I get annoyed by the amount of smoothie bowls and chia seed puddings on Instagram. There, I’ve said it. Every other account seems to promote ‘wellness’, clean eating’ and the like, often accompanied by nauseous hashtags (#goddess). Whilst I don’t doubt that eating healthy food is good for you, I feel that too many people take it too far, and ‘healthy’ has come to mean ‘lets ban everything apart from fruit’. Oh, and the famous chia seeds.
I have gone through phases in my eating past of being pretty much vegan, a decision which was undoubtedly a product of all of the media hype surrounding this being the most ‘healthy’ diet choice you can make. And whilst I know many people who adapt well to a vegan diet, for me it made me feel listless and depleted. But I ploughed on, assured that this was ‘healthy’ and ‘natural’, so pretty soon my body would adapt and I would feel great. But this didn’t happen. I went to a nutritionist, who recommended eating more protein, so I started eating meat again. Organic, free range meat from a local butcher, but yes, meat. More protein, coupled with lots of veg and small amounts of dairy, for me felt healthy.
I know that what feels heathy is different for everyone, and many people are vegan for ethical reasons which I entirely respect. But I think it’s work reexamining what healthy means for you on an individual basis, and for some of us that involves the odd steak, glass of wine or bar of sea salted caramel chocolate. With this in mind, the following recipe has meat, cheese, eggs, cream and butter in it. Hallelujah.
Food is my main motivator for travel. That, and taking photos: of the scenery as well as the food. The thing that excited me most about my trip to South-East Asia and Australia last year was the different tastes that awaited me in the five countries. From paad thai on the streets of Bangkok via smoked duck in Singapore to kangaroo in Adelaide, South Australia, it was a pretty epic range of tastes. One of my favourite destinations in terms of food has to be Italy. Italian food is so much more than just pizza and pasta – although the pizza and pasta are, usually, excellent.
I first had farro in Florence, in a tiny café nestled somewhere in the city’s ochre-coloured, labyrinthine streets. We took refuge from the baking hot sun in the middle of the day, and had several platefuls of a very memorable salad: farro with cherry tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. When I first tried it, I thought the mysterious grain was simply pearl barley, but that for some reason it tasted so much better than the dowdy English variety. Farro is in fact Italian pearled spelt, very similar to pearl barley but with a nuttier taste which makes it altogether more likeable. It’s great cold, in refreshing salads, or warm, with unctuous layers of tomato sauce poured over it.
It seems I’m not the only one who is a fan of farro: there was an Ottolenghi recipe in Waitrose Magazine this month for grilled lettuce with farro and lemon. Here, in keeping with Italian simplicity, I decided to combine my new favourite grain with some chicken baked with lemon, and some gently fried courgettes. A spray of roughly chopped parsley and an extra squeeze of lemon finished it off. This dish could work as well warm as cold – more suitable for lunch cold and dinner hot, maybe. But for the purposes of needing good midday light for the photos, I had it warm for lunch, rendering that previous claim somewhat redundant.
I wanted to set myself a challenge to shoot something that is difficult to make look appetizing. It’s fair to say, these lamb koftas didn’t lend themselves as well to being photographed as, say, the cupcakes in the previous post. Generally, I find savoury food more difficult to make visually appealing than sweet. Maybe because sweet things tend to be ‘prettier’, so what makes them delicious is more easily communicated visually. Meat, especially, always presents a challenge, as the line between it looking amazing -making you want to dive right in – and disgusting –making you want to be sick- is a fine one.
I found that photographing the meat straight after it had been cooked meant that it retained some of the glistening grease from the cooking oil, rather then becoming dull if it was left for too long. Also, adding lots of greenery in the form of spinach and herbs helped to increase the visual appeal of the dish. Going for a rustic feel, I assembled the meat in its pitta on a wooden board. Using Camera Raw, I changed the white balance to ‘Cloudy’ (shooting in RAW lets you do this), to give a warmer cast to the image. Then in Photoshop I heightened the contrast using ‘Levels’ and boosted the saturation.
Koftas (or maybe kofte?) are Turkish kebabs made from minced lamb, served in pittas. This recipe is from a recently acquired cookbook gem ‘Kitchen & Co’ by Rosie French and Ellie Grace – the duo behind the blog Salad Club and the restaurant French & Grace in Brixton, London. It’s one of those rare books that is written in a lovely relaxed voice, is visually stunning, and also has easy, delicious recipes that have to be made again and again (just try making these and see for yourself!).
My next-door neighbour rang the other day, to enquire as to whether I might like a rabbit. A recently shot rabbit. I headed next door somewhat dubiously, worried about what blood-splattered scene might await me. But I was presented, very casually, with a freezer bag containing said rabbit. Minus fur, skin, head and guts, but with the heart, lungs and ribcage still left in ‘for making stock’. And still very much looking like a rabbit.
