Spargel Zeit, or better still ASPARAGUS TIME

Oh to be in England now that Spring is here! Some of us might actually wonder about that,or as my grandmother once said, “Don’t cast a clout, until May is out” ( do  not put on your summer clothes until June) BUT English Asparagus, is with us. And it is here for such a short period of time, that we really do have to make the most of it.

The season can start as early as April, but is usually best in May and early June, that is if you live in the UK. The English really love  Green Asparagus, however the Germans, French, Dutch, Polish, Spanish and Belgians prefer on the whole thick white asparagus, and indeed in many restaurants in southern Germany , at this time of year it is obligatory to eat Asparagus ( white) so, it could be Steak ( with Asparagus) or Salmon ( with asparagus) and indeed I have been in such a restaurant, where one of our number, did not care at all for Spargle ( as it is called) and asked to have his steak served plain, and they refused!!

These days, we can get fresh asparagus year round, with it being imported from as far away as Peru and China. Indeed China is the worlds largest producer of green asparagus, growing up to 7 million tonnes a year. Peru grows about 3.5 million tonnes, just think of all of those air miles! But the appetite in the west for green asparagus, has become insatiable.

There is evidence that the world has been eating Asparagus since about 3000 BC and it arrived in the New World in the mid 1850’s. It is well-known for its medicinal properties as well as being a diruetic.It apparently dissolves Uric Acid ( which causes gout) and South Korean scientists have found that it can also cure hangovers!

Asparagus is made up of about 92% water, is low in calories and sodium, contains Vitamins A, B , C, E and K, rich in dietary fiber and essential minerals. Is also an antioxident.Apparently the water in which asparagus has been cooked, makes a good face wash/cleanser. Umm not sure about that one! And of course, it makes your pee smell!! Uhh!!!

White and green asparagus, are the same vegetable, the difference is the way in which they are grown. White asparagus is grown in rows with the earth piled up to keep them covered   ( a bit like growing potatoes) whereas green asparagus is grown about 20-25 cms above soil level and then cut.

So how to eat it?

It is very easy to prepare, rinse in cold water and either bend the ends ( not the spear end) until they snap , but I usually cut them off. The universally accepted way of cooking them is to steam them but I microwave them with excellent results. I wrap the spears in either micro-wavable cling film or micro-wavable plastic bags and Microwave on high, 15 spears take  4 mins, to be al Dente. Serve with scrambled egg  and smoked salmon, perfect! sophisticated supper and fast!

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Or how about with a quick hollandaise sauce, again this is do-able in the microwave, ( with a little caution)

113 grams ( 4 oz) butter
1 large egg
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (to taste) ( or bottled)Directions:
Put butter in a Microwave safe container. Microwave 30 sec. on high, until butter is soft but not melted. (This may take up to 60 seconds if the butter is cold from the fridge.). Be careful, if you M/W too high  for too long, you will have a mess in the Microwave as it will spit!
In a small bowl, mix egg and lemon juice together well.
Add mixture to softened butter.
Microwave on high, stopping to whisk every 15 sec. ( this is where a microwave whisk comes in handy, as you can leave it in the jug)
The mixture WILL be lumpy for the first two whippings. Sauce is done when smooth and thick. Do not over work.
Or how about  Grilled asparagus with brown butter ( Beurre Noisette) and browned almonds
Use thick asparagus, carefully peel the ends, lightly oil a grill pan, I use a Le Creuset pan, and when it is hot place the asparagus on the pan, turning until the aspargus is tender. In another pan, melt some butter ( I prefer unsalted), and heat and melt until it begins to brown, add a handful of sliced almonds, a quick swish around in the  pan and pour over the asparagus and serve immediately.
or this is one of my favourites, Chunky Asparagus, dipped in egg and then Panko Breadcrumbs ( Japanese breadcrumbs) sautéed in a mixture of butter and olive oil, drained on paper towel and served at once with grated parmesan..
Or another really simple way of serving skinny asparagus, and this works year round, as some of the imported asparagus will be of the skinny type.
Stir fried Asparagus with cherry tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, a chopped, de-seeded red chili ( optional)
  • 100g cherry tomatoes
  • bunch of asparagus
  • To begin, put a Wok or  large frying pan over medium heat with some olive oil. Press the garlic and add to the pan with the chili.
  • On a chopping board, trim the ends of the asparagus, and chop the asparagus into 2 inch-long pieces.
  • Add the asparagus into the pan along , and cook for 5 minutes or so until the asparagus is tender, Add the cherry tomatoes , cook for another 5 minutes.. Done!photo(13)
And finally Asparagus served with a poached egg BUT not an ordinary poached egg but one  that is coated in Panko Breadcrumbs
Line a small dish or egg cup with cling film, lightly grease the cling film. Pop in the egg, and tie up with string. Pop the egg parcel into boiling water and lightly poach/cook until the white looks cooked, ( about 2 mins.) remove from the water and cool on a bowl of ice. When cool unwrap the egg and dip into  beaten egg and the panko breadcrumbs. At this point they maybe refrigerated until ready to serve, Heat a pan with oil ready for deep frying, when it is hot enough ( test with a piece of bread, if it bubbles up straight away, the oil is hot enough) Pop in the egg and it will very quickly turn golden brown, remove from the oil with a slotted spoon, and drain on kitchen paper, serve with the steamed asparagus. here you see two pictures of this, one is from a professional kitchen and the other, one that my son cooked the other photo(19)
So enjoy English Asparagus, whilst it is around,  because, here today, but gone soon. But of course, other types of asparagus, is with us all year round!

I am a Juicer!

Have you tried juicing? Well, I did in a former life. I was once given a juicer by a friend whose husband worked for Black and Decker. I tried it out but found the whole process to be incredibly time-consuming and the machine was such a pain to clean – too many bits and pieces to take apart and reassemble – that the juicer did not last long in my kitchen.

So twenty-five years on, I am giving Juicing another go. Eldest daughter surprised me on my recent visit by producing very inventive arrays of juices each morning and her machine was easy to use and did not take a lot of cleaning either. So when I returned to the UK, I bought a machine. Just what I need another machine, but there you are.

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So which juicer to buy? A good question. Well for me a top priority was one that could be left on the counter top and was relatively small. The other consideration as always is price. There are juicers on the market for as little as £30 and up to as much as £500, so there’s obviously a lot of choice out there. As always the conundrum does Cheap = quality? Does it do the job? No and then it is a waste of money! And just because it’s expensive, is it any good?

In any case, whichever machine you choose must be left on the counter top of your kitchen otherwise it WILL NEVER BE USED.

So after some research I went middle of the road. There are actually two type of Juicers, one is a Masticater and the other a centrifugal juicer.

The Masticating type of juicers use a slowly rotating screw that crushes produce against a stainless steel filter by a process similar to a mincing machine. So in theory these produce a better, healthier juice. These days the vertical auger juicers are low speed but they do juice very quickly because the augers and filter screens are much bigger and can be left running whilst rummaging in the refrigerator for another ingredient to add. Most vertical auger juicers come from the Hurom factory, are marketed under various names and this is what I bought.They are also very quiet.

Centrifugal juicers work by using a flat cutting blade on the bottom of a rapidly spinning basket. Food is shredded by the cutter and flung out to the sides of the basket. Due to the high centrifugal force, juice then passes through tiny holes in the basket and through a spout.  The juice produced by centrifugal juicers may not be quite as rich as juice from a masticating juicers, but it is surely better than shop bought? These machines, however, can only be used in relatively short bursts (so can not juice for the neighbourhood) and are comparatively noisy.

What is fun though is creating juices from whatever is in your refrigerator. My daughter has a great market nearby and shops there especially to find fruits and vegetables to juice. The day after market day her refrigerator is packed with washed and cleaned fruits and vegetables,ready to go. She juices carrots, celery and BEETS (Beetroots…. Raw) that produces a glorious deep red coloured juice.

Me? I am a little bit lazy and I check to see what I have. A favourite is Avocado, here you see below, avocado, spinach, cucumber,rocket, a whole lime and a chunk of fresh ginger. The other one is, what I might call “Sunrise”, it is Strawberry, nectarine, lime, tangerine, and an apple, (I used a cox, as I love their taste, but they are very English) and again ginger. I love the zing of ginger and historically it has a long tradition of being very effective in alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal distress.  So it must be good!

“Eat your fruits and vegetables” is one  true recommendations for a healthy diet. Eating plenty of vegetables and fruits can help you ward off heart disease and stroke, control blood pressure, prevent some types of cancer, avoid diverticulitis, and guard against cataract and macular degeneration, two common causes of vision loss. But how much? The latest dietary guidelines call for five ( in the UK) to thirteen  and even 15 ( Japan) servings of fruits and vegetables a day (2½ to 6½ cups per day), depending on one’s caloric intake. (1) For a person who needs 2,000 calories a day to maintain weight and health, this translates into nine servings, or 4½ cups per day (2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables). So when you take this into consideration,  most of us DO NOT eat the amount that we should.

I would recommend buying a book to give you inspiration and recipe ideas. The one I bought is called “The Funky Fresh Juice book” by Jason Vale aka, the Juice Master.

So get healthy and get juicing!

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The Worlds Top Restaurants 2013

“My Tamales are Red Hot”, so sang Hugh Laurie ( of House Fame) on his 2011 album Let Them Talk. Unfortunately, PUJOL number 13 on this years Best 50 Restaurants in the World list does not seem to have heard this. Pujol is in Mexico city where one might expect a certain kind of spiciness when eating out, even if you don’t want Red Hot Tamales all of the time.

We dined at Pujol on the 20th April, this year and we took the tasting menu at 995 Pesos ( about £50 or $77). Our reservation was for 7 pm, which for a city like Mexico was early indeed. We  soon realised why we’d been unable to get a later booking as they stagger the arrivals – only  a quarter of the tables were occupied when we arrived. Fair enough, but we were offered the table, next to the bar, which doubled as the glass washing and the coffee making area. We rejected this and took another table.


We started our meal with some snacks. This was fun, a smoking pumpkin, with baby smoked corn, some tiny tacos, a finely sliced avocado and a consommé. I’m honestly not sure what was in the consommé, but it was wonderful. However this was where the service started to fall down. Before I had finished my nibbles, Boom, Bang, the next course began to appear. Quelle Horreur!!  We had to ask them to slow it down somewhat. And they did but the service on the whole was very indifferent.

So there were 10 Courses, YES TEN, but they were only tasting size. The first was Tortilla souffle with escamoles. For those who do not know, ESCAMOLES are ants eggs! And they either come from the roots of the Agave tequilana  ( Yes you are right TEQUILA)

or the roots of the Agave americana  (Mezcal) A must try!!photo(3)

Next came Beef tartar tostada with Alfalfa and Serrano chili sauce


As you can see the Tostada dominated the plate, the serrano chili sauce was nice without being too overpowering

So now onto course three, this was Fish ceviche taco with Hoja santa tortilla. Beans. Hoja santa (Piper auritum) is an aromatic herb with a heart-shaped, velvety leaf which grows in Central and Southern America as well as in parts of Florida.The name hoja santa means “sacred leaf” in Spanish.    I ate it several times whilst in Mexico, cooked a number of ways, but I really feel it is not memorable enough to go hunting for  it in my local grocery store. At PUJOL, the Hoja Santa leaf served as the taco to the ceviche and although this was a bit gimmicky, the whole thing worked  (this is their signature dish) and was delicious.


Next came Purslane noodles with grilled onion and spearmint. We were not overly impressed with this dish, neither in its appearance nor its taste, sort of cactus and Purslane. Not our favourite. Though Purslane is valued for its high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids; it is considered to have higher levels of this essential fatty acid than any other vegetable!!


Our next course was also rather nondescript, Sorry! it was a small aubergine and not sure what else, see for yourselves

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Then, it was Pork confit with Almonds, Raisins and Cumin Mole, an absolute delight and one of our favourites. On the down side, it was another plate of food, which was brown and cream in appearance.


But then we went onto Mole. This was called Mole Madre, the taste was interesting but a plate of Mole by itself?? For the uninitiated Mole is a rich thick, dark, brownish-red sauce, but the term is really more general than that. Mole can be anything from dark and thick to soup-like and bright green, with red, yellow and black mole. Three states in Mexico claim to be the home of mole, Puebla, Oaxaca and  Tlaxacla, with Peubla and Oaxaca being the best known. However it is almost always served over something, meat or fish, or even rice, but on it’s own?? Did you eat it with a spoon? ( we did not have one) or scoop it up on a fork, or even a knife?


Then came the desserts, all four of them. Honestly, you can see for yourselves, they were all cream in colour, and not one of them stood out as being memorable.

But honestly they all blended into one, both in appearance and taste.


Firstly it was Banana served with macadamia zest, camomile flower.


Thyme biscuit. Lemon gelatin. Pulque sorbet. Cookie soup. White chocolate.



Guava Sorbet, Mezcal and Chilhucle chilli salt


And this? well some sort of Mousse in a chocolate casing? but as I said, all the colours and all of the flavours in the desserts blended into one!

So all in all, I will not be recommending this restaurant to anyone, anytime soon, but the consolation is that although it is rated one of the best restaurants in the world, it does not come close to being one of the most expensive, that honour goes to Guy Savoy in Paris at a whopping $1200 for two people!!

One other restaurant that I will mention here is “Dinner” by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental in London. It is rated this year at # 7. I love Heston’s food, having eaten at his flagship restaurant ( the Fat Duck in Bray  Berkshire, UK ) many times, even before it became famous. “Dinner “is no different, it is innovative, fun and the service is exemplary, having said that the bill for two will set you back about $600. Not to be sniffed at!