And so once again, while nobody was looking, the festive season rolled into town. One minute I was getting sunburnt at the Henley regatta; the next we were watching Guy Fawkes fireworks; and the next I opened my curtains to see that the caravans of the festive season had arrived like gypsies in the night and set up camp everywhere I looked. A few bars of Christmas carol here; a strand of tinsel there; tiwnkly lights in trees; and an unexplained, unrelenting craving for gluhwein – yes, the caravan train has certainly rolled into town!!
Every year I tell myself that this year will be different – I will make sure not to go overboard on the sparkly wine and the Christmas gammon; I will not stay up too late and sleep the day away; I will stay serene and patient with my family (!); I will wake up hangover-free on New Year's Day (OK, all my friends reading this can stop laughing hysterically now!); and I will keep eating my 5-a-day fruit and vegetables right through all the over-indulgence.
What can I say – these goals are a work in progress!! ;o)
What I have done this year, before things get totally out of hand, is to try and mentally assemble a list of easy, low-fat vegetable dishes that I know I can face making, even when worn out after cooking a whole roast dinner. Dishes that take only a few minutes to throw together but repay the effort tenfold in taste and flavour – roasted Moroccan-spiced vegetables; cumin & caraway roasted carrots; or Brussels sprouts sautéed with shallots and garlic.
One of those dishes that I plan to trot out this year to accompany seasonal feasts is this utterly simple yet unfailingly delicious and stylish French bean dish. And before you ask, yes it is winter in the UK and these beans are not locally produced – they came from Kenya. In an aeroplane. Being from Africa, I have very mixed feelings about the fanatical avoidance of foods flown in from there. I do try as far as possible to buy produce grown in the UK, but I have to confess that when I see South African grapes (or Kenyan beans, for that matter) I do often buy them. I figure if we boycott them altogether, that's another source of income denied to a continent that urgently needs to find an alternative to foreign aid packages. Here is some further reading on that debate.]
If you are wondering where I got the pretty little plastic scoop holding the toasted almond seeds in the photos, it was kindly sent to me by Restaurantware, who make an attractive range of bamboo and recyclable plastic disposable crockery for catering professionals.
FRENCH BEANS WITH TOASTED ALMONDS & GARLIC
500g green beans, washed, topped & tailed
2-3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp salted butter (use olive oil instead for the healthier option)
1/4 cup flaked almonds
salt and pepper
Steam the beans in a steamer until just beginning to be tender.
While the beans are steaming, toast the almonds over medium heat in a dry non-stick frying pan. Watch them like a hawk and turn frequently so that they don't burnm and remove from the heat when they start to brown.
Remove the beans from steamer and pat dry. Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium high heat, sauté the beans and garlic until the ends start to shrivel slightly.
When the beans are done, place them in a serving bowl together with the toasted almonds. Drizzle the butter in the pan over them, add a generous dose of salt and black pepper, and serve immediately.
And in other news…
Have you entered the chocolate giveaway that I am hosting? Hotel Chocolat will send one lucky winner in Europe, the USA or South Africa a box of their signature dark chocolates – all you have to do is leave a comment on this post by midnight on Mon 20 December. What are you waiting for??
My 2011 calendars are now available! They are A3 size, printed on high quality heavy paper and make the perfect gift – for foodies, for those who love London or Italy or the beach – or those who simply love my Saturday Snapshots! And at £15.51 each they are an affordable luxury.
The May 2011 Plate to Page hands-on food writing and photography workshop presented by me, Meeta, Jamie and Ilva is now sold out - but register now if you are interested in Plate to Page II in Italy in Autumn 2011!