Two Lives

 It’s been some time since a book has engrossed me so much I carry it everywhere with me in order to greedily snatch a few minutes read between classes or in the supermarket queue.  The last book that absorbed me so completely was We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver’s disturbing tale of the relationship between a mother and her murderous son, and that was a whole year ago.  Since then I’ve come across good books, great books even, but none which have had me reading open mouthed.  Until now.

Vikram Seth is my favourite author.  Upon finishing his novel A Suitable Boy I cried for hours purely because it had ended.  Simply couldn’t believe the characters he had created were no longer going to be a part of my life.  My solution was simply to start reading the book again!  Have thoroughly enjoyed his other works (which include a travelogue and a novel in verse) and so it is a complete mystery as to why, despite having bought it six months ago, it has taken me until the last few days to start reading his most recent work.

Spanning almost a hundred years and several continents, Two Lives is the true story of Seth’s German aunt and Indian uncle.  True to form, the author manages not only to paint remarkably vivid impressions of the central characters but also of the times they lived in.  I’m only, perhaps, a quarter of the way through the book but it’s already lodged itself into my all-time favourite list.  Would tell you more but I want to keep on reading!  Instead, in its honour, I give you a recipe for Indian spiced prawns.  It’s a Wendy-creation rather than an authentically Asian dish but it tastes damn good.

  Indian Spiced King Prawns

(Serves 4 as a starter)

16 peeled and deveined prawns

1/4 tsp cayenne

½ tsp turmeric

1 tsp coriander

1 tsp cumin

4 tblspn olive oil 

Lemon wedges and fresh coriander leaves to serve

  • Create a marinade using the spices and olive oil.
  • Add the prawns and coat well.  Marinate for at least 30 minutes.

  • Cook on a medium-hot griddle pan for 2-3 minutes on each side.

  • Serve with lemon wedges and coriander.

Excuse my silence over the next four days.  Off to Aberdeenshire to see family, friends, my darling Rosie and a host of other canines.  Watch this space for dog photos! 🙂

Confession No. 1

Confession.  As much as I love to cook, preparing a meal for anyone other than my nearest and dearest freaks me out.  Think it’s because everyone knows that I spend the vast majority of my free time in the kitchen and I worry that the food I prepare will be thought mediocre.  Or undercooked.  Or overcooked.  Or just plain crap. 

Thankfully, in the same way my fear of flying does not deter me from travelling, my dinner party jitters do not stop me inviting people over for a meal.  I just make sure I am really really REALLY well prepared.  And I always cook a tried and tested recipe.  Last weekend, for example, D’s sister and brother-in-law came for dinner.  I laid on a tapas-esque spread for them: Spanish tortillaaubergine salad, roasted peppers, tapanade, paprika chicken, baby leeks in jamón and some crusty bread to mop the juices up.  Everything dish could be prepared in advance and each dish was something I was very confident tasted great.  Perfect, right? 

Right.

Then why do I feel like I copped out?  Would be interested to know what you guys cook when guests come to dinner.

The baby leeks recipe I mentioned is a winner.  Hugely simply, unbelievable tasty.  Works as a starter or a side or, as above, part of a tapas selection.

 Baby Leeks in Jamón

(serves 4 as a tapas)

12 baby leeks, washed well and trimmed

6 slices of jamón or other cured meat (Parma ham would be fine), cut in half length-ways

Pepper

Olive oil

  • Simply wrap the leeks in half a slice of jamon and rub with a little olive oil and pepper.
  • Roast in a preheated oven (180oC) for 20 minutes until the leeks are soft and the ham is crispy.

Vegetarians – Baby leeks are delicious roasted without the ham too.  🙂

Bubble or Butterbean?

Rather hungover.  Short post.  Just for fun.  🙂

Whilst reading the paper online this morning I discovered that yesterday was International Literacy DayThe Guardian marked the event by inviting readers to share their favourite words.  Some of the responses interested me greatly and others made me laugh out loud.  They all put a smile on my face. 

Tomorrow I’m going to ask my pupils to think of their favourite words and create a fun display with them.  Realise this is asking for trouble in some cases (it’s amazing the amount of synonyms some body parts have) but my room needs a new display and it’ll be fun to hear the kids’ ideas. 

Today, however, I’d like to ask you guys what your favourite word is.  Food related or not.  Semantic reasons or just how it feels rolling off your tongue. I’d like to know.  🙂

Personally, I can’t choose between bubble and butterbean…

Better Nut Butter

I don’t have expensive tastes.  The clothes I wear are all from High Street shops; the wine I drink is rarely over £6; the car I drive is a reliable but unassuming Punto and the restaurants I (genuinely) prefer do not require me to take out a second mortgage.  However, I have very recently discovered that it is ridiculously easy to make my own nut butter and rather than use this new found knowledge to turn some cheap-as-chips, bird-seed-counter nuts into my beloved peanut butter, I began experimenting with more expensive nuts.  Macadamia, brazil, pistachio, even pine nuts – I tried them all.  The following is my favourite.

