Thursday, April 13, 2006

Herbal Musings

Now that Spring has finally arrived and the rain that has kept us indoors for over a week has finally left I've been able to take a look at the herbs I grow. I keep most of them in pots on the patio, only a few feet from the house so that if I need to use any of them while cooking they are close at hand.

The two bay shrubs, each in its own pot, are both looking rudely healthy - but then they always do. Neither grows very quickly, but then Bays don't, though I could have sworn that when they were much smaller and growing on the kitchen windowsill they grew much faster than they do now. Perhaps when they get used to being outside - though they've been out there for about two years once I no longer had room for them indoors.

I am staggered by the speed at which new shoots are growing on the Spearmint. I tidied it up about two days ago and it looks as if the shoots have doubled in size since then. The Chocolate Mint is also beginning to show now but is clearly a little later than its brother the Spearmint.

I am surprised and very pleased at the French Tarragon. It has a reputation of dying when faced with a frost and as we have heavy frosts here every winter so I grew it as an annual. We had a bad winter and I saw that all the twigs above ground in the pot were dead and so I expected that the whole plant had died. However now lots of healthy baby Tarragon shoots have emerged in the pot.

The Chives died right back over winter but suddenly reappeared a few weeks ago and now I have a very healthy amount all ready for harvesting. What did surprise me, however, were the tiny Chives shoots I found emerging in the two pots of Mint. I removed them but perhaps I shouldn't - I could have had the Battle of the Thugs.

In one pot I had a Basil, a Rosemary and an Oregano. I was expecting the Bsil to die and it did. Although hardy the Rosemary has also shuffled off this mortal coil, just leaving the Oregano beginning to show green leaves. I am not sure what to do with this pot. Neither am I sure what to do with the purple Sage in another pot. It looks a bit sorry for itself and something has been munching its leaves. I think I shall wait a bit to see if it perks up. If it doesn't I shall have to come to a decision about it.

The rest of the garden is finally coming out of the long and hard winter. Lots of shoots are emerging, some several weeks later than usual. I must be careful not to be too enthusiastic in clearing away something that is only just waking up for the Spring.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Lemon Linguini, Chocolate Pots, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Yesterday lunchtime I received a phone call from the Stepdaughter to say that she had just bought a copy of the DVD, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" which was released over here yesterday. She suggested coming over here in the evening so we could all watch the film together. As neither the Husband nor I had seen the film I agreed and suggested putting together a meal for us.

So I went looking for suitable recipes. This was fortuitous as I am a member of a private group that shares recipes, with each month dedicated to a specific type of recipe. April's category of recipes is Pasta dishes and so I welcomed the opportunity to try something new that I could then let the other group members know about. In Nigella Lawson's wonderful (and very fat) book "How to Eat" I found "Lemon Linguini" that I decided to try. As a lifelong dedicated chocoholic I decided to try "Chocolate Pots" from "The Return of the Naked Chef" by, of course, Jamie Oliver. Both recipes are set out below.

The film? We enjoyed it more than I think we expected. I haven't read the book since I had been at school but could remember enough to know that the film kept reasonably close to the actual plot. I also appreciated the imagination used in the way that it was dramatised. The Husband doesn't usually like that sort of film but actually enjoyed it, even though he didn't expect to do so - he uses the excellent BBC dramatisation that had come out when the kids were young as a benchmark but decided that the film came well up to that standard. Also, he knows a lot about the history of trains and stations and frequently criticises new dramatisations of Miss Marple and Poirot as being wrong in their depiction of trains and buses of the period- he said that the depiction of Paddington Station and the train was correct (though he said that the train was somewhat cleaner than it should have been). Generally the film was well received in our household.

Lemon Linguini

750g linguini
2 egg yolks
150 ml double cream
50g freshly grated parmesan
zest and juice of 1 lemon
15g butter
parsley, chopped
  1. Cook the linguini according to the instructions on the packet.
  2. In a bowl mix together the egg yolks, grated parmesan, zest and juice of the lemon, a pinch of salt and some pepper. Beat together with a fork.
  3. When the lingini is cooked drain, retaining a small amount of the cooking liquid. Put the linguini back in the pan throw in the butter and swirl it about until each strand is coated with the melted butter. Then add the parmesan/lemon mixture and stir into the pasta. Add a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water only if the mixture looks a bit dry - otherwise don't bother.
  4. Serve immediately, preferably with a green salad, with chopped parsley on top of the pasta.


The recipe is actually for six - I cut it down for the three of us.

The idea is for the sauce to taste subtly of lemon - add more or reduce the amount of lemon juice appropriately.

Nigella states in the book that this is best with linguini pasta - and that it would not work properly with something as fine as angelhair pasta. I suggest that you experiment, though.

Chocolate Pots

half pint single cream

200 g (7 0z) best cooking chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped

2 large egg yolks

3 tablespoons brandy, the best you can get

20g (3/4 oz) butter

  1. In a thick-bottomed pan heat the cream until nearly boiling. Remove from the heat, leave for 1 minute then add the chocolate. Stir in until melted and smooth. Once melted stir in the egg yolks and brandy, stir until smooth. Leave to cool slightly before stirring in the butter until the mixture is smooth.
  2. Pour into individual serving pots.


Serves four. It is very, very rich - so serve only a small amount per person.

I used Cointreau instead of brandy, which worked well with the chocolate/cream mixture.