The very best things I ate…January 2018

January.

It’s cold and dark. You’re poor and chubby. Everything that only days before had seemed warm & inviting in the cosy twinkle of fairy lights now seems a world away and in the last few hours of holiday, you find yourself stuck between two warring sides of your brain, one which desperately wants to start the new year virtuously and is throwing everything green and leafy into the Nutribullet, itself in possession of a layer of dust so thick across the top that you have to resist the urge to write ‘wash me’ on it and the other that demands you finish everything good bad good in the house – Bailey’s, brandy butter, blue cheese – in one final gluttonous sitting because really, until that alarm pierces your slumber at 6.20am the following morning, you. are. still. on. holiday.

Ya get me?

However, new year, new page, new start and there are many things to be thankful for at the dawn of another twelve months through this journey we call life.

One of the best things about January for me is the opportunity to leaf through new cookbooks, to mark so many pages with post-it notes that rifling through them creates a gentle rainbow breeze on your fingertips and to plan weekends around what dishes you’ll explore and savour. I don’t make new years’ resolutions as such – too often they strike me as being things that you either know you probably should be doing anyway (put down the cigarette, the whisky and/or the bag full of sale bargains please) or that will cause you to leap into some new activity with relentless enthusiasm until midway through the month when you make it home at the end of a long day, trip over the roller blades/ballet shoes/how-to-learn-Japanese book, fly into a rage, throw the offending items across the hallway and then drown your wilting anger in a wineglass big enough to keep koi in.

That said, my non-new-year-resolution for 2018 was to be more patient in the kitchen because try as I might not to be this way, I am bossy, restless & demanding in that particular corner of the house. I like to be in control to the point where I’d hazard a guess I’m not always much fun to be around unless there’s an open bottle of Pinot Noir on hand to soothe all concerned so this year I’m trying to share my love of food & cooking rather than keeping it all to myself before presenting something on a plate that is beautiful but rather meaningless. In less than four months time, I become a different tick box on every form and really, if I’m going to undertake that journey, the biggest of my life and the one I’ve waited for above all others without fear or worry, wouldn’t it be nice to turn what is often a solo obsession with perfection into a joint venture that’s fun with the soon-to-be mister to my missus?

And so, something a little different for the blog this year – a monthly dip into the greatest things that I’ve eaten. No criteria other than full and sincere love for whatever was on the plate in front of me…though let’s be real here, we all know it probably didn’t stay there for long.

1.Blue Corn Tortillas with Baked Avocado, Pickled Chillies & Charred Salsa by Anna Jones from The Modern Cook’s Year

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J & I share a love for many things, movies and California being just of them. Before our paths crossed in London, we unknowingly spent simultaneous but separate time in the same drama school and the same neighbourhoods of Los Angeles. Going back there together for the first time on our achingly wonderful 2014 West Coast road trip gave us the chance to share some of our favourite things in the City of Angels, one of which is soft corn tortillas eaten at shadowy dive bars or with our toes in the sand dunes or in the Chateau Marmont shadowed Pinches Tacos, always with the stain of lime on our fingers and the fizz of Corona on our tongues.

Given that Santa was kind enough to gift me with a beautiful cast iron tortilla press and a gorgeous copy of ‘The Modern Cook’s Year’ by Anna Jones for Christmas, it only seemed right that the first dinner of 2018 – something that for some reason means a lot to me…it seems to send a beacon up for how the ensuing months might pan out – should be homemade blue corn tortillas. Simple to make and a dream when stuffed with cornmeal-Parmesan-ancho baked avocado wedges and served with the sweetest pickled chillies and a smoky tomato & spring onion salsa, these team-effort-tortillas were eaten quickly but with every mouthful savoured as we were transported back to our spiritual home.

 

2. Boston Beans by Anna Jones from The Modern Cook’s Year

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From the sunshine of coastal America to the rain-streaked window panes of North London, this second dish might just be one of the most comforting & flavourful that J & I have ever eaten.

Baked beans and I have never been the greatest of friends…these are not baked beans.

These are a bowl of low cooked, slow cooked, tangy, warming, soul-soothing Boston beans full of molasses, mustard powder & Worcester sauce. Have you made them? Have you loved them? If the answer to either question is no, congratulations. You’ve just unknowingly made a February resolution. Make a batch, toast some sourdough, revel in the dish and relish the leftover.