Thanks to Sophie for the idea.  🙂

  Pistachio and Almond Butter

100g pistachio nuts, shelled

50g ground almonds

10-20 ml olive oil

Pinch of salt

  •  Shell the nuts and place on baking tray.
  • Roast in oven for 5 mins at 180oC.
  • Rub skin off nuts using rough cloth.
  • Blitz cleaned nuts in a food processor until grainy. 
  • Add almonds and blitz again.
  • Add olive oil and salt. Blitz until a smooth paste is created.
  • Store in an air tight container.  Stir before use.
  • Use sparingly!

 P.S. Earlier in the week I discovered that Kayln of the fabulous Kalyn’s kitchen had given my blog a mention.  Apparently it was Blog Day and she was celebrating by sharing five of the blogs she had recently discovered.  Was going to do the exact same but couldn’t narrow it down to five!  Instead, can I point you towards the right of the screen where you will find some of my regular reads.  The list is getting longer every day.  🙂

Stolen Plum Sauce

 I arrived home on Monday night to discover that my plums were perfectly ripe and waiting to be picked.  Unsurprisingly, my recently planted, young tree has produced very few plums this first year but there have been enough for D and I to enjoy a sticky piece of fruit every morning and evening for the past few days.  He can’t get over how delicious they taste when plucked straight from the branch!

In stark contrast to my meagre bounty, my grumpy neighbour has LOTS of plums.  And, thus, the fruit thieving issue rises again

 Last time it raised its ugly head everyone agreed that it was fine for me to eat the raspberries that had climbed through the fence and into my garden.  Not sure why I fretted about that.  In hindsight, it’s a no-brainer.  But getting up at dawn in order to climb up the adjoining fence and stretch out precariously to plunder plums… Well, in some people’s eyes, that would be totally unacceptable.  But I did it.

 In my defence, the grumpy neighbour and his family are not picking the plums.  Their fruit ripened earlier than mine and I have been sadly watching perfect pink plums pass their best, shrivel and fall from the tree, unfulfilled.  In my mind, I am not a common thief but a hero of fruit.  I ask you:  what better fate could a plum have than to be greedlily eaten in a car on the way to work or to be introduced to duck, spring onion and cucumber?  None, I tell you, none!

Convinced?  Me neither.  

 Plum Sauce

350g pitted plums

225g demerara sugar

150ml water

2 star anise

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 tsp chilli powder

Black pepper

1/2 lime, juice only

  • Add the plums, sugar and water to a pan.  Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 mins.
  • Mash up the plums.  Add the star anise, cinnamon, chilli and pepper.  Cook gently for 30 mins.
  • Cool  and add lime juice to taste.

I usually eat this with my aromatic crispy duck in pancakes.  Today, however, I boiled some noodles and tossed with a dressing of walnut oil, sesame oil, soy sauce and powdered ginger.  I then added chopped cucumber, spring onion and some shredded duck.  Topped that with the plum sauce.

D claimed it to be the best thing I’d cooked in ages.  I choose to be flattered by that rather than read into it too much!

Munchkins in Glasgow

 

I grew up in a village in Aberdeenshire.  With its nearby woods and wade-able stream, burning fields and tadpole infested bogs, perfect height swings and tiny sweetie shop (which also sold Doc Martin boots, for some odd reason), it was the perfect place to be a kid.  The friends I made in the sandpit at nursery were the same friends I played hide and seek with at primary school.  They were mostly the same friends I discovered cider, boys and music with in secondary school.  And now, thirteen years after leaving school and twenty seven years after moving to the village, the girls my Dad affectionately calls “the munchkins” and I are still close. 

I like that.  🙂

This past weekend the four of us went to Glasgow to celebrate our thirtieth year on earth.  On Friday we spent a hilarious night surrounded by old photos and letters and cards and sticker albums and wine.  On the Saturday evening, after an afternoon being cleansed and rubbed and steamed in a local spa, we went to The Living Room for a meal.  Low red lighting, sumptuous leather booths, flickering candles, a grand piano and months of news to talk about-  it was a special night!  The food was delicious too.  So good, in fact, I recreated my main course for D this evening: lamb chops with jewelled couscous and minted yogurt.

 It’s a low fuss dinner.  The lamb chops were simply rubbed with olive oil and seasoning before being grilled for 5 minutes on each side.  A handful of chopped mint was stirred through plain yogurt.  Both were served atop the following couscous (which is GREAT for lunch the next day too!).

Jewelled Couscous 

(serves 4)

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp paprika

350ml stock

225g couscous

4 spring onions, chopped

Handful of pistachios, bashed

Handful of fresh mint, chopped

Handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Zest and juice of one lemon

  • Gently fry the garlic and spices for 2 minutes.
  • Add the stock and bring to the boil.  Pour in the couscous, stir once, cover and take off the heat.  Leave for 10 minutes.
  • Fluff up the couscous and add the rest of the ingredients.  Gently combine.

P.S.  No idea why my font is so small this evening.  Can’t seem to change it!