Prawn cocktails, shingle beaches and carousels – a Kentish holiday

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As a child we headed west in August, never abroad, it was always a road trip to Wales. Nowadays it’s so easy to leap on a plane that everyone seems to assume that you’ll be heading to the Med’, having a British holiday even has a dreaded label – a “staycation”. Well, our drive from Bristol to Kent certainly took long enough to warrant holiday status and we thankfully enjoyed sunnier climes too, our week in the east was a stunner.

We stayed in Whitstable, famed for its oysters and more recently for having a touch of the Islington-on-sea about it. Now it might seem very shallow but I’m perfectly happy to share the place with the D.F.L’s (Down from Londons) since their penchant for the good life means that the town is packed with great deli’s, restaurants, and some rather tempting boutiques too.

We spent most of our week pottering around the town, sitting on the beach and being lured into the sea by 8 year old Imi and her little school friend. We did have one big day out to the much-talked-about Margate, just about 1/2 an hour down the coast. This rather dilapidated old seaside resort is firmly back on the map with the re-opening of its Dreamland amusement park and the very cool Turner Contemporary Gallery just along the seafront.

To be honest the resort did look a little down-at- heel and deserted when we arrived first thing (the girls had been up since 6 in anticipation), but once we were in (first through the gates!) we had a fab’ time. No queues for well over an hour: dodgems, shelter skelter, carousel, rockets, loads of fun and managed to avoid the few really hideously scary rides. Dreamland has been refurbished with a great retro feel, we loved the high diving display, the staff were incredibly upbeat and enthusiastic and we even found a really good Thai green curry for lunch. Whilst Dreamland doesn’t compete with the likes of Chessington or Alton Towers on the thrill side of things it was simply perfect for younger kids and old crusties like ourselves who would probably have a breakdown on a corkscrew rollercoaster. So thumbs up for Dreamland!

We headed for the beach in the afternoon (the sand was the big lure after Whitstable’s pebbles) and Peter and I took turns to visit the Turner Contemporary where I was just mesmerised by the Grayson Perry exhibition – Provincial Punk. His Walthamstow Tapestry is worth the trip to Margate  – no photos permitted so get down there before September 13th when the show winds up.

Back in Whitstable much of our time, or mine at least, was devoted to the important business of food – no surprises there! We had to dive into some oysters of course; The Royal Whitstable Oyster Company is a glorious location with an incredible heritage and our lunch was fabulous too, even the girls sampled their first oysters. The Cheesebox  is unmissable; an entire shop of British cheese, local pickles, sourdough bread, Kentish cider – I could happily move in. DavidBrown’s Deli is another place to fill your picnic basket, or fridge (in fact you could happily graze around the food shops and never cook a thing) Being August, the local plums and cherries were in their prime too, I always think that cherries are pretty hit or miss, these were divine. And then, to top it all, comes the high altar of all things fishy; Wheelers. Yes, the original one- you have to book a table in the little back parlour months in advance (top priority before our next visit) but can thankfully buy prepared seafood such as smoked prawns, dressed crab, fish cakes, jellied eels (I tried to like them, I am so sad but I don’t ….. I Really don’t!) however the prawns were to die for.

I couldn’t resist the Wheelers’ cook book – Oyster Seekers (as well as a great collection of seafood recipes there’s some fabulous insight into Whitable’s history and the oyster trade). I’ve chosen to share this Prawn Cocktail in homage to the retro Dreamland, to Seventies summer holidays and all things British.

Wheelers Prawn and Dill Cocktail
Serves 4

28 Tiger prawns, raw, peeled and deveined (keep the heads and shells for stock)
lemon juice
1/2 a cucumber
6 tbsp good mayonnaise
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp horseradish sauce
paprika, cayenne and Tabasco
splash of Brandy
8-10 fronds of dill
1/2 a Cos lettuce
a few mixed salad leaves
8 cherry tomatoes
4 lemon wedges
4 slices Brown Bread

Cook the prawns in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes, drain & allow to cool , squeezing a little lemon juice over them whilst they are still warm.

Shred the cucumber into spaghetti -like strips; a mandolin is the suggested tool (if you’ve fallen for the Spiraliser craze, well get on down!) or you could just use a knife. Season with a little salt and pepper. Put the cucumber in a colander to drain away excess moisture.

Mix together the mayo, ketchup, horseradish, a pinch of paprika and cayenne , a dash of Tabasco and brandy and add seasoning and lemon juice to taste. Chop up the dill and fold into the sauce.

Divide the Cos and salad leaves between 4 bowls (or cocktail glasses – come on give it the 70’s look) and top with some of the cucumber and tomatoes.

Pile on the prawns and spoon over some sauce. Finish up with a sprinkle of paprika.

Serve with a lemon wedge and brown bread and butter.

The ultimate prawn cocktail(From The Oyster Seekers by Mandy Bruce 2006)

Sundal Accra – A Bonus Spicy Chickpea Recipe!

OOPs I did it again! In the carefully selected words of Imi’s favourite Britney Spear”s number.

I can just about write one blog but managing to write two is almost beyond me. I decided to set one up for our wedding guests and have, for the second time, managed to post some completely irrelevant information to hundreds of food followers and chickpea enthusiasts- Sorry if you’re bewildered – I’ve taken it down now and you have a very quick post in it’s place!

So it’s not all bad since I’m going to reward you with one of my favourite recipes from Pulse (Oh and what a fine excuse to mention my book once more)

Pulse Jenny Chandler

Southern Indian Chickpeas and Coconut
Sundal Accra

There are so many amazing Indian snacks made with pulses to choose from, it was the pure simplicity of these chickpeas that caught my eye. Then, once eaten never forgotten, they make a great little nibble to serve before a curry.

This snack is traditionally served outside the temples of Southern India during the Hindu festival of Navratri. Nowadays it’s tricky tracking down whole coconuts in Britain but you’ll certainly know what to do next time you score on the coconut shy at the local fête. I’ve used desicated coconut but if you do find a fresh one in an ethnic store it is oh so much tastier.

1 tsp vegetable oil such as rapeseed, sunflower, ground nut or coconut oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 green chilli, very finely diced
1 tsp fresh ginger, very finely chopped
5 curry leaves (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp urad dal or very unorthodox red lentils (optional)
250 g home-cooked or 1 x 400g tin, drained and rinsed chickpeas
4 tbsp freshly grated coconut or 2 tbsp unsweetened desiccated coconut

A handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped

Take a large frying pan and heat up the oil, add the mustard seeds and wait until they begin to splutter and pop about.

Now throw in the chilli, ginger, garlic, curry leaves, salt and raw dal (or lentils) if using.

Wait for the aromas to burst out of the pan and the dal/lentils to begin crisping up and then stir in the chickpeas.

Remove from the heat and stir well, add the grated coconut and dive in.

Scrumptious warm or cold.

Deconstructed Minestrone

Minestrone SaladIt does sound seriously poncey I know, but this salad came about quite by mistake and not as some highfalutin cheffy notion. A couple of weeks ago I was running a workshop at Imi’s Primary School with an entire class of Year 3 (7-8 year olds) and had planned on making a huge minestrone soup showcasing some of the vegetables picked in the school garden. Of course that particular day turned out to be the heatwave of the century (it did only last a day) and hot soup really did not fit the bill at all. SO, deconstructed minestrone it was and how tasty it turned out to be too.

I’ve started teaching regular cooking workshops with the help of some enthusiastic parents at my daughter’s primary school; it’s quite a challenge as we’re working in the dining room, have just one small oven and no individual hobs as yet. Interestingly these limitations forced me to really think how to go about the sessions and now we have a great formula. In each class we have a core recipe such as a bulgur wheat salad, or Turkish borek (little folded filo pastries) or in today’s case minestrone with about 4 or 5 key ingredients and a few basic instructions. Then we let the kids loose on a whole variety of other vegetables, herbs, cheeses, spices and seasonings (or any other appropriate bits) that I’ve arranged on a huge table. The children work in small groups on their recipe; it’s quite extraordinary to watch the peer pressure and competitive spirit at work -suddenly previously green-phobic kids are diving into pea shoots, raw courgette, dill and avocado.

Perhaps the most gratifying  thing about our Food Group sessions is the parental feed back, some children are even sending their mothers off with shopping lists so that they can reproduce the simple meal back at home, others are being more adventurous in their food choices. There’s no doubt that cooking is key to getting children excited about eating healthy food (it’s not just about making chocolate brownies and cup cakes – I could rant now but we’ll leave that for another day)

But back to the Minestrone –  a classic Italian dish that translates as “big soup”, it varies with the region and the season but is quite definitely never a salad! So get off my back Italophiles.  I know that it doesn’t really make sense but the ingredients (with the obvious omission of the stock) are basically the same – just raw rather than cooked.  This “Deconstructed Minestrone”  is great way of plumping up a summer salad into a substantial lunch dish and also using up any random vegetables that are good eaten raw. It’s up to you how many ingredients you throw into the mix.

Deconstructed Minestrone.

Minestrone Jenny Chandler

70’s Style Still L ife

The Base
250 g cannellini or haricot beans ( 1 x 400 g can of  beans drained or home – cooked – it’s up to you)
100 g tiny pasta e.g.  orzo (like tiny rice), acini de pepe (literally pepper corns) or stellette (little stars )
250 g ripe, tasty tomatoes cut into bite-sized pieces
3 or 4 spring onions, trimmed and finely slice
A large handful of basil leaves, ripped into small pieces
Shavings or parmesan or pecorino cheese

The Dressing
Juice of 1 lemon
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Optionals
Fresh peas straight from the pod
Courgette, cut into very fine slices (yes, raw courgette is delicious and a winner with the kids)
Celery, chopped finely
Red or yellow pepper cut into tiny dice
Carrot, diced finely
Parsley, dill, mint, oregano, rocket, pea shoots, baby spinach
French beans or baby broad beans, blanched until tender.

Rinse the cannelloni or haricot beans and place them in a large salad bowl.

Boil the pasta in salted water until just “al dente” it’s pretty quick with all these tiny, soupy shapes so keep an eye. Drain the pasta and add it to the beans.

Now add the remaining vegetables and dressing to the bowl, holding back on tender herbs, salad leaves and the cheese shavings until you are just about ready to serve.

The salad only improves with a few extra hours in the bowl with all the flavours getting to know one another.

You could add tinned tuna (leave out the cheese), anchovies, capers or olives to the mix but now we are really straying from the minestrone roots.

 

Sadly, hot soup seems the better option today as I sit at my desk in summer frock and flip flops desperately trying to think sultry sunny thoughts. We’re off to W.O.M.A.D. ( a fabulous music festival) tomorrow, the wellies and not-so-fashionable rain ponchos are by the front door but I’m crossing my fingers.

 

 

Thai- ish Watercress, Grapefruit and Peanut Salad

Oops, what happened to June? I’ll try to make up for my negligence this month.

The last few weeks were pretty bonkers as I was involved with The Bristol Good Food Awards, meaning that I had the desperately difficult job of eating my way around the city’s best breakfast joints. It’s pretty good news for anyone who likes to eat out of a mornin’ – the five nominees were all fabulous. So, just in case you feel like a great start to the day Rosemarino, The Boston Tea Party, The Souk Kitchen (North St- breakfast’sa Sunday affair only), Brew Coffee Company and Bakers and Co were all really outstanding. Bakers and Co won by a slim margin, I was just bowled over by my plate of sour dough with flat peach, cured ham, fresh ricotta and tomatoes.  So get down to The Gloucester rd if you happen to be in Bristol.

The down side of all this eating out (I was judging “family friendly” with Imi too – but more on that next time) is my ever expanding waistline. It’s particularly worrying as my wedding is fast approaching (in September); it’s one thing getting married at fifty, it’s quite another looking like a whale.

I tried on a potential dress in London the other day, but then did find myself hot-footing it to the lingerie department at Peter Jones in search of some serious corsetry to vacuum-pack the wobbly bits into. So there I was, crouched over the Spanx pant stand, grappling for my reading glasses because the size label was just a bit too small, when an old friend from university tapped me on the shoulder. I hadn’t seen Kitty in at least twenty years and there we were, both looking at reinforced underwear, both squinting at the labels. Life moves on. Ho hum.

I could have a quick fling with the 5:2 diet but I just know that it would make me miserable. I do love to eat salads during the summer any way so I’ve decided to make myself something interesting and quite possibly healthy for lunch every day. Today’s salad is seriously assertive and very light too. It was enough for lunch for me (Peter had some too) but I don’t have a big appetite when the weather’s  warm. This would be very good indeed with some spiced pork ribs off the barbie too.

Thai-ish Watercress, Grapefruit and Peanut Salad  (serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side)

Thai style salad

The salad is “Thai -ish” as I think it’s doubtful that you’d find watercress out there ( I may be wrong?) and the citrus choice would be a pomelo rather than a pink grapefruit. The dressing is, however, very authentic and not the thing to be cooking up if you’re trying to sell your house (read exceedingly pongy) so get the extractor fan on. Fish sauce smells vile as you cook it but tastes divine!

4 grapefruit, cut into segments, juice set aside
1 large bunch watercress, washed and trimmed
50 g lightly roasted peanuts
About 20 mint leaves

Dressing
4 tbsp thai fish sauce
Juice of 1/2 a lime
2 tbsp palm sugar (light muscovado works well)
1/2 – 1 clove garlic, crushed
1 – 2 Thai red chillis

Prepare the salad ingredients and place in individual bowls or on a large platter.

To make the dressing: warm about 1/2 of the fish sauce in a small saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of the grapefruit juice ( you will have gathered plenty as you prepared the grapefruit).

Add the sugar and stir to dissolve.

Tip into a small bowl and add the remaining fish sauce and the lime juice.

Now add the garlic, chilli and grapefruit juice a little at a time, balancing the flavours as you go. You are looking for the perfect equilibrium between sweet, sour, salty, umami and heat.

Tip over the salad to serve.

You could also try : adding prawns, white crab meat or poached chicken to this recipe for a fabulous light lunch.

Sour, salty, umami, sweet, bitter – this ticks all the taste boxes.

Shopping for watercress:
There are lots of things I love about Spanish food; the supermarket bags of tiny-leaved, pale green watercress are not one of them. You want the peppery punch of good, fresh English watercress here.

Honey, Honey

I’ve had a couple of great honey moments over the last few days. Firstly, going back to one of my all time favourite places in London: Honey and Co. I love understated restaurants like this, there’s no ponce or finery to detract from the fabulously tasty Middle Eastern food. I’d escaped from my work just off Regent Street in the mid-afternoon and wandered through Fitzrovia to Warren Street. I always feel like a tourist when I work in London, it’s great to explore new areas- I’d never found Fitzroy Square before – it’s glorious… but back to Honey and Co.

Husband and wife team, Itamar and Sarit, are originally from Israel, they worked for Ottolenghi amongst others, and long dreamed of having their own neighbourhood restaurant. Now they have it, Honey and Co, and it’s heaven (lots of reviews here) Others have said it before, and it does sound corny, but the food really does ooze love and care.

By the time I got there, around four, I was ready for a cup of fresh mint tea and a small slitherette of something sweet. The window sill is always crammed with cakes but these are no ordinary cakes, they’re not M&S cakes either, they’re one off, eat-with-your-eyes-but-just-wait-’till-you-taste-and-they’re-simply-sublime-cakes. The warm, kaffir lime and mango cakes were recommended. Itamar had bought a box of kaffir limes a few days before and these were the first results. They’ll be too late to make it into The Baking Book which is out next month, and if any of you don’t already own the first Honey and Co, Food From The Middle East cookbook ( v.v. inspiring and a great read too) then you’d better buy the pair. My next visit will be for lunch, and not just a cake.

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I have to admit I’ve never really known much about honey. I always  buy a pot of local stuff when I visit my sister in Devon but I’ve never thought too much about tasting and using a variety of honeys. I know that I adore heather honey and I’m not so sure about chestnut honey and that’s about it. Now we have a selection of four delicious honeys on the go  (LOVE the lemon blossom honey) as a result of one of my latest book purchases,  Spoonfuls of Honey by Hattie Ellis. There’s a great glossary on bees and honey, tips about keeping the bees happy in your garden, a guide to different honeys and masses of savoury and sweet recipes….altogether a very lovely book and, most importantly, one I really want to get into the kitchen with.

Imi and I decided to make some Madeleines from the book yesterday for her to take to her friend  Lettie’s party. She gets very excited about making presents and spent as long decorating the box as making the cakes. But, just in case this all seems a bit syrupy, gorgeously homey-mother-and-daughtery you’ll be pleased to know that we did have a near melt down at the spooning into the tin stage. I dared to suggest that Imi could perhaps be a little more careful and sparing with the mixture and then had to take a hold of myself and STAND AWAY from a very stroppy child for a few tense minutes.

Madeleines – (recipe from Spoonfuls of Honey) makes 20-24

100 g unsalted butter, + extra for greasing
2 tbsp honey (Hattie recommends a medium/dark honey such as heather – I’d just fallen in love with the blonder lemon blossom honey and they still tasted GOOD)
3 eggs
100 g caster sugar
100 g self raising flour
50 g ground almonds
pinch of sea salt.

Melt the butter and honey together (I zapped mine on low in the microwave)

Whisk the eggs together with the sugar with an electric whisk. Hattie recommended 10 minutes in order to triple the volume, an 8 year old’s wrist was apparently going into spasm after about 5 so that’s all we managed.

Fold in the flour, almonds and salt. Now Hattie suggests leaving the mixture in the fridge to rest for a couple hours making it easier to spoon into the tin as it holds its shape better. We were running out of time so it only got 20 minutes. (Maybe this led to our slightly messy pan filling?)

Preheat the oven to 180ºc/Gas 4

Grease the madeleine tray and put a couple of teaspoons of mixture into each mould. Bake for about 7 minutes (check after 5) remembering, as Hattie says, that the madeleines will be browner on the bottom than the top.

Leave to cool for 5-10 minutes in the tray (Imi managed about 3 max!) and then unmould onto a wire rack to cool.

You can keep these in a tin for a couple of days but the fresh cakes, were (as they always are) simply the best.

I can see these elegant little cakes becoming a regular in my repertoire (I’m not much of a cake maker but I could memorise this recipe), they were so easy and worked brilliantly despite our shortcuts.
I did hesitate before buying another cake tin but as Hattie says “a madeleine mould is an object of beauty”. If you ask me the madeleine itself is the Juliette Binoche of the cake world; an absolute breath of fresh air in a world of fancy cup cakes and frosted doughnuts.

There’s so much left to say on the honey subject too; we have a  bottle of gold dust from the Nepalese honey gatherers that Peter brought back from his filming trip 20 years ago,  but more on that at a later date.

 

Wild Garlic Flower and Tomato Salad

I’m determined to make this post a short one; I’ve not got much time because I’ve been squandering it of late. I took a day away from my desk yesterday to go for a walk in the woods. I so rarely allow myself to take time out on a weekday, it’s that ridiculous Protestant work ethic we had drummed into us as children.

Well, it was glorious and now I’m determined to get out more often (I really do need a dog and then perhaps I wouldn’t feel so guilty or self indulgent).  I know that “the simple things…..” message is an old one but I often need reminding myself, so perhaps you do too?

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Prior’s Wood is just 15 minutes drive from my home in Bristol and at this time of year it’s renowned for the carpets of bluebells. The bluebells were heavenly yesterday yet I can’t help feeling that the haze of lacy, white wild garlic flowers deserve a shout too. Just like the rest of their allium cousins the flowers are arranged in glorious little star-bursty spheres and look so delicate above the lush green leaves.

The flowers aren’t just pretty , they taste fabulous too – you don’t need many to garnish a salad or a cheese plate so I’m not recommending that you set off with your empty knapsack and pick flower heads for the five thousand. Just a dozen flower heads will be plenty to serve at least four people. Have a taste, each tiny flower has a little bubble of garlicky juices that burst into your mouth as you bite.

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Wild garlic leaves are tasty too but by the time the plants are flowering they’ve often become a little bitter. So now’s the perfect season for sprinkling teeny flowers over the first of the English tomatoes, which is exactly what I did for my lunch.

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I could have added some young cheese too but those green tomatoes were spectacularly good and I wanted to savour them. So, a dash of extra virgin Arbequina olive oil and a few grains of coarse salt was all I added before garnishing with the flowers.

As I said, the simple things…..

Frugal but Fab’ Chickpea, Chilli and Mint Soup

Today’s recipe is cheap to make, has very few ingredients and only takes about 20 minutes from start to finish. It’s also one of those dishes that seems to taste so much better than it ought to; the whole, quite simply is, better than the sum of its parts.

Jenny Chandler Frugal Chickpea soupI’ve chosen this fabulous soup recipe for a couple of very good reasons. As you know if you’re a regular reader of my blog, I am rather obsessed with pulses, chickpeas in particular. Secondly I’ve been challenged by the guys at The Hunger Project to come up with a supper recipe that costs under 33 pence per serving to tie in with World Hunger Day on 28th May. This part of the My Voucher Code World Hunger Campaign – you can take a look and see if you’d like to get involved too.

I have to say that I am constantly badgered by emails asking me to support “Days” and quite frankly most of them annoy the hell out of me. So someone just decided that we should have a “National Sandwich Week”, a “World Doughnut Day” (yes it does exist!) or worse still “Happiness Day” (for God’s sake what happens if your dog’s died or you’ve just received a parking ticket?- it’s ridiculous) However, (rant over), I do concede that there are a few of these “Days ” that can help raise awareness about much bigger issues and, of course World Hunger Day is one of them. You can find more out about the aims and achievements of The Hunger Project in some truly inspiring stories on their website.

The 33p price tag per portion does rely on you buying your chillis and mint from a local greengrocer or an Asian/Middle Eastern store (where you’ll undoubtedly do better than those silly little, extortionately priced, supermarket packets). You can use any left overs in an equally economical ginger masoor (red lentil) dal

Chickpea, Chilli and Mint Soup
Serves 4-6Frugal ingredients

You can blend this with a stick blender in the pan if you want to keep the washing up to a minimum, but if you do have the time this becomes beautifully silky and creamy when well whizzed in a blender.

3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, diced
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 – 3 red chillis chopped finely
500 g/1lb cooked chickpeas or (less economical) 2 x 400 g/14 oz tin of chickpeas
1 litre/1 1/4 pints vegetable or chicken stock (you can use a stock cube)
Juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon
salt

Plenty of mint leaves, sliced.

Take a large saucepan and fry the onion in the olive oil until golden.

Add the garlic and the chilli then, as soon as you can really smell the sizzling garlic, throw in the chickpeas and the stock.

Simmer for about 10 minutes and then blitz the soup with a stick blender for convenience or, for a smoother result, use a blender.

Taste. The soup will seem rather bland, don’t worry the salt, plenty of zippy lemon juice and the fresh mint will work wonders. Season the soup well and serve.

How about?
Toasting a bit of yesterday’s bread and putting it in the bottom of your soup bowl. Allow the bread to soak up the soup and collapse into a tasty and satisfying gloop – great if you’re really hungry, this also makes the dish a fully balanced, protein-rich meal.

Adding lime juice and coriander instead of lemon juice and mint.

And just a word about the rather twee “Chez Jenny” tablecloth in the finished soup picture – it’s actually one of those ancient roller towels. It’s old and authentic, it just happened to have my name on it. I found it in The Cloth Shop  in Notting Hill, London.
Come on, if there’d been one with your name on it, you wouldn’t have been able to resist either!