Spring, 2014
Green in Judgement, Cold in Blood
Coronation Chicken

This vacuum flask
Is it an inevitable part of growing older that everything becomes shite?
Take this stainless steel vacuum flask. Alright, it's not a Thermos™ - it's a Tescos, and OK it didn't cost me £20 it cost me £3. But still, you'd like to think it would actually work. For keeping soup hot and stuff.
Wouldn't you?
Well, you'd be disappointed. Like all modern products, it works about a half-dozen times, then breaks. Or dies. And you have to throw it away and buy a new one.
Time was, you would buy a vacuum flask and expect to pass it on to your children. Of course that was a proper Thermos™. But then when I look at Amazon's reviews for proper Thermos™ flasks a disturbing number of people say that theirs stopped working after about a half dozen goes and had to be thrown away.
It's actually getting so that I accept this state of affairs. I plan on things being shite, and having to throw them away in a few months. I buy them by the dozen to compensate. I calculate my return on investment between buying one thing that isn't shite and buying twenty that are, and usually come out with the shite ones. It's just less risk. Particularly when most of the stuff I buy these days is sight-unseen off of the internets.
But I ask you - is this any way to run a civilisation? Make everything as cheaply as possible in the Far East so it has to be used once then thrown away?
No wonder we're running out of resources, and money.
When everything's shite.

Malvern is one of those quietly decaying ancient spa towns which still reek of Victorian self-assurance and which were once not shite. The place is still quite proud of being where they build Morgan sports cars - the epitome of quality artisanal discomfort. Enormously expensive, hugely durable but vastly time-consuming roadware whose components are each carefully hand-crafted things of beauty but which somehow fail to all properly fit together, like the Land Rover they had the reputation of being, well, a bit shite. Nevertheless, on the back of such pumping, pounding, pistoning shite was our empire built.
World-beating shite.
Shite that lasted.

In 1994 we sold Jaguar Land Rover to the Germans, then on to the Americans in 2006 and finally the Indians in 2008.
We had an empire once. Now we can't even make our own bicycles. Isn't it a fucking disgrace?

Anyway, I recently drove down to Malvern to visit my old friend Niel of Raha for his 50th Birthday HA! Now you see the investment in my own extravagant birthday celebrations paying off! and it turned into a right old curry-fest:
I dropped in on my brother on the way down which mandated our traditional Spicey Cottage curry takeaway, and again on the way back up when we were obliged to consume another round of Karahi Goshts so that I could bring a couple back home to freeze.

I booked into the handily-placed Foley Arms Wetherspoon Hotel in the centre of Malvern - handily-placed for the pub downstairs anyway - where I met up with my dear old college chums Chris and Cathy Hardly-Home.
Robin and Marion Tart were there too JOKE - Hi Rob! and we all went out ... for a curry at the very good, but unadventurously titled Bengal Brasserie [may now be closed down] opposite.
Next day at Niel's place, his wife Roz laid on a very tasty curry buffet for lunch before we hiked up the Malvern Hills for a geography lesson over a plastic of Cava. Then back down for an evening of curry at another local restaurant, followed by Port and the Matrix.
Couldn't have been better.
In honour of his birthday I added a new vegan category to my recipe indexer - did you notice?

Anyhoo, I actually wanted to talk about salads: as Shakespeare tells us - these are our salad days, the days of spring and early dawns. Bikini weather is fast approaching and suddenly I have several days of solid currying to shake off.

Once famed for its restorative spring waters, nowadays Malvern is stuffed with bookshops, charity stalls and tat emporia for the visiting cardigan-and-pipe brigade, not to mention those curry restaurants, but it also happens to be host to a quite reasonable Farmers' market in the Priory grounds where I couldn't resist buying freshly-picked local asparagus from the Vale of Evesham and a pot of garlicky green olives to turn into salads when I got them home, though by then the asparagus was starting to turn just a little bit leathery :(

Flora came round to enjoy the asparagus salad and moan about the leather with some simple fresh grilled sardines and moan about the bones. Quoth the redhead: The sardines taste great - but I just can't be arsed with all the bones.

I had to invest in a couple of avocados for the salad dressing, but they developed into a very reasonable strawberry-mayonnaise-dressed avocado salad of their own, on which I used up the last of my poached eggs as a topping.
I mean I used up the last of my eggs. Obviously they weren't poached when they started. They were just raw; I imagine the chicken would be very upset to lay poached eggs. Especially if they were boiling hot at the time.
Maybe the chicken I poached for my Coronation Chicken sandwiches would have laid one. If it wasn't DEAD.
Coronation Chicken is a salad right?
Like soup. That's a salad too.

So I made a couple of those.
I used the stock leftover from poaching my Coronation Chicken to make an extremely good Carrot, Orange, Ginger and Red Lentil Soup or Dark Chicken Stock. Then I asked Rachel, my ex-partner partner Yep, that does make sense in our defence of the Burnside trophy what kind of soup she'd like me to bring.
In my shiny new shite Tescos flask.
That's Port Edgar Yacht Club's Alastair Burnside memorial two-handed trophy yacht race that we won last year. And again this year as it happens. I blame the damn fine cauliflower and blue cheese soup she requested.

And that's it.
Wow, it's been a LOOOONG spring!

Asparagus Salad

Serves 4

Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus. Using a vegetable peeler and starting from the bottom end of the asparagus, shave upwards to create thin ribbons. Place all the ribbons in a large serving bowl.
This didn't entirely work for me, the tip of the stalks that look like an attractive purple glans simply disintegrated, so I cut them off and just used a knife to cut them into 3 or 4 slices.
Also - you may need to first peel away the outer layer of the asparagus stalks and discard it if they've become at all leathery before you got around to actually using them.
Slice the cucumber length-ways and cut into bite-size pieces. Cut the tomatoes in half and coarsely chop the parsley. Add these to the bowl.

Place the dressing ingredients in a blender and blitz until creamy. Add a dash of oil or water if necessary. Dress and toss the salad so it's evenly coated.

Top with Parmesan shavings, then serve.
Though the flavours aren't too bad, it can be a little bit bland. Blending some garlic and blue cheese into the avocado dressing seems to help with that.

Grilled Sardines with Lemon Salsa
main fish
Sardines are baby pilchards and they're delicious when they're nice and fresh but they don't keep and they don't freeze. They rot quickly due to their oily composition so look for fish that are clean-smelling and whole. Avoid bruised fish or ones with belly burn whose bellies are broken with their guts protruding.
A few small bones are more-or-less unavoidable, but you can remove the largest of these by butterflying the fish. If you're really cartilogenophobic. Otherwise you'll just have to do the best you can drawing the flesh away from the spine as cleanly as possible.
The skin is quite delicate when cooked and peels off easily when you lift or turn your fish, so you might find the best grilling results by using a metal oven tray under a broiler or in a very hot oven with the door propped open and avoiding turning the fish at all.

Thanks to Nigella for the recipe, though I've corrected her assessment of the number of sardines the salsa quantity will provide for.

Makes enough salsa for a dozen sardines.

Gut the sardines and cut off their heads if you don't like them looking at you.
Preheat the grill (or a barbecue) to the hottest it will go.

Peel the lemons by cutting the tops and bottoms off and then sit upright on one end, and cut away the zest and pith from top to bottom with a sharp knife, turning it with your non-cutting hand as you go, then chop them roughly and chuck them in a bowl. Now chop the red onion, parsley and mint (or coriander) either by hand or in the processor (but carefully). Mix the oniony herby mixture with the chunks of lemon in the bowl and stir in the olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper. Sometimes, I have to say, I add some crumbled dried red chilli pepper (or a finely chopped fresh green or red chilli) as well.

Leave the salsa to macerate while you cook the sardines.

When they're really fresh, they scarcely need much time: just blitz them under a hot grill, transfer them to a waiting plate, sprinkle with Maldon salt and take to the table with the summer-sharp lemon salsa in its bowl alongside.
Good combination. If you don't mind the bones.
Serve with some chunky bread and a green salad. Or asparagus salad if that's what you happen to have.

Coronation Chicken
salad fowl
Thanks to Rosemary Hume for inventing the original recipe, Constance Spry for publishing it, and Felicity Cloake for helping to update it.

Feeds 3 as a salad or makes about 6 sandwiches.

Put the whole chicken in a close-fitting pot, together with a sliced carrot, bay leaves and other herbs (as you like), a pinch of salt, the slices of ginger, a couple of teaspoons of peppercorns and allspice, a stick of cinnamon and the zest of an orange. Pour in white wine and water to cover.
Bring to boil, then cover with clingfilm and reduce to the barest of simmers for an hour or perhaps 45 minutes is plenty. Leave to cool in the liquid. Which you can use to make a delicious Carrot, Orange, Ginger and Red Lentil Soup or Dark Chicken Stock!.

Meanwhile make up the dressing:
Chop a half-dozen dried apricots moderately finely, mince a half-dozen very thin slices of peeled fresh ginger and mix with 2 tablespoons of mango chutney.
Crush a pinch of saffron with 2 tablespoons of a good quality curry powder homemade is nice! in a pestle and mortar and dry-fry until it releases its aroma and mellows slightly. Add to the dressing. Add a splash of cognac, a half teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, stir in the mayonnaise and yoghurt, season and adjust the balance of flavours. You will probably be able to add another tablespoon of chutney.

Drain the cooled chicken. Use your hands to prise away the breast meat, remove the skin, cut into bite-sized pieces and mix with the dressing.
Chill for a few hours before using. If you can wait.

Before serving, roughly chop a handful of coriander leaves and fold them through the mixture.

Either use the mixture together with shredded lettuce to fill six decent sandwiches (apricot bread works well) or top with dry-fried almond flakes and serve with Basmati rice and green salad.
Now party like it's 1953!
You can do what you like with the rest of the chicken. Including making a double quantity.

Garlic Green Olive Salad
salad veg
Malvern has quite a nice Farmers' Market in the grounds of its very impressive Priory, and near its even-more-impressive museum of Local History, housed in the Priory gatehouse, where apparently Brother Luke will be happy to show you their famous missile.
Not only do they have squeaky-fresh asparagus on offer, but there's a stall with some extremely garlicky garlic green olives - perfect for a garlicky green olive salad.

Serves 4

For the dressing:
Mash the tahini with a little oil (olive or nut are fine) then add the remaining ingredients, season and shake before using. If your green olives are insufficiently garlicky then feel free to crush a couple more into the dressing.

For the salad:
Halve the garlic olives, cut the tomatoes into quarters or sixths, shred the lettuce into reasonably large pieces, slice the spring onion, slice the broccoli stalks (discarding any thick or woody ones) and split up the florets.
Dress and serve.
Rather nice.

Carrot, Orange, Ginger and Red Lentil Soup
soup veg
This is really nice made with the leftover stock from poaching a coronation chicken.
It might be good made with other stocks too. Who knows?

Serves 6-8

Heat a mixture of butter and olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the sliced carrots. Add the sliced shallots and stir-fry until the onion begins to caramelise without burning.
Add julienned or minced ginger and fry through. Add the sliced garlic cloves and fry through without burning.
Separate the coriander roots and stalks, roughly chop them and add to the pan. Chop the celery and add to the pan.
Fry until the vegetables all begin to lose water content, then add the lentils and stir through.
Cover with stock, chop the dried apricots and add too.
Simmer until the lentils soften (10-15 minutes) then blend in a food processor. You can keep the soup, or freeze it for later at this stage.
When required, reheat the soup, add the juice of two oranges (or to taste - start with less), more stock as required and season.

Dress with torn coriander leaves and serve with a spoonful of yoghurt or sour cream, or a drizzle of mustard oil. If you like.
A nice alternative garnish is to peel and dice an eating apple, fry them in a little butter until golden, deglaze with white balsamic vinegar and dress the soup.
Extremely tasty little soup. You probably want to avoid boiling it up once you've added the orange juice, but you could add some lemon juice to give it a sharper edge if you like. Or some Cointreau if you want to hide your alcoholism while you get pissed.

Damn Fine Cauliflower and Blue Cheese Soup
For Rachel as requested - a damn fine cauliflower and blue cheese soup.
This did take me a really long time to make, though I was experimenting with different flavours and quantities along the way. I rather hoped that using the cauliflower/celery juice rather than simply simmering them up whole to make a stock would produce a more intense flavour. The flavour was pretty damn intense - so maybe it did?

I had considered roasting my cauliflower (say, spread out on a baking sheet, drizzled with oil and scattered with herbs and garlic) but didn't bother in the end. I think that approach would be terrific for a purely cauliflower soup, but didn't seem appropriate for a cheesy one.

I went with a very tasty Gorgonzola dolce from Valvona & Crolla as my blue cheese since it tasted really nice, and they didn't have any Roquefort. You do have to sieve the soup though - those blue veins don't dissolve properly. Once I'd got the basic soup made, I tried adding:
  • ... a touch of lime juice. Nope!
  • ... a dash of truffle oil. Not great - though embarrassingly I only had Tesco™ brand truffle oil, which is of course, shite. Though not as shite as their Finest* range, obviously.
  • ... a splash of pine liqueur. Might work with purely cauliflower soup, but doesn't go with the blue cheese.
  • ... caviar. Salmon or Sturgeon. Well, I didn't actually try this - but it seems like it might be a good idea?
  • ... hazelnuts. Bingo!
* May not be fine.

Makes about 1½ litres

Separate the leaves and stalks from the cauliflower heads. Split off 2-3 cups of choice florets to use as a garnish. Make up a beurre monté emulsion by gradually whisking 100g of butter cut into cubes into a small amount of boiling water. Now gently poach the cauliflower florets in the butter emulsion until they are nicely softened. Strain them, and reserve the butter to use making the soup.

Run the cauliflower stalks, about half a cauliflower head and a few sticks of celery through a juicer to extract enough liquid to make the stock.

Halve the leeks, slice the white part, wash thoroughly and drain.

Grind the hazelnuts with a little hazelnut oil to make as smooth a paste as you can manage (adding some almonds can help). Set aside.

Make a rich stock:
Dice the smoked bacon (I used streaky) and fry in a little olive oil until it gets near the point of crisping.
Wash and dice the Shiitake mushrooms and add them to the bacon; fry until their aroma deepens.
Add any stalky bits of cauliflower and a few chopped celery stalks. Once they're well coated and starting to collapse throw in the cauliflower leaves, any other leftover vegetable parts (like washed green leek), add a sprig of rosemary, a few sprigs of lemon thyme, a few bay leaves, and cover with the cauliflower and celery juice.
Bring to the boil and barely simmer for an hour. Strain thoroughly through muslin, extracting as much liquid as you can.

Now make the soup:
Peel and dice the potato and set frying in half butter half olive oil (you can use the strained beurre monté). Finely slice the shallots and add to the potatoes, fry until softened but not brown.
Add the sliced leeks, fry until softened. Add 2-3 sticks chopped celery, fry until wilting. Slice 4 cloves of new season garlic and add, frying until softened. Add the grated zest of a lime. Add the remaining cauliflower (about 1½ heads) and stir to coat well. Cover with the stock and simmer gently until the cauliflower has softened.
Whizz up in a blender.
Return to the pot, stir in the crème fraîche, then add the Gorgonzola, roughly chopped and heat through, stirring, until the cheese melts. Mix in the hazelnut paste, taste, season and adjust quantities of cheese and nuts as necessary, and then push the soup through a sieve.
You might get away with just blending in the cheese if you're in a hurry. Or don't have a sieve. One of those conical kinds are best.
Heat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Cut slices of rye bread or hazelnut bread if you have any as thinly as you can manage with a sharp chef's knife, drizzle with hazelnut oil, lay on an oven tray and bake until crisp and golden.
Serve the soup garnished with a drizzle of hazelnut oil and the poached florets, hazelnut toast on the side, in teeny tiny cups, 'cos the flavour is SO intense.
OMG gorgeous. Though others didn't seem quite so impressed. Certainly not as impressed as they ought to have been.
Bloody Philistines!

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