Sunday, July 31, 2011

Frittering Away

...hours in the kitchen, hours in the garden, hours online...there is no end to the frittering away of time in my household, also referred to variously as pottering, moseying and real life avoidance. For the purposes of this post, all frittering is confined to the pan, as the marrow with the mostest gets the fritter treatment. My travels on the path to courgette nirvana led me to back issues of Jamie magazine (the June 2010 issue, to be precise), where I found a two page feature focusing on the little green wonder - a very handy piece it is too, and I predict that it will become splashed and splattered to the point of illegibility as I messily make my way through the quick and simple recipes. This little beauty is the summer veggie version of a fishcake; a tasty little patty that uses up bits and bobs around the kitchen, something that can be tinkered with according to what's on offer and what you're in the mood for, and can be paired up with just about any sort of side dish that you can cobble together, whether you need to up your veggie quotient for the day with some colourful healthy bits, or you feel like being a bit of a boldie and tucking into a plate of big fat chips.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Get Fresh

Hello everyone, I am here to report from the trenches of smugness, where one grows one's own vegetables and beams with the good life-y-ness of it all, trilling "you can do it too, it's SOOOOOOO easy". Sorry about that. But honestly, courgettes really do pretty much just grow themselves. One minute you're shoving this seed into the middle of a bit of potting compost and then the next you're wondering how many courgette recipes actually exist in the world and if this will be in fact enough to absorb the supply of courgettes springing up in your very modestly-sized garden. Along with the zucca, another couple of my garden efforts that have turned out to be bountiful are mint (no surprise there, it's well known for making its presence felt in a garden) and rocket. There is a quote on the front of Sophie Grigson's The Vegetable Bible that says it's "Perfect for veg box users". I would also contend that it's quite the bible for veggie growers as well. If your recipe repertoire is feeling a little jaded, then you can just look up recipes by the veggie to add interest to your haul of crops. What I really loved about this Moroccan-style courgette salad was that it epitomised a few of the reasons why I love having to go no further than your own back garden for some fresh vegetables. Firstly, I obviously tried a new recipe, and I like to pull myself out of my fairly unexciting cycle of old reliables. Secondly, people don't really grow their own vegetables because it's cheaper than buying them in the supermarket. Seeds are not cheap, and it is considerably less expensive and time-consuming to go and buy them in the supermarket (courgettes are currently going for €1 in my local Superquinn). But where I find the saving to be made is when you find yourself with a core ingredient or two from the veggie patch, you rummage around in the cupboards for something to bulk it/them up, make it all more interesting with some spices and there you have cut out a trip to the supermarket that may have started out just with the intention of buying that €1 courgette but ended up with minor change from a €20 note after a few more things caught your eye. Finally, it's also a good chance to combine a simple vegetable with bits and pieces in the bottoms of packets that may have otherwise ended up in the bin, and it's always desirable to avoid food waste. Smug? Me? Well...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Flavour On The Go

I often get in quite late of an evening, and so walk a skinny little tightrope between wanting to eat as soon as possible, but also wanting to eat something tasty. My default speedy meal is mushrooms on toast with an egg on top, and then there's good old stir fry prawns, but both dishes have exhausted their charms at this stage. I'm always on the lookout for something I can cook up in a jiffy, something that packs a flavoursome punch and doesn't leave me feeling as though I'm doomed to evenings full of bland dinners as an unfair punishment for my annoying schedule. So the description of this black pepper tofu dish in the Ottolenghi cookbook Plenty as something that is comparable to a dish from a top Chinese restaurant reeled me in immediately. There is a fair whack of oil and butter going on here, but I think that this is balanced out somewhat by the lack of meat. The black pepper, in such a quantity, was a revelation; I was quite dubious as to its potential as a spice, but it hit it off with the red chillies to add quite a distinctive fiery flavour. And yes, I would most certainly be very happy to part with cash for this at a good Chinese restaurant, but I am delighted to not have to.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Gardener's Delight

What grow-your-own-ers don't always confess is that sometimes you are left with a glut of fruit and veggies that you actually just can't eat. I find this to be particularly true in the case of courgettes, which spring up in an almost cartoonish manner; you can practically hear animated popping sounds out in the garden as you pull back leaves to uncover yet another perfect little green specimen. The trick is to pick them while they're still small and sweet; rest on your laurels and the fruits of your labour will burst out of control and transform into increasingly grotesque oversized marrows. It's a sight that fills me with dismay, because the larger they become the more watery and less flavoursome they are, and I always feel so very wasteful turfing the product of a good six months of planting and growing and watering into the compost bin. What impedes my diligence is generally a lack of recipes and imagination that does not tally with this surfeit of zucca. This year I have vowed not to let any of my carefully-grown produce fall foul of such laziness and end up rotting among the eggshells and the juiced-out lemons. I have been rooting out recipes to beat the band, so you can expect to be bombarded with courgetteful postings on this blog over the next couple of months. But to start out with, I celebrated the first courgettes of the season using a recipe that I discovered and perfected during the summer months last year, one that used not one but two of my homegrown veggies: Antonio Carluccios's pasta with courgette sauce and spinach balls (from Simple Cooking), an old favourite in the Carluccio restaurant chain that appears as penne giardiniera on the menu. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Infinite Eating

Nothing says Sunday to me quite like sitting around eating and talking and eating and drinking coffee and eating. The argument could quite easily be made that this is a fair approximation of my life as it currently stands seven days a week, but I will dignifiededly (it's Friday, I'm allowed to make up new words, ok) ignore such jibes and soldier on with my all-inclusive greed. Brunch means second and third helpings of sweet and savoury courses, as well as sides. And somehow, I mysteriously still always manage to always be ready for dinner only a couple of hours later. Anyhow, the crucial thing with Sunday brunch, for me, is that it is low maintenance and fuss-free, in keeping with the chilled-outness of the day that's in it. Another reason I was drawn to Gwyneth Paltrow's new cookbook (*threatening look in the direction of dissenters*) was the chapter on breakfast, which doesn't always get the attention it deserves as a meal in cookbooks. And, joy of joys, Signe Johansen's Scandilicious, another book from my birthday voucher binge on Amazon, has chapters on both breakfast and brunch. I don't look for a Blumenthal-esque tastebud-busting culinary statement in my brunch dishes, just something flavoursome and satisfying and a teeny tiny bit different to my usual efforts and offerings. So, while I'm ordinarily not wild about smoothies (I'm inclined to find them high on sugar and fat and low on anything that I ever feel I need more of in my diet), Signe's recipes are really enticing because they each have a little bit of a twist - the raspberry, vanilla and ginger smoothie caught my attention because I wanted to try out the spicy heat of the ginger with the fruity dairyness of the rest of it. To follow, Gwyneth's slow-roasted tomato, basil and mozzarella frittata and then her french toast, made with brioche. And, not only was this a low-stress operation, but when I did the grocery shopping it all came in under €20, which, for that amount of food for three people, is considerably less than what you would pay if you were eating out.