This week, as I make my rounds on the high street picking up ingredients to cook in our little flat, I feel a little sad. You see, as of Sunday I’m going to be away until January, back in the US for a variety of reasons, and aside from my delightful marmalade tabby, Oscar, my kitchen is what I’ll miss the most (I will be seeing my dear husband during the time I’m away so please don’t wonder why he isn’t top of my list). Years ago my sister Anne said to me that I never seemed at home anywhere as when I was in a kitchen cooking, and it’s stuck with me. So perhaps it’s only fitting that my kitchen, with its beat-up pots, cupboards bursting at the seams with spices and sauces and tins, where I feel in complete control and master of my craft, is the place that brings me the greatest comfort and joy. It will be a long couple of months.
With all of this in mind, my intention is to go out with a bang this week. I picked up my favorite ingredients at the Queens’ Park Farmers Market on Sunday and am slowly and strategically using up everything in my fridge. On Sunday I boiled up my usual chicken stock – I’ve found a butcher at the market that sells meaty chicken carcasses for £1.50 a bag. Much of the broth was used up in my cauliflower soup but a bit of it went for a delicious chicken noodle soup that I make a la minute in individual portions to keep the veggies in it fresh. Here’s the recipe.
Chicken Noodle Soup a la Minute
1 cooked chicken breast or thigh, well-seasoned and cut into strips
2 cups chicken broth
3 ounces udon noodles
1 cup of chopped greens like spinach, kale, and/or chard
2 scallions, sliced
handful of sliced button or chestnut mushrooms
1/2 carrot, grated on box grater
1/4 cup shelled edamame
salt and pepper to taste
Put your chicken broth in a saucepan and allow to come to a boil. While this is happening cook your udon noodles according to the package directions and rinse in cool water. Place them in the bottom of your serving bowl. You can place your chicken in the bowl with the noodles. Once the stock is simmering add all of your vegetables and season the soup to your taste. Allow to cook for 3-5 minutes until all of the greens are wilted and mushrooms are cooked through. Pour the broth over the noodles and chicken and serve.
Then, last night, I prepared the jewel of my market adventure, a whole sea bass, line caught off the coast of Dorset. Now, I do love a piece of shrink-wrapped fish sitting on a styrofoam tray from the supermarket as much as anyone. That said, please don’t be intimidated by the lovely whole fish lounging on their crushed-ice sofa at your fishmonger’s. While the prepared stuff at the chains makes life easy and clean, the taste you get from cooking a fish whole is unparalleled. Besides which, it couldn’t be easier (make sure to ask the fishmonger to gut and scale the thing though)!
Whole Roasted Sea Bass
1 two pound whole sea bass
stalks from one bunch of cilantro, chopped
1 large red chilli
4 scallions, sliced
1 lime, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line your baking tray with foil. Wash the fish and pat it dry and place it on your lined baking tray. Using a very sharp knife score the skin of the fish (I cut three diagonal lines in each side) down to the bones. Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper and then stuff part of the cilantro, chilli and scallions inside along with a couple of slices of lime. Now take the remaining chopped ingredients and place it underneath and on top of the fish. Drizzle the entire thing with olive oil and pop in the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes. The eye of the fish will be cloudy when it’s done, the flesh will easily come away from the bones and it should smell heavenly!
Finally, to serve along with the slightly asian-ish sea bass, I wanted to serve something other than rice. I revisited my friend Jane Coxwell of Fresh Happy Tasty cookbook fame and her scrumptuous Tamarind and Coconut Lentils. I made these this past summer while working on the boat and was blown away. Normally I associate lentils with French or Indian or Middle Eastern cuisines, but this Asian spin on this healthy legume makes my heart sing. Besides, it’s a snap to put together and a delight to reheat the next day and eat on its own.
Tamarind & Coconut Lentils
adapted from Jane Coxwell: Fresh Happy Tasty
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large garlic clove, grated on micoplane
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
1/2 tablespoon curry powder
2 tablespoons pure tamarind paste
one can coconut milk
1 1/2 cups Puy lentils
pinch maldon salt
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons agave nectar
juice of one lime
handful of chopped cilantro
handful of chopped basil
handful of chopped mint
In a small saucepan heat the oil and add the garlic and red onion. Cook for just a couple of minutes, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn (lower the heat if necessary). Now add the ginger, curry powder and tamarind paste. Cook this for a couple more minutes, until fragrant, stirring constantly. Add the coconut milk and simmer, but don’t boil or it will separate (whisk vigorously if it does until the mixture comes back together). Allow to simmer for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the lentils according to the package directions, making sure to rinse them, until tender (about 20 minutes). Drain. Now combine the lentils with the coconut mixture, add the remaining ingredients and stir well.