Monthly Archives: August 2011

Roasted Tomato and Chipotle Salsa


Smoke Tomato and Chipotle Salsa

For some reason yesterday I had a sudden urge to be back in Austin, Texas, sitting outside on the deck at Trudy’s, sipping a margarita and eating chips and salsa. (Might have had something to do with all the clouds on this so-called summer day.)

At least I could have one part of the equation: salsa, though arguable not as fresh, but still immensely delicious.

Tomatoes for salsa

The recipe is based on my Chipotle Tomatillo Salsa recipe, but for lack of tomatillos, I just used regular plum tomatoes instead. This recipe is great because you can make it with tinned tomatoes, though it’s a special kind of awesome if you use fresh.

The other bonus is that this salsa is good hot or cold, so you could potentially use it as a sauce for margaritas. I like to have it warm with scrambled eggs.

Mexican scramble

Chipotles can be hard to find in the UK, but shops are starting to stock them, both dried or in “adobo sauce” (what I used). Feel free to use whatever chilli you can get your hands on, but go easy: add a little bit of chilli at a time to get the right level of spiciness. There’s nothing worse than making salsa, only to ruin it by adding too much chilli.

Roasted Tomato and Chipotle Salsa

If you’ve got fresh tomatoes for this, use them. There’s nothing quite like fresh roasted tomatoes in a salsa. Alas, I usually only have enough of the canned stuff, and they do the job very well. I’ll sometimes mix in a bit of diced fresh tomato at the end, to make the salsa a bit chunkier and give it a refreshing lift. This salsa is good hot or cold, and I especially love it with scrambled eggs.

Ingredients

  • 2 14oz/450g cans plum tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp each cumin and mustard seeds (optional)
  • 5 cloves garlic, skins intact
  • 1/2 sweet white onion, finely diced
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
  • a small pinch of sugar
  • a good pinch of salt
  • 1 large tomato, finely chopped
  • juice from one lime

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C / 390F.
  2. Pour the olive oil into a baking tray. Add the tomatoes (juice and all), garlic cloves and mustard and cumin seeds if using. Roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is soft and the tomato juices have reduced a bit.
  3. Squeeze the garlic out of its skins and discard the skins. Add the garlic, tomatoes and half of the chipotle to a blender or food processor. Pulse just a few times to break up the tomatoes, but not enough to puree. Poor the mix into a bowl.
  4. Add the onion, cilantro, lime juice, salt and sugar and mix well. Taste and add more salt or chipotle if necessary.
  5. Let the salsa refrigerate for at least an hour or two to really let the flavours blend.

Prep Time: 15 minutes


Cook time: 60 minutes (largely unattended)

Yield: 1.5 cups (roughly)

Per 2 Tbsp salsa: 526 Calories | 18 grams Fat | 63 grams Carbohydrates | 30 grams Protein | 3 grams Fiber

Dinner at Koba

koba

I need to make a confession. I’ve been meaning to say something about this for some time, devote a post to my decision, get all thoughtful, outline my reasons, defend myself.

Maybe some other time.

The confession is this: I’ve started eating fish. Or should I say: re-started. A had a stint with fish a couple years back, after nearly twenty years of being a lacto-ovo vegetarian, some of those years mostly vegan. The stint was temporary, but I’ve returned for round two with the sea creatures.

The reasons are myriad. Maybe later I’ll write a philosophical post about this. But right now I want to talk about Koba.

Koba

Koba is a Korean restaurant in London’s fashionable Fitzrovia area, adjacent to Soho, and surrounded by trendy pubs which, at 7:30pm on a Tuesday, are found heaving with after-work “punters” in suits and pointy shoes downing pints and being Londoners.

I, however, was after kimchi, not Kronenberg, and an evening with a couple Twitter friends and fellow fans of fermented foods: @VerityW, @EvidenceMatters and her very charming husband.

