Spring, glorious spring. Or rather the hope of new life and Summer to come. So what happens as soon as April comes along? Every newspaper, magazine, blog and television talk show goes on a "how to get your summer body" rampage. Its everywhere. Stop enjoying the comforting foods of winter and start eating celery and drinking protein shakes. Bah!
I love the spring. There are beautiful blossoms peeping out everywhere and new leaves unfurling. The birds are a lot more active and the sun is shining. Its still fresh, don't get me wrong but its a clean, crisp, promising fresh. So yes, I do automatically start thinking about lighter menus for our evening meals and get stuck into all the beautiful organic spring bounty that Riverford, Sainbury's and Waitrose have to offer. I'll be honest, I have a problem, I LOVE new season asparagus and broad beans. We've been eating a lot lately and they are so good, even for the third time this week! I've also been planting my own spring vegetables. I have radishes on the go and some baby tomatoes. Fingers crossed they survive the combination of blackbirds (they dig in my pots), the slugs and the strange weather, it is supposed to snow again this weekend. I ask you, how do the farmers cope?
All this spring loveliness got me thinking about salads. The average shop bought salad is pretty dull and boring, lets be honest, and they look pretty uninspiring on the supermarket shelves with a few leaves of iceberg lettuce, some tomatoes, cucumber and if you're lucky a piece of feta cheese or maybe a few slices of carrot. Then the "super food" salads are so high in carbohydrates that I don't want to eat them. They're packed with pasta, quinoa, black beans, pearl barley that it no longer feels like a salad to me. I don't actually buy pre-made salads but in the catering industry I am faced with them on a daily basis and keep an eye on what our competitors are doing for the lunch time trade.
We were recently invited to a "bring and share" at a friend's house and I thought that people generally forget the salads when they go to these events that I decided to make two of my favourite salads. Neither of these are my recipes, although I have changed both up slightly over the years. I have to give credit, where credit is due. The first was a recipe we as a family were introduced to in 1997 by an exchange student who had come to stay with us for 6 months. Mayte is German and she made this salad for us one evening when we were hosting a barbecue. What a revelation! Since then it has been replicated on many an occasion and Kyle told me after the "bring and share" that this is his favourite salad. I shall refer to it in the recipes below as Mayte's Salad. The second is a salad that Kyle's sister Bronwyn first made for me when Kyle and I had only been together for a few months. She bought it to my birthday lunch and it was an instant hit. I have been making it ever since. This shall henceforth be known as Chick Pea, Avo Salad.
4 Medium leeks or 3 large, trimmed, washed and finely sliced
8 Eggs, hard boiled, peeled and chopped. Free range or organic, I used Riverford eggs
230 g Cornichons, drained and roughly chopped (essentially 2 jars)
350 g Whole kernel sweet corn, drained
350 g Mature cheddar, diced into small cubes, I used SO Organic range from Sainbury's
100 ml Crème fraiche
200 ml Real egg mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to season
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix until coated in the mayonnaise and crème fraiche mixture. Season to taste and serve.
Chick Pea, Avo Salad
2 Tins chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 Avocados, peeled and diced
1/2 Jar Pepperdew peppers, drained and roughly chopped, I use the mild ones as I'm never sure of people's tolerance for heat
200 g Feta Cheese, crumbled
Salt and pepper to season
Toss all your ingredients together in a bowl, season with salt and pepper. You can use Grandmere's salad dressing recipe, Un bon jus pour la salade, from my first blog Food Memories, to dress the salad or you can use the juice of one and a half lemons and a drizzle of olive oil. Adjust the seasoning to your personal taste.
Serve either salad with a good piece of char-grilled steak or a crispy piece of fish. Eat as much or as little as you like, but most of all enjoy! In case you're wondering what wines to drinks with these we washed them down with a Kleine Zalze, Bush Vine Chenin Blanc, 2014 bought at Waitrose and a delicious Pazo das Bruxas, Albarino, 2014.
What are your favourite salads? I'd love to hear about them and if you don't mind sharing them please send the recipes through to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll give you a shout out in the next salad edition.
I am currently reading the book Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. Having seen the movie, starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, a million times I bought the book yesterday in Waterstone's in Putney on a whim. I think the staff in Waterstone's think I'm a little odd because the majority of books I buy are either travel writing, recipe books, food writers or historical novels. What makes you think I like to read about places I would love to go, food I can only dream of eating and don't have time to make or silly comical Regency romances which make me giggle like a school girl? This morning while sitting on the train squashed in between two business men, one on their laptop and the other reading the newspaper, I sat chuckling to myself whilst reading my book. I got a number of strange looks.
Strangely enough I cooked Julia Child's Caneton a l'Orange (Duck with Orange Sauce) on Sunday this last weekend which got the creative juices flowing. I couldn't help myself Waitrose had a special on 2 KG Gressingham whole ducks for £8.00. A bargain. Reading Julie Powell's book this week and then watching the movie this evening made me realise that I have been slack of late. I have made some fantastic meals, I even conquered my fear of baking and made a Hot Cross Bun loaf for Easter which was turned into a bread and butter pudding. I have had some glorious wines and I have written about none of it. Shocking I know! I am so sorry. In Amy Adam's words; "The reason I don't finish anything is because I had ADD... It's why I am so bad at house work."
So tonight I have some beautiful double pork chops which are going to be turned into Julia Child's Cótes de Porcs Sauce Nénettes; Pork Chops with Mustard, Cream and Tomato Sauce. I cannot wait!
6 Pork Chops
3-4 Tbsp lard or cooking oil
2 Tbsp Butter
2 Cloves Garlic finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1/4 tsp Maldon sea salt
A pinch of pepper
1 Tbsp dry English Mustard Powder
2 Tbsp Tomato Paste
2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsely or basil
Dry the pork chops on paper towels. Season with salt, pepper and sage. Heat the fat or the oil in the casserole until it is moderately hot, then brown the chops, 2 or 3 at a time, on each side for 3 to 4 minutes. As they are browned, transfer them to a side dish.
Pour the fat out of the casserole and add the butter and garlic. Return the chops, overlapping them slightly. Baste them with the butter. Cover and heat the casserole until the meat is sizzling, then place in the lower third of a preheated to 160 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes. Turn and baste the chops once or twice. They are done when the juices run clear.
I do like my pork chops medium with a light rose tint, so i only cook mine for 20-25 minutes, but feel free to cook them through to well done.
Arrange the chops on a hot platter. The chops will have rendered about 1/2 cup of juices during their cooking; remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat from them. Pour in the 1/2 cup of white wine and boil rapidly. scraping up all the marmite-y goodness from the bottom of the casserole, until you have about 1/2 a cup of concentrated sauce.
While the chops are cooking according to the above directions, prepare the following:
Simmer the cream, salt and pepper in a small saucepan for 8-10 minutes, or until it has reduced to 1 cup. Beat the mustard and tomato paste together in a small bowl, then beat into the hot cream. Set aside.
After removing the chops from the casserole and deglazing the meat juices, pour in the cream mixture and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Correct seasoning, stir in the parsley or basil and pour the sauce over the chops.
Serve with your choice of vegetables, I am serving mine with new season asparagus, new potatoes with garlic butter and braised cabbage.
I'd love to hear about your experiences with Julia Child and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Drop me a line and let me know.
Good food is very often, even most often, simple food. - Anthony Bourdain