Archive for Nuts

Chicory with Roquefort and walnuts

It’s another appallingly environmentally-irresponsible day. I’m in a quandary. It seems impossible to support my local independent shops and limit my impact on the environment.

This recipe works well with ripe, juicy English pears – but I’m supposed to keep my sugar intake down and I broke that rule earlier this week with the Alphonsos. So Dutch chicory it is. I could use English stilton but the silkiness, and slight sweetness, of Roquefort lifts the glory of this dish into the stratosphere. At least it’s only travelled from France to Mortimer & Bennett. Walnuts? Bought from my local health food store, they’ve come all the way from Argentina. I will try to do better next week.

If you are in your fifties or older, you’ll have had these delicious mouthfuls hundreds of times, as a dinner party starter or drinks party nibble. It’s still useful for both but, as I don’t currently give dinner or drinks parties, lunch is where I slot it in. Infrequently (because of the cheese-cholesterol concern and as my nutritionist might be reading this).

I’ve tried variations on a theme. Feta doesn’t work ever, not even with pears – it’s too one-dimensional and dry. Stilton works better with pears than with chicory – the mix creating a better salt-sweet balance. Dolcelatte, Picos blue, Gorgonzola, Saint Agur, Fourme d’Ambert, Cheshire blue, Bleu d’Auvergne … anything blue and sticky will do. Including the late and very lamented (by me) Lymeswold, derided as the Blue Nun of cheeses but of which I was particularly fond.

The disadvantage of serving this at girly lunches (they happen rarely, but they do happen) is that everyone always says how wonderful it is, they ask if I’ve ever served it as a starter – and then go off and replicate it. In my mother’s day, recipes were only passed on (or pinched) on the understanding that the recipient (or thief) would never serve it to someone in the originator’s circle. No such rules apply these days. Which is why it’s my personal indulgence. It’s perfect for sitting in the shade in the garden on a sunny evening, a drink in the other hand. If only I had a bit of outdoors.

Perfection on a plate

One head of chicory

2 ozs or so of Roquefort (or other strong blue cheese)

Four walnut halves

Avocado oil (or olive oil or walnut oil)

  1. Separate six chicory leaves (or as many as your hunger dictates)
  2. Cut the Roquefort into small chunks (many recipes say crumble it but I find it’s too sticky, even for a finger-licker like me)
  3. Chop the walnuts into small chunks
  4. Dot the chicory leaves with the Roquefort and chopped walnuts
  5. Drizzle your choice of oil along each leaf

Yes, I've overloaded the leaves and, oops, was a bit heavy-handed with the avocado oil.

I ate them with my fingers. And ended up making more.

The very best avocado oil, in my view, comes from Chile. A Chilean networking colleague of mine was going to import it and invited me round for a taste test. We tasted blind and both preferred the organic extra virgin version, which is what I used today. It’s golden, thick and very full-flavoured – but all of them were better than the widely available Californian version which is thin, pale and watery. The New Zealand version is marginally better. But if you can find Chilean, I urge you to buy it.

I suppose this all adds up to another bunion on my carbon footprint.

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Too green for a free life?

I’d been toying with the idea for years, longing to be released from the tyranny of bad management, stifling office politics, endless pointless meetings, inflexible routines, the deadening soullessness of commuting and the vicious back-biting that is rife in our industry.

Unsure whether I could survive, every few years I persuaded myself that changing jobs was the answer. A different boss, a new subject, working in-house, in established teams, starting from scratch … I tried every variation I could think of – as an employee. After 20 years creating a broad CV (I was proud of it but there was no denying it was choppy), there was only one option left: freelancing.

Within days, friends remarked about how happy and relaxed I looked.  My confidence and self-esteem rocketed; the precariousness of my financial situation mattered not at all. I was free. “Why didn’t I do this years ago?” was my constant thought.

Former colleagues used my services, almost all giving me repeat business. Driven by the fear of no income, I had offered to work on projects at home and as a gap-filler in-house, I was available for consultancy advice and to be a workhorse. So, when the early rush of commissions slowed down, saying yes to a friend who asked me to fill a six-week press office spot was easy. “That means a regular invoice!”, said a voice in my head.

The down side began to emerge when I worried about what to wear. Here at home, anything goes; occasionally, nothing goes as well (if clients knew I was naked, my hourly rate would change significantly … not necessarily for the better). On day one, when the clock woke me, I groaned; surely freelancing means not being ruled by alarms to meet other’s expectations? When I saw my desk, and heard whispered asides as the in-house team complained about a boss, I knew I had got it wrong.

Without thinking, I had recreated what I had set out to leave behind – a form of prostitution (anything for anyone anyhow, as long as it earned me money) and it made me feel cheap. Freelancing was not the easy option, as I was beginning to discover.

A symphony in green (Avocado and walnut salad)

Half a ripe avocado (or the whole thing if no one is counting your calories)

Handful of chopped walnuts

Lamb’s lettuce

Walnut oil

Himalayan salt and black pepper

  1. Do you really need instructions?
  2. Sprinkle the walnut oil onto the lamb’s lettuce and toss gently (I used my hands). Pile it into the middle of the plate.
  3. Run a knife lengthways through the flesh of the avocado, cutting down to but not through the skin, to create strips. Run the knife through it again, across the strips, creating chunks. Scoop them out with a dessertspoon.
  4. Pile the avocado into the middle of the lamb’s lettuce which, inconveniently, will spread itself out all over the plate making the whole thing go flat. Fiddle about as much as you wish to try to prettify it but it’s mostly pointless. It would probably be better dotted all over the lamb’s lettuce.
  5. Sprinkle the walnuts around.
  6. Grind over the black pepper and sprinkle on some salt.
  7. It’s really not a recipe, is it.

Does it look better than it tasted? Or did it taste better than it looked?

With lamb’s lettuce on the turn, a perfectly ripe Hass avocado and not much else, this is a bit of a scratch lunch. But it was good – light and pretty, for all its greenness – and very filling thanks to the walnuts.

I tried a bit of it with a little lime juice, to see if it added anything, but all it did was kill the subtle velvetiness of the avocado and drown the nuttiness of the walnut oil. It’s best as a very simple platter (though anchovies might be good next time).

This blog first appeared as an article in PR Business, in which I had my own column (what a thrill that was!)

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