Thursday, 24 December 2009
Wednesday, 9 December 2009
As the old saying goes (I think) 'If one Christmas meal is good, then more than one is even better'. Ever since university I've done a Christmas dinner with friends as well as the real event on 25th December. I can't remember if I did the year I lived in France when a) it is impossible to get hold of a turkey, and b) no-one I knew owned an oven, but I hope I did.
Sunday, 29 November 2009
Sunday, 22 November 2009
I'm sorry I have neglected you of late, little blog. I have been horribly busy so either haven't had time to write posts, or haven't eaten anything worth writing about. Poached eggs on toast have become a staple of mine, along with the exciting variation of poached eggs on marmite toast, but I imagine you all know how to poach an eggs.
If you don't: slide egg into barely simmering water, cover and leave on the lowest possible heat for five minutes. You should also read what Delia has to say on them in How to Cook, in fact everything she has to say on eggs. There are some especially interesting parts on how an eggs changes as it becomes older, and what it can best be used for when it is really fresh, middling, and a few weeks old.
Beyond poached eggs I have totally fallen in love with this butternut squash soup. It's so intensely savoury it almost tastes meaty, but it doesn't even use chicken stock. I've recently discovered Kabocha squash and I imagine it would work just as well here.
1 butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
Two cloves of garlic
A finger length piece of rosemary
1 scant tsp smoked paprika
Fry the onion gently in butter until it begins to turn translucent. While this is cooking chop the garlic and rosemary as finely as you can - you could use a garlic crusher but I don't think they're worth the hassle of washing up. Add this to the onion and cook until it smells fragrant, then stir in the paprika, cook for one minute then add the squash.
Cover with water and simmer until the squash collapses when you prod it with a wooden spoon, probably about fifteen minutes. Blizt with a stick blender (or any other sort of blender, or put it through a mouli if you prefer to do things traditionally). Eat, for lunch, for a late night snack, or even for breakfast.
Sunday, 8 November 2009
Bubble and squeak poses something of a dilemma to me. It is wonderful, and every time I eat it I vow to do so more often, but it also should be made from leftovers and I rarely have leftover cooked potatoes and cabbage.
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Although there is a lot of flavour in it, breast of lamb is a shy cut of meat; it takes some coaxing to bring it out, and to keep it from being tough. Elizabeth David recommends braising it, then cutting in into fingers, which are then dipped in egg and breadcrumbs, grilled and served with tartare sauce. I decided to go for a cross between roasting and braising by first searing the meat then cooking it in a hot oven with a bit of liquid.
For the lamb (enough for four)
Breast of lamb
1 tsp each fennel seeds, black pepper, ground cinnamon, crushed chillies
Half a star anise
4 cloves of garlic plus another whole bulb
2 small leeks
A glass of red wine
For the fennel (enough for one)
1 bulb of fennel
A thick slice of butter, about 20g
Grind the pepper, fennel and star anise to a rough powder in a pestle and mortar, then mix in the cinnamon and flaked chillies. I rubbed this into the flesh side of the meat, then crushed the garlic with a teaspoon pf oil to make a paste and smeared this over the top. In retrospect it would have been much simpler to mix everything together and then apply it to the meat - crushed garlic doesn't stick very well to meat when with a layer of spices on it.
Roll up the meat and secure with string, or cocktail sticks would work. Although it's normally recommended to roll it lengthways, starting at the fleshier end so that the thickest layer of fat is on the outside, the fat on mine was fairly evenly distributed so I rolled it across the width to make a thinner sausage shape that would cook quicker.
Sear the meat on all sides in a hot roasting pan until it's a deep gold colour, then add the leeks and onion, cut into big pieces, and garlic bulb, halved. I wasn't sure if red wine would go with the fennel, star and anise and cinnamon but had a sweet, berryish Australian Shiraz to hand, so I added a glass of that then poured in water to come about an inch up the side of the pan. Cover with foil and put into the over, set to 200°C for about an hour.
About 30 minutes in check to make sure it isn't drying out too much. I found that the liquid had reduced by about two thirds so I added about another 250ml of water.
For the braised fennel, trim off the green stalks, reserving any green fonds to use as a herb once it's cooked, and cut the bulb into quarters. Melt a thick slice of butter in a dish with a lid that can go in the oven.
Toss the fennel in the butter until it's glossy and there's butter caught in between its layers. Add water to come just under halfway up the fennel - you can use a light chicken stock if you want something richer, but with the lamb I didn't think there was any need for that.
If I was eating this, as the centre of attention, with bread and salad then I might be more tempted to use stock. Put it in the oven with the lamb, feeling virtuous that you're saving energy this way, and cook for about half an hour until tender.