The meetup was inspired by a conversation about pickles, wherein @VerityW confessed she had never had kimchi. Well, it was clear what we had to do: book a table at Koba, one of the better reviewed Korean restaurants in London and recommended by learned foodie @SabrinaGhaynor.

Koba

Koba’s interior is slick, stylish and romantically lit. The menu is long. Naturally, we ordered the “assorted kimchi”, a trio of cabbage, cucumber and turnips, much milder than other kimchi I’ve had, and we reckoned a fitting introduction for @VerityW (who loved it).

Assorted Kimchi

The tofu salad was something I’d like to try making at home: raw silken tofu, sliced into pencil-thick slabs, topped with lettuce, shredded seaweed and a sweet soy sauce. It was very simple, a cool, fresh counterbalance to the tempura-like vegetable and tofu patties that came next, pictured at the top of this post and expertly photographed by @VerityW, with @EvidenceMatters holding the menu.

Tofu salad

The main event was, of course, the barbecue, a Korean experience that’s only just become available to me now that I’m eating fish (for meat-eaters, it must be a paradise). None of us were entirely sure of the etiquette in this situation, and wished we had watched other people more closely before our server arrived with a plate of assorted seafood – fresh salmon, squid, prawn, baby octopus, mussels and scallops. The food was raw, and she placed it on a hot grill built into the middle of our table. Then she walked away.

Korean bbq at Koba

Were we supposed to finish cooking it ourselves? I’m not sure – when we took charge to flip the salmon and prawns, the server returned, reclaimed the tongs, then finished the flipping for us.

As much as we were mildly clueless, I did appreciate that there was little song and dance about the whole grill thing. I’m not a big fan of showy chef displays in the middle of my meals. It’s like when the server shows up with the wine bottle, takes 12 hours opening it, then lingers around for the inevitable “tasting”. I’m sure it’s all very important, but I always feel an awkward silence during these displays. “When will it be over?” (I feel similarly during haircuts, especially the hair-wash bit, double especially if there’s a head massage.)

Assorted seafood BBQ at Koba Assorted seafood BBQ at Koba

As the food finished grilling, we helped ourselves to bits of fish and seafood and ate it with raw vegetables, sweet slaw and a delicate dipping sauce that I couldn’t quite identify. I really enjoyed this. Every thing was incredibly fresh and needed very little adornment. This is my idea of a perfect meal: fish and vegetables, both of exceptional quality, prepared simply.

After two hours of excellent food and superb conversation, I felt satisfied, and not overfull. I love food that leaves me feeling good afterwards, albeit a touch garlicky. But I love garlic, too, so it’s all win.

I may not be a vegetarian anymore, but I’m still very much a vegetarian sympathiser, and it’s worth noting that Koba had plenty of options for veggies, including vegetables for the barbecue and the classic Korean bibimbap, another “perfect” meal in my eyes consisting of egg and raw vegetables.

The only thing better than the food was the wonderful people I was dining with, lovely folks who share my appreciation for pickles, kimchi, comfortable walking shoes and go bags – you just don’t find that kind of combination everyday. And generous, too: @EvidenceMatters surprised us with a jar each of her homemade strawberry freezer jam. I was barely home five minutes before I opened the jar and had a spoonful (first of many). The jam is excellent – chunky, not too sweet, and full of strawberry goodness. A fitting end to a perfect evening. Thanks gals and guy.

Koba
11 Rathbone Street
London W1T 1NA
020 7580 8825

Knee Surgery: 7 Weeks Later

7 Weeks After Knee Surgery

Tomorrow will be seven weeks since I had surgery on my right knee to remove a cyst. The doctor said the recovery would be 4-6 weeks, but seven weeks on, I still feel far from recovered.

Part of this I blame on myself. It wasn’t long after surgery before I was walking pretty normally again, limp-free. At the gym, I started taking on short incline walks to warm up, and even throwing in a few deadlifts. A couple weeks ago, I went on a 5-mile ramble in the country with my friend Jason – I almost had a bounce in my step.

