I’ve been really enjoying my food recently. Food is an intrinsic part of travelling and I’m missing this element of exploring the world. With time on my hands, three-meals-a-day have taken on even greater significance. Planning what I’m going to eat adds structure and that’s important when it’s often difficult to remember the day of the week, living in lockdown number three.
Vegan January in reverse
I gave up eating meat a long time ago, long before it became a thing and when it was considered an oddity. A few months ago, however, I made my first chicken casserole in over forty years, beginning with a flavoursome chicken stock enriched with fresh vegetables. No frills, just good basic homemade nosh. And today, I had bacon and eggs for breakfast, something I haven’t enjoyed since the 1980s. It took me right back to my childhood. Other dishes I’ve been enjoying are both cottage and shepherd’s pie with lashings of gravy. I buy meat only from a reliable, ethical producer offering entirely pasture-fed produce in a sustainable way.
From the box of goodies sent to me from professional foragers, Totally Wild, I made a mushroom soup with girolle mushrooms, adding a few chestnuts I had in the fridge. The texture and sweet flavour of homemade root veggie crisps undercut the creamy, earthy flavours of the funghi. It’s the first time I’ve attempted to make root vegetable crisps and I was astounded at how easy they are. Why have I paid silly prices in the past for a small bag!
A wild berry vinegar made a sweet yet tart dressing mixed with a fruity speciality olive oil, and poured liberally over summer tomatoes with homemade pesto, and a side of garlic mushrooms.
Soup, glorious soup
People seem to fall into two camps where soup is concerned, they love it or can’t abide it. I’m in the first category and can’t get enough. Homemade soup is far superior to shop bought and it’s so simple to make. Parsnip and apple is a good one for winter, it’s creamy with a touch of sweetness. While I prefer homemade pesto – you can tailor it to your own taste buds – I discovered truffle pesto in my local supermarket, and chucked a jar in my basket without any idea how I might use it. I’m happy to confirm it’s amazing in soups, stirred into casseroles or added in a big dollop to a risotto.
While on the topic of shopping, is anyone else anxious when they shop right now? I take a list but don’t look at it once. I’m so concerned that I have my mask on correctly, use the hand sanitiser, and distance from other shoppers. I pick up totally random items and come out without half of what I needed.
I’ve been enjoying some delicious alcoholic drinks at Zoom parties, like a Tom Savano ready-mixed bartender strength margarita, and some surprisingly good non-alcoholic ones. In particular, an amazingly complex botanical spirit courtesy of Pentire Drinks, infused with Cornish herbs and sea plants which tasted almost exactly like a good G + T. I enjoyed an alfresco birthday picnic in the hills around Winchester with a bottle of fine Italian wine, courtesy of Independent Wine.
Over the Christmas holidays, I started drinking a delicious loose tea flavoured with orange and spiced with cloves and raw cacao nibs, a favourite of mine. I was so disappointed when I finished the packet that I experimented with my own blend. To some white tea already in the cupboard, I added a few cloves and cacao nibs to the pot. It’s makes a lovely winter’s afternoon cuppa and I’m hooked!
I like raw cacao chocolate drops too. They’re made with plain cacao, nothing else, no fats or sugar. An acquired taste certainly but a few with a cup of coffee goes a long way to satisfying a craving. Cacao is similar to cocoa but it’s processed at lower temperatures so retains more nutrients.
Coffee is coffee, right? Not so, I have been discovering. Researching the dark brew for a feature, I have received some game-changing single estate coffees to try. A few months ago I joined a coffee tasting workshop live from Colombia via Zoom. I learned so much about production from Avery at La Union Coffee Farm in the Andes. If you’re interested, you can read more in the full piece Your Daily cup: How to taste and buy speciality coffee.
Basically, using ground coffee or beans from a single origin to make your favourite cup is exactly the same as choosing fine wines from a single vineyard. Over the past few months, I have been enjoying seriously good coffee from deliciously dark, nutty and chocolately brews, to fruity and spicy brews. Independent roasteries springing up in the UK are offering subscription services and look out for speciality coffee farms around the world. This week I have received a Peruvian coffee to try, again fully traceable, by a producer working in a transparent and ethical way and in support of indigenous communities worldwide. I’ll let you know how it tastes in a later post.
Another product that I’ve been digging into (pun intended) is honey. It’s on the list of products that are most counterfeited, along with coffee, olive oil, and spices. Independent producer, Mêl Gwenyn Gruffydd, sent me a jar of their deliciously rich single origin honey to try. Master Honey Sommelier, Gwenyn, produces raw wildflower honey from their farm in the Welsh landscape. I added this to hot drinks, smoothies, fruit compotes, and salad dressings. I even spooned it straight from the jar to let the flavours melt on my tongue. It’s a world away from the sugary, blended jars of honey that are so common. I recommend trying a speciality honey to find out the difference for yourself and my interview with Gwenyn goes into more depth about what to look for.
Looking to improve my health – if not now, when? – I bought a NutriBullet blender. Since I was a child, I’ve never been keen on cooked greens like spinach and cabbage. Making a smoothie every morning has been one of the simple pleasures of lockdown. I have the time to chop and blend, mixing and matching flavours to discover what works, and sometimes what doesn’t taste so good. Each time the result is entirely different, although I have some favourite flavour combinations, including raw beets with pear and kale, and spinach with fresh orange segments and coconut oil.
Other dishes that brighten my days are aubergine parmigiana, topped with salty parmesan cheese and perfect with a glass of fine red wine at the weekend. And I finally got round to making a risotto with rice gifted when I visited the Principato di Lucedio in autumn 2019. It’s a beautiful location in northern Italy featuring a historic abbey restored to its former glory. Here they grow speciality rice in paddy fields. The production process has a low environmental impact and the rice is sold in preservative-free packaging which I really appreciate. One of my favourite risotto recipes includes roasted butternut squash, peas and broccoli. In spring and summer, I add tender young broad beans and seasonal asparagus. To finish, I like to stir in cubes of creamy gorgonzola cheese and top the dish with plenty of freshly grated parmesan.
That’s all for this week. I hope you’re enjoying some great food whether you’re in lockdown or able to get out to restaurants. Tell me in the comments what’s cooking at yours! Stay safe and well wherever you are in the world.
As always please check the Foreign travel advice web site for the latest on domestic and international travel guidelines.
Unless otherwise stated, I have no affiliation with the brands mentioned but simply aim to share places and products that have caught my eye. I will always state if a post is sponsored or gifted. In addition, during the current pandemic I haven’t had the chance to review any of the hotels, resorts and so on.