Once you can stick a knife into it with very little resistance it's cooked, so remove it from the oven and let it rest while you put the roasting pan on the hob. Fish out the pieces of leek and onion and if they still look edible, eat them (mine were delicious).
Taste the juices and if they are too strong then add a bit of water. Squish the garlic cloves to release the creamy flesh and blend it into the sauce. Sieve it - although this seems fussy, it's necessary to get rid of all the garlic and onions skins.
Despite the fairly assertive flavours involved - fennel, chilli, cinnamon - this melded into something mellower than I had expected, and the fat emulsified the water, wine and the juices that leaked out of the lamb into a silky sauce. You need something to soak this up, I went for potatoes but I think rice could be good as well.
The next day I cut the leftovers into thin rounds and cooked them under the grill until they were crisp - they were like little lamb pinwheels and I was tempted to eat them as they were as a snack, but in an effort to make them into a proper meal had them on top of couscous with toasted almonds and some chilli sauce.
Thursday, 22 October 2009
It's officially autumn. The air smells of smoke, it's dark when I get up to go to work, and I know the clocks go back sometime soon and really should find out exactly when. The onset of cold weather makes me feel I should be about to go into hibernation (eat yourself silly then sleep it off for six months? Yes please!), but failing that comfort food seems to be the next best option to ward off the gloom of shortening days.
Although there are exceptions I think comfort food falls into three categories: food that you ate as a child - for me this is macaroni cheese and rice pudding; most warm food you eat from a bowl with a spoon, such as soup or stew, and food that is so sweet or fatty you it is clearly intended to provide an emotional rather that nutritional boost - chocolate brownies and ice cream, cheesy mashed potatoes.
Chowder falls into the second category, although I did eat eat is as a child it was never with much enthusiasm. When I was living in Brussels I found most supermarkets sold very thin slices of smoked haddock which prompted me to try and make variation on the chowder my Mum used make, which was mostly white fish, leek, potato and corn. Perhaps it was the tinned sweetcorn, which I never really liked, that used to put me off.
I developed my own version using lardons, leek and potato fried until the potato began to soften then added the haddock, covered with milk and simmered very gently until it turned opaque. Lots of parsley was essential. I made this when my parents came to visit me one weekend and I wanted to show off how domesticated I was capable of being. Chowder seems like something a brisk, sensible, sober housewife would make. I am not that, but at least I can make chowder.
One large leek
One large floury potato
One skinned smoked haddock fillet, around 200g
Enough milk to cover, about 300ml
A bay leaf or two
Small bunch of parsley
Cut the leek into finger-wide slices, and rinse if they're gritty. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pan -I used my old faithful Le Creuset I found at a second hand shop - stir in the leeks and leave on a very low heat while you peel the potato and carrot and cut into small cubes. Add these to the leeks and cook, covered for about ten minutes until the potato has started to soften around the edges, although it will still be hard in the middle. Add more butter and/or a splash of water if it begins to stick.
Add the haddock, cut into bite sized pieces, and the bay leaves to the vegetables, then pour over over enough milk to just cover. Simmer over a low heat until the fish begins to flake. Sprinkle with roughly chopped parsley, and eat with buttered bread.
Friday, 16 October 2009
I'm still trying to make it up to my body for the nutritional desert that was the political party conference season. There was excitement, some interesting discussions (and some very bizarre ones), and some fun nights in hotel bars. But a vitamin feast it was not.
A few days into the first conference I never wanted to see another piece of lukewarm chicken satay again in my life. The rule for conference food seems to be anything as along as it's beige: sandwiches with unidentifiable protein fillings, odd deep fried pastry things and anaemic bits of quiche.
So, a vegetable-heavy meal was very much needed. In retropect aubergine fried in fairly copious amounts of oil probably doesn't count as particularly healthy, but it is very good. As it cooks the aubergine flesh becomes soft and melting in contrast to the slightly charred edges.
If you want to create a crunchy carapace to provide even more contrast the silky interior then dip the slices in beaten egg then flour before frying. Oddly enough fried aubergine is also good cold and makes a great sandwich.
Plenty of olive oil
100ml plain yogurt
Small bunch of parsley
Cut the aubergines into 1cm wide slices. This is a situation in which you would normally be recommended to sprinkle the slices with salt and left for half an hour or so so draw out some of the excess juices and to reduce bitterness. However, I think most aubergines available in the UK today have had excessive bitterness breed out of them, and I don't generally find them to be too soggy. Also, I just can't be bothered.
Heat a shallow layer of oil in a pan, then add the aubergines. Fry over a medium heat for about five minutes on each side. Try not to move the slices around too much to allow a slight crust to form.
Meanwhile, put the tahina in a bowl and slowly stir in a tablespoon of water. This can cause it to thicken and seize up, but keep stirring and it will loosen up. Gradually mix in the yogurt, then add salt, pepper and the parsley, finely chopped.
Let the aubergine cool for a minute or two then slather with the tahina yogurt. I ate this with a salad of Little Gem and parsley leaves. An easy way of making a small amount of dressing is to mix the oil and vinegar straight onto the plate you're going to eat it off, then toss the salad in it.
One aubergine should serve for two, although, just because I was so vegetable deprived, it was just enough for me.
Saturday, 10 October 2009
Plagiarism is a great thing when it comes to food. Although now and then chefs come up with amazing discoveries of new flavour combinations or techniques (I wonder if there was ever a time when strawberries and cream or beef and mustard was ever considered new and daring?), I think generally food evolves by taking someone else's creation and tweaking it.
For this reason I find other peoples' recpies, especially handwritten ones fascinating. I love looking at other peoples' cookery books and gueassing what they have made from it (if they're messy) by which pages are most splattered, or by comments written in the margins. These can trigger such strong memories, for example when, after my grandmother died, my mum found a piece of paper with what she had cooked for her 21st birthday party tucked into a cookery book.
This recipe came from my housemate Agnes, who copied it from somewhere else. The fact that the sheet it's written on is reassuring crumpled from being used so often, and that I've tasted it before - and it was amazing, hearty and comforting - made me want to try the recipe myself.
2 large onions (the recipe I used called for shallots as well but I didn't have any)
12 cloves of garlic
A couple of finger length pieces of fresh rosemary, or a teaspoon dried
2 bay leaves
A small shoulder of lamb
6 tinned anchovy fillets
A tin of chopped tomatoes
2 glasses of wine, both red or white work well
A tin of flagolet, cannelini or butter beans
Slice the onions into 1cm wide strips and peel the garlic. Put the onions and ten of the garlic close into a roasting tray large enough to take the lamb later. Pull the rosemary leaves of the stems - I love doing this, and it makes your hands smell wonderful - and sprinkle them, along with the bay leaves over the onions. Add a bit of salt and a good grinding of pepper.
Cut the remaining garlic into little chards and roughly chop the anchovies. Using a small knife stab holes all over the lamb and poke a piece of garlic and some anchovy into each. Smear any remaining anchovies over the top of the lamb.
Put the anchovied lamb in the pan on top of the onions then pour the tinned tomatoes and wine around the meat. Cover with tin foil and roast at 180°C for four hours, by which time your kitchen shuld smell like a French farmhouse kitchen, the meat should be beginning to come away from the bone, and the tomatoes, wine and lamb fat should have amalgamated into pungent, slighly oily sauce. Remove the lamb, stir the beans into this, put the lamb back on top and roast for a further 30 minutes, this time without the foil, until the lamb is bronzed and screaming 'eat me' at you.
This should serve four, just, although the piece of lamb I used was really quite small. Despite the beans if I was serving this to other poeple I would probably make something potato-ey, maybe mash or sliced potatoes baked in stock, to go with it. As it was I ate it greedily on my own, for dinner one evening and lunch the next day and froze the rest for a clod evening when I suddenly need a lamb and bean hit.
Sunday, 4 October 2009
It also works as a comfort food because it takes some time to prepare, although it isn't difficult, so you feel that you are looking after youself and can tell any concerned relatives that you are indeed 'eating properly'. Standing over a pan stirring can be strssful it you're doing it for a tableful of people but for one it is mindlessly soothing.
The strong flavours of spinach and gorgonzola counter balance the gentle blandness of the rice and I think the green and blue streaks look beautiful, even though they don't really show up in the photo very well.
A small onion
One large handful of Arborio or Carnaroli rice
Splash of vermouth, white wine or similar
125ml stock, preferably homemade but à la stock cub
e is fine
One hanful of baby spinach, chopped
Fry a small onion or shallot until it's transluscent. Stir in the rice, coating it in the oniony oil then add the vermouth or white wine. Keep stirring until the liquid has mostly evapourated. Now start adding the stock a small ladleful at a time. It should be added hot, so either put it in pan and keep it over a low heat if you're using real stock, or crumble in a teeny lump of stock cube at the beginning and then add water from a recently boiled kettle.
Add liquid, stir, add more liquid and stir some more. The amount of liquid you end up using will dependon the heat of the pan and on the rice itself. This is not the thing to cook when you're liable to be distracted or not in the mood to spend twenty minutes by the stove. But after a long day some mindless chopping and stirring can be surprisingly relaxing - having to concentrate on something fairly untaxing gives you a break from thinking about other things.
