After I’d come down off the high of our Michelin dinner I thought I’d just look into the humble pea and its origins.

As ever when I want to read about vegetables I tend to turn to Colin Spencer’s brilliant and humbly titled The Vegetable Book. It rates in my top 10 food books of all time, about which I will post one day. I say food books rather than cook books, because it is so much more than a recipe collection. It is, for me at least, the finest kind of food-related writing. A potted history, followed with descriptions of the various varieties of selected vegetables. Interspersed with advice on choosing, nutritional information and original ideas and recipes. It is a superb book.

In amongst the delightful writing Colin likes to drop in a few historical quotes. I particularly like this one is about peas.

According to Colin the French court Louis XIV was besotted by green peas, as Madame de Maintenon wrote in a letter dated 10th May 1696 :  “this subject of peas continues to absorb all others. The anxiety to eat them, the pleasure of having eaten them and the desire to eat them again, are three great matters which have been discussed by our princes for four days past. Some ladies, even after having supped at the Royal table and well supped too, returning to their own homes, at the risk of suffering indigestion will again eat peas before going to bed. It is both a fashion and a madness”

The history of food I think is a fascinating subject. In this day and age of any food, anytime, from anywhere in the world it gives us a glimpe of how things used to be. A time when we couldn’t have anything we wanted, whenever we wanted, and when foods that we take for granted now, like peas, were a novelty.


For Rob.

Dinner last night turned into very fancy affair from humble (frozen) beginnings.

I’ve called it : Breaded fish goujons, organic pomme-puree, freshly podded garden peas with reduced tomato coulis served 2 ways.

Good, but could try harder

My first attempt wasn’t too bad, but I wasn’t quite happy with the mash (sorry, organic pomme purée). It was a little lumpy looking. Some of the streaks in the ketchup reduced tomato coulis needed tidying up also. So I had another go, determined to get it right!

I think the swoop of the ketchup beautifully accentuates the shape of the quenelle of mash, with the peas offsetting the overall shape of the dish. The fish fingers providing an unusual yet amusing counterpoint. (seriously, I think there’s a career for me in writing pretentious food descriptions!)

Back up Heston, there’s a new boy in town!

More thoughts on Wild Garlic (and garlic madness).

Well, it is still that time of year isn’t it? See my earlier post about Ramsoms here when that time of year had just started. The hedges and shady woods around the country are still absolutely frothing with the stuff. Now, rather beautifully, they have produced their pretty white flowers making the plants more visible to the untrained eye.

I’d like to say that I’ve noticed a change in the flavour as the plants develop, but I can’t. I thought it would be one of those things that might change. They are beginning to look a little tired and past their best at the moment though. About a month ago they were very bright green & juicy, their leaves a little shorter, so I think really there’s only 1 or 2 weeks left in the season before they pack up for another year. It depends slightly where they’re growing. At this time of year in sunnier spots, the leaves will be more wilted, starting to yellow even. So look for shadier and shorter leaves. They get tougher as they grow.

I ate an unopened flower bulb the other day (well, I thought I’d find out, as you do), and if you thought Wild Garlic was mild, think again, the flowers pack a punch! They look fantastic as a garnish as well.

 The brilliant Mark Hix wrote an article last week in The Independent on Lamb with Wild Garlic Sauce, there’s a link here. A great meat if ever there were one to serve with it. I’ve always found garlic & lamb a fine combination. One of my favourite dishes is a leg of lamb, roasted, having tucked ½ garlic cloves & rosemary into little incisions all over the leg, (it looks great when you bring it to the table as well). So it’s no surprise that this fantastic sauce works so well.  It’s quite grassy in flavour and certainly garlicky.

Here’s the pot of sauce I made last week, still tasting great. I made it with olive oil not rapeseed as Mark suggests (we had no other oil).

That's not pesto!

I’ve since tried freezing it as I made a lot and that worked extremely well, a great way of extending the season. I’m going to try it in ice-cube trays, ready to use all year & melt into all sorts of dishes (pasta, new potatoes, asparagus). It seems a shame not to enjoy it more, but that’s part of the joy of seasonal eating isn’t it?

We had the sauce tossed with warm new Cornish potatoes, asparagus & bacon lardons for a quick & simple dinner last night. The potatoes flecked with green looked like mint sauce which was very confusing!

I think the madness refers to my obsession with the stuff (can you get garlic madness?). I tend to eat very seasonal ingredients until I’m truly bored of them and swear blind that I won’t eat them next year. Somehow my boredom doesn’t last for a whole year.

In fact who cares? Well a lot of people don’t really, but I have had a few debates over the years as to which is which (yes I know I need to get out more) , so here goes the debate, and I welcome your comments as to which is which. I touched on this subject in an earlier post, using asparagus again, it must be a seasonal debate of mine! And another post about asparagus here. According to Larousse Gastronomique (and that’s a book that should know) a salad is ” a dish of raw or cold cooked foods, usually dressed and seasoned, served as an hors d’oeuvre, side dish etc”. It then takes various forms:  green, plain or mixed.

According to The Oxford Companion to Food the warm salad is a 20th century invention. The original salad or salata is derived from the Latin sal which gave us the term relating to “salted things”. Brilliant, so chips &  bacon is a salad! Oh no, wait a minute, chips are hot. So if they’re served warm does that make them a salad? I mean it’s composed mainly of vegetables isn’t it? Perhaps not, but we can dream. The scary thing is that there are people in this country that think chips are one of their five a day!

And my favourite description is from a Book of Medieval Food (Maggie Black 1985) the salat is described thus: “Take parsel, sawge, garlec, chibollas, oynons, leek, borage, myntes, porrectes, fenel, and ton tressis, rew, rosemarye, purslane, lave, and waisshe hem clene. Pike hem, pluck hem small with thyn hand and mygn hem wel with rawe oile. Lay on vynegar and salt and serve it forth” That seems a little different from opening a bag of salad from the supermarket doesn’t it?

Okay, so my opinion (such as it is) is that a salad is a cold or warm dish, not hot, composed mainly of cooked vegetables, dressed with some form of oil/vinegar/mayonnaise/lemon/lime juice arrangement. A hot salad isn’t a salad and I don’t know what it is.

So on to dinner. The first asparagus of the year is always pretty expensive (it’s never cheap anyway) but it’s everything that’s exciting about seasonal food. I tend to wait a few weeks after the first stems have hit the shops & the price goes down a little. Asparagus is one of those quintessentially english ingredients that needs to be celebrated once a year. Not served up every week of the year, chargrilled from Peru with fancy butters and confused accompaniments.

The great thing about it is that it’s very versatile, has a strong flavour of its own and thus will take some pretty robust flavours with it. Chargrilled is nice, plain boiled with just unsalted butter, freshly-ground black pepper & flaky salt is classic and amazing or mixed with other interesting ingredients as part of a bigger salad. I chose the latter for dinner.

Asparagus, bacon & potato salad with lemon & mustard dressing (and a poached egg):

1 bunch of asparagus, snapped of woody ends.

Bacon lardons, a small handful (I’ll post pictures and recipes of my home-made bacon at some point)

2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced.

2 medium potatoes, peeled if old & too muddy (mine were!) diced in 2-3cm cubes

2-3 Courgettes, sliced.

2 fresh, free-range eggs

For the dressing:

  • Finely grated zest & juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1-2 tsp grain mustard
  • A pinch of salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • Good olive oil

Put on big pot of water to boil

In a non-stick frying pan, fry the bacon lardons over a medium heat until they’re starting to take some colour, stirring. Add the garlic & continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes. Take the pan off the heat &…

Drop the potatoes into the water and simmer until tender, about 5 minutes. When they’re done, take them out with a slotted spoon and allow them to steam-dry for a minute or 2.You’re going to use the water again for the asparagus so don’t chuck it out, put it back on to boil.

Place the cooked potato into the bacon pan & put the frying pan back on the heat, medium-hot this time. Stir or toss the bacon, potato & garlic. Ideally the spuds will take on some colour, but don’t worry too much if they don’t. The important thing is that they soak up the bacony-garlic flavour. It may, or may not, look something like this. Eagle-eyed readers will notice my garlic a little browned which you may, or may not enjoy as a flavour, it can be quite strong. Ideally you’ll be doing 2 things at once for efficiency, so..

Needs a bit of colour

For flavour the potatoes need a little browning

When the water has come back to a rolling boil drop in the asparagus for 4 minutes, 5 at a push. Then take them out & drop them in to cold water to stop them cooking & going soft. If you want you can put some ice in, but I find running the cold tap is usually enough.

Put the sliced courgettes in to the bacon/potato pan and stir gently over a medium heat. You can turn up the heat a bit & give the courgettes some more flavour if you like, just remember to keep it moving so they don’t catch on the pan. Probably about another 5 minutes or so. I like my courgettes just cooked with a little bite.

For the dressing combine the lemon zest, juice & mustard in a screw top jar with the salt & pepper. Give it good shake and add double the volume of olive oil (extra virgin for preference) to lemon/mustard. Give it really, really good shake and add 1/2 as much oil again. Taste, it may need more oil, it may not. You can obviuosly adjust the mustard to your taste as well. Sorry to be a bit imprecise with my measurements, but lemons are all different sizes. I find it much easier (and more efficient) to use 1/2 a lemon rather than just squeeze some out & you’re left with a squashed lemon. A good ratio of oil to lemon is 4:1.

Nearly cooked & without dressing

Slice the asparagus on the angle, throw in the pan with the other ingredients & warm through with as much dressing as you like. Probably about 2-3 tablespoons.

Serve with a softly poached egg on top. The egg should ooze on to the salad in a luxurious manner. Mine didn’t, I overcooked them so there’s no photo! Hey, nobody’s perfect.

There’s something in the air. I almost feel as though spring has passed & we’ve moved into summer with the weather we’ve been having.

We had the first bbq of the year last night, so maybe that’s what it is. I get very excited at the changing of the seasons, particularly when it comes to food. We’ve eaten so many roots, stews & winter greens, which I love, but I know spring is really springing & summer’s just around the corner when the wild garlic comes out. Lettuce, beans & tomatoes et al aren’t far behind.

We went to Devon 2 weekends ago, beautiful sunshine and magnolias in full bloom. This is the piece I wrote then.

27th March 2011 Devon.

I’m always filled with (probably a blind) romanticism when I come down here. So much so that I think the simplest meals become something special. Maybe it’s because so many meals in our lives are more that the sum of the ingredients. And by ingredients, I don’t just mean the food.

One of the most memorable meals of my life was in Morocco, sat beside the road with a stranger I’d hitched a ride with. We ate bread, meat, cheese, fruit, and drank some water sitting between the fields worked by local people. It was hot, dry and dusty, and we sat in the shade of the trees that lined the dirt track we’d turned on to, making broken conversation with my poor French & his poor English. We shared the food we’d bought at a local market. The food was good & quite ordinary really. The table, cutlery and plates were non-existent and the conversation hardly sparkling. So in many ways all the classic ingredients for a good meal weren’t in place. Yet I remember it so vividly as being a very special time, place and meal.

Last night’s dinner was very simple, but very delicious, and, it seemed to me, a bit special. The hedgerows here are alive with wild garlic.

I find it a bit like owning a red car. As soon as you see one, you see them everywhere. The same is true of the garlic. Masses and masses of it. Not just banks, but great swathes of it up and down the lanes.

Last year I started compiling a list of places around Bristol where you could find wild garlic. This year I wasn’t that bothered about cooking or using wild garlic until we drove home with some mussels from the shop and I spotted the garlic in the hedges.

This recipe is one of the best ways of using it I feel, almost like a green vegetable in its own right. The addition of greens like spinach or wild garlic make the mussel dish a little more substantial.

Be careful not to cook all the pungency out of it, it’s much milder than cultivated garlic bulbs anyway, but it’s nice to have a bit of zip to it.

Mussels with leeks, cream, white wine and wild garlic:

For 2 as a main course with bread.

2 kg of mussels, bearded & cleaned

1 small onion, finely diced

2 small leeks, thinly sliced & washed

1-2 glasses white wine

2 fresh bay leaves

125ml or so of single cream

As much wild garlic as you like, washed & thinly shredded, say 2 big fistfuls, washed carefully.

  • Use a pot with a lid, big enough to hold all the mussels as they open. They’ll take up more room as they cook.
  • Soften the onion in a little olive oil over a medium heat.
  • Add the leeks & continue to sauté until soft.
  • Chuck in the mussels, wine & bay leaves, turn up the heat, cover & simmer until the mussels open, stirring from time to time, about 3-5 minutes.
  • Add the wild garlic, stir, a lot, & cook for a further 3 minutes until the garlic has wilted.
  • Finish with the cream, allowing it to heat through but not boil.
  • Serve in bowls with bread to mop up the juices.
    So, a simple meal, in a special time & place, which, as I say seemed much more than the sum of the ingredients.

    When I wrote this there wasn’t much garlic around Bristol, but plenty in Devon. Now it’s all over the place! Get it while you can, but only take as much as you need & leave some for others, please.

    For any help you might need finding & identifying it have a look at the link here. Even if you don’t find any, you’ll have a nice walk in the woods!

I  formed this article, in the main from an email I sent to “Hugh’s Fishfight”. A campaign started by the tv cook Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, if you don’t know about it there’s a link here. I strongly urge you to support it.

It gave us some shocking facts about fishing quotas & brilliantly raised public awareness in the way only a tv chef can. Friends & colleagues have all been talking about it and signing up which can only be a good thing. As climb on to my soapbox once again, I do believe the only real power we have as consumers in our lives is in our wallets, purses and pockets. And we need to carefully consider the choices we make if you care about the planet we live on. Right I’ll climb down now, rant over & stop getting all evangelical (mind you there’s more in the rest of this piece!)

Dear sir/madam,

I’m a big fan of the juicy oily-ness of the mackerel. I recently went to our local branch of Fishminster. Excitedly, I had noticed that they were on your map as offering mackerel on the menu. There’s a link on your website asking customers to report any shops wrongly listed as selling mackerel. So here I am! I know this shop fairly well and it’s (very sadly) the only wet fish shop for miles.

They have a very small but perfectly-formed wet fish slab opening out onto the street selling well-sourced fresh fish. Last year I was extremely excited to find wild sea trout on the slab & went next door to the fruit & veg shop for inspirational accompaniments. By golly it was good, not cheap, but worth every penny. A warm potato salad & salsa verde. I’ll post pictures and recipes at some point.

Last night fish & chips was what we wanted for our Saturday night tea & I quite fancied mackerel for a change & was becoming bored with Cod & Haddock on many menus.

When I arrived at Fishminster they had a delicious-sounding & looking homemade fishcakes, and an equally delicious-sounding spiced chickpea, spinach & beetroot burger. But no mackerel. They had Cod, Haddock, no Pollock (boo!), Hake, squid & some other assorted fishy items (home made fish fingers etc). But no mackerel, I did lookhave a conscience quite hard.

We had the Hake, but of course I had to check when I got home, to assuage my guilt. I thought the Spanish had eaten it all & I was reasonably sure the sustainability situation was dodgy. Fortunately for my guilt it’s on the “good” list of the MSC’s website due to it being fished in the Pacific & South Africa. This doesn’t help my support of British fishermen though does it?? And then horror as I discover Hugh’s book rates it as a 5! Do not eat!!  However Hugh’s ratings are for the European Hake. It was up on the menu, painted on the board, not in chalk, so it’s a pretty frequent menu item, clarification necessary, but do people care enough? I think in the main people don’t, if they did we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.

I understand also that the MSC isn’t infallible (the Cornish Monkfishing quotas are very restrictive & inaccurate if my colleague in fishmongery is to be listened to) and this is a complex issue. Not helped by consumers that don’t ask enough questions. But we don’t do we? We’re not like that as a nation. But if these situations are to change we need to be, and in this particular instance I’m as guilty as the next person.

In fairness this shop really is one of the better ones. (However, Mr Fryer, please don’t eat with your fingers where the customers can see you, whilst you’re cooking their food, it’s not attractive, or hygienic!) They probably have Mackerel on the menu frequently & Saturday night comes after a traditionally-busy Fryday night (see what I did there?).  I also understand that the Fishfight website needs much frequent updating & checking to remain accurate. So this isn’t so much a complaint as a slightly disappointed observation. I was really looking forward to a Mackerel bap with its punchy tartare, and as delicious as the Hake was it didn’t leave as juicy as taste as I was looking for.

For further information & the latest fishy news check the MSC website here.

Update 10.4.11. It’s a miracle I manage to eat anything sometimes! Oh the guilt, the shame, don’t eat this, do eat that. For crying out loud can I not just eat a bag of fish & chips & enjoy it?? Er no, I seem to live my life like this. Although I am getting better and finding some balance in my life, otherwise where does it end? Also, this was an email to HF-W’s gang, so I think I got a bit carried away. Anyway, aside from that I think I do need to get out more!

 Also I’ve been back since & still no mackerel :(

Yes, I can confirm that dinner at the Fat Duck was quite good!!

More bonkers than outstanding cooking (don’t get me wrong the cooking was very good) and I went expecting fantastic cooking. It has 3 Michelin stars after all. Which is a shame because I think I’d have enjoyed it more had the food been out of this world and not crazy for the sake of it, which I felt some of the dishes were.
More to follow, but just to make people out there jealous I’ve changed my header to “The sound of the sea”, one of Heston Blumenthal’s more famous dishes. And it was quite bonkers, made me giggle, which I don’t think any dish I’ve ever eaten has made me do!

Update 11.4.11: As you can see dear reader, I change my header quite regularly, so the sound of the sea has gone. But for those that missed it, here it is. Complete with ipod-loaded conch shell playing, yes you’ve guessed it, “the sounds of the sea”. Quite literally, on the ipod, in the shell, seagulls, waves, the lot!

Yes it's all edible!

First one of the season.

An onion squash if I’m not mistaken.

Don’t know what I’ll do with it yet, but one of my favourites is to roast it in wedges in a hot oven with sage, salt & pepper, olive oil & cinnamon sticks. They’re super-versatile. Roasted, mashed, in warm salads with feta, makes a great soup, pickled, chutneyed, even pizza topping and, er, squashed? (sorry)

It came in our veg box from the lovely people at Leigh Court Farm along with a massive red cabbage & various other items. I like a veg box, my weekly dose of culinary challenge (I know, I need to get out more). But having no choice, and being given a selection of vegetables to cook makes me try things I wouldn’t usually, or at the least I have to get creative & try different dishes.

At the moment there’s a beetroot chutney to be made, I’m nearly sick of runner beans (and they’re beginning to get a little stringy), I’ve got loads of lovely red onions (very good on the bbq with yoghurt & zahtar, recipe to follow) and more potatoes than I know what to do with.

As the seasons change so does the produce. Autumn must be one of my favourite times of year for food. Sweetcorn, squashes, apples, beetroot, blackberries, the list goes on. In fact, when I was looking at my seasonal food list the other day September had the biggest number of foods available, across all the meat, fish, fruit & vegetables. Exciting times if you’re a cook.

No doubt in 3 months time, in the depths of winter I’ll be craving the runner beans and I’ll be sick of the squash!

If you don’t know Jamie, where have you been? If you’re from the UK he’s quite difficult to avoid.

He has his critics out there (as anyone famous does) and he has his fans, I fall into the latter category.

He’s had a lot of stick over the years, partly I think it comes from this peculiar British behaviour that, because he’s doing well we cannot celebrate him, just berate him.  He does a lot to promote good food, good practice and his work with Fifteen I think is great. Aside from his campaign with Sainsbury’s which has set him up for life (and who can say they wouldn’t do the same?) he’s had a productive and creative career thus far. If you put aside his on-screen personality for a while (which some people can’t stand) and look at his other more charitable work there seems to be a man with a genuine love, and wish to improve the lives of  his fellow man.

He started a campaign in the UK not so long ago to raise the standard of food in schools in this country. I personally couldn’t applaud it enough. Raising standards of food quality goes hand in hand with increasing health at every level for children, as well as the crucial aspect of education which means they can carry it through to later life & pass it on. It also means job satisfaction for the people cooking, serving it, and for that matter the suppliers producing it (although some would argue many don’t care). It has a myriad of benefits.

Jamie recently won the TED prize. This was no small deal. In fact a  big deal. A very, very big deal.  This prize is awarded to people with a wish, and desire to change the world, for the better (“One wish big enough to change the world” is the strapline). This award has previously been given to physicists, medical professionals, scientists and other important academics.

This year it’s being awarded to a chef from Essex??? Just fantastic news, I can only wish him well and all the luck in world.

A link to his acceptance speech here from his site. Definitely worth watching. Yes it’s playing to the American audience a bit and it’s quite polished and set up, but I was surprised at how good and engaging a public speaker he is.

Sadly, like him I’m an idealist, maybe that’s why I like him and what he’s trying to do.

I wrote this a few week’s ago, so asparagus probably isn’t around any more (in fact it’s all gone from our shops, unless you want Peruvian) But I think it’s pretty adaptable to most firm vegetables (beans, peas, artichokes, fennel, cauliflower even)

While I’m at it I’ll start  the debate. Is it a true salad? Some would say no, I think so, even if it is warm:

A quick and easy dinner, a variation on a theme really. There’s a fair bit of asparagus about still (though not for long I think) I’m eating it when I can! I tend to forget how lucky I am living in the UK with this fantastic range of food, and how exciting the ingredients are as they change with the seasons. Late spring/early summer is one of my favourite times. New potatoes, asparagus, the first of the broad beans and peas, fantastic!

This is a salad that dresses itself.  The oil and tomatoes, as you stir them together, break up a bit & coat the warm potatoes. So you don’t need to make a salad dressing, maybe a squirt of lemon juice if you like, to add a bit of tartness.  You get this lovely, earthy, slightly burnt, bbq flavour from the tomatoes that complements the asparagus and potatoes. You don’t need hundreds of ingredients for this dish either. Simple food, making the best of the season. Serves well on its own, or would go well with some grilled fish or chicken, and obviously to make it vegetarian just leave out the bacon.

For 2 :

1 Bunch of asparagus

A couple of handfuls of new potatoes, scrubbed (ideally Jersey’s or local)

3-4 tbsp bacon lardons

4 Large, ripe tomatoes

A small handful of parsley, chives or any nice fresh soft herb, roughly chopped.

Good olive oil

Salt & pepper

  • Turn your grill to “hotter-than-the-sun” setting
  • If the spuds are large cut them in 1/2 and then drop them into a pan of cold water with a little salt. Bring to the boil & simmer until just tender. Drain, & keep to one side.
  • While they are cooking, put a pan of lightly salted water on to boil.
  • In a small frying pan gently fry the bacon lardons until browned. Leave to one side.
  • While the bacon’s cooking, snap off the woody ends of the asparagus. Drop them into the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes. Drain & run cold water over them to stop them cooking & to keep the colour vibrant.
  • Cut the tomatoes in 1/2, lay on a baking tray, dribble with olive oil, salt & pepper & put them under your (hopefully) incredibly hot grill. Roast them like crazy until they start to blacken a little. If the grill’s not hot enough they’ll just turn soft & mushy before they colour, and it’s the colour that really adds the flavour. Take them out before they turn to charcoal, but you want them nicely browned, a little blackened in places.
  • Pop all the ingredients in a suitable salad bowl & stir gently.
  • Check the seasoning & adjust if necessary (now’s the time for your optional lemon juice) serve & enjoy.

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