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The Lunchbox #17
Spring is in the air and it's a big week for some 🎂
Hello! And welcome to The Lunchbox. It’s been a busy few weeks over here. I’ve been developing a seasonal menu for one of my favourite London cafés, creating some recipes to accompany some spicy sauces and have been doing a lot of cooking at home. I have finally returned to making my own sourdough and managed to get my hands on a 20 year-old starter from Etsy, which is thrillingly active - I’m hoping I can succeed in keeping it that way.
Tomorrow is a big birthday for me, I’ll be spending it with my family and eating fish pie, hopefully with some first-of-the-season wild garlic if I can find some near where they live. There will definitely be plenty of cake this year, I’m including one of my favourite birthday cake recipes, below, which I’m hoping someone will make for me, HINT HINT FAMILY IF YOU’RE READING. There’s also a recipe for a simple pasta and how to survive the current supermarket salad crisis.
I hope you enjoy today’s newsletter, thank you for subscribing.
P.S Here’s a pic of me enjoying cake and what looks like Rosé Champagne on my third birthday.
What I’m currently consuming
*Nothing here is sponsored*
The Peanut Butter: Butter Bike Co
Peanut butter is a deeply personal thing. We have thousands of brands competing for our attention, so we can now be more picky about what we’re looking for. We no longer have to settle for Skippy or Whole Earth like our parent’s generation. I’m still playing the field before I decide to commit, but my current love interest is Butter Bike Co.
They boast six different styles and flavours: Rugged Peanut Butter// Almost Smooth // Smoked Chilli // Cinnamon Raisin // Dark Chocolate // Limited edition Gingerbread - one for all the different moods of my day. I’m currently working my way through the Gingerbread one and I can tell you this: the texture is rich, with perfect-sized chunks of peanut, a dash of a salty tingle, a je ne sais quoi of sweetness and a subtle gingerbread fragrance. The Rugged is a classic specimen of hunky peanut butter and is my go-to for adding to my morning porridge. I highly recommend these guys and will give you their number if you ask nicely.
The Crisps: Two Farmers
‘Crisps again?!’, you cry. Yes, more crisps. Because these were a thrill to eat and when you find 100% compostable crisp packets, you’ve got to shout about it, OK? I was passing through the wonderful Greensmiths in Waterloo, when the words Wild and Garlic and Crisps caught my eye. I grabbed a bag, took them home and the next thing I remember was standing over an empty packet of Woodland Mushroom & Wild Garlic crisps, crumbs everywhere, with the most intense, almost truffle-y, subtle garlicky flavour lingering in my mouth. These are good. And what’s more, the packaging is plastic free and compostable, so you can feel a little better while you snack.
They’re made by two Hereford farmers, Mark and Sean, who are both passionate about potatoes and have found a means to create their crisps using renewable energy produced within the farm. There are six flavours, including Hereford Bullshot, Sausage & Mustard and Hereford Hop Cheese & Onion, as well as 100g and 500g gift tins that they can deliver to you, which I strongly suggest you gift to your self.
The Top Tip: Olive oil
Hey you! Let’s chat olive oil. Are you still buying bottles of average supermarket olive oil, and shaking your fist every time the price creeps up while the quality creeps down? Well it’s time to change your ways. I use a preposterous amount of olive oil and used to hate it when my kitchen was littered with greasy, half opened bottles of supermarket oil of dubious age and heritage. I spent a small fortune on oil and it was never any good, always the blended stuff that had no flavour nor point, really.
Not any longer. I now have one squeezy bottle, and one tin of 5 litre extra-virgin Italian that I keep tucked away. I buy mine from my wonderful local Italian deli (Feeling Food in Peckham) for a steal at £35, but I can see that you can spend just £40 for five litres of Belazu extra-virgin Greek oil. At £8 a litre, this is an absolute steal (and I’m sure you can find it even cheaper).
But what about the squeezy bottle? This is my newest discovery. After months of decanting into an attractive glass bottle, I realised that the large opening meant I ALWAYS splurged too much in. But the fine-mouthed squeezy is accurate, smooth, controlled and wipeable. Find something similar here, grab yourself a large tin and end your days of mediocre olive oil at high prices.
The BIG newsletter news: I’m bringing in a paid subscription option
As you may have read in Wednesday’s update, I’ve brought in a paid option for The Lunchbox. As much as this is the greatest labour of love, it takes me a lot of time to research, test and write and I’m going to need to ask for your support in order to keep it going and cover my costs. This hasn’t been an easy decision, but it feels necessary in order to be able to keep giving you the writing, inspiration, tips and recipes you enjoy.
At £4 a month/£40 a year, you can continue to receive the writing and recipes you’ve come to expect every other Friday. The first half of the newsletter - including the recipe - will remain free; the second half will be behind a paywall. This paywall will be brought in on 10 March 2023.
Paid subscribers will receive the whole newsletter (starter/main/dessert/up on my lunchbox (incl 2 seasonal recipes), as well as subscriber-only bonus posts and offers, full archive access (incl all recipes) and be able to join the community and post comments.
If you can’t pay, please don’t worry. You’ll still get the first half - The Snack section and The Main seasonal recipe. Please do get in touch if you’d very much like to read it all but have trouble paying.
Something to fill you up
Cauliflower alla Puttanesca
I think we can all agree that Puttanesca is one of those sauces that takes very little effort, but somehow always manages to always hit the spot. It’s the combination of savoury, fishy, salty, tangy, perky and sweet that comes together and just delivers. But you know what works with all those flavour profiles? Cauliflower. So I decided to throw some into my tomato sauce, and behold, it takes it to another dimension. This is made with puree to make it even speedier, but feel free to use pasta or a tin of tomatoes.
Watch my how-to video here
1 small head of cauliflower, broken into small florets, leaves reserved and chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
6 anchovy fillets, chopped
2 small dried chillies or ¼ -½ tsp chilli flakes
2 tbsp capers
50g green pitted olives, chopped
6 tbsp tomato puree
350g small pasta shape, ideally a shell or messicani
2 handfuls of parsley, chopped, to serve
Extra-virgin olive oil
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the cauliflower 6-8 minutes until completely soft. Scoop out into a colander and allow to steam dry. Cook the leaves for 2 minutes, then drain separately. Add the pasta to the water and cook to al dente.
In a wide frying pan, warm up the olive oil and gently fry the garlic until soft and fragrant, then add the anchovies, mashing them into the oil until the melt away. Add the chilli, capers and olives and fry for one moment before adding the tomato puree. Fry for 5 minutes to bring all the flavours together, then add the water and bring to a simmer.
Add the cooked cauliflower and use a potato masher to crush it into the sauce so you no longer have any larger pieces. Stir in the cooked leaves, followed by the cooked pasta and some pasta cooking water if it looks dry.
Simmer together, stirring, so the pasta absorbs some of the sauce. Have a taste to check the seasoning, then scatter with the parsley and give it a little extra-virgin oil to finish.
Something to finish you off
Blueberry, Lemon Curd & Mascarpone Cake
If you like your cake fruity, zesty and bursting with cream, this is your guy. I like to make it when the weather is turning towards spring and you want your cakes a little lighter and brighter.
185ml olive or vegetable oil
180ml buttermilk or natural yoghurt
300g caster sugar
1 tbsp vanilla essence
300g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3/4 tsp salt
300g blueberries or raspberries
1 tbsp icing sugar
100g lemon curd
70g icing sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
Zest of ½ lemon
Preheat oven to 180C/fan 160/gas 4. Grease and line two 20cm baking tins.
Whisk together oil, buttermilk, eggs, sugar and vanilla until combined.
Combine the flour (holding back 1 teaspoon), baking powder, bicarbonate and salt and stir to combine, then fold into the wet mix.
Toss blueberries with the remaining 1 teaspoon flour. Fold into batter and transfer to the tins.
Pop the cakes in the oven until golden and an inserted skewer comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes.
Meanwhile, whip up the mascarpone with the icing sugar. To make the icing, vigorously whisk everything together until it’s thick and spreadable (add more icing sugar if it feels to loose and drippy) and put to one side.
Cool the cakes in the tins for 15 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack. Once completely cool, spread one cake with the mascarpone followed by the lemon curd. Place the other cake on top, then smooth over the lemon icing.
Where have all the cucumbers gone?
You may have heard or noticed we are suffering from a shortage of cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, and salad in UK supermarkets. Our main importers, Spain and Morocco have been experiencing particularly cold weather recently and combined with the the labour shortage and increase in energy and fertiliser costs, supplies to the UK have dwindled. We can also be pretty angry at the UK government for failing to support local growers who have been affected by Brexit policies, and for that matter the UK glasshouse and polytunnel industry which has been asking for help after facing unsustainable energy costs.
The result? We have get to a bit more imaginative in the kitchen and find ways around the absence of these most basic of ingredients.
If you can’t find…
🥒Cucumber: This is one of our most-loved salad ingredients, but I’m going to boldly state that it’s highly substitutable, so don’t worry. It adds crunch and juiciness to our mouthfuls, so what other things can we replace it with?
Radish you’ll get a peppery kick and beautiful pop of colour, too.
Mooli aka daikon a mild winter radish that is a great vehicle for punchy dressings.
Fennel give yourself texture and a subtle aniseed flavour; this is the King of the Crunch.
Kohlrabi one of my favourite vegetables with a distinctive apple flavour. I can NEVER remember its name though so always end up Googling “spaceship vegetable”.
Celeriac the most versatile of the root veg is amazing raw, especially in fine matchsticks.
Celery I know I know, how dull, but if you slice it thinly and throw it in ice water, it’ll curl up and become super crunchy. I promise you’ll be shocked and thrilled.
🍅Tomatoes: I don’t think any of us really eat or cook with supermarket tomatoes in winter with particular gusto, but look, if you do, no (night)shade. Here are the alternatives:
Sundried tomatoes if you’re looking for that umami ping, these are what you need. They can be put in sandwiches, chopped up and thrown into salads or used to make pasta sauces.
Pears, apples or persimmons bear with me here. If you’re making a salad or sandwich and are after some acidity and bite, look no further than your fruit bowl. If adding fruit to your savoury food feels weird and kitsch, you’re wrong.
Tinned tomatoes these are lightly cooked in the tin, so not an exact sub, but if you’re cooking with your tomatoes, these are a much safer bet, as depending on the price point, the standard of tomato is usually higher than a supermarket raw one. Whole tinned tomatoes are usually the best bet as chopped and passata tend to be the inferior ones - less ripe or damaged ones that they can just chop up.
🌶️Peppers: I’m not a fan of eating raw peppers (such funny burps!), except in gazpacho, obviously, but I do think cooked peppers are a beautiful thing.
Jarred peppers these are more often than not, an excellent product, and I often use them even in summer. They’re roasted and peeled then jarred in a brine or vinegar solution. I encourage you to check the label as I find the vinegar version often translates to a vinegary dish.
🥬Lettuce and Salad leaves: We have a few options here, please don’t start giving up on the green stuff.
Cabbage you’ve made coleslaw, right? Well then you know that if you slice your cabbage thinly enough and close your eyes, you’re eating little gem. You can use any cabbage and you’ll find the leaves towards the heart have the most delicate flavour and tender texture.
Fresh spinach leaves making a salad with spinach feels very early 2000s, but these are desperate times. Give them an assertive dressing to balance their iron-yness and some nuts, or anything from the cucumber section, above, to give yourself some interest and you’ll have a fine salad on your hands.
Massaged kale is full of nutrients and makes a brilliant base for a salad. Take kale or cavolo nero off its stems, drizzle in a tiny bit if oil, salt and pepper, then squeeze and scrunch for 4-5 mins until you can feel the leaves tenderising. This makes them easy to chew and incredibly delicious.
Radicchio and chicory particularly good at the time of year when the weather is cold. There are thousands of different types of radicchio in all shapes, colours and sizes. Pair them with a sweet element to tame their bitterness, such as fruit, cheese or sherry or balsamic vinegar.
Thank you for reading The Lunchbox. The next one will be with you on 10 March 2023.