Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Winter Sunshine

Vin d'Orange1
Vin d'Orange2

Don't you think that people fit into seasons, rather like fruits and flowers? I am definitely a sunshine person. Each of the seasons has its own special magic and beauty, but I find at this time of year when the days are short and dark, and the weather so often dull, I really miss the vibrant colours and bright glow of the sun. I start dreaming of warm places and that inspires me to think of food and recipes to bring a bit of sunshine into my kitchen.

For a few short weeks - from mid January to early February - we get these wonderful Seville oranges in the shops. They are so fragrant, full of flavour, and very sour. They remind me of the sour oranges that you get in the Caribbean. We use to use them regularly for marinating fish and making cocktails. So I decided to try making a West Indian version of a vin d'orange. When we would take little weekend trips to Martinique, I fell in love with the French influenced cuisine, the spices and the rums. We often came across a drink of rum that was steeped with spice and sun dried orange peel. So this recipe is inspired by that. I also used the traditional Caribbean technique of deeply caramelising the sugar which gives a wonderful colour and flavour.

Vin d"orange3

How to make my West Indian Vin d'Orange

3 Seville or sour oranges, washed and cut roughly
1 bottle of white wine
150ml dark rum
200g demerera, or golden caster sugar. (I use lovely amber sugar from Barbados!)
1 vanilla pod
Nutmeg, a small teaspoon, freshly ground
Black peppercorns, a large teaspoonful, or so

Put the cut oranges in a large bowl together with the vanilla and spices. In a small heavy pan, allow the sugar to melt over medium heat and let it bubble until it is dark and nicely caramelised. (See picture below.) Carefully pour the sugar syrup over the oranges. Then, also with care, pour the wine over the oranges and add the rum. Mix it all up. The sugar syrup will form into hard bits in the liquid but not to worry, just leave it for a bit and they will soon dissolve. Give it all a few more stirs and then pour it all into a large jar or airtight container that you can keep in the fridge. Glass is best - don't use metal or plastic as these can have strange reactions. Leave to infuse for 3 to 4 weeks. Strain into a nice bottle and keep it chilled for drinking.

Well I am now waiting to drink my vin d'orange. This is the difficult part for me, I am so impatient! And it would be just the thing to enjoy by the fire on these chilly winter evenings...

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Winter's Day

I have lived most of my life in warm countries, and many places with barely perceptable changes of season. That has all changed. Living in the English countryside, the nuances of seasonal change are evident - and dramatic shifts too. Since we moved to England, the past couple of winters have been grey and drizzly but not especially cold. This winter is a proper one - frosty, icy, and today great billowing falls of snow all around. It is lovely to see the landscape draped in such a beautiful cloak of glittering white. Before the big snowfalls last night, we have had some amazingly lovely days, pale blue skies with an icing of frost. It makes up a bit for leaving the beautiful colours of the Caribbean.

After a bracing walk in the chilly countyside, a warming soup of celeriac and potatoes is just the thing.

Celeriac is a misunderstood and often maligned vegetable. We get organic veggie bags through our little boy's school, and I frequently hear other parents complain about how often we get the celeriac and that they don't know what to do with them. Well I love it. It has such a sweet creamy and nutty flavour and makes the most yummy gratins and soups. Here is a recipe for a simple and nourishing soup, garnished with a little crispy pancetta or bacon and some fresh herbs from the windowsill.

Celeriac, potato and onion soup

2 medium onions
1 clove garlic
knob of butter
1 large potato, peeled and roughly diced
1 medium celeriac, peeled and roughly diced
6-8 cups of chicken or veggie stock (can use a good quality cube)
dash of cream (optional)

crisply fried pancetta or bacon and some fresh herbs to enliven the presentation and tastebuds!

Gently sautee the onions and garlic in  the butter in a medium pot. When they are soft and very slightly golden, add the potato, celeriac and stock. Simmer for about half and hour until all the vegies are tender.
Whiz up with a blender (if it is too thick add a little more water or stock) and add a dash of cream and a grind of black pepper if you like. Sprinkle over some crispy bacon and fresh herbs and serve with a good crusty bread.

Frosty walk

Unwrapping the New Year

Happy New Year! It always seems that the New Year is a bit a like a wonderful present - left quietly behind under the tree after the festivities are all over - waiting to cheer and surprise with what might be in store. I love the New Year and the possibilities of fresh starts and change that it heralds. It is a wonderful balance to the comfort of familiarity and tradition that is so much a part of the holiday season. Stability and change - both are great, in moderation!
At this time of year, it is common, and feels natural, to think about things we can improve particularly after the holiday overindulgence with regards to diet and exercise - and there are books and videos galore to guide us in this.
I have been reading two wonderful and inspiring books that have just come from Quadrille Publishing out on this subject. They are very different in style and approach, but share a common view that the path to a healthy body and weight lies not in quick fixes or the indulgence/abstinence rollercoaster that many diets involve and perpetrate. Rather it is about achieving balance in our everyday habits, understanding and choosing the foods that suit us and equally importantly, enjoying eating.

Ian Marber - the Food Doctor - has just published a book entitled How Not To Get Fat. It gives a truly fascinating and unusually clear explanation of how our bodies work in the process of digestion, and the emotional and psychological factors that cause us to gain weight. When I first flicked through this book, I didn't expect to find it as intriguing as it is - there aren't any glossy photos of gorgeous salads and glowing people! - and you have to give it the time and respect that it deserves. I thought I had a fairly good knowledge about nutrition and healthy eating but I was amazed at how much I don't know. Just learning about the biochemistry of digestion was a revelation and made me think about the way that I eat and how a few basic changes can make a big difference.
Ian Marber's approach to the subject of managing weight is so sensitively and respectfully written. It is absolutely packed with interesting points and I am really enjoying reading it.

Eat right for your body type is the new book by Anjum Anand. (The super healthy diet inspired by Ayurveda.)
Anjum's book is another sensitive guide to managing weight. She speaks with an understanding as someone who has battled with her weight in the past. In turning to the Ayurvedic principles, she found a way to eat that is in harmony with her body type. There are three body types and you need to establish which type you are, and how to eat and live to maintain balance and harmony for your type. Good health follows from sticking to the basic principles of finding this balance. I found the subject of Ayurveda and the body really interesting, particularly the spiritual elements of this approach.
This book is packed with beautifully photgraphed dishes of yummy, healthy foods that really inspire you to try them out. The recipes are lovely and all provide variations to suit the different types.

Thank you Quadrille for the opportunity to review these two marvellous books.
So now it's time to start cooking - and eating.
Here's to a happy and harmonious 2010!