Having seen the slightly horrified look on my face, my neighbour suggested that he might show me how to joint the poor little thing. I retained minimal amount of the information, as I was still getting over the shock of there now being two dead rabbits in the kitchen. So I took the one that had been jointed for me to cook right away, and stowing the other (whole) rabbit hurriedly in the freezer, to worry about some other time.
Rabbit doesn’t have much meat on it, so if you add the saddle too, there is more to pick at. I just chucked the lot in, along with some bacon to bulk it out. Rabbit tastes a little like chicken crossed with lamb- it’s got a rich, meaty flavour that goes well with cider. Some recipes suggest red wine, which you can use instead if you want a more hearty affair. But use some booze please, it’s getting close to winter after all.
I love autumn. The first evening snuggling up in front of a roaring fire, the wood still hissing with damp. The trees slowly turning, the tips of their leaves tinged with amber. The earthy smells of rotting leaves, woodsmoke and misty air. The return to substantial, comforting food, rather than flighty summer salads.
This pie epitomises the kind of food that I look forward to as the summer draws to a close. The kind of food I crave on a cold night, that provides solace and reassurance. There’s something about a rich, meaty filling topped with buttery pastry that sometimes just hits the spot, when nothing else will do.
This pastry recipe is a Delia (bless her) revelation. The butter is frozen, then grated into the flour, making a very quick flaky pastry that dispenses with all of the folding, rolling and resting that making puff pastry requires. The result is a pleasing mid-point between shortcrust and puff pastry.
I love the combination of lamb and chestnut mushrooms, and I added rosemary to the pastry as well as the filling. The red wine gives the filling an intensity and depth of flavour. I don’t usually drink red wine, as it seems to give me the mother of all hangovers, but I felt it was necessary to have a glass (which magically kept refilling itself) to accompany this meal.
As the weather has been so amazingly hot recently (30 degrees..in England!) I find all I really want to eat is salad. What I love about salads is that you can put virtually any random ingredients together, and it usually works. Salads are usually considered to be a healthy option, regardless of what they contain. The rationale seems to be that if you put something in the vague vicinity of a lettuce leaf, it automatically becomes healthy. Eating things as a ‘salad’ seems to purge them of any sin.
In this very hearty, and therefore not exactly healthy, salad I went for vaguely Moroccan flavours: cumin spiced chicken, garlicky aubergines and a dressing of yoghurt mixed with harissa, which is a Moroccan chilli paste.
Incidentally, as the subtitle for this blog is ‘food and photography’, I feel like it’s high time I mentioned photography in a post. So here goes. This was my first attempt at shooting a recipe outside, in order to convey the sunny, salad-appropriate weather. Initially I thought it would be a doddle, as there is so much light around. However, the light is harder to control, as its not just coming from one direction. This results in everything seeming to cast a shadow. Some careful bouncing of the light with a reflector seemed to do the trick.
A few weeks ago I went to Exeter Food Festival. I skipped lunch in order to fit in about 5 meals’ worth of free samples from all the food stands – even visiting some stalls twice and getting an irritable ‘Hello AGAIN’. After I’d had my fill of chutney on tiny bits of bread, I tried to find the beer tent and ended up inadvertently wandering into a cookery demonstration.
The demonstration was by Tom Cull of Tom’s Pies (www.toms-pies.co.uk). One of the main motivations for me visiting the festival was to have one of these pies – I had a lamb, chickpea and chorizo one last year that’s been on my mind ever since.
But instead of giving away the recipe for this pie (understandable, but disappointing), Tom was cooking pork belly. As chefs love to tell you, pork belly is apparently a very underrated cut of meat. But it seems to be popping up everywhere these days- and every time I’ve had it it’s been delicious. There was a ‘here’s one I made earlier’ moment at the end of the demonstration, and Tom cut up the pork belly for the people in the audience who could fight their way to the front of the mob first.
In this recipe, the pork is rubbed with a mixture of fennel seeds, mustard and about a gazillion other things, then perched on top of some vegetables and slow cooked. This gives a lovely crackly skin and very tender meat- and you’re left with dark sticky goo underneath that forms the base of the intense cider gravy.
Even though it’s May now, on some days it still doesn’t feel like Spring will ever arrive. On occasional days the temperature rises above freezing, and everyone suddenly gets very excited (with whisperings of “10 degrees!”) only for it to plummet back down to -1 the next day.
Snuggling up in front of a wood-burning stove is much more appealing than going outside and making the most of that extra hour of daylight. And eating comforting, rich things like this feels appropriate.
This dish is somewhere between a sweet potato gratin and a lasagne- layers of rich pork mixture and sweet potato, topped off with fluffy béchamel sauce.