DEFLATED. That’s the word, I think. After the highs of the Christmas period, we’re straight into the gloom of January.
I hope you all had a wonderful time over the holidays. I certainly did; it was perhaps the most Christmassy Christmas I’ve had in years, spending it as I did with my wife’s family in a chocolate-box cottage in snowy Oxfordshire, stuffing myself with roast goose.
It couldn’t last of course. As I write this it’s been drizzling since New Year’s Day (when did we ever have a 1st of January that wasn’t grey and miserable?) with that peculiar swirling wind that’s perfectly judged to make sure that all the drizzle flies exactly into one’s face.
Charming, isn’t it? It’s also that time of year when we look downwards to our widening waistlines and decide to take matters in hand.
Whether it’s just post-feasting guilt or the thought that the start of the year is as good a time to start as any, now is the time of the dieting craze.
The TV is full of fitness shows and lycra-clad celebrities (annoyingly, already thin and fit), trying to shift their latest DVD, and the holiday companies helpfully chip in with their adverts full of lithe, bronzed, gorgeous twentysomethings having fun in the sun, all of which makes us feel a little ashamed and head for the Swedish crispbreads.
Let’s be sensible. We all need to watch our weight (me more than most, I’ll admit) and try to stay healthy, but there’s a world of difference between going on a diet and having a diet.
For me this is crucial. Going on a diet implies that at some point you’ll come off the other end and start eating ‘normally’.
Having a diet is what we should aspire to; a permanent regimen. Something that makes sure we balance the carbohydrates and the fats with plenty of good proteins and lots of fruit and veg.
Don’t deny yourself a glass of wine with the occasional dinner, and don’t banish the Maltesers entirely; simply use these as treats or occasional indulgences, to be savoured, and make sure the majority of your meals are fresh and wholesome.
Learn to love your oven and grill as a means of cooking, and give the frying pan a rest.
If you were bought a vegetable steamer as a Christmas present by a dotty elderly relative, you’re actually very lucky. Steamed fresh vegetables taste magnificent, and it’s an easy way to prepare those all-important five-a-days!
So today’s recipe is very definitely on the lighter side.
It’s the perfect dish for a light supper or more substantial lunch, or in reduced form as a first course as part of a dinner party.
Today, mainly because I had some in the fridge (where did all these holidays come from?) we’re cooking crab.
Tracy, my wife, adores crab, and is perhaps at her very happiest when sitting at the table, pulling apart a freshly-boiled crab, with a glass of white wine to one side.
She revels in the pleasure of totally cleaning the shell of every speck of meat.
For me, the fun’s in the cooking of the crab meat, and these crunchy little cakes, flecked with herbs and a wee spike of cayenne heat, show off the iodine-rich luxuriousness of the flavour really well.
Paired simply with some sharp pink grapefruit and a few crisp leaves, this is a wonderfully tasty start to our culinary year.
Here is what you will need:
750g crabmeat (white, brown or both)350g potato (Maris Piper or similar)2 tbsp finely chopped herbs (dill, coriander or parsley work well) 1 tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp mustard powder
1 beaten egg
A little flour
200g fresh white breadcrumbs
A little extra-virgin olive oil, for frying
A handful of salad leaves per person (watercress, rocket, mache, etc.)
1 pink grapefruit
Firstly, zest half the grapefruit and finely chop the zest.
Peel the fruit carefully and remove the segments.
Peel and boil the potatoes until cooked through, then mash or (ideally) pass through a mouli.
Allow the potato to cool completely. Mix the crabmeat, the potato, the herbs, the chopped zest and the spices carefully.
Take tablespoon-sized pieces of the crab mixture and shape them into neat patties a couple of centimetres thick. Chill, covered, for an hour, or until required.
Now, set up your coating kit; put the beaten egg in one bowl, your flour in another, and the breadcrumbs in a third, and put a large plate at the end for storing the finished cakes.
A tip here; it’s easier and far less messy to do the egg dip with one hand, and the dry dips with the other.
Gently dip the crab patties into the egg, then into the flour, and finally into the breadcrumbs, and set gently on the plate.
When you have dipped all the crab cakes, gently fry them in a little olive oil until golden and crispy on all sides.
Alternatively, you could bake them in the oven on a lightly-oiled baking sheet.
To serve, place a handful of salad leaves on each plate, and pop a few crab cakes on each nest of salad.
Drizzle with a little olive oil, and arrange some of the pink grapefruit segments around.
The oil and grapefruit will make their own lovely sharp dressing, so there’s no real need for any vinaigrette.