Thursday, March 12

SECRET OF LIME LEAVES

It’s the first Sunday in March. I am hoping winter is behind us, but I have lived in England long enough to know better. We will have many more cold, dark, windy days before spring rescues us. Still, today the sun encourages a promising blue sky, with just the right amount of fat white clouds.
I saw two, tiny, baby lambs, in the fields with their mums, a few hours ago. Earlier, we treated ourselves to a walk in the countryside, along a river, with plenty of company from other winter weary ramblers. At least half the people had dogs with them, fueling my dog loving instincts. I have been wanting a pair of terriers, of indeterminate breed, for some time now. Richard, though is a cat person, not a dog lover, so we make do with a garden full of birds, visiting the nine feeders he keeps going year round.
One of my favourite farm shops is, coincidentally, hollerin’ distance from where we stroll. Poking along, avoiding the worst of the mud, I was thinking about what I might buy at Castle Farm. This is the place I first discovered the sensual pleasures of lavender ice cream. It has ruined me for all other dairy confections.


I will definitely buy lavender ice cream. And beef. They raise their own beef at Castle Farm. It’s the only place I’ve seen in England, selling beef with the bone intact. Everywhere else I shop, sells boneless beef, though I suppose our local butcher would keep the bone intact, were I to ask. With luck, in a few more months, we'll be sitting in the garden with a couple of t-bones on the grill.


By the time we return home from our country pursuits, with beef and lavender ice cream happily in tow, I’m famished. Unable to contain myself, I indulge in two generous scoops of ice cream, before settling on what to make for lunch. The newly purchased beef will keep for a couple of days, but three chicken breasts, in the back of the fridge, command my attention.

Much as I adore winter food, I am a bit tired of soups and chowders; casseroles and stews. Even curries, which I don’t make very often, fail to inspire my imagination. Thinking back to the chicken satay and stir fried vegetables, I recently had for lunch in Tunbridge Wells, I decide to re-create them, while bird watching from the kitchen window.
A pretty pheasant stops by to help herself to the banquet of bird food Richard provides. I smile at the irony of observing food eating food, while I make food. Quiet as I try to be, creeping into the garden with my camera, I manage to get a single picture of the pheasant before she makes a run for it. No pheasant under glass for dinner tonight.Pulling out the ingredients I need to make chicken satay, I spy lime leaves. Lime leaves are new to me. When I spotted them last week, in the freezer section of the grocery store, I tossed them into the cart, knowing they would come in handy. Cooking is usually great fun for me, as long as I keep surprising myself with new ingredients and recipe ideas.

Lime leaves feed into my sense of play. They are the perfect “What If?” ingredient. What if I take these lime leaves and mix them up with some coconut milk and peanut butter? What if I add a bit of soy sauce and lime juice to the mixture? Would I not have the makings for a killer sauce?
What if I cut chicken breast into long strips and poach it in the peanut buttery, lime-leaf-infused-sauce for half an hour or so? What if I add some dried oriental noodles to the pot at the end? How would it taste?
Mmmmmm. It tastes like a meal you might get in a really good Thai restaurant. I used to go to such a restaurant in San Rafael, California. I loved the place. I never knew lime leaves could add so much flavour to a dish. I never knew the secret of lime leaves until today.
After making this dish, I wished we were eating this with friends. It is so good and easy to whip up, you will want to invite guests to share your table.

Peanut Buttery Chicken
What you need
Peanut butter - 2-cups (your choice, crunchy or smooth – I like crunchy)
Coconut milk – 1-400ml can (Might as well go for reduced fat variety, if given the option)
Soy sauce - ¼ cup
Lime juice – juice from two freshly squeezed limes
Curry powder - 1 tbs (I tend to use the medium, unless sharing with other lovers of hot, spicy food)
Lime leaves – 2 tbs
Salt and pepper – to taste (I use 1 tsp of each)
Chicken breast – 0.5kg (3 good size, boneless, skinless fillets)
Chinese egg noodles, medium, dried – 150g
Sesame seeds – 1 tbs for garnish
What you do
In a large pot, with lid, combine peanut butter, coconut milk, soy sauce, lime juice, curry powder, lime leaves, and salt and pepper. Cook over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring often.
While sauce is cooking, rinse chicken and cut into long, slenderish slices. Carve the length of the breast. Each breast will yield about eight slices. Set aside to add to sauce, after twenty minutes of cooking.
Add chicken to sauce. Cover with lid and continue cooking over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring often.
Add egg noodles to pot (you can lay them over the chicken and sauce for a few minutes, until they moisten up enough to blend in) Cover pot. Continue cooking over medium heat for another 10 minutes, stirring often with fork, to gently mix the noodles into the sauce with the chicken. Serve the chicken and noodles over stir fried vegetables.

Suggested Alcoholic Beverage: Sake

Non-Alcoholic Beverage:
Sparkling water with a twist of lime

Suggested Music: The soundtrack from Carmen came on the classical radio station I was listening to, while making this dish. I was struck by how oddly appropriate the music was as I sampled and cooked and sampled some more.
Stir Fried Vegetables
Washing and prepping vegetables is one of the most time consuming jobs in the kitchen. My friend Liz, says this is likely her least favourite job in the kitchen. I am inclined to agree with her, as we both use a lot of produce in our meals.
You can buy pre-packaged, stir-fried vegetables, in the produce section of your local grocery store. These are ready to wash and quickly stir fry in pan or wok. Or, you can, as I more often do, choose your own vegetables for slicing and dicing and stir-frying. Either way, go for different colours and textures. My favourite combination is noted here.
What you need
Lemons grass - 2 stalks
Red pepper – 2 large

Carrots – 2 large
Kale (any dark green leafy vegetable works) – 2 big handfuls
Chestnut mushrooms – 1 big handful
Bean sprouts – 2 big handfuls
Sesame oil – 3 tbs
Rice vinegar – 3 tbs
Soy Sauce – 3 tbs
Spring onions – 2 stalks for garnish (optional)
Sesame seeds – 1 tbs for garnish (optional)
What you do
Wash and prep vegetables, starting with the ones that take the longest to cook.
Since the idea of stir fry is to cook quickly, over high heat, you’ll want to slice everything as thinly as possible, except for the bean sprouts, which are ready to go after a good wash.
If you have a food processor, by all means, outfit it with a slicing blade and get crackin’.
Peel a thin layer from lemon grass and discard. Slice stalks into thin disks, discarding the very end, as you would do with a carrot. Slice peppers in half, remove seeds, slice into strips, set aside in large bowl. Peel carrots, cut off ends and discard, cut in half and slice into strips. Depending on how your kale comes (short or long) add it to the bowl, as is, or cut into strips. Slice chestnuts mushrooms, add to bowl. Slice spring onions and set aside on a small plate for garnish. Add the sesame oil, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. Mix thoroughly coating all the vegetables.
Pour the vegetables into a large pan, or wok, cook over high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, or paddle for approximately 5 minutes. Scoop vegetables into large serving bowls. Top with Peanut Buttery chicken and noodles. Garnish with spring onions and/or sesame seeds
Do not tarry. Hungrily devour with accomplice of your choice. Serves two hungry eaters --- or four dainty eaters.