Saturday, 1 August 2015

Lamb chops

A few days ago, I asked Paul a serious question. He was shocked. He couldn't believe I would spring something so momentous on him without prior warning. I asked whether he preferred lamb cutlets or lamb loin chops.

As he absolutely refused to answer, I decided - for science! - to get a pack of each and do a direct comparison. Now, I accept that two people's opinions aren't statistically significant, and to be a genuine comparison they'd need to have been cut from the same sheep, but I still thought it would be worthwhile. Delicious, and worthwhile.

Both the chops and the cutlets got the same treatment - brought to room temperature, rubbed with salt, pepper and garlic powder and grilled over charcoal.

And both were delicious. But we agreed that the loin chops just had the edge. Paul likened it to the difference between fillet and rump steaks - one has the edge on flavour and one has the edge on tenderness. The cutlets were very slightly more tender, the loin chops had a slightly more robust flavour. We might have to repeat the experiment to be on the safe side though.

Monday, 27 July 2015

My favourite: frying pan

Seen here awaiting washing up from breakfast omelettes
It's seen better days, and that sharp chunk broken from the handle makes it awkward to hold, but I love this frying pan. I've had it for 20+ years as far as I can remember and it's been washed so often the maker's name on the bottom is hardly legible any more. It makes the best fried eggs and omelettes in the world. They get beautifully golden and never stick. It's just perfect.

Friday, 24 July 2015


Growing root vegetables is more exciting than you'd think. Really, it is. All that effort, with the frisson that you have no idea what is going on beneath the surface. Is there bounty or have critters destroyed everything?

We're not actually growing much in the way of veg. Most horticultural effort is ploughed into the bonsai and we don't have space for much else aside from the usual couple of chilli plants. But Paul decided he wanted to have a crack at garlic. It was a little late in the season to make the decision, but we planted some Red Duke cloves in spring and several plants duly popped up.

We've spent a couple of weeks now dancing from foot to foot in anticipation, reading everything we could find and consulting noted garlic growers (i.e my mother and aunt) trying to decide when we should harvest. Eventually we had to bite the bullet and pull up a bulb to see where we were. It was plump and perfect.

I broke it into cloves. We tasted a little slice from a raw clove and it was wonderful - really bitey and hot. I tossed the rest in olive oil, salt and pepper with chunks of aubergine, courgette, red pepper and harlequin squash and baked it in a hot oven for 45 minutes, then pulled it out and added cherry tomatoes, pine nuts and crumbled feta and put it back in for another 15 minutes.

We had the vegetables with lamb loin fillets, simply pan-fried until pinkly tender. The garlic sang, but each element was delicious.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Fig, feta and almond salad

Paul loves salad - which is a good thing - but really, really loves "interesting" salad. Which tends to mean salads with nuts and seeds, bits of cheese and carefully considered dressings as well as the usual salad veg.

This one I made last night, to go with a roast rack of pork. It's very quick to put together and it's a delicious combination. It would go equally well with lamb or chicken I think. Or just in a bowl by itself as a solo meal.

Fig, feta and almond salad (serves 2)

1 handful flaked almonds
4 ripe figs
1 little gem lettuce
125g feta
2 spring onions
2 tsp honey
1 tsp grainy mustard
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
2 tbs olive oil

Toast the flaked almonds and put them to cool in your salad bowl. Quarter the figs, wash the lettuce and tear the leaves, crumble the feta and slice the spring onions into the bowl.

In a small bowl or ramekin mix the honey, mustard, vinegar and olive oil to an emulsion. Taste it - my mustard is quite sharp so it needed 2 tsp of honey, but a mellower mustard needs less. Just before serving pour the dressing over the salad and toss gently.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Peach iced tea

I think it must have been the mid 1990s when I first tasted peach iced tea. I was immediately hooked. The sweet fruityness, the dry tannins, I loved it all.

It hasn't always been that easy to come by: Snapple was available in Australia for a short period but then seemed to disappear and I've never seen it in the UK. Lipton Ice was overly sweetened but fairly reliable until they started to put vile stevia in it (you can still get it without, but apparently the warehouse pickers who pack my internet grocery shopping can't tell the difference). The Berry Company's peach white tea is delicious and lower in sugar than Lipton, but it seems to have disappeared from the shelves.

I took some pointers from a woman from America's South, where both peaches and iced tea seem to be a way of life, and set out to make my own peach iced tea. Her secrets to a good iced tea of any flavour are to start with a properly strong tea, diluting it to taste, and using a sugar syrup to sweeten. It took several goes to get a blend I was happy with, but here it is.