And yes, they are by the same Anna Jones and the same ‘The Modern Cook’s Year’ as the tacos above. And no, I won’t apologise for my slight crush on Ms. Jones and her book which is already one of the best things in my kitchen because both are beautifully inspiring.

3.ย Roasted Squash & Grains with Tahini-Honey Dressing & a Coconut Oil Fried Egg by Chris Morocco from Bon Appetit

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Sashaying in next is a dish so eye-candy-beautiful it belongs on the wall of a gallery and so freaking-ridiculously-tasty that were it to find itself there, you’d probably find me surreptitiously attempting to lick the corners.

Self-control?

No.

The tip here with this recipe is to be unafraid.

It asks for farro…

…if you have no idea what that is and think maybe it’s some sort of Greek island, panic not. Use bulgur or red rice and ease yourself into the world of grains gently.

It calls for a fried egg…

…if the thought of eating something fried this early in the new year (when obviously your body is a slightly distressed temple) makes you feverishly scour MyFitnessPal in ever-growing horror, fear not. Poach one of those bad boys or even 6-minute boil a couple for total jammy egg joy.

It requests politely that you roast acorn squash…

…if you find yourself falling to your knees in desperation halfway down the produce aisle of your local food hall, calm thee down. Throw in sweet potato or butternut and praise be, it’ll still be freakin’ delicious because the best recipes for home cooks suggest what’ll work the best but know that deep down, nine times out of ten they’re going to be adapted anyway and that’s the real beauty of them.

So go ahead, grasp that jar of tahini with confidence and brandish that bunch of coriander with the confidence of a person who knows this is gonna be the best damn roasted veggie-cooked-grains-egg-topped dinner ever. You got this.

 

4. Lemon-Macadamia Nut Porridge with Maple-Sea Salt Roasted Strawberries

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The first of two porridge dishes to make January’s top 10 and what has always been a pretty sincere affection is now a full-blown love affair thanks partly due to the use of grains other than giant unrolled oats and partly due to there being such a glut of fruit to use beautifully whatever the month.

Strawberries might not be the most seasonally accurate fruit to use in January but gently mix them with olive oil, maple syrup and a pinch of sea salt before roasting low & slow in the oven and you’re left with the softest, sweetest, jammiest berries imaginable. Spoon over porridge made with oats, finely chopped macadamia nuts & almond milk and breakfast becomes lunch…and dinner…and breakfast again…

 

5. Black Kale & Goat’s Cheese Pizza by Victor Garnier Astorino from Los Angeles Cult Recipes

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Before you roll your eyes & scroll right on by to the next dish which doesn’t suggest you put damn kale on your damn frickin’ pizza, hold up there. Anger may well have been spot on in Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ when he congratulated San Francisco for ruining pizza by putting broccoli on it but I’m here to promise you that this leafy green beauty works.

Not only is it the best pizza dough I’ve ever made – harder than it sounds when you don’t have a Kitchen Aid and fifteen minutes of kneading is done by hand – with the 3 day ferment only ratcheting anticipation levels up to eleventy-stupid, it’s also incredibly light, crispy & delicious. Free of tomato gloop and coagulated cheese, what we get instead is tangy goats cheese, creamy mozzarella, caramelised red onion, toasted pine nuts and a spattering of olive oil, lemon juice & chilli powder. What we get kids, is a winner.

 

6. Coriander Flatbreads topped with Gochujang Scrambled Eggs, Avocado, Grilled Chicken, Greek Yoghurt, Coriander & Sriracha

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Some days I get in from work and I know exactly what I want to eat. If I’ve been tasting food for hours already – and on some occasions that can cover everything from red salmon to tinned peaches to almond butter to puy lentils in one stomach gurgling day – it may just be a bowl of cereal eaten on the sofa in the stripy sweats that I love despite them making my legs look like two sticks of rock on a day out from Blackpool.

Other days I get in and ramble through the fridge pulling out everything edible that I can forage together and fashion into some sort of supper…like this.

Homemade flatbreads from Jamie Oliver’s ‘5 Ingredients’ (you must must must believe me when I say that his flatbread recipe alone is worth the price of the book and they’ve accompanied our dinners so many times since we bought it) are topped with scrambled eggs gently spiced with the warming heat of Korean gochujang, torn bits of grilled chicken, smashed-into-submission-and-heavily-spiked-with-lime-and-Maldon avocado, dollops of fat-free Greek yoghurt, soft flutters of coriander and some generous splats of sriracha.

