Flavour of the Month, May: Asaparagus

In my pursuit to try and be more adventurous in the kitchen and to learn more about flavours, I have made a resolution that each month, I will try and focus on one ‘in-season’ ingredient and experiment with complimentary flavours and great dishes you can make with it (and obviously, blog about the results.)  I’m not quite certain  how many dishes I will manage to cook each month, particularly as there is the obvious risk of getting bored of eating the ingredient too often in a short space of time but I think at least one a week is feasible (I hope!)  A couple of Christmas’ ago, I received Niki Segnit’s book, ‘The Flavour Thesaurus’  as a gift and although it’s a fascinating little book, I don’t think I’ve ever quite made the most of it, so this is a great opportunity to try some of the flavour combinations highlighted in there.

As the first month for this challenge is May, it seems only appropriate to start with one of the UK’s ingredients with the shortest season- asparagus.  Although you can get asparagus from the supermarkets all year round, which is usually shipped in from South America, asparagus is one of those ingredients that really suffers from the long journey and is best consumed as soon after harvest at possible, so it is best to make the most of it in the U.K. during May and June. Asparagus is quite a pricey vegetable (my fresh bunch from the greengrocers was £3.75) and is often considered to be a delicacy so most top chefs don’t recommend you mess around with it too much, it has enough flavour of it’s own to be enjoyed simply with some butter drizzled over it.  That said, Niki Segnit recommends some more vivid flavour combinations that I hope to try as the month goes on.

However, today I thought it was best start with a fairly simple serving; blanched asparagus spears served with butter, grated hard cheese and flaked almonds.  Dairy products are well known as a perfect match to asparagus- you can serve it just simply with the butter and cheese and it will still be a delicious treat but and the lemon and almonds were both recommended in the flavour thesaurus and I thought I would try this combination out.

It turned out to be a lovely, easy treat to make; simply boil the asparagus spears for 2-3 minutes then remove them from the heat and keep them warm.  Add a generous knob of butter and some almonds to a pan and heat them up. Once the butter starts to bubble, just before it starts to go brown, squeeze in a small amount of lemon juice and then pour the butter/almond/lemon mix over the asparagus spears. Finally, to serve, grate some hard cheese over the top and a sprinkle of black pepper.  While the recipe I initially used for reference recommended Spanish Manchego cheese for this, I found that to be a little on the mild side and decided to add some parmesan for a much stronger flavour- it goes deliciously with the  nutty flavour in the asparagus and the almonds.

I enjoyed the spears served simply, with some crushed new potatoes to bulk the dish up to a full meal, rather than a starter and it made a delicious vegetarian dinner. (Be wary with your cheese selection if you are serving the dish to veggies though, as a large number of hard cheese contain rennet!)

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Next week, I will hopefully try something a bit more substantial with the asparagus- any recommended dishes you think I should try?

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Mackerel with Beetroot and Apple Salad

An overdose of  Masterchef  and my lovely new kitchen have put me back in the mood for cooking, something which I really missed in my last flat. I’m hoping to get a bit more experimental and to start to learn how to combine flavours for myself but I find the idea of stepping away from the recipe book quite daunting! In the meantime, I’m hoping by blogging about recipes I’ve tried, it might provide some inspiration for those awkward days when you’ve no idea what to cook but you want to avoid convenience food.

So, this week, I rediscovered a great recipe I used to make fairly regularly; Spiced Mackerel served with Beetroot, Salsa on Sourdough Toast. It ticks all the boxes for me during a busy week- it’s very quick to prepare, it’s healthy, it’s pretty cheap and most of the ingredients are long-lasting, meaning you can keep some mackerel and beetroot tucked away in the cupboard for a day when you need something quick and easy that is still delicious.

The recipe for this dish comes from BBC Good Food and as there’s little point in me typing it out, you can find it here: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/5873/spiced-mackerel-on-toast-with-beetroot-salsa

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I used smoked mackerel- I’m not sure this is what the recipe intends for you to do but I find it adds a nice element to the dish- I just pop the curry powder on top and stick it under the grill for a few minutes but you don’t even have to do that, the smoked mackerel alone is a great accompaniment to the salsa.  The one thing I do recommend is getting hold of some good, fresh sourdough bread- it makes all the difference.

I made enough of the salsa to take some to work with me for lunch the following day and for that, I flaked the mackerel through the salsa to make a salad I could take into work easily. It was just as tasty and makes the dish quite flexible- you could use it as part of a picnic, or make a larger quantity of the salad to feed a crowd.

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The Heart of the Home…

Like many young Londoners, I’ve spent the last four years bouncing from rented flat to rented flat, never settling in more than one place for longer than a year. Last weekend, I moved into my latest home, to a flat tucked away in the top of an old science college, as part of a live-in guardian scheme. When my flatmates moved in, they were essentially given a shell; a series of classrooms with little in the way of home comforts and it’s been down to them to turn the shell into a home- I have to say, coming in at this stage, they’ve done an incredible job.

One of the things I like most about my new home is the kitchen. It’s nothing special, really, no bells and whistles. In fact, we don’t even have a fitted cooker, just a little countertop electric one. It wouldn’t exactly make the front page of Ideal Home magazine but it gets the job done.  But what makes this kitchen so refreshing for me is that it’s a heart of the flat and it’s lived in by people who value the importance of sitting down to a nice meal or even just a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.  You don’t need to throw money at something to make it right for it’s purpose and having a place that feels like a kitchen means I’ve cooked more in this kitchen in 3 nights than I did in weeks in my previous flat, where we had an open-plan kitchen, which was essentially the bare minimum space for cooking tacked onto the edge of the living room, with no space to do anything other than heat and serve and no table to eat at. Having a proper space dedicated to food just makes me want to get cooking again!

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We have a perfectly spacious table, which can fit all of us around to share a meal. We have enough pots and pans to keep even the messiest chef happy , hung on a fantastic improvised ‘pan holder’ made out of just a pallet and a chain. We also have enough herbs and spices to make sure the things coming out of the kitchen are things we want to eat. And to add to this, two of my flatmates have recently taken an interest in growing their own herbs and vegetables, which seem to be flourishing nicely.

Of course, I’d love one day to have  a nice, big, eclectic kitchen like these…

The kitchens I love are the ones with soul and character- give me a higgledy piggledy, lived-in kitchen with the personal touch over a stainless steel, premium kitchen any day. But that’s a long way off for me yet…

In the mantime, hopefully there will be plenty of recipes coming out of my new kitchen that I can share with you  here.  My first home cooked meal in my new flat? Some delicious smoky pork tacos, served with avocado salad and a tasty glass Malbec, perfect for a relaxed Saturday night in.

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You can find the recipe here:  http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2121655/smoky-pork-and-black-bean-tacos

I highly recommend it, though I suggest adding a good handful of fresh red chilli into the mix along with the onions for a kick!

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