Peach iced tea (makes 1 litre - about 6 glasses)

3 English breakfast tea bags
4 tbs caster sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
1 sachet white peach bellini mix
Ice to serve

Place the tea bags in a 1l heatproof jug. Pour on 500ml freshly boiled water and allow to steep for 10 minutes, then remove the teabags.

In a small saucepan mix the sugar and a splash of water. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves completely. Allow to cool.

Pour the sugar syrup, lemon juice and bellini mix into the tea, top up with cold water to 1 litre. Taste for sweetness (it'll be quite strong, it gets diluted by the ice) and chill.

Half fill glasses with ice, stir the iced tea (the peach tends to settle at the bottom) and pour over the ice to serve.

I think a double quantity with a good cupful of Southern Comfort and some sliced fresh peaches would make a superb party punch. I'll have to try that next.

Friday, 17 July 2015

No-churn peanut caramel cheesecake ice cream

So, this is what I did with the leftover unsatisfactory honey peanut brittle I made the other week. If you don't happen to have unsatisfactory honey peanut brittle in the house, don't go out of your way to make it - use some bought honey roasted peanuts or peanut brittle or even a chopped up Daim bar or something. But the caramel cheesecake ice cream is good just plain too. If I wasn't going to add the peanut brittle, I'd add a little pinch of sea salt flakes to the mixture, for a nice balance.

No-churn peanut caramel cheesecake ice cream (serves 6-8)

280g soft cream cheese (or 300g or 250g - the standard tub in your neck of the woods)
300ml double cream
400g milk caramel (the type you make by boiling a can of condensed milk, but I used a ready made one)
1tbs vanilla
3tbs dark rum (or brandy/whisky/bourbon)
2 good handfuls roughly chopped peanut brittle

Whisk the cream cheese, double cream, caramel, vanilla and rum to soft peaks. Fold in the peanut brittle. Freeze.

This one freezes harder than my usual no-churn ice creams, so take it out of the freezer 5-10 minutes before scooping.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Wicked Lady, Wheathampstead

We didn't renew our cherry tree rental this year. We still have a lot of preserves, frozen fruit and a couple of pies left from last year and Paul decided that he really doesn't like cherries enough to go through all that again. What he does like is the occasional weekend dessert of fresh, unsweetened berries, bathed in a hefty slosh of cold double cream.

I did some research and found a really nice-sounding Pick Your Own farm a pleasant drive away from us. It had the advantage of a variety of soft fruits, whereas the ones closer to us seem to mostly be strawberries. I liked the idea of some red and black currants and some raspberries as well.

What with one thing and another we weren't going to leave the house until late morning, so we felt that the best thing would be to find a pub for lunch before we went fruit picking. It wouldn't have done at all to have a car full of berries languishing in the sun.

The Wicked Lady is not far from the PYO, and both the pub name and the menu sounded pretty good to me. And then as we pulled into the car park we saw a Hendricks Gin bus which I thought was an excellent omen.

They were fully booked inside, but were doing table service outside, where they were having a summer party. As well as the Hendricks bus, they had a little gazebo set up with a waitress pouring Pimms, there were giant games of jenga and battleship and children were having their faces painted.

I had a Hendricks and tonic while Paul had a pint of Doom Bar. As soon as I spotted the guinea fowl kiev on the menu I knew Paul was lost and that we would not be having a quick sandwich.

So I started with a crab and crayfish pot. It was a bit too mayonnaisey, but the flavour was excellent. Paul had brie in a pumpkin seed crust. The crust was crisp and greaseless but there was too much over-sweet chutney for his taste.

I dithered for a while over my main course before choosing corned beef hash topped with a fried egg. The corned beef was excellent, punctuated by little coriander seeds, but I think in a perfect world there would have been half the amount of potato and the rest of the bulk provided by some shredded kale or something. It was a lot of potato per bite.

And in a perfect world they would not have committed the sin of halving the kiev. The whole point of kiev is that sensuous moment when you cut into it and the garlicky butter pours out. But the guinea fowl was moist and tender and the sauce, roesti and veg were all just what he wanted.

Just as the band were starting up we left. Unfortunately we took one look at the queue of families at the PYO and headed home - far too many people had the same idea as we did. We'll try again another weekend and I suspect we will have another lunch at The Wicked Lady.


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