. Patrick’s week than a Guinness Cake? I was a bit wary, having only ever put beer in fruit cakes before, but it turned out utterly gorgeous – deep black sponge with a really good bitter tang of chocolate, very slightly emphasised by the beery background. Not a strong taste of Guinness or alcohol but a very pleasant addition. I topped it with a creamy chocolately Guinness foamy icing, which seemed to match very well indeed.
The theme for the Seniors Lunch Club discussion was Ireland. We asked the members where they would like to go in Ireland if they could be magically transported: to kiss the Blarney Stone, to go on the Guinness Tour, to visit the theatres in Dublin, to see the Giant’s Causeway and to see the statue of Molly Malone were all wishes we’d love to grant. Then we each read out a limerick and had a good giggle at the Young Lady from Uttoxeter, the Young Man from Leeds, the Old Man with a Beard and many other odd characters.
Simply Recipes and Nigella Lawson and many other people have recipes for Guinness cakes. I have adapted and blended from several sources as I needed a square cake, easy to portion and easy to transport around on my Lunch Club delivery round, and without squidgy middle icing. This one fits the bill – and if you make it, do let me know.
Makes 16 squares Timings: 10 minutes preparation for the cake, 1 hour cooking, 1 hour cooling. Icing – about 20 minutes.
Pre heat your oven to 170°C and grease and line a 22cm square cake tin.
In a medium pan, melt the butter with the Guinness. Warm just enough to melt and take off the heat. Add the sugar and the cocoa powder and beat with a small whisk to blend all the powdery bits into the liquid.
Mix the eggs and the yoghurt together, beating with a fork, and add to the butter/Guinness mix. If using vanilla essence, add this to the pan also.
Sieve the flour and bicarb into a larger bowl and add the liquid ingredients. I added them into the mixer bowl with the motor running slowly and it gave a nice fluffy gooey batter. Pour this batter into your cake tin and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour and until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool on wire rack. When you remove the cake from the tin, be careful, it is more tender than some other sponges and might crack – so put a rack over the tin as you invert it.
Cool the cake completely before icing it.
To make the icing:
Reduce the Guinness by about half by boiling in a small pan, leave to cool slightly.
Beat the butter with the icing sugar and the coffee essence until fluffy and add the double cream, it will give you a coffee-coloured buttercream.
Now put the chocolate into the warm Guinness and stir thoroughly to melt the chocolate completely – you will need to stir and let the mixture cool.
Pour the chocolate mixture into the buttercream icing with the motor running slowly to whisk the chocolate and buttercream together. You will get a light fluffy buttery mousse texture.
Spread the mousse icing generously over the top of the cake and leave in a cool place to set – preferably in the fridge. The mousse will soften once you get the cake out of the fridge so keep it in there until nearly time to use it.
Celery and Squash Soup (vegan)
Sometimes an accidental combination just sings out loud. A few sticks of celery and half a butternut squash are denizens of the Monday fridge, leftovers from the weekend. But rejoice! The lightness and slight bitterness of celery balances the sweetness and creaminess of the squash and the two flavours meld like cheese in an omelette. It’s even good enough to make on purpose. It’s a great lunch time soup with a simple salad and some good bread.
Serves 4 Timings: 30 minutes
Gently fry the onion and celery in a little vegetable oil until tender, 5 minutes. Add the cubes of squash and stir around. Add the vegetable stock, relish, and a little grind of pepper. You probably don’t need salt as the stock is salty enough but taste and adjust to your liking.
If you have had the oven on and you know you’re going to make this soup, you could also roast the squash cubes for 30 minutes in a medium oven with a little oil, but I wouldn’t put the oven on just for that.
Simmer for 20 minutes, then cool and liquidise. You can add the reserved celery leaves before you blend or hold them back for a garnish. Check the seasoning and serve.
Orecchiette with fennel sausage and broccoli
The Italians eat green vegetables we don’t have. There’s one called Cima di Rapa which is a spring season green broccoli-style sprouting shoot, sometimes called turnip greens, although I don’t think it’s the same thing as the collard greens/turnip greens eaten in the USA. I may be proved wrong, and if you know more about it than me, I’d be keen to be enlightened – please get in touch. The bitter greens that appear in the spring are considered tonic for the winter-bound body – wakening your cells with vitamins and iron, coursing through your blood to enliven you after the winter sleep. I can’t vouch for the health benefits, but the taste tells you it must be good for you.
Anyway, it’s delicious, and it’s eaten with cheesy pasta in Rome in the spring, so what could be better than that? My girlfriends and I ate plates of this at the Enoteca Del Frate and then wandered home, singing songs about rain, so it must have made us happy.
I’ve substituted tender stem broccoli for the Cima di Rapa, and charred it a bit to get that bitter green taste. Inform your taste buds that it’s spring, and you’d better awake and get cleaning. I’ve added some fennel sausage meatballs, just because, but you could leave them out for the vegetarian version. It’s pretty rich, due to the cream and cheese in the sauce, but it’s certainly warming, delicious, and stimulating. Welcome to Springtime in Rome!
