This Thai Cucumber Salad is exactly what I want to eat in January. Following the culinary excesses of Christmas and the New Year, I am looking for fresh and healthy, flavour-packed dishes which are quick and easy to prepare. This salad takes only five minutes to make and has a fantastic chilli-spiced, sweet and salty dressing to enhance the crunchy cucumber.
Although this Thai Cucumber Salad is Asian-inspired, I quite often use it as an accompaniment to simple grilled fish, such as salmon steaks, but it would also go well with grilled chicken or meat. It is also great as a snack as it has that hit of taste and chilli heat which means that you feel satisfied without taking in lots of calories.
This fresh-tasting Thai Cucumber Salad can be made in five minutes. The cool crunchy cucumber is enhanced by chilli heat and the sweet-salty dressing.
I like to eat this kind of salad in January, after the culinary excesses of Christmas and New Year, when its freshness and strong, zesty flavours are especially welcome – as is the fact that it can be thrown together in five minutes! However, it is just as good on a hot summer day.
Half a fresh red chilli, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes)
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons of Thai fish sauce
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 teaspoon of sugar
Juice of half a lime
Peel the cucumber to remove the dark green outer skin. Chop into the cucumber into chunks. I find the easiest way to do this is to cut the cucumber in half lengthways and then slice each half into 1 cm chunks.
In a glass or ceramic bowl combine the finely chopped red chilli (or dried chilli flakes), crushed garlic clove, fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar and lime juice. Do not use a metal bowl as this may react with the ingredients.
Add the cucumber chunks to the ingredients in the bowl and mix well.
This salad can be eaten immediately. However, I think the flavours improve if it is left in the fridge for several hours. It also keeps well in the fridge for several days.
You can make a vegan version of this recipe by replacing the fish sauce with extra soy sauce.
This Cherry Tart recipe brings together luscious fresh cherries with a sweet frangipane filling, made with ground almonds, set in a crisp pastry case. It lovely served warm but is just as good at room temperature. This makes it a brilliant addition to picnics. The fruity sweetness of the cherries supported by the more substantial almond filling is just want you want after a day in the fresh air!
You can use any kind of fresh, seasonal cherries for this Cherry Tart recipe. I particularly like using the dark red-purple cherries. Cherries come in all kinds of colours from yellow through to dark purple. If you are lucky enough to have access to more than one type, you could get really creative with the decoration. I would love to try an “ombre” effect like this one from Loko kitchen which has some really inspiring designs.
As an alternative, you could try my Apricot Tart which has the same pastry and frangipane elements, just topped with a different fruit. This makes it very easy to double the ingredients for the pastry and frangipane and make both!
This luscious tart, made with fresh, seasonal cherries set in a frangipane base encased in crisp pastry, is fantastic eaten at room temperature so makes a great addition to picnics or cold buffets.
For the pastry:
275 g plain flour
125 g fat (I use a mix of half butter and half Trex as I think this makes the lightest pastry)
Salt and pepper
A little water
For the filling:
140 g golden caster sugar
140g ground almonds
140 g butter
1 tablespoon kirsch
300 g fresh cherries
1 tablespoon cherry jam
Set your oven to 180 C, 350 F or Gas Mark 4.
Make the pastry. Put the flour in a bowl. Add the fat and combine – either by “rubbing in” by hand or processing – until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Add a little cold water (2-3 tbsp) and shape the mixture into a dough.
Roll out your pastry and use it to line a 19 cm quiche or flan dish. Bake for 5 minutes in the oven to allow the pastry to “set”. This will stop the filling making it soggy!
To make the filling, put the sugar, ground almonds and butter in a bowl and beat using a food processer or hand blender until pale and creamy. Add the eggs and kirsch and continue to beat until incorporated into the mixture.
Spoon the filling into the pastry case and smooth down the top with a knife.
Wash the cherries. Cut each cherry in half and remove the stone.
Place the cherries, cut side down, on top of the filling.
Place the tart in the oven and bake for around 40 minutes.
Remove from the oven. While the tart is still hot, use a pastry brush to add a thin coating of cherry jam on the top. This will make enhance the appearance of the tart by making the fruit look shiny and also add an extra boost of flavour.
REVIEW: The Potager, Barnsley House, Barnsley, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, GL7 5EE – www.barnsleyhouse.com – (Evening meal – May 2018 – two people)
Your dream home in the Cotswolds…
Imagine a country house hotel, situated in a beautiful Cotswold village, surrounded by idyllic gardens containing drifts of alliums and peonies and fragrant, over-blown roses. Entering the grounds, progressing along the curved driveway towards the house, you enter a world redolent with privilege, comfort and very English country style. Welcome to Barnsley House!
The best restaurants sell a dream along with their food and Barnsley House’s dream is of an idyllic, aspirational, Cotswold country-house lifestyle. The house, which was built in the late 1690s, is built of honeyed stone and set within a gardens in the romantic, English style. The gardens are a vital component of the Barnsley House dream and, in addition to providing a beautiful setting for the house, and somewhere to wander with a pre-dinner drink, they also produce vegetables that are used in the restaurant. The restaurant is called The Potager (French for vegetable garden) and home-grown produce features prominently on the menu.
Until 2001 Barnsley House was the private home of Rosemary Verey, who started to design the gardens in the 1950s and went on to work on many well-known gardens including the New York Botanical Gardens, private gardens for Sir Elton John, Princess Michael of Kent and, perhaps most famously worked with Prince Charles to create his wonderful garden at Highgrove. The hotel still has a sense of once being a private home. Sitting in the long, rectangular dining room it is easy to make all the other diners disappear in your imagination and see how it once was a beautiful drawing room overlooking stunning romantic gardens. It is big enough to be grand but small enough to be welcoming and is beautiful in the Cotswold style – worn flagstones, open fireplaces, wood panelled walls painted in muted neutral colours and simple, but stylish, furnishings.
We started our evening with a pre-dinner drink in the bar area while we made the (difficult!) choice about what to eat. The focus on the use of botanical ingredients and locally-sourced produce starts with the cocktail menu. I was tempted by the Barnsley Refresher (St Germain Elderflower liqueur, Prosecco, Lime and Mint) and the Cucumber Southside (Gin, Lime and Cucumber). However, in the spirit of herbal investigation, I chose the Rosemary and Ginger Collins (Gin, Rosemary Syrup, Lemon Juice and Lemongrass Presse) which was superb with a subtle taste of rosemary and a fiery kick from the ginger.
A meal featuring home-grown vegetables…
Moving through to the dining room, we were delighted to be placed at a table next to one of the floor-to-ceiling sash windows which allowed us to contemplate the gardens while we ate and also to admire the vine which twines around the arbour next to the house. As anticipated, the menu included a number of home-grown products including candy striped Choggia beetroot, rainbow chard and freshly-picked asparagus. While we were waiting for our first course to arrive we were served with warm crusty bread with a choice of home-made salsa verde containing mint and coriander.
I chose a tart of home-grown shallots with blue cheese as my starter. A swirl of buttery, flaky pastry, sweet shallots and tangy blue cheese made this a winning combination. My companion’s choice of buffalo mozzarella wrapped in Parma ham with a tomato and basil salad, which of course I had to try, also managed to be both light but tasty. A perfect start to a substantial meal!
After a pause to digest and reflect, we moved on to our main courses. I chose pork loin with garden rhubarb, watercress and mashed potatoes. The rhubarb worked with the pork, which was deliciously tender and moist, in a similar way to the more traditional accompaniment of apple sauce, by providing a tangy fruitiness to complement the rich fattiness of the meat. It was a simple dish, and none the worse for that, with the peppery watercress and creamy potatoes working well with the main ingredients.
By this stage, both myself and my companion were replete but, in the interests of research, and of course greed, we valiantly considered the dessert menu. Although there were many tempting options, including rhubarb and orange drizzle cake and peanut butter cheesecake with honey and rosemary ice cream, I was not quite up to the challenge and picked the tangy home-made blackcurrant sorbet. My companion, on the other hand, was made of sterner stuff and chose the apple tart, a disk of crisp pastry topped with caramelised apple, which he said was “fantastic”. He is an aficionado of apple tarts of all kinds, so his judgement clearly demands to be taken seriously.
Following our sumptuous meal, we made our way home, back to our everyday lives, after a few hours living the Cotswold dream. The food at The Potager is not cheap but, as a treat, which allows you to step briefly into a world of country house living, I think it is worth it. The food and the ambience are wonderful but it is the underpinning philosophy of integrating the gardens, and their produce, into the hospitality provided that makes this a particularly special place.