But I think all of these activities were pushing my luck. Last week my knee was feeling sore and tired and swollen. The biggest issue was in bending my knee. I’ve regained almost 100% bend-ability, but it hurts like hell if I bend my knee too far (would it be too much information if said I learned this the hard way when I attempted to squat for a potty break during the aforementioned ramble?).

7 Weeks After Knee Surgery

So last week I decided to stop. I continued my usual physio exercises (very mild), but avoided most other forms of intentional leg movement. I was by no means sedentary – I continued to cook and garden as usual – but I didn’t take any walks.

After just a few day’s rest, I feel a massive improvement. And in truth, looking at these pictures, the knee isn’t as swollen as it seems when I look at it from eye level. But I do feel a strange pressure above the knee.

So, a few things need to happen: I need to keep resting; I need to call my doc and say “wazzup”?; I need to not be down about it, which is easy to do, because I really miss walking and had grand hopes of doing some long hikes this summer in the Brecon Beacons; I need to not let myself go just because of a few setbacks; I need to count small victories, like not needing to wear the tubigrip support thingy anymore when I DO walk around. It IS improving.

I need to also consider updating my wardrobe.

7 Weeks After Knee Surgery

Mirabelle Plum Jam

Mirabelle Plum Jam

A little over a week ago my friend Jason came for a visit. He’s one of my great friends from university and said, “I’m happy having you show me your favorite things even if they aren’t particularly traditional must-sees.” So, amongst other things, I took him for a walk around Bibury and the River Coln, a nice 2-hourish ramble that I love because it’s close, uncomplicated and seems to have it all: rivers, woods, pretty villages, green countryside, hills, sheep and, as we discovered, Mirabelle plums!

Mirabelle Plums

We came across the plum tree early on the walk and I insisted we return with a bag and pick as many as we could. And so we did, eating handfuls of plums along the way. I knew right away that I was going to use at least some of the plums for jam.

Jam – like pastry, ice cream, shortbread and apple pie – is a foodI don’t eat very much of, but feel compelled to master its cooking technique. And so, these plums were a great opportunity to practise.

Mirabelle Plums

Having never made plum jam, I turned to the experts: my friend and client Rachel Demuth sent me her recipe for damson jam, a recipe that appealed for its simplicity. I also asked Gloria Nicol, author of 100 Jams, Jellies, Preserves & Pickles and all around nice person, for her advice. She sent me this recipe for Blaisdon Plum & Lavender Jam. She macerates the fruit before turning it into jam, arguing that…

…good jam does not come from throwing everything in a pan and boiling like billio. That’s just stewing fruit and you end up with jars of sweet pink mush that somehow remain in the larder for years and that you are unable to ever get rid of. I want to make jam that is so fantastic that you quickly run out and vow you’ll make more next year. I like to macerate the fruit to draw out the juice and the fresh flavours…

I liked this. So I used Gloria’s maceration technique and sugar-to-fruit ratio, but stuck with the basic ingredients that Rachel described. I must confess, I was quite alarmed by the amount of sugar required:

Lots of sugar

Yep, a lot – but that’s what jam is, and I’m learning there’s a real science to it. First, the sugar is crucial because it reacts with the pectin in the fruit to form a gel and help the jam set. @CarlLegge informs me that “According to McGee [On Food and Cooking ] a pH of 2.8 to 3.4, pectin concentration of 0.5-1.0% & sugar concentration of 60-65% is optimal for setting. The french style conserve has a lower sugar concentration & so is runnier.”

And then there’s the matter of preservation. Danielle Coombs (@restingchef) says, “a concentration of over 60% sugar creates an environment that is hostile to micro-organisms”. Less sugar, and your jam won’t keep as long (explains why my sugar-free raspberry preserves from Bosco del Fracasso went moldy just a few days after I opened it).

Admittedly, I find most jam too sweet for my tastes, and often find that the sugar masks the flavour of the fruit. But since this jam experiment is all about mastering the technique, I didn’t mess around and stuck with Gloria’s recommend sugar to fruit ratio: 1.2kg fruit (or 1kg when stoned) to 750g sugar.

