Jack Sprat…

May I introduce you to the perfect light spring lunch? Grilled sprats with a chunk of fresh ciabatta on a sunny April afternoon…

Sprattus Sprattus are small herring-like oily fish, a little bit bigger than whitebait. Small and perfectly formed, their stocks are abundant and are an excellent sustainable option on the fishmongers’ counter. They also happen to be cheaper than chips…a pound weight of these little beauties cost me 98p in Brixton Market. In fact the ciabatta roll I bought to accompany them was more expensive…

Sprats are also extremely easy to cook. A quick rinse and a few minutes snipping out the innards, then seasoned well and straight under a super hot grill for 2-3 minutes each side, giving you just enough time to cut some bread, chop some parsley and find a lemon. When the skin is blistered and crunchy, you are ready for a proper feast.

Piled high on a plate, doused in lemon juice and a good pinch of smoked sea salt, these are delicious eaten with your fingers or mashed onto bread. I tend to leave the heads and eat the tails, but you can eat them whole too. They are surprisingly unfishy with a rich flavour similar to mackerel and even grilling them whole left my kitchen smelling more of the seaside than anything else!

I ate half the amount I bought for lunch and was surprisingly full. They were fresh and tasty and a lovely change from my usual oily fish fix of a can of sardines on toast. They also felt like a real lunchtime treat, so if you aren’t squeamish about heads or tails, I recommend you get down to your local fishmonger as soon as possible!

The spud & the scallion gets me champing at the bit

Thank you for tuning in to Champ TV…

Happy happy joy joy… it’s been far too long since I had a big portion of champ. This is my nod to St Patrick’s Day and Irish cuisine, and a firm family favourite when we were kids.

Champ, or brúitín in the Irish, is mashed potato with scallions and butter. Over the last decade or so I’ve seen increasing references to ‘champed mashed potato’ on menus (alongside colcannon mash, also delicious) and it’s nice to see such a homely favourite crop up in eating places. Back home it was just ‘champ’, but it was often a meal in itself, not just a side order. Indeed it became more a participatory sport than a meal in our household. Not bad for a humble plate of green-flecked mash…

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Pumpkinseed brittle

Many years ago I had a Home Economics teacher who took great glee in scaring a roomful of twelve year olds off ever entering a kitchen. Anything and everything was a source of potential death, disease or disfigurement in this most dangerous of rooms. She left me nervous of many things, but none more so than hot sugar. But Nigella’s recipe for pumpkinseed brittle sounded so delicious, I decided to apparently risk life and limb and try making caramel for the first time… Read more

Curly Girl

I  have a new love in my life which I just can’t get enough of these days…I have given my heart completely to curly kale!

Despite being a huge fan of dark leafy vegetables, I am a recent convert to the ways of curly kale. This is probably because despite being cheap, nutritious and usually British-grown, it is almost impossible to find in a major supermarket alongside more common brassicas such as broccoli or cabbage. I discovered it when the farmers’ market came to Brixton last year and I have been wondering how I did without it until now…

A large bag of curly kale costs me 90p from the market and lasts up to 3 weeks to the fridge so I am never without a green veg to add to any dish. Unlike spinach it doesn’t shrink to a fraction of the size when cooked thus making it damn good value. It is also more versatile in that it is happy to be cooked either quickly if needed or given the long languorous treatment without losing flavour or colour.

The iron-rich taste of curly kale goes especially well with many of my store cupboard staples such anchovies, chorizo and eggs. I also imagine it would take strong flavours such as chili or mustard well which will all help to steer me away from always seeming to add animal protein for an umami hit with meals.

If you haven’t welcome kale into your life yet, get yourself to the next farmers’ market or farm shop you can and treat yourself to a big health giving bagful as soon as possible while the season lasts. I’m happy to share the love, but you’ll have to get your own shopping bag!

I’m a sucker for spicy octopus tentacles…

Spicy Portuguese-style octopus stew

I bought a big bag of frozen octopus for a few quid on a whim before Christmas from an Asian supermarket: every now and then I’ve idly wondered how I’d be best tackling them in the kitchen. I’ve often thought some kind of Iberian treatment would be good – garlic, olive oil, onions and tomatoes would be natural bedfellows – and after my recent visit with Miss South to Estrela, where the polvo was divine, I was tempted by tentacles.

A cursory scout on the web for Portuguese octopus recipes didn’t provide anything definitive, but then I often spend a bit of time online just to get inspiration from flavours and pairings of ingredients. I had a range of directions to follow, a range of references, and a healthily stocked kitchen, so I decided to freestyle it a bit. The aim was to end up with a warming and spicy octopus stew. I think I nailed it…

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