One day I'm having lunch on my little deck and the next I'm wrapped in my Eskimo coat dreading the walk with my dog around the neighborhood. I'm dreaming of short sleeves, bare feet, barbecues and iced tea, and the beautiful way my window looks when the tree outside is filled with leaves and playful squirrels.
When the weather seems like it's about to turn from tundra to sweet spring, I want something that's colorful and vibrant on my plate. As soon as spring sprang in London, a walk through a market was the first thing on my agenda.
I have spent many an afternoon on Blenheim Crescent -particularly at The Spice Shop and Books for Cooks in Notting Hill. As much as people have inspired me to cook, so have many places, and Books for Cooks is one of them. The little bookstore is near Portobello Road and although the market is fabulous, I had a hard time not making a bee line for this place. It is crammed with cook books from all over the world and I have found some of my most cherished books here. Best of all, the aroma wafting from their tiny test kitchen at the back of the store is unavoidable. Beautiful cakes, tarts, muffins, and an ever changing lunch menu are all tried, tested and served to anxious locals and tourists alike.
The entire place is cozy and intimate. Upstairs is a demonstration area where I have taken many classes, coming away with ideas directly from the chefs whose books I've poured over. Sitting there, with the sunshine streaming in from the 2nd story windows, students are able to interact with the chef and really understand the techniques they share. As soon as I finished a class, I'd run straight over the The Spice Shop to pick up whatever I needed to start creating in my own kitchen.
Books for Cooks has published a series of cook books from their own test kitchen. The Donna Hay recipe below is in Favourite Recipes from Books for Cooks Volume 1, 2 & 3. Donna is a wonderful Australian food editor and cook book author. Her food is clean, refreshing and simple and I am in envy of her beautiful food photography. I'm often envious of living in Australia, but that's another story.
I've cooked this chicken dish below many times and the tangy flavors get even better the day after, in fact you can make the whole thing the day before and just make the rice when you're ready to serve. Although some of the Asian ingredients may be a little difficult to find, it's a simple recipe and easy to prepare ahead.
Lime & Lemon Grass Chicken
Adapted from Donna Hay's At My Table
8 organic/free range chicken thighs, boned, skinned and cut in half
2 tsp sesame oil
grated zest of 2 limes
2 large fresh red chilies, seeded and finely chopped
2 kaffir lime leaves, sliced (if you can't find them, add a little extra lime zest)
2 lemon grass stalks, finely chopped
1 tbsp palm or brown sugar
2 inch piece of fresh ginger or galangal, grated
2 tsp lime juice
2 tsp tamarind paste
1 cup coconut milk (shake the can well before opening)
1 cup chicken stock
For the Salsa
1 ripe mango or papaya (I prefer mango for this)
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
Greek yogurt to serve
Heat the oil in a wok over medium high heat and when hot, throw in the chicken pieces. Stir-fry until golden brown on both sides, 5-10 minutes. Take the chicken out of the pan and set aside.
Combine together lime zest, chili, lime leaves, lemon grass, sugar, galangal or ginger, cumin, lime juice and tamarind to the wok and stir-fry for 2 minutes. It should all smell overwhelmingly delicious.
Put the chicken back into the pan, stirring to coat thoroughly with the flavorings, and pour in the coconut milk and stock. Simmer gently until the chicken is cooked through and the liquid is reduced a little, about 30. There should still be plenty of tangy sauce. Taste to check the seasoning and add a little fish sauce if it needs salt.
Make the salsa by combining the mango, onion, mint, lime juice, fish sauce and sugar.
Serve with the salsa, yogurt and rice. I like Basmati or Thai fragrant rice. When using Basmati, crush 2 cardamom pods in with the rice at the beginning and fish them out before serving.