However, it's definitely time to restock with some fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. Even reading last month's blog back to myself leaves me with a feeling of Vitamin C deficiency!
So, this time I'm giving you some soup recipes, some starters, vegetable sides and a meat and fish dish with the aim of offering you a more balanced diet than last time.
To start, I've made an Asparagus Charlotte. This is a pretty little starter, featuring a smoked mackerel mousse surrounded by a guard of honour of new season asparagus tips. Very cheffy-looking- but simple to achieve.
1 bunch of asparagus (you will use the tips and save the stalks for soup)
3 smoked mackerel fillets
1 tub of cream cheese with chives
Juice of half a lemon
2 tbsp creme fraiche
4-5 spring onions ( chopped)
Salt and pepper
Chives for decoration.
1. Steam the asparagus over a pan of simmering water until just tender but not floppy. Plunge into iced water to keep green colour vivid.
2. Trim the tips. Again reserve the stalks for soup.
3. Slice the tips lengthways in half
4. Blitz the mackerel, creme fraiche, cream cheese and lemon juice in a food processor .
5. Add the finely chopped spring onion and season well
6. Spoon or pipe mixture into chef's rings or scone cutters and chill until firm
7. When ready to serve, unmould and arrange the asparagus cut side out in a guard of honour around the mousse.
8. Tie a chive around each one to hold it all in place.
|Asparagus and Smoked Mackerel Charlotte|
1 bunch of asparagus (whole or just the stalks)
1 bunch of spring onions (chopped)
1 small pack of frozen peas
1 litre of vegetable stock (including the water used to steam the asparagus)
1 small tin of coconut cream
1 tbsp chopped dill
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying
1. Steam the asparagus until tender over a pan of simmering water.
2. Reserve the cooking water and add it to the vegetable stock to make up to 1 litre
3. Chop the asparagus and put it with the spring onions and peas in a little oil in a saucepan. Sweat gently for a few minutes.
4. Add the dill, stock and coconut cream and simmer gently for 15 minutes to let the flavours mingle
5.Blitz with a blender, adjust seasoning and serve.
|Asparagus and Coconut Veloute|
Halloumi and Vegetable Tian
A tian is a layered vegetable dish named after the Provencal earthenware vessel in which it is baked. Originally, these were conical in shape but nowadays those sold in kitchen shops tend to be more like gratin dishes. I've recreated the 'stacked' look with roasted vegetables interleaved with halloumi, using a skewer to hold them all in place in the oven.
4 portobello mushrooms
4 slicing tomatoes
1 large aubergine
250g halloumi cheese, sliced into 8 pieces
2 crushed cloves of garlic
salt and pepper
fresh thyme sprigs
olive oil for marinading and roasting
1. Remove the stalks from the mushrooms, slice the tomatoes thinly into 4 slices per fruit, slice the aubergine thinly (you are aiming for 12 slices if possible)
2. Mix the crushed garlic and thyme sprigs with 2-3 tbsp of olive oil
3. Put the mushrooms, tomatoes and aubergine slices into the oil to marinade. Coat well with your hands, adding plenty of salt and pepper. Add more olive oil as you need it.
4. Leave for 1 hour or so.
5. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees.
6. Pan fry the halloumi briefly until you have a golden crust on both sides.
7. In the marinading dish, assemble your tians: mushroom cup first, then alternating layers of aubergine, tomato and halloumi, finishing with a tomato cap.
8. Secure in place with a bamboo skewer (or use chef's rings if you have them)
9. Roast for 15 minutes until all the vegetables are soft and beginning to caramelize.
Anyone would think this smooth and delicate soup is rich with butter and cream- but in fact it is completely dairy-free and owes its silky texture to the butter beans which both thicken and enrich. The aubergines? Well, they lend a delicious, fragrant flavour to the ensemble!
(Makes a litre and a half of soup)
2 medium aubergines
4 cloves of garlic
2 tsp honey
juice of half a lemon
1 litre of hot chicken or vegetable stock
1 400g tin of butter beans
salt and pepper to taste
1. Prick the aubergines all over, slice in half lengthways and lay cut side down in a baking dish lightly oiled with olive oil. Put the garlic cloves in too, in their skins.
2. Bake at 200 degrees for 15 minutes, then add the honey to the hot pan and swirl around. Continue baking for another 10 minutes or until the aubergines are soft and wrinkly. ( It happens to us all!)
3. Allow to cool enough to be handled, peel off the skin and chop roughly. Squeeze the garlic from its skin and do the same.
4. Soften the onion in some more olive oil in a saucepan, add the aubergine, garlic and drained butter beans and fry gently.
5. Loosen the sticky honey and aubergine juice from the pan with 2 cups of hot water. Add to the vegetables in the pan.
6. Pour on the chicken stock and simmer for another 10 minutes to amalgamate the flavours.
7. Blitz with a hand blender, adjust seasoning and serve with croutons.
|Aubergine and Butter Bean Soup|
This is a version of the French classic 'Lapin Au Cidre'. Fresh rabbit is widely available in all supermarkets in France (including my local Lidl)- but I have found that this is not the case in the UK. If you can source it at your butchers, it is well worth the effort as the combination of rabbit, cider, cream and tarragon is such a good one. If not, the dish works well with chicken or pork too.
Traditionally, it is made the day before so the flavours mingle well and then the sauce if finished off just before serving- which makes it an ideal dish if you are serving to guests.
1.8 kg of fresh rabbit, jointed
100g of smoked bacon lardons
200g of button mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
70 cl of chicken stock
15 cl of dry cider
10 cl of creme fraiche
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp fresh tarragon
salt and pepper
1. Peel the carrots and onion and puncture it with the cloves
2. Season the rabbit and brown the pieces in 20g of butter, along with the lardons
3. Place in a casserole dish or slow cooker with the crushed garlic, carrots, bay leaf and onion
4. Deglaze the frying pan by boiling the cider in it and scraping with a spatula
5. Pour this over the rabbit, along with the chicken stock and cook for 1 hour in a casserole in the oven at 170 degrees or 3-4 hours in the slow cooker.
6. To finish the dish, add the button mushrooms either half an hour before the end of cooking, or as you reheat the next day. Remove the bay leaf and onion.
7. Make a roux with the flour and the remaining butter and strain in the hot cooking liquor. Heat, stirring constantly as it thickens. Adjust the seasoning. Add the cream and tarragon- and the rabbit pieces- and serve.
|Rabbit in Cider|
Slow Braised Fennel
1 large bulb of fennel
250 ml orange juice
splash of white wine
salt and pepper
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1. Slice the fennel bulb thinly, reserving the feathery fronds as garnishes.
2. Place it in a slow cooker, or heavy bottomed saucepan along with the orange juice, wine, parsley and seasoning. Cover with a lid and braise until tender- about 20 minutes in a saucepan or 2-3 hours in the slow cooker.
|Slow Braised Fennel|
|Wrapping up the fish parcels|
Bake in a hot oven (180 degrees) for 20-25 minutes. Then lift out the fish pieces and spread each one with some olive tapenade. Top that with some breadcrumbs and finely chopped chive or spring onion and flash under a hot grill until crisp.
Serve with the fennel and other veg of your choice. (I usually bake some tomatoes on the vine along with the fish)
|Tapenade Crusted Fish|
Finally, with the leftover fennel I made another soup: 1 onion and 1 clove of garlic softened, 3 small potatoes (chopped), fennel slices, orange juice, chicken stock and parsley- simmered and then blitzed.
I usually sieve the finished soup to remove any fibrous bits of fennel or potato skin, add a little milk or cream and serve garnished with the fennel fronds which were saved as a garnish.
So, all in all I feel a bit healthier now. Lots of nice spring veg and fresh meat and fish working their magic.
I thought coming back to the UK, I'd find myself fresh out of ideas for the blog- but it seems the opposite is true!
Hope this week's blog has refreshed the parts that other blogs didn't reach..