Serves 4. Timings: 40 minutes.
Take the sausage meat out of the skins and add fennel seeds if you need to. Form small balls of the sausage meat - about the size of a small walnut - and roll them in the seasoned flour. In a large frying pan, fry the balls in shallow oil for a few minutes each side, turning them to brown and crisp on all surfaces. Place on kitchen paper to drain. Leave the sausage fat in the frying pan for now.
Blanch your tenderstem broccoli by cooking in boiling water for only 2 minutes, drain and cool with cold water. If you have a griddle pan, heat it up. Dump the cooled broccoli into the frying pan and turn in the fennel-flavoured fat to coat the stems. Put a few stems at a time onto your griddle pan and char the broccoli for a few minutes per side, so you get nice charred stripes down the fresh green stem. If you don’t have a griddle pan, you could grill under a hot grill for a few minutes per side until you get some charring and blisters. Put the broccoli aside on kitchen paper.
In a big pan cook the pasta as directed on the packet – boil for about 10 minutes depending on the type. Drain the pasta and keep it warm in the colander but keep the cooking liquid.
In your large flat frying pan, cook the chopped pak choi stems for a minute to wilt them. Turn the heat down and add the vegetable stock powder or paste to the pan, then stir in the cream. Stir gently to mix the stock through the cream, then throw in half the parmesan. Stir quickly, tip in the pasta, sausage balls, broccoli stems and the pak choi leaves. Add spoonfuls of the pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce as you warm up the mix.
Adjust the seasoning – you probably won’t need salt but you might need a grind or two of pepper, and adjust the consistency of the sauce, adding more pasta cooking water.
Serve in a big bowl, letting all the family serve themselves, with the remaining parmesan to sprinkle over at will.
Something special for International Women’s Day! Poppyseed and lemon cupcakes with a rich violet buttercream icing, to give that purple touch. I happened to have a small bottle of violet liqueur, which I needed to use up, but you could leave it out if you’d rather. I love Parma Violets - they’re the sweet I’ll pick out first from those old-fashioned mixes, but it’s a rather individual taste. The floral scent isn’t too strong, but test as you go and don’t add too much at once.
Our Seniors Lunch Club discussion was on the theme of Inspiring Women. Every member of the group chose a special woman to tell us about and gave a piece of advice to a young woman starting out today. We heard about local, international, famous and family – Angela Davis, the US Black Rights and Civil Rights activist; Lucille Ball, actress and producer; Amy Johnson, flying ace; Temple Grandin, animal behaviourist and autism activist; Elsie Inglis, WW1 doctor; Florence Nightingale; Marie Curie; mothers and mothers-in-law who were kind, supportive and strong; female bosses who were challenging and also supportive; local judges and barristers who encourage and mentor the younger lawyers. Our advice to young women comes from those who have lived through war, want and plenty. They’ve raised families, had professional lives, seen difficulties, dangers and great joy. Their advice is typically practical, down to earth, and mixed with the aspirational!
Makes 18 cupcakes Timings: 1 hour for the cupcakes, then cooling time and then 30 minutes for the icing.
For the icing: 250g unsalted butter, 150g icing sugar, 50g white chocolate, purple food colouring, 1 tablespoon violet liqueur
Pre-heat your oven to 180°C. Beat the butter or margarine with the caster sugar until fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time with a spoonful of flour each time. Add the sour cream. Tip in the lemon zest and the poppy seeds and then stir in the rest of the flour, either with the mixer running slowly or by hand.
Spoon the mixture into cup cake cases and put the tray into the oven. I prefer to make one tray of 12 cupcakes at a time, and then make the next, rather than have to swop trays over from top to bottom halfway, which I think tends to make the cakes fall slightly. The un-used mixture will stand happily for 20 minutes while you cook the first batch.
Cook each batch for 15-20 minutes, remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
To make the icing: beat the butter until fluffy. Melt the white chocolate over a gentle heat. Beat the icing sugar into the butter one spoon at time, then add in the melted chocolate, the violet liqueur, and beat again. I find the addition of chocolate helps hold the fluffiness of the icing. Add the colouring to your preferred level of purple-ness.
Ice the cakes using an icing bag with a star nozzle and decorate with candied violet petals and some purple glitter for the final sparkle.
Paddy’s Mussels – Mussels with Wild Garlic
Well, if St. Patrick didn’t eat this, I’d be surprised. Both ingredients are found in abundance in Ireland and it’s a super-delicious combination. The new leaves of wild garlic, or ramsons, are the culinary harbingers of Spring, poking up in the woodland or hedgerows, growing into aromatic clumps with the white drumstick flowers held above. Gorgeous to look at and to eat. Please pick sensibly: from clean patches where dogs don’t squat, and never take all the leaves from one plant or denude an entire patch. Do check you’re picking the right plant – you can’t mistake the garlic scent when a leaf is crushed. I’ve never seen it for sale in the UK, but it’s sold in Europe as “bear-leeks”, and eaten everywhere, in soup, sauces and salads.
Don’t be nervous about cooking fresh mussels – they’re as simple as 1,2,3. If you’ve enjoyed them in a restaurant, do try them at home. Oddly, children often like them very much – maybe it’s the messy fun of scooping them from the shells. Or maybe it’s that they go with chips so brilliantly.
Marry the light garlic savour with fresh salty mussels in a white wine and shallot broth; scoop up the juices with good bread, serve a plateful of crisp chips on the side and enjoy while you toast St. Patrick’s Day.
Serves 4 Timings: 30 minutes
Prepare and clean your mussels. Wash under running cold water – discard any that don’t close when tapped or after handling. Scrub them well and pull out any stringy beardy bits. Leave in a sieve until ready to cook.
Fry the shallots gently in a little vegetable oil or butter in a large pan until soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the white wine and let it bubble down and cook down to about half the volume, takes only a couple of minutes.
Add the wild garlic to the pan, let it cook for only a few seconds and add the mussels. Put the lid on the pan and let the natural juices steam-cook the mussels for 3-4 minutes until they are all open and have absorbed the garlic taste.
Scoop into bowls and eat with good tangy sourdough bread or some chips, or both.
Dan Dan Noodles
Sichuan street food – spicy, satisfying, silky, slippery noodles, meaty flavour, crunchy texture and a floral tingling back note from the Sichuan pepper. Really excellent slurped as a snack on the street in China (take your own chopsticks) and also a superb family supper – economical, quick to prepare and goes down a treat.
The only downside – I guess every recipe has a downside – is that you really do need to use the genuine ingredient – Sichuan pepper. It’s not a pepper, the plant is more related to the ash tree than the pepper corn plant, but the seed husks look a bit like a pink peppercorn. If you have a Chinese grocery near you, buy it there, but if not, you can get it delivered from the usual on-line purchasing sites. They do stay fresh for a long time if you keep them in a sealed container, so it’s worth getting your own supply. There is no substitute for the taste, which is a genuine flavour enhancer, as well as having its own enticing aroma. While you’re in the grocery, do stock up on crispy chilli in oil, you can use it in so many things. It isn’t overly spicy but the crispy dark chilli pieces in the bright red oil are so addictive you’ll be adding it to scrambled eggs, avocado on toast, into stews and curries, and probably to your gin and tonic before you know it.
There are many recipes for this dish from basic street food to elevated high class cuisine. Fuschia Dunlop has both styles of recipe in her book, Every Grain of Rice, which is one of my cooking bibles. I mixed her advice with memories of eating these in China and came up with this.
One reason the recipe is so simple is that the three constituent parts are prepared separately and mixed together in the dish at the end. They can all be made ahead, so you can throw the final dish together for the family in minutes.
Afternote: My friend made this recipe and it turned out very spicy, too spicy for her. She may have used preserved vegetables with chilli, which therefore didn't mean she needed extra fresh chilli, so just watch out for this and taste as you go along!
I like to serve a simply steamed Chinese green vegetable – pak choi or whatever you can get, alongside, but you wouldn’t get that on a street corner in Chengdu, so it isn’t very genuine.
Serves 4. Timings 30 minutes.
For the meat mixture:
For the sauce:
350g Chinese wheat noodles
First, toast your Sichuan peppercorns for about 3 minutes in a hot frying pan. Tip them onto kitchen paper to cool and then crush roughly in a pestle and mortar. You don’t want a fine powder, but also you don’t want to bite into a whole pepper, so crush into a gravelly texture.
Make the sauce:
In a bowl combine the peanut butter with the sesame oil slowly at first, until you have a loose paste. Add the other liquid ingredients and half the ground Sichuan pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning – I can never resist adding another spoonful of the crispy chilli in oil. This can be done ahead and left in the fridge.
Prepare the meat:
In a frying pan, fry the meat until the oil comes out, then add the spring onions, chilli, ginger and garlic. Continue frying until the meat is browning and even crisping up a little bit. Add the green vegetable if using and fry for a minute or two longer, just to wilt the vegetable and drive off its liquid. Add the other half of the ground Sichuan pepper. This can also be done ahead and left in a covered container in the fridge and just blasted again in a frying pan to warm up while you are cooking the noodles.
Cook the noodles according to instructions – usually in a large pan of boiling water for about 5 minutes.
Combine the three ingredients: noodles, meat, and sauce in a large serving bowl, mix well and let everyone serve themselves, drooling and slurping as you go.
Some Changes - April 2022
Thanks to my friends and followers for your patience, and for your encouragement to start blogging again.