Raindrops and Roses

December 14, 2010 § 1 Comment

I had set out today with the intention of sharing the delights of hazelnuts in cake form but have taken one for the team and reined myself back. I guess that you have more than enough sweet things on the go right now, such that a rainy-Sunday-afternoon cake of this type is unlikely to make it to the top of the pile, and I really really want you all to make this cake. So, it will wait on the sidelines until January where it will hopefully return as a glimmer of comfort in that harshest of months. In the meantime, I will unleash on you a few of my favourite restorative mid-week meals: the kind that I use to reset in between indulgent dinners out or excessive cake-eating of the kind these couple of weeks bring.

Heidi Swanson’s blog is hardly an internet secret and deservedly so: she rescues healthy eating from the “knit your own fermented yoghurt” image and makes it elegant. Her double broccoli quinoa recipe has become one of the most-cooked dishes in our kitchen: we like it with feta and avocado on the top. I normally omit the cream in the pesto, adding a little extra oil to get the right consistency instead, but implore you not to skip the amazing chile fire oil to finish it all off. We also love the chopped miso salad which I usually make with ricotta salata in place of the tofu: it’s savory, crunchy, and filling yet light all at once.

I’ve told you all before how much I love Ottolenghi and his renowned big, bold flavours, and this sweetcorn soup with chipotle and squash is no exception. It’s a great way to use up some of the pumpkin and squashes that call out to me with their vibrant colours and knobbly forms right now. Corn, like peas, freezes very well, so if you don’t have fresh cobs in season, don’t hesitate to reach for a bag of frozen kerns. I make the full batch of soup and then freeze portions just at the stage before the soured cream and lime are added to use as fast, tasty lunches and suppers through the week. I can also recommend toasting up some tortilla strips as a garnish. And one more favourite from a lady who has become a legend in the food blogging world: the carrot and harissa salad from Smitten Kitchen is a dish that combines health and warmth which is just what I am looking for on a December Tuesday. We ate it last week with wholemeal pitta breads and some homemade hummus and it was perfect.

Clearly I can’t write a post about my favourite things without mentioning Nigel. If you’re looking for a bit more meat with your veg, look no further than this recipe, which was probably our all-time favourite kitchen discovery this past year and has perked us up many times the day after a later-than-ideal night before. And it features not just any old meat: chunks of minced lamb which you wok-fry until dark and sticky with chile and garlic infused oil, no less, before topping off with a generous amount of broccoli. It’s crunchy and chewy, spicy and soothing, all at once. I love it with fragrant brown basmati rice. Bookmark this now for new year’s day.

Lamb and Broccoli Stir-Fry
Adapted from Tender Volume 1: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater

Yields 2 hearty servings

a medium sized head of broccoli or a medium bunch of broccolini (see note below)
3 spring onions
3 cloves garlic
2 hot red chiles
3 tbsp groundnut or canola oil
300g / 1/2lb minced lamb
1 lime
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
a small handful of coriander (cilantro) leaves

If you decide to use broccolini, which I prefer in this dish, you don’t need to blanch it as the smaller stems cook fine from the stir-fry stage. Otherwise start by blanching the florets of broccoli in boiling water for a minute. Drain and set aside, running in cold water for a minute or so to stop the cooking.

Chop the spring onions and peel and finely chop the garlic. Seed the chiles and chop them finely too. Get the oil very hot in a wok then cook the chiles, garlic and onions till soft but not coloured. You will need to stir them constantly and quickly.

Crumble the minced lamb into the wok and let it colour to a rich, golden brown. You’ll need to be a bit brave here – let it really crisp up before you add the rest of the ingredients. Avoid moving the meat too much initially so that it sautes in the oil and seals rather than leaching out its juices which can lead to it boiling rather than searing in the pan.

Add the drained broccoli or the raw broccolini and continue to cook, stirring, for a couple minutes more. Mix the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar in a small bowl. Tip into the hot pan and allow to sizzle briefly, scraping at the bottom of the pan and ensuring that all the gooey parts from the lamb are reincorporated. Check the seasoning and add more salt and lime as desired, and then turn off the heat, stir in the coriander/cilantro, and serve while sizzling, over rice.

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