Is it tasty? Is the Rock the greatest contender for the 2020 presidential race? I think we know the answer to both of those questions…

7. Liquid Gold Latte from Farm Girl, Carnaby St

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Confession – I don’t drink coffee. I like it as an ingredient in ice-cream and I’m partial to it a la morning-game-drives-in-South-Africa where it comes heavily laced with Amarula but as a straight up way of injecting life into my weary bones? Not for me.

Revelation – I like coffee when it comes in the guise of a Liquid Gold Latte. Now J would mildly suggest that when something arrives laden with cinnamon, turmeric and immune boosting astragalus and topped with a latte-art Frenchie, I don’t really have to worry about how much of a coffee it actually is and you may well agree. All I know is that it tastes like an absolute dream and finally, I’ve found my caffeine fix.

8. Bresaola, Blue Cheese, Rosemary, Thyme & Honey Pizza by Marcus Wareing from New Classics

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Two pizzas on the list? Dietary wedding prep seems to have slipped off the agenda for at least two days so far this year but I’m a lifelong subscriber to the debit-credit way of eating. Be good, eat the greens, do the mountain climbers (I hate them I hate them I hate them) but don’t forget to actually still enjoy your food and be a fun person at the dinner table…#noonelikesasaladbore

The last series of ‘Masterchef: the Professionals’ introduced me to two facts. Firstly, please do not ever cook an omelette in the skills test. Secondly, Marcus Wareing is something of a silver fox. Now one of those facts may have induced me to request his latest book ‘New Classics’ over the other (hint; there’s not a photo of an omelette on the front cover) but beyond the twinkly eyes & salt-and-pepper-beard there’s a whole host of recipes begging to be cooked, none more so than this particular umami rich, sweetly pungent pizza.

Unintentionally the second tomato free pizza of 2018, this little scorcher has a cream cheese base and a killer sweet-salty flavour profile thanks to the air-dried meat, the dark veined Stilton and the sweet drips of honey. Throw some herbs over the top and give a small prayer of thanks you don’t have to share this with Gregg Wallace aka the Happy Gobbler…

9. Rhubarb & Apple Crumble Porridge

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When your obsession with the first rhubarb of the season has taken hold and left you muttering twitchily about a desire for crumble & custard but it’s barely nine in the morning and you really feel that maybe that’s not the best slope to find yourself teetering on the edge of…you make crumble porridge. Or at least, you do in our house.

Candy coloured stems are gently poached with nuggets of sparkling Pink Lady apple in orange juice & coconut sugar before being ceremoniously placed on top of creamy almond milk porridge and scattered with cinnamon toasted oat & rye flakes and sunflower & pumpkin seeds. Dessert for breakfast? ‘Tis the way forward.

10. Ploughman’s Platter at Timbrell’s Yard, Bradford-upon-Avon

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The last podium placed dish of January comes from a long weekend away in a sleepy little village so pretty & relaxing that it makes me tear up a bit just thinking about how I’M NO LONGER THERE.

Timbrell’s Yard is the sort of bolthole you want to tell everyone and no-one about. A lovely little hotel in Bradford-upon-Avon, it’s barely 15 minutes onward from Bath. Less than 15 stylish & charming rooms, all excitable dogs welcome, a log fire to sit beside as you drink red wine and indulge yourself with every single puzzle in every single Sunday paper and superb food from a team helmed by an ex-River Cottage chef. Dreamy.

Friday – arrived 1pm, checked in 1.05pm, dropped bags in room 1.10pm, seated & awaiting lunch 1.12pm. That’s some impressive time prioritising right there. Timbrell’s Ploughman’s Lunch washed down with cider is the only way to start your mini-holiday here; homemade doorstop sausage rolls are flaky, buttery & perfectly spiced, eggs are soft-boiled, salad is crisp, bread is freshly baked & oven warm, pickles are crunchy, olives are meaty, cheeses are tangy & homemade chutneyย is sharp, sweet & chunky. One of those last adjectives also applied to yours truly after four days in this little piece of country-mouse heaven…I’ll leave it to you to decide which one.

January, you were beyond delicious. February, it’s over to you…

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