Friday, 26 February 2016

My new roots

oca, turmeric, wasabi, chervil roots

Veg boxes are pretty dull from January to the end of April, often called 'The Hungry Gap'. I've been mucking about with new roots and tubers to add colour and flavour to my cooking.


What is it? a pink tuber originally from Peru.
Taste: it's hard to describe the taste other than citrussy potato
Health benefits: rich in Vitamin C, A, B6, iron and potassium 
Cooking suggestion: roast, boil, fry or eat raw, sliced thinly into salads.
Season: January and February, so they are finished this year but look out for them next year.
Where to get it: Riverford Organics.

Chervil roots

What is it? the white roots of the herb chervil
Taste: slightly aniseedy, sweet, starchy
Health benefits: digestive aid, lowers blood pressure
Cooking suggestion: roast, boil, fry or eat raw, sliced thinly into salads.
Season: Winter but they sweeten up if stored, better than fresh
Where to get it: , Turnips at Borough Market, Otter Farm Shop
Look out also for Parsley roots, which I haven't tried yet.


What is it? Wasabi is the real Japanese horseradish. Most wasabi paste is western horseradish or mustard with green food colouring
Taste: The real stuff doesn't burn, is subtler, with a strong herbal taste.
Health benefits: anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, good for teeth.
Cooking suggestion: Use quickly after grating. Grate onto noodle soup, use in sushi, on top of rice bowls, to garnish things that need a pop of heat like salads or fish.
Season: all year round
Where to get it: The Wasabi Company. They also sell the plants which need a lot of water.


What is it? Turmeric is the fresh root version of the dried spice that you put in curries.  It turns everything bright orange.
Taste: it has a kind of gingery, peppery, bitter taste
Health benefits: contains curcimin which is anti-inflammatory, good for brain disease, depression
Cooking suggestion: grate into curries, soups, salad dressings, yoghurt sauces, smoothies, Indian food
Season: all year round
Where to get it: I buy the roots in Asian shops, Sainsburys stock it, Abel and Cole, Planet Organic, Real Foods.


What is it? A long pale root.
Taste: some people say it tastes like oyster. Creamy.
Health benefits: iron, potassium, calcium, manganese, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, as well as vitamins including ascorbic acid, pantothenic acid, thiamine, riboflavin, folate and vitamin B6. Good for hair. Contains inulin which is useful for diabetes.
Cooking suggestion: gratins, roasted, boiled, baked, mashed.
Season: winter
Where to get it:


Carrot 'noodles' with matcha noodles and wasabi dressing

I was sent this new gadget Veggetti 2.0 for spiralising, it's not bad, does the job, costs under a tenner and doesn't take up much room. Soba noodles are a great store cupboard standby: they are gluten-free being made of buckwheat, and cook in a couple of minutes. You can get them plain, plum-flavoured pink or matcha green

Serves 2 as a main or 4-6 as a side

100g matcha soba noodles
3 carrots, spiralised
3 tbsps of pumpkin seeds

For the dressing:
3 tbsps ground nut oil
1 tbsp rice vinegar
juice of half a lemon
1 inch (3 cms) wasabi root, grated

Cook the soba noodles in a saucepan full of boiling salted water for 2 or 3 minutes then strain into a colander and rinse with cold water.
Spiralise or grate the carrots.
Mix the noodles and carrots together in a bowl and add the pumpkin seeds. You could also top with avocado and chopped spring onion or alfalfa sprouts.
Mix the dressing together and pour over the noodle salad.

Pink salad with oca and chervil roots, turmeric dressing

Here I used a pink lettuce just for fun. It's nice to switch up 'eat your greens' into 'eat your pinks'. Same health benefits but a prettier colour. Might be a way to get children to eat salad?

Serves 2-4

Pink or green butterleaf head of lettuce is just as good, washed, leaves separated
a handful of chervil roots, scrubbed and sliced thinly
a handful of pink radishes, sliced thinly
a handful of oca, sliced thinly
a handful of pickled white grapes (optional, recipe in V is for Vegan)
a handful of green sultanas
3 tbsps of slithered almonds
A few crushed pink peppercorns

For the dressing:
3 tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 small fresh turmeric root, grated

Toss the salad ingredients together then mix all the dressing ingredients together and drizzle on top.

Salsify Gratin

This is a wonderful side or main dish. I also serve them roasted with butter and a few flecks of salt.

Serves 4

Butter, for greasing
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 kilo (2 pounds approx) salsify roots
600ml single cream
1/2 glass of white wine
sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
100g breadcrumbs
100g parmesan or pecorino, grated

Preheat the oven to 180cº.
Grease a shallow baking dish, long enough to fit the salsify.
Prepare a bowl of boiling water and squeeze in the lemon juice.
Peel the salsify roots and place them into the bowl with the lemon juice.
(This stops them discolouring).
When all the roots are prepared, drain away the water and place the roots in a single layer in the baking dish.
Pour in the cream and white wine and season with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and cheese on top.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the top of the gratin is golden.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Calçotada feast and recipe for romesco sauce

calcots and romesco sauce

I think I first heard about calçotadas from Catalan food specialist Rachel McCormack, a small fierce Glaswegian who spent many years in Barcelona perfecting a low Caledonian-Hispanic growl of an accent. You can now hear her as a regular guest on Radio 4's Kitchen Cabinet quiz show. (I must admit, although I'm a Radio 4 addict I never listen to the show as every time I switch on they are slagging off people who don't eat meat. It's really unfunny and clichéd and makes me want to punch them.) Strangely, I can understand Rachel a great deal better on the radio than in real life - she has a good radio voice.

A calçot is a kind of baby leek/fat spring onion sold from the end of January through March in Catalonia. They are cooked on an outdoor grill then wrapped in newspaper and served with romesco sauce, made from almonds and red peppers.

This is an excellent dish for a winter bbq. Line up the calçots and grill slowly on the embers of your fire. I have also made them on the top of my Aga. A cast iron flat pan on a gas stove should do just as well. The outsides char while the insides steam into a sweet subtly oniony flavour. Wrapping them in newspaper keeps the calçots warm and continues to steam them.

There is a technique for eating the calçots: you strip the vegetable of the outside blackened leaves, leaving you with a slim pale stem, which you dip into the romesco. Then you throw back your head and lower the calçot into your mouth from above.

As a replacement for calçots, you may use baby leeks or large spring onions. Serve with red wine or cava.

One can indulge in a calçotada feast at several London restaurants this year. I tried it at Brindisa Morada in Piccadilly, where next to us was a large jolly table of Catalans wearing bibs and necking calçots.

It's a great idea for a party of friends or family: book in advance however, plus calçotadas are only available at weekends. Other restaurants doing them include:

Usually the calçot part is followed by a meat feast but, if you are vegan/vegetarian, you can ask for a suitable replacement.

You can buy genuine calçots at:
The romesco is usually made with dried Nora peppers, which can be bought at these places:

Calçot with Romesco Sauce recipe

Half a dozen calçots/baby leeks/8 spring onions per person (although in Catalonia they'll eat about 20 each)
3 large red peppers, grilled, deseeded and skinned
1 bulb of garlic
3 nora peppers, soaked, seeded (can be replaced by mild Mexican chillis such as dried Anchos)
2 tomatoes, skinned, diced
100g salted almonds or ground almonds or hazelnuts or a combination
75g of dried bread (sourdough or French baguette), ground into crumbs
1tsp of smoked sweet paprika
50ml of good olive oil
2tbsp of sherry vinegar
Salt to taste

While the calçots are slowly grilling, also grill the red peppers and garlic with their skins on. Place the nora peppers in boiling water in a pyrex jug and leave to soak for ten minutes. Use this opportunity to skin the tomatoes by scoring a cross on top, then leaving them to soak in the same boiling water for a few minutes. Remove the tomatoes and peel back the skin. Dice.
Once the pepper skin is blistered and the garlic bulb soft, I remove to cool. Strip off the skins and deseed the peppers. Squeeze the garlic from the bulb.
Put the red peppers, the roasted garlic, nora peppers, diced tomatoes, the nuts, the bread crumbs, the paprika, olive oil and sherry vinegar in a powerful blender or food processor and blitz until it forms a smooth paste. This can also be done in a pestle and mortar if you don't have any kitchen gadgets. Taste and add salt.

This romesco is absolutely delicious. I couldn't stop eating it, just spooning it out of the bowl and spreading it on toast. Addictive stuff.
calcots and romesco sauce

What to drink with your calçotada:

2012 Rioja Blanco A & A Martinez Laorden. On sale right now down £2 to £9.95. Quite a bargain for under a tenner. People associate Rioja with red wine, but the whites must be tried. Great even as an aperitif with anchovy stuffed or lemon stuffed olives. 

Borsao Seleccion Tinto: £7.95 dry red Good value and wonderful with paella.

Bodegas Breigo Crianza: £15.00 from the Ribero region a little further south of Rioja. Tempranillo grape. Heavy red, I drank it with Spanish tortilla and a Catalan calçotada with romesco sauce. 'Crianza' is part of the Spanish system of labelling wines by age - a 'Crianza' wine is under two years old. 'Reserva' means it has been aged for 3 years and 'Gran Reserva' has been aged for 5 years for reds and 4 years for whites.

Camins del Priorat, Alvaro palacios £18.00 from Catalan region North East Spain. Heavy, jammy, full bodied, great with casseroles.

La Vendemia Rioja Palacios Remondo £11.95 again from Priorato in Catalan

2013 Monastrell Molino Loco £6.95 from near Alicante, the Yecla region. A lighter fruitier red with a hint of black pepper.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Pluot and white chocolate strudel recipe

Pluot and white chocolate strudel recipe

Yesterday was Valentine's Day. I can see from my Facebook feed that people are either depressed that they don't have a partner or making an obligatory annual fuss of the fact that they have one. It's not a helpful date in the calendar.

I couldn't care less about Valentine's Day. I long ago gave up on the idea of romantic love (although my heart bursts when couples get together on First Dates). I don't need a partner to complete me. Being married makes you weak. Being in a relationship makes you psychologically flabby. That's why breaking up is so hard, you have to retrain your singleton muscles. It's so easy to get into the habit of depending on someone else but I achieve more when I'm on my own.

Scientists now say being single makes you ill, that being married is healthier. But also that single men do not live as long as married men, while single women live longer than married women. More pressure.

On a culinary level, Valentine's can be fun. I like to cook pink food, use my collection of heart-shaped moulds and make extra effort. Self-love.

A pluot is a genetic mix of Japanese plum and apricot, the child of both fruits, benefitting from the almond-y pear drop flavour of apricot and the texture, juiciness, colour and smooth skin of plums. Look out in the shops for Flavor King plums, which are in fact pluots from South Africa. They only have a brief season. In the recipe below, I have not added sugar as I feel that white chocolate adds enough sweetness, but feel free to add a few tablespoons of sugar to the mix.

Flavor King Pluot and white chocolate strudel recipe

Serves 6 to 8

5 Flavor King plums, sliced
2tbsp of poppy seeds
4tbsp of flaked almonds
4tbsp of green sultanas (marinated overnight in sherry or sweet wine if you wish)
1 tbsp of cinnamon, ground
75g of white chocolate, grated (reserve half for drizzling)
6 sheets of filo pastry
50g of butter, melted
A few drops of almond oil
Garnish with another tablespoon of flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. The Flavor King plums are easy to cut up as they are semi cling-stone. Mix the pluot slices with the poppy seeds, almonds and half the white chocolate.
Spread the filo sheets on a clean surface, making a long thick strip (about 30 x 20cm long) by overlapping the sheets, sealing them with melted butter and a pastry brush.
Dump the filling on the upper half of the filo base, spreading it lengthways. Brush the bottom third with butter. Then roll over the filo into a fat sausage and place onto an oven tray.
Brush the top with more melted butter.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
Once the strudel is baked, microwave the white chocolate for 30 seconds, adding a little almond oil if it's not runny enough to drizzle.
Decorate the top with white chocolate and flaked almonds.
Serve hot.

Pluot/plum and white chocolate strudel

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Blood orange ricotta pancakes for Shrove Tuesday

The night before Lent commences, we gather up our eggs and dairy to make pancakes for Shrove Tuesday. Virtually every culture has some kind of pancake: crepes, blinis, waffles, clafoutis, hoppers, hotcakes, dosas.
Something one should eat in winter is citrus. In this month’s recipe, I'm calling upon blood oranges to add flavour, colour, gloss and Vitamin C to sweeten these almost weightless billowy pancakes. Blood oranges are only available from January until March, so use them now.
See the rest of this post on the Ham and High website, where there is also a recipe for bergamot sorbet.
If you want a vegan version of this recipe, go to my post on aquafaba pancakes.

Blood orange ricotta pancakes

Makes 10 to 12 pancakes

2 blood oranges plus extra for garnishing
200ml water
200ml sugar
1 vanilla pod
250g ricotta
Zest of a lemon or bergamot
150ml milk
3 eggs, separated
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
A big knob (50g) of butter to melt on top and for cooking

To make the blood orange syrup:

Prepare the blood oranges by cutting off the top and bottom then removing the peel and pith. Slice thinly. Using a small saucepan, add the water and sugar. Simmer until the sugar is dissolved, then add the blood orange slices and the vanilla pod. Simmer until the syrup is crimson and thick. Once finished, you can sieve out the oranges pieces or keep them in.

To make the pancakes:

In a large bowl, add the ricotta and the zest of a lemon or bergamot. Add the milk and egg yolks, stir. Then add the flour, baking powder and salt, mixing together to make a thick batter.
In a separate bowl or stand mixer, whisk the egg whites until fluffy. Gently fold the egg into the batter.
On a medium heat, place a flat frying pan or a 'crepiere' (a cast iron crepe pan you can get in French supermarkets for about 15 to 20 euros, well worth picking one up on your next trip) and rub a knob of butter over it using kitchen paper. When making crepes or pancakes I rub over the pan with the same buttery paper between every crepe. This way it doesn't stick but neither does it get too greasy.

Put two large tablespoons of the mixture for each pancake. Let it set and after a few minutes flip it over. Keep cooking until fluffy and golden.

Serve in a short stack with salted butter, and drizzle the syrup over the pancakes. Add more blood orange slices if you like. If you want to turn this into dessert, add some cointreau to the syrup.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Britain's most northerly food blogger

Elizabeth Atia, Shetland blogger
Elizabeth: 'I'm a wildling'

When I travel, I try to make contact with local food and drink bloggers - after all, they know their patch best. I like getting to meet them, hang out with them, hear their stories, how they live, what they think of their country and their home.
In Shetland, I spent a few days with Britain's most northerly food blogger, Elizabeth Atia, who writes Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary. A pretty redhead originally from Canada, she's lived in Shetland for 17 years and has three children. She came to Scotland after being inspired by the film 'Rob Roy' to get back to her Scottish MacIntosh roots. She began by applying to every health food store in Scotland including a shop whose owner had an unusual method of selecting employees - dowsing with a pendulum. Fortunately, the pendulum swung Elizabeth's way and she was hired.
This was obviously fated as within weeks she had met her first husband. After having a son, they split a few years later. Then came three years alone as a single parent. Elizabeth met her second husband online, who at the time was living in Birmingham. He took the risk of journeying to Shetland to meet her face to face, forking out for a flight and booking a bed and breakfast for a week.
She explained: 'He was gorgeous and importantly I knew he worked for the Post Office and that they do a criminal record check, something a single mum must consider'. 
All of us who've done online dating know how rarely that happens; you can fall in love with someone online but within 30 seconds of meeting them in person you know if you ever want to see them again. Things clicked and love bloomed. They recently got married (after two kids) with a stylish 'steam punk' ceremony complete with home-made bridesmaid/groom outfits and a charity shop wedding dress. If you are creative, you don't need much money.
Coming from a small village, Cape Breton near Halifax where 'there were maybe 200 people' makes her an ideal candidate for living in Shetland, which has a total population of 22k. Everywhere we walked, she knew people. And true to most small communities, everybody knows everything.
As well as food blogging and writing freelance for magazines such as Shetland's 60 North, Elizabeth does crafting projects such as this incredible hand painted Fair Isle stair renovation. She's also graduated with first class honours doing an Open University degree in Life Sciences.
 'A couple of years ago I put on two stone because of an injury,' she explained 'I was volunteering for crewing on a RNLI lifeboat (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) and a rope got caught around my ankle'. 
She could have lost her foot- every sailor knows how dangerous this is. Elizabeth was taken to the local hospital (Gilbert Baine Hospital, which they all call GBH) and was laid up for weeks. She used the P90X programme to get back to health. Now she maintains fitness with her Fitbit, doing at least 10k steps a day and more often 20 to 30k. In fact within a few minutes of meeting her, she insisted on doing a lengthy walk around the bay to visit Clickimin broch, an Iron Age stone watch-tower. She bounded up hills and shook off sea spray, red dreadlocks flying behind her, pirate coat billowing in the wind, while I trailed, puffing. (I need more friends that force me to do stuff like this.)
Clickimin broch, Shetland

Elizabeth has more limited ingredients to work with than bloggers on the UK mainland. Even the large supermarkets such as Tesco in Lerwick tend not to have much in, especially after recent storms Gertrude and Henry when customers panic-buy biscuits and booze. She also uses her local village cooperative.
'When I cook, I don't decide what I want to cook and buy the ingredients, I go to the shop and see what they have and construct something around that. Once I went to the local shop and all they had was a pig's foot.'
She has to be resourceful. Is it frustrating sometimes?
'Come midwinter, around the 21st of December, it can be so hard, mentally hard. But then again in summer we are out kayaking after midnight. You learn to take advantage of the fine weather when it comes, to pick up and go.'
Fresh herbs, for instance, in winter are a luxury. 'Parsley in winter? I'd have to freeze them from summer. '
Things we take for granted elsewhere are difficult to obtain out of season. Elizabeth gets an organic vegetable box throughout the summer and tucks vegetables away in her freezer to use in winter. Yet Shetland is so far north - nearer Norway than Scotland - that rather like Alaska, they have a short but intense summer, known as the 'simmer dim' where there is almost 24 hour daylight. Conversely, the winter months have little daylight, a brief window between around 9 am and 2pm, which is 'a nightmare for shooting food pix'.

Living in such a remote location means that, for a blogger, deliveries of samples are complicated: only non-perishable items can be sent. A hamper of Bulgarian food samples was sent and arrived several weeks after the use-by date. Other problems include not being able to go on travel trips like other bloggers. Companies are reluctant to spend the money when it costs several hundred pounds just to get off the island. Last year Elizabeth and her husband took all three children to England for a holiday, it cost over £3,000. But her children were thrilled to see trees for the first time.
'They were just amazed. Shetland has the odd sparse group of trees but they aren't very big. My son was scared when I took him to Canada to see the redwood forests at the age of four. 
He was frightened of bears. There are no predators in Shetland; no foxes or snakes, only pole cats (wild ferrets) and lots of rabbits.' 
Five thousand years ago, most of Shetland's trees were felled by the Picts, creating the ubiquitous peat. Furthermore the saline air (no part of Shetland is further than three miles from the sea), the extreme weather and the sheep, mean that new ones have not been able to grow. I experienced 147mph gales during Storm Gertrude, which was really quite frightening, I could barely drive my car which was rocking back and forth. 

What do you like about Shetland? I asked.
 'It has been described as a council estate in the North Sea' Elizabeth explained in her Shetland burr which had only traces of Canadian 'It's slow paced. I suppose I'm used to that coming from where I lived. There isn't much distraction. On the mainland there is cinema and theatre. When you've got that thinking time, you get inspired, you are creative. You've seen the landscape, it's never the same, it keeps changing. Who knew there were so many different shades of brown, burnt umbers, oranges, browns, green? Then you've got the sea, the big sky, so big and always changing. I'm a wildling. And everybody is so friendly, so helpful. Folk don't ask for anything in return.' 
What is the most surprising aspect of living in Shetland?
 'There is a lot to do. Clubs, fencing, ballroom dancing, yoga. People keep themselves entertained. Bands come up to Shetland, for instance for the folk festival in May. '
What gives you the most pleasure here?
'Being outdoors, the freedom. You can walk for miles and miles and not see a single soul.'
Have you ever felt lonely?
Elizabeth hesitates. 'During the winter. I have no extended family here. But I was raised to be resilient and self sufficient.'
Will you be staying?
'Sometimes I get homesick for Canada. But I've only been a grown up here. I don't know if I could be a grown up in Canada.'

FIVE PLACES TO EAT IN SHETLAND recommended by Elizabeth

Fjara Cafe Bar - situated on the Lerwick waterfront this cafe serves gorgeous sharing platters, indulgent desserts and quality coffees all while offering superb sea views. You might even get to watch the seals basking on the rocks nearby.

Victoria's Vintage Tea Rooms - Britain's most northerly tea rooms located on the island of Unst - serves Posh Penelope sandwiches and splendid afternoon teas. Reopens again for the season in March.

The Scalloway Hotel - Shetland's only rosette winning restaurant located in the old capital of Shetland. Fine Shetland dining at its best - quality fresh, local seafood and a mouth watering menu.

Burrastow House - a wild intimate retreat on the remote west side of Shetland. The menu served is whatever the chef fancies cooking on the day using local produce. Reopens in the Spring.

Frankies Fish and Chips - the UKs most northerly fish and chip shop and #1 fish and chip shop in the UK in 2015. Serves local seafood and you'll even know the name of the fishing vessel your haddock was caught on that day!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Alpine foods: tartiflette recipe



The Alps, Europe's largest mountain range, passes through France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Italy and Slovenia and boasts a distinctive culinary culture. Alpine food is unashamedly heavy fare - stuff you can bolt down after a wintery day. Guilt-free carbs are one of the pleasures of skiing holidays, along with hot chocolate, gluwein and vats of bubbling cheese. 
More in January's Ham and High here. 

Tartiflette recipe
Serves 6

1 kilo of potatoes, waxy, unpeeled, cut in quarters
50g butter
3 or 4 shallots, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 fresh bay leaves
A pinch of mace
600ml of single cream
1/2 tsp salt (truffle salt if you have it)
150g smoked salmon, turn into strips
1 reblochon cheese, slit horizontally in half

Prepare the potatoes and parboil them in boiling salty water for about five minutes. Drain.
Take a large deep frying pan or wide shallow casserole that you can also use in the oven. 
Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
Melt the butter in the frying pan and add the shallots, sweating them down until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, the bay leaves and a pinch of mace. Then add the drained potatoes, tossing them in the butter and aromatics for a few minutes.
Add the cream and salt, warming it up, adding the smoked salmon at the last minute.
Finally, add the two halves of the reblochon cheese, rind side up, and put the pan into the oven to bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbling. Place a metal prong into the potatoes to check that they are cooked.
Serve hot accompanied by a green salad dressed with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette and a crisp white wine, preferably from the Savoie region.