Thursday, 7 January 2010

Fennel and pink grapefruit salad

I'm currently whipping through the sublime second series of Mad Men on DVD. I love everything about it, and the attention to 1950s and 1960s detail is lush. But the food you see the characters eating definitely makes me feel grateful to be living in the Teenies (is that what we're meant to be calling the successor to the Noughties?) Anyway, the sight of Don and Betty tucking into yet another family dinner of creamed corn, devilled lamb chops and tinned marrowfat peas is enough to send me running to the fridge for fresh, crisp zingy ingredients. Which is exactly how this salad came about, somewhere during episodes 8 and 9: it's tangy, aromatic and full of vitamins, and really easy to make. Just what the January body needs, huh?

Serves 2

You will need:

1/2 bulb fennel
1 pink grapefruit
1 generous handful fresh mint
1 tbsp orange flower water (I use a nice one from here - but if you can't get hold of it, use 1 tbsp of freshly squeezed orange juice)
1 tbsp chilli-infused olive oil (not essential - use extra virgin olive oil if you don't have this)
Salt and pepper

Very thinly slice the fennel lengthways. Don't bin the fennel fronds - cut up and add as well. Peel the grapefruit, remove as much pith as you can, then slice into 1/2cm rounds. Cut each round into 4 quarters. Roughly chop the mint. Place all the above in a salad bowl and roughly mix up with your hands.

Whisk together the chilli oil and the orange flower water, adding salt and pepper to taste to make the dressing. Add this to the salad just seconds before you eat it, to avoid wilting.

Will make your tastebuds pop!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Beetroot recipe horror!

Too often I'm racked with guilt about food waste. I hate throwing anything away. Even if it means making weird stir fries with 87 types of vegetables in them. So, in anticipation of N and I going on holiday soon, I've been preoccupied with using everything up in the fridge that could go off. Which means that today I was seized with a particular kind of kitchen madness: the quest to use an incongruous mix of ingredients in cack-handed quantities, knowing full well that it didn't look edible, resulting in a spectacular fail. I know most food blogs are mainly all about gorgeous recipes, but I think it's just as fun to talk about the total rubbish that I cook up on a fairly regular basis.

My thinking was thus: I somehow thought I could use up the annoying beetroots that had been lurking in the fridge for weeks and make savoury muffins out of them, incorporating the odds and ends of the Xmas cheeses that we'd failed to eat, some rosemary that was almost on the turn and some old pumpkin seeds that had been unearthed in the cupboard. I'd made savoury muffins before. It was snowing heavily outside and I felt all cosy and resourceful, like some kind of 1950's 'make do and mend' Stepford housewife. Hah - I just had a mountain of beetroot to get through. I was determined to use ALL of it. I made a mixture of grated raw beetroot, grated cheese, eggs, oil, flour and seasoning, knowing in the pit of my stomach that the mixture was looking wrong - and so red! - and that the resulting florid goo would never rise, but soldiered on anyway. It was as though I was incapable of stopping.

The horror, the horror:

Crispy tendrils of beetroot on the outside, solid cheesy clag on the inside. Texture of rubber. Weird flavour of sweet pizza. I now have about 24 of the buggers to find a home for. Anyone got a hungry piglet or horse at home? I can't throw 'em away...

Friday, 1 January 2010

A tinier kitchen

My friend S who lives in Brighton has an even tinier kitchen than me. He has put up with its diminutive size for about eight years and has finally had enough: he'll soon be moving house. I'm so very jealous (in advance) of his bigger future kitchen. Over the years, even though his current cooking space is the size of a matchbox, he has produced some amazing feasts from its depths. Just after Christmas, he invited us down for a bit of a festive blow-out - a marmalade/mustard-glazed ham and Christmas pudding ice cream.

Behold the ham:

Roast potatoes cooked in goose fat, rosemary and garlic:

Sweet Jesus - the world's best festive ice cream (Christmas pudding flavour, containing booze-soaked fruits and crunchy ginger biscuits, then the top is set alight...)

This was a legendary feast and everything was totally delicious. There was nearly a fight to get the remaining crispy bits from the roast potato bowl. I nearly wept at how yummy the ice cream tasted - like an uber-posh version of rum 'n raisin. All of the above combined with my other three weeks of festive gorging and appalling gluttony now mean that I can barely fit into my jeans. But thanks S for the beautiful grub!

Florist Cafe, Ashbourne

We celebrated the new year at our friends' wedding in Buxton, Derbyshire. There was snow on the ground and we drank mulled wine outside, trying not to fall down in our high heels and twat ourselves on the ice. The bride and groom had a tower of cheeses (left) instead of a traditional wedding cake, and we lit giant paper lanterns in the park which soared up into the wintry night. We partied late into the night in the underground cellars of the UK's reputedly oldest hotel. Feeling limp and hungover this morning, we started the four-hour drive back to London with heavy heads, in search of somewhere to serve us breakfast. About 20 miles from Buxton is the small town of Ashbourne; a wonderful cafe-cum-florist shop sits prettily on the edge of the main square. We were drawn by its twinkling fairy lights and steamed up windows, and the menu looked like it would nurse us back to life.

Inside, the cafe is a retro heaven. All the tables and chairs are mismatched, as is the crockery. Jugs, garlands and knick-knacks hang down from the ceiling. There are magazines and well-thumbed cookery books to read. (We flicked through a terrifying Microwave Cookery book circa 1980 - yuk!). Bunches of flowers for sale sit prettily in the corner. Menu choices (soups, sandwiches, jacket potatoes) are scrawled on a big blackboard. There is a wonderfully laid back atmosphere and an air of tasteful dishevelment. Our friendly waiter brought us Earl Grey tea in a fantastic 1950's teapot with elegant china teacups (below), and served us very decent baked potatoes with baked beans and cheese. Perfect hangover fodder. I only wish I'd had room to try some of the cakes - the likes of coffee and walnut or almond and Dime bar cake sat temptingly underneath glass domes. The portions were hefty.

If I could, I would transport this cafe on wheels down to South London and have it as my local hangout...I hated having to leave!