When the rice has swollen and feels soft but with a bit of chalkiness towards the centre, add the chopped spinach. After a minute or two if should begin to wilt. Take the pan off the heat and throw in a small lump of butter and the gorgonzola.
Cover, and leave it while you quickly get together some salad and or pour yourself a drink. By now the cheese should be beginning to slowly ooze into the rice, but not yet fully melted. With the gorgonzola there's no need for parmesan but a meagre dusting of nutmeg or a bit of chopped parsley is a good idea.
Saturday, 26 September 2009
I find cooking for large numbers of people terrifying. Partly because I've haven't done if much, although when I lived in France I once managed to make dinner for twelve people in my tiny studio flat with two hot plates and a microwave: chicken from the rotisserie down the road, ratatouille in a borrowed saucepan, about 4,000 baguettes, and a lot of wine.
Generally I find feeding crowds intimidating, I can’t judge quantities in large amounts and live in fear there not being enough to go around. But having lots of people for dinner is fun so I’ve decided I must face my fear.
Last weekend a friend from
The stew part of a beef pie can simmer all afternoon, making the kitchen smell like all kitchens should, or be cooked a couple of days in advance meaning that when you want to eat all you need to do is make the pastry, put in a pie dish, drape the pastry over and bake it.
Pie for ten:
For the filling
1kg stewing beef, preferably shin, in bite sized pieces
3 large onions
5 large carrots
Oil or beef dripping
1 tbs flour
A few sprigs of dried thyme and bay leaves
2 cans of Guinness
1tbs brown sugar
You can brown the meat for this but I didn’t brown the meat for this, mostly because I was feeling lazy, and decided that the Guinness and sugar would make up for any loss of caramelised meat favours.
Slice the onions and cook over a low heat for about 20-30 minutes until they’re a soft, pale brown mass. I used olive oil but beef dripping, if I’d had any, would have been even better. Add the carrots, cuts into slices, and cook for a further ten minutes.
Turn up the heat, add the beef and stir until it loses it loses its raw appearance. Add the flour and cook for a minute or two before adding the herbs, Guinness and sugar. Cover, turn the heat as low as it will go, and leave it to bubble very gently for at least two hours. Add some water if it starts to look too dry, but it shouldn’t be soupy either. This is the sort of thing that actually improves if you leave it for a day.
You could use any dark ale instead of Guinness, or any beer at all. One day I’m going to try making a Belgian inspired stew using a dark beer such as Chimay or Leffe Brun, a bit of sugar and the sweet gingerbread spices called pain d’epice.
For the pastry
100g butter cut into cubes
200g plan flour
Pinch of salt
As per normal shortcrust, rub the butter into the flour and salt until it looks a bit like porridge oats. Stir in very cold water with a knife (I’m not sure why I always make pastry with a knife but it just feels right) until begins to come together into a lump, but isn’t too sticky. Beware that sometimes the flour mixture looks really dry but if you carry on stirring it then suddenly it starts to cohere into a ball.
Quickly knead the pastry into a ball and chill it in the fridge for half and hour or so. Decant the stew mixture into a large dish then roll out the pastry to the thickness of a pound coin and place over the dish. Press the pastry into the rim with your fingers to make a scalloped pattern then trim away the excess.
If the filling was hot when you put it in the dish then you just need to cook the pastry – about 20 minutes at 200°C – but if it starts off cold then cook it at 150°C for 45 minutes, covering the top with foil if the pastry begins to look too dark. Best eaten with lots of buttery mashed potato, and some cabbage if you feel the need for something green.
Thursday, 17 September 2009
The few times I've pork belly I've done it with garlic, fennel seeds and chilli, which is good with all things porky, and I think would be great minced pork in meatballs. However, today I wanted to try something more Asian, inspired by Chez Pim's five spice braised pork and Eat Like A Girl's spiced roast pork.
So, peppercorns, dried chillies, fennel, a little piece of star anise and cinnamon were pounded in the pestle and mortar (the biggest, toughest-looking, best pestle and mortar, incidentally) and then smeared over the two pieces of belly. Ideally I would have left it to marinate for a a few hours but I didn't have time and it didn't seem any the worse for it.
I briefly seared the meat on both sides, then added about three tablespoons of fish sauce, two of brown sugar and enough water to just cover. Turn the heat down as low as possible and leave to simmer very gently for at least two hours. The water will evaporate a bit; this is part of the plan.
After about two and a half hours my house smelt amazing - sweet, salty and pungent - and the meat was beginning to fall apart. The liquid had reduced down to a few very intense spoonfuls made unctuous by rendered-down fat. I ate it with rice, lubricated with these juices, and with steamed spinach to cut through the richness. