Back in the saddle

Lockdown has been a peculiar time. Like many others I’m sure, my normally eager productivity has sunk into the depths of a swampy quagmire, struggling to stay buoyant. Cooking for myself is suddenly hard work and that cool nighttime habit of reading cookbooks has worryingly disappeared. People have been proudly nurturing their sourdough starters as though they’re suddenly Gordon Ramsay, and my mum has baked a quiche, tart, cake or steamed pudding every day, while I have apathetically lounged on the sofa, missing the excitement by reaching for the taramasalata and breadsticks.

However, the sunny weather and little changes that are coming in public spaces are bringing a spring to my step. Returning to the UK a few months earlier than planned was a perfect antidote to those lockdown-blues and I can now be found basking in the rays of occasional sun, whenever it chooses to shine – this is England, after all. The novelty of summer after weeks of impending winter, huddling by the fire and bundled under coats, in the southern hemisphere is thrilling, quite frankly. Meanwhile, it’s the little differences between here and New Zealand that pleasantly surprise me; for one, here we’re allowed to drink alcohol in public! Not that I’ll be sitting on a park-bench with a box of wine, but it’s a luxury to have the option.

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There have been moments of bliss. I picnicked in the park with Tony and Anna, sharing a bottle of wine (madness!) while eating baguette with Camembert, crisps and olives and hummus. Fiona and I eat well every night sharing dinners of crispy-skinned chicken with ginger, garlic and plums, the occasional take-away, and a few nights of cheesy lasagne in front the TV. So, it’s not like I have cooking celibacy. I’ve just not been inspired.

Until this.

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Flicking through my favourite book ever, The Flavour Thesaurus, I learnt that goats cheese and coriander are, unbeknown to many, great friends. In fact, they can’t stop complementing each other (as opposed to complimenting… you wouldn’t get a word in). In the UK, we’re now almost bored of the traditional goats cheese and rosemary, goats cheese and thyme, goats cheese and mint (I said ‘almost’…) so seeing coriander as a new option, and remembering the full pack in the fridge, I practically hurtled to the shops to buy more ingredients.

Coriander and goats cheese are strong flavours. Some people think coriander tastes of soap, and other people think goats cheese tastes like a real goat. Yet, hidden among this salad their flavours are softened, especially with an added punch of fresh chilli. Juicy plum cherry tomatoes and the aged counterpart, the jammy sun-dried version are plated with roasted baby potatoes and gooey chunks of goats cheese. It’s then all liberally sprinkled with spring onion, slices of chilli, lemon and coriander. Rich salty flavours are lifted with the fragrant coriander and lemon. The UK meets Mexico in a whimsical salad.

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I’m coaxing myself back into the kitchen; cooking for oneself is so tiresome, so weights and measures is optimistic right now. I can’t claim it as a recipe, just a throw-it-all-together and tuck in. Now I’m back in the saddle it won’t be long until I’m reading cookbooks in bed again.

Goats cheese and coriander salad

75g new potatoes
Olive oil
Soft, spreadable goats cheese
A handful of cherry tomatoes
3 sun-dried tomatoes
1 spring onion
Half a lemon
1 chilli
Coriander leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Wash the potatoes and chop the larger ones in half. Pop them into a microwavable bowl and blast them on high for 2 minutes. Once they are hot and steaming, tip them onto a baking tray and toss with olive oil and salt. Roast for 15-20 minutes until they are golden and crispy.
  2. Meanwhile, prep the other salad ingredients. Chop the cherry tomatoes in half and season with salt, slice the spring onion and a couple of slices of chilli (not too much if you prefer a milder salad!)
  3. Once the potatoes are cooked, arrange everything on your plate. Start with the potatoes and tomatoes, and top with the sun-dried tomatoes. Break off crumbling pieces of goats cheese and arrange as much or as little as you wish on top. Sprinkle with spring onion and chilli slivers, a small handful of coriander leaves and  enough lemon zest to cover. Drizzle with olive oil and a little salt and pepper.

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