thai-style rare beef salad with a chilli-lime dressing

thai-style rare beef salad with a chilli-lime dressing
An aromatic salad that is both refreshing and cooking. It's has a flavour that sparkles with searing sunshine and Asian vibrancy. 

I love this salad, but it does make me feel quite virtuous too as it isn't terribly fattening. So here's to feeling smug, in the shade of a big garden umbrella, eating a delicious zingy salad and a very cold beer!

birth, food, sleep, love, death . . .

E. M Forster said that "The main facts in human life are five: birth, food, sleep, love and death" . . . I definitely have enjoyed the first four and am trying to keep the fifth at bay. But I have mentioned before that I wonder if somehow my love of food (and particularly the garden pea) came from the womb. My mother had been eating fresh raw peas for the last few weeks of her pregnancy; indeed at the very moment I started to make my entrance into the world.

I have often wondered whether my love of cooking and of reading cookery books is somehow preordained or just another part of my formative experiences.Is it nature or nurture?

tips for lemons . . .

lovely lemons!
I mentioned in a previous blog posting that I wanted to run an irregular feature on kitchen tips; the sort of things I have learned over the past 20 years that don't always get mentioned in cookbooks - such as how you can get more juice from a lemon. 

Well there's a lot more where that came from, so when life gives you lemons, there are so many things you can use them for, and not just in the kitchen.

watermelon, red onion and feta salad

wonderful watermelon!
I have a friend who is frankly a bit demented about watermelon. This seems a bit strange really but she's a bit like a cat with catnip. The taste of watermelon has really passed me by. Frankly I always thought the flavour was a little insipid, although as a child I was intrigued by its vibrant colour and curious texture combined with the concentration needed in pulling out the pips.

However, combining watermelon with the robust, zingy flavours of  black olives, chilli and mint, I am prepared to admit I was completely wrong!

my cherry amour! sparkling cherry crush

sparkling cherry crush
To support the great British Cherry and Foodlovers Britain's Cherry Aid Campaign, I decided to make a refreshing summery drink, which was very pretty too. A lovely vibrant pink colour - it is very simple to make, although you will need to prepare well in advance since the cherry syrup needs to cool down before using.

If you were to add a splash of almond syrup and some fresh lemon juice, you have a cherry bakewell tart . . . in a glass!

Cherry Aid (16 July)

a bowl of cherries
At my local supermarket today I saw a special offer on cherries. Excellent, I thought. Cherries are in season and these are half price . . . unfortunately, despite the fact that English cherries are in season, (it is July), these supermarket cherries were from Greece. And while I have absolutely nothing against Greece, (and frankly they probably need all the help they can get in this austere times) I find it absurd that supermarkets are importing cherries from abroad and that this particular supermarket had no English cherries on offer.

white garlic soup with garlic bruschetta (ajo blanco)

glorious garlic by Marja Flick-Buijs
A lovely, sophisticated chilled soup is a version of the classic Moorish influenced white garlic soup from Southern Spain. If you like garlic, you will love this. I had a shot glass of this at a sherry and tapas tasting, sitting in a sunlit courtyard in Spitalfields. While it was like being hammered by a garlic mallet, it was absolutely delicious with a crisp dry sherry to accompany it.

an arabian nights stew: lamb tagine with ras el hanout

lamb with ras el hanout
This lamb stew is a true Arabian Nights of flavours . . . it contains the beautiful spice blend, ras el hanout. Ras el hanout could said to be a metaphor for the Arabian Nights - a collection of fabulous stories, poetry and songs filled with tales of kings, queens and concubines; magicians and djinn, pirates, sailors and fisherman, poets and thieves, viziers and merchants, angels and slaves. Of hungry ghosts and mermaids. They are tales of adventure, treasure, mystery and of dreams. They are absorbing and exhilarating, very like the spice blend itself.

what heathcliffe did next: merguez mezze

merguez with green pepper
Heathcliffe had asked me to pick up some merguez sausages from Phoenicia, my local middle eastern deli in Kentish Town. Fortunately I know what merguez sausages look like. A peculiar thing to say you might think, but the butcher's counter meats are labelled in Arabic (which I don't read) and quite often I am mystified by what I am actually looking at. Gargantuan cuts of meat the like of which I have never seen before, hugger-mugger with somewhat grotesque mounds of sausage. But still I come in to browse, hoping that I'll get one of the friendlier butchers to explain to me what exactly it is I am looking at. Occasionally when I'm feeling brave or adventurous I'll actually buy something.

mezze: what the sujuk!

sujuk mezze
"Have you ever had sujuk before?” Heathcliffe asked me as he prepared his glorious mezze feast. WTF? (I thought rather inelegantly). I hadn't heard of it before either. Heathcliffe was preparing a rather unprepossessing sausage. Its skin was a plastic pink colour, the flesh a "crushed raspberry" hue. If I'm honest, I wasn't really looking forward to it. But I am a girl who likes her adventures in food. So I was prepared to try it, if only the once.

marinated beyaz peynir (turkish white cheese)

marinated Turkish white cheese - beyaz peynir
There are lots of Turkish and Cypriot shops near where I live in north London. A comparative recent discovery is cans of cheese. Yes, you heard correctly - a can of cheese. This is "beyaz peynir" (which in Turkish means "white cheese"); a salty, dense cheese made from unpasteurized sheep milk, very similar in taste and texture to Greek feta cheese. Actually I would defy you to tell the difference. Perhaps feta is a little more tangy and beyaz peynir is firmer and a little creamy.

summertime and the mezze is easy! grilled halloumi with lemon

fried halloumi with lemon juice
If I said to you, yup we're going to be eating something that squeaks like polystyrene and can set your teeth on edge, but is a sensational eating experience, you may well be forgiven for thinking I'd lost my marbles (again). But if you've actually had halloumi, pronounced "hal-ooo-mee", a prince amongst cooking cheeses, I am convinced that you'll be nodding in agreement.

a feast from the (not-so) mysterious east (that's dalston not the levant) and there's a party going on in my mouth!

heathcliffe's splendiferous mezze
What is a feast?
  • A festival of food
  • A joyous, happy meal
  • A sumptuous entertainment
  • Something highly agreeable, which is partaken of, or shared in, with delight
  • To gratify or delight (as in to feast your eyes or your soul)
  • To treat at the table bountifully

summer lovin': mi cuit tomatoes

mi cuit tomatoes - July 2011
I love tomatoes in all their forms, but was sadly very disappointed by a new range of cherry tomatoes from a leading supermarket. They were so pretty, with an almost bell-like in shape. Sadly they had no flavour whatsoever. (Really, what is the point of selling tomatoes which taste of "absolutely nothing with the merest hint of tomato"? she growls.) 

the other 4th of July celebration: beer can chicken

While the United States celebrates Independence Day on 4th July, a shrine to patriotism and the red, white and blue, there is a small festival held in Denmark on the same day in honour of Max Henius, a Danish American who discovered the process of fermetation and established one of the first schools of brewing in the USA. What a clever man and in his honour, I give you beer can chicken . . . (or as a friend so elegantly put it "chicken with a beer up its ar*e" , , , charming girl. But something to really celebrate. Cheers!

buckle your swashes; here comes the mojito!

Emma's birthday mojito! (photo by Marja FB)
Who’d have thought that a cocktail that may have been inspired by the notorious pirate, Sir Francis Drake in 16th century and a pick-me up for Cuban slaves on the sugar plantations in the 18th and 19th centuries (and god knows they would have needed one) could become such an iconic symbol of civilised drinking in the 21st century. 

what's in season: july

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit. 

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.