And so I forged ahead, macerating the fruit overnight, then simmered to dissolve the sugar, then once cooled, I removed as many stones as possible, a most cathartic process that I followed until I got bored – I think a few stones in homemade plum jam give it character!

Mirabelle Plums Ready for maceration

Simmering to dissolve the sugar Picking out the stones

Then, another few hours of maceration, and the final boil. This is when I became slightly disheartened – after 15 minutes of boiling, the jam still hadn’t set (according to the set test). This was when I took a BRIEF break from stirring the jam to check the recipe, during which time the jam started to burn in the pot.

I gasped, then instinct took over. I immediately dumped the jam into a bowl, being careful not to touch anything in the bottom. There were a few black bits in the bowl which I picked out. Then I thought, “screw it”, and jarred the stuff then and there.

The aroma of burnt jam and the feeling of pure idiocy made it difficult to enjoy the taste test. So I put the jam away and decided not to think about it for a couple of days.

Finally, when I could face it again, I had a proper taste: on sourdough toast, one slice with butter, the other with peanut butter (PB&J, an American classic!).

Two toasts

First, the jam set like a charm. I have no idea why it didn’t pass the “set test” but so be it. Second, I loved the texture from the plum skins. Third, and most importantly, the taste was nice. Yes, it was quite sweet, but without a hint of burnt and fine pairing for peanut butter.

True, my preference would be for a tarter jam. The Mirabelles I picked were slightly under-ripe (perfect for jam, so I’m told), and I liked their tart, slightly acidic flavour. To me, this is the flavour of plums, but it got a bit lost beneath the sugar. Still, the result definitely qualifies as “good” and I’m looking forward to testing it on some other folks to see what they think.

Mirabelle Plum Jam Mirabelle Plums

Mirabelle Plums Mirabelle Plum Jam

The rest of the Mirabelles went either in my stomach, or in the freezer, a stash that should be just enough for that tarte aux mirabelles, when the time comes.

Related links:

Sourdough Buckwheat Crepes

Sourdough Buckwheat Crepes

I had a phase a while back where I was making lots of crepes: vegan buckwheat crepes (these are awesome), regular buckwheat crepes (the classic galette is always in style), cornmeal crepes (equally awesome, though arguably less versatile).

The phase seemed to end when my nonstick omelet pan gave up the ghost. But recently, a new omelet plan and a sudden surplus of sourdough starter had me thinking about crepes again. See, I’ve been baking lots of bread, trying to get good at this sourdough business. But having a starter involves feeding it, and inevitably you end up with way more starter than you need. I HATE throwing away food.

There are quite a few ideas out there for using extra sourdough starter: sourdough pancakes and crumpets come to mind. But I’m not so keen on pancakes, and I try not to have a surplus of food around that requires I eat it with copious amounts of butter and jam.

So the idea for sourdough buckwheat crepes came to me. I couldn’t find a recipe out there so I made it up myself, adapting my original recipe for buckwheat crepes and this other recipe I found for sourdough crepes (not with buckwheat).

The sourdough buckwheat crepes turned out a treat. I had to add a bit more water at cooking time to get them to spread nice and thin as I like, but I liked the bubbles that the wild yeast imparted, making for a lighter crepe. My only complaint is that they weren’t terribly “sour”. Next time I’m going to experiment with a higher sourdough-to-buckwheat ratio, and perhaps omit the white flour altogether (since there is wheat flour in the sourdough already). A fun experiment, and delicious with both sweet and savoury food.

Crepes with Egg, Spinach, Mushroom & Parmesan Sourdough Buckwheat Crepes with Fruit and Yogurt

Sourdough Buckwheat Crepes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 2 Tbsp white flour
  • 5 Tbsp sourdough starter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • butter for cooking

Method

  1. Whisk together all of the ingredients Let the batter rest for at least an hour.
  2. Melt a bit of butter an 8- or 10-inch nonstick skillet and place over medium heat.
  3. Pour a couple of tablespoons of batter into the skillet. Swirl it around so that it forms a thin layer on the bottom of the pan. (If the crêpes doesn’t get thin enough, add a little more milk or water to the batter – I ended up adding about 2 Tbsp water to mine.)
  4. When the top of the crêpes is dry, after about a minute, flip and cook the other side for 15 to 30 seconds. (The crêpes should brown only very slightly and not be at all crisp, or so says Mark Bittman – I actually like my crepes a bit crispy so do as you wish.)
  5. Stack the crêpes on a plate as you make them. You can keep them warm in a low oven while you make the remaining crêpes. Or freeze the leftover crêpes, separating each crêpes with a piece of parchment paper.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Yield: 10-12 crepes depending on pan size

Per crepe: 45 Calories | 1.6 grams Fat | 6.3 grams Carbohydrates | 1.6 grams Protein | .6 grams Fiber

Vegan Lasagne

Vegan Lasagne

I’ve not vegan, in fact, I love a good, traditional, cheesy lasagne from time to time. But I’m not always in the mood for a cheese fest.

Last night I craved the warming, comfort of a layered, baked pasta dish, but I also wanted something wholesome, nourishing and clean. Something that would leave me satisfied, but not overfull. I was also feeling extremely tired and unable to concentrate on real work, so I put my mind to vegan lasagne instead.

There are a hundred different ways you could do this lasagne, but the the key ingredient comes down to the tofu filling that works as a ricotta substitute.

The tofu gets pureed in a food processor, which turns it into a consistency not unlike ricotta. Add a few herbs, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and a good pinch of salt, and I swear you have something good enough to eat with a spoon.

Tofu Tofu

Sure, you could just crumble tofu into the lasagne, and though it would be easier, it wouldn’t be as tasty.

The rest is up to you. Last night I added sauteed mushrooms and grilled zucchini and eggplant. Next time, I’m going all eggplant, for a sort eggplant parmesan effect. Broccoli is also delicious is lasagne.

Vegan Lasagne in progress

For the sauce, I use Jeff Varasano’s pizza sauce technique, which is as simple as straining some tinned tomatoes, giving them a quick blend, then adding a pinch of salt, sugar, minced garlic and maybe some dried italian herbs. No cooking. Easy.

To finish the lasagne, I topped mine with toasted, crushed walnuts. But I reckon bread crumbs or pine nuts would also work a treat.

Vegan Lasagne

The sauce and vegetables you use in a lasagne are really up to you. Here I use a basic tomato sauce, which I think compliments the spinachy tofu ricotta. My favourite veggie fillings are grilled eggplant or broccoli and carrots. I make this lasagne in a bread loaf tin, which makes a nice TALL lasagne. The tofu ricotta was inspired by a Food.com recipe, and once you try it, you’ll love it so much you’ll start thinking of other uses for it (stuffed shells, manicotti, you get the picture).

Ingredients

For the tofu filling:

  • 280g firm tofu (not silken)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice (squeeze of one wedge of lemon)
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh or dried herbs
  • 1 cup cooked spinach, finely chopped (optional)

For the sauce

  • 28oz can chopped tomatoes
  • salt, pepper, sugar
  • oregano or other herbs (optional)

For the lasagne:

  • Tofu filling
  • Tomato sauce
  • Cooked vegetables (sauted mushrooms, grilled eggplant and zucchini, broccoli, carrots, whatever you like!)
  • Toasted walnuts, pine nuts or breadcrumbs

Method

Make the tomato sauce: At least an hour before you make the lasagne, empty the tomatoes into a colander and let them strain until the watery tomato juice stops dropping from the colander. Take what remains and give it a few pulses in a blender. Remove to a bowl, and a pinch of salt, sugar, pepper and herbs if you like.

Make the tofu filling: blitz all the ingredients except the spinach in a food processor until the tofu is smooth. Taste, and adjust seasoning (it will need a good bit of salt). Mix in the spinach if using with a spoon.

Make the lasagne: Lightly grease a pan or loaf tin. Add a layer of tomato sauce. Then alternate layers of lasagne sheets, tomato sauce, vegetables and tofu filling. Finish with a layer of lasagne sheets, pasta sauce, and a sprinkling of toasted walnuts, pine nuts or bread crumbs (or leave them off but make sure you’re top lasagne sheet is well covered in tomato sauce). Bake at 400F/200C for about 30 minutes, until the lasagne is bubbling and the noodles are cooked.

Prep Time: 30 minutes


Cook time: 30 minutes

Yield: 2 substantial servings

SmarterFitter changes and technical buffoonery

If you read SmarterFitter in a web browser, you may notice that things look a little different around here.

If you read SmarterFitter in an RSS feed reader, then hopefully you’re still getting my updates.

I’ve decided to migrate my blog from its previous home at SquareSpace.com to a self-hosted WordPress blog on my web host.

Hopefully the switch won’t affect too many of you, however, I highly anticipate more than a few technical niggles along the way. I have already been dealing with the thorny issues of permalinks (nerds should scroll to the bottom of this post to read how to redirect SquareSpace URLs to WordPress URLs).

RSS feeds should be working, and I’ve done my very best to preserve links and images (sooo glad I host all my images on Flickr). But if you do stumble upon a broken link, missing image, or anything else odd, I would appreciate if you’d let me know.

SquareSpace is an entirely different blogging platform from WordPress so, aside from the raw content, I am essentially starting from scratch. Over the next few days I’ll re-add stuff like BlogRolls and links. Eventually, I’ll get around to updating my theme. But I find that such tasks are a bit of a time suck, and I’m all about doing as little as possible to get to the creative bit where I get to take photos and write things. Besides, simple is good, right?

Nerd Stuff: Rewrite Rule to Redirect SquareSpace URLs to WordPress URLs

I couldn’t find anything through Google that covered this exact topic, so I’m posting my solution here.

The permalink structure on SquareSpace and WordPress are slightly different, but similar, for example:

SquareSpace: http://smarterfitter.com/blog/2011/01/01/a-blog-post.html

WordPress: http://smarterfitter.com/2011/01/01/a-blog-post/

To redirect all links to URLs under the SquareSpace link structure, I added the following to my .htaccess file:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule ^blog/(.*)\.html$ $1 [R=301,L]

I hope that is of use to someone!

Sunday at Castle Farm and the Vegetarian Cookery School

VegCS at Castle Farm

No, that’s not me – that’s one of the students from the Vegetarian Cookery School, hanging out with a basket of goodies at Castle Farm last Sunday. I like the picture because to me it sums up what makes the Southwest of England one of the ultimate foodie destinations in the UK. Like her basket, the Southwest is bursting with high quality produce, grown with care and love in beautiful surrounds, resulting in food and experiences that make everybody smile.

The day was billed “Seasonal Sumptuous Sunday“, but to me it’d be better called “Flavours of Bath” or something similar (ideas?) because the ultimate appeal of this course is that it offers an insider’s view of the Bath area food scene, a rich, vibrant oasis teaming with top notch produce and magnetic personalities.

VegCS at Castle Farm

Take Castle Farm, for instance. We started here in the morning where Jo, the enthusiastic owner and grower, gave us a tour before letting us loose to explore and, more importantly, fill our baskets with yummy vegetables.

The organic farm is a bit of a jumble, and Jo unabashedly pointed out the duds as well as the thrivers. Lovage, horseradish, spinach, chard, raspberries, parsley, and edible flowers thrived, while the runner beans looked sad and the rocket was barren. But the plums were superb and the pumpkin patch was a thriving jungle: the strikes and gutters of organic farming. I loved it.

Jo shows off her pumpkin patch

Jo’s farm isn’t open to the public – her main clientele seems to be chefs and restaurants – so I felt very lucky to get a peak inside. Of course, the best part was picking a bunch of our own produce, such as this epic pumpkin…

Pumpkin picking Workout in the pumpkin patch Workout in the pumpkin patch

…loads of salad leaves…

Picking lettuce

…the mother load of raspberries and edible flowers…

VegCS at Castle Farm

…the result was, well, a cornucopia of food.

Castle Farm Raspberries Cornucopia of delicious produce Tomatoes for salsa cruda Laying out the goods Castle Farm Plums Edible flowers and herbs

We took our haul back to the cookery school and spent the afternoon in cooking mode. Helen Lawrence, chef at the cookery school, artistically laid out all of our goods, while Rachel told us about the food we’d be cooking:

  • Fruit smoothies
  • Spinach Malfatti with Herb, Lemon and Pinenut Sauce
  • Roasted Pumkin, Walnut and Pickled Ewes Cheese Salad (recipe)
  • Stuffed Field Mushrooms with Parsley Pistou
  • Roasted Pink Fir Potatoes with Harissa
  • Courgette Fritters with Salda Cruda
  • Ginger Rhubarb Cheesecake with THyme Honeycombe

That’s a long list, maybe even daunting. But herein lies what I love about the cookery school: it’s all about participation and collaboration. And when you’ve got seven eager eaters around to chop, mash, mince, peel, dice, boil, toast, steam and puree, along with excellent tutelage from the cookery school’s Helen Lawrence, you can get a lot done.

Making berry smoothies

People take cookery classes for different reasons. Some go to learn about their favourite cuisines; some go to learn a specific skill like pasta making or bread baking; some go to conquer their fear of the kitchen; and some go simply to meet and cook with other people who love food and cooking. I go to learn about new ingredients and techniques that add a bit of pizzazz to my own cooking (jazz hands, anyone?).

Enter harissa and salsa cruda, two add-ons to already wonderful dishes that opened my eyes to the shear pleasure of sauces and salsas.

First, the harissa, a North African chilli paste that many shops sell in jars or tubes as a red paste. I’ve always enjoyed harissa, but never saw its potential until I had it last Sunday at the cookery school. Rather than a uniform, homogenous paste, our harissa was bursting with fresh herbs and the aroma of freshly toasted cumin and coriander seeds. Ground with a mortar and pestle, it had a wonderful texture, and added a fresh, spicy kick to our roasted pink fir potatoes.

Making harissa Making harissa Making harissa Pink fir spuds, ready for roasting Roasted pink fir spuds Roasted Pink Fir Potatoes with Harissa

The other highlight was the salsa cruda, which I was too busy eating to take a photo of – I think this may have been the winning recipe for me, perhaps due to the inclusion of tomatillos, one of my favourite foods that I thought I’d left behind in Austin.

The salsa cruda was ingenious: tomatillos, tomatoes, hot chillies, spring onions, coriander, lemon juice, and a bit of apple juice concentrate to sweeten the deal – not the kind of “salsa” you’d get in Austin, but something just as fresh, spicy and delicious. It was perfect with, well, everything, including the courgette fritters that they were paired with, but also the fresh herb and wild flower salad. The fresh, spicy-sweet salsa was the perfect thing for a hot summer’s day and helped round out our seemingly epic feast.

Lunch is served

What else did I learn? You can never have too many fresh herbs. Walnuts are delicious when toasted with smoked paprika. Homewood Cheeses‘ pickled ewes cheese is a thing of beauty, as are mushrooms stuffed with mushrooms, sloe vodka with tonic and freshly grated horseradish. Pink fir potatoes might be my favourite potato variety ever. Even professional veg growers struggle with garden pests and poor yields. And Bath – and the greater Southwest – is a foodie’s wet dream.

I love where I live.

Roasted pumpkin salad with walnuts and Homewood Cheeses' pickled ewes cheese

Sneaky

Rhubarb and Ginger Cheesecake with Honeycomb and Raspberries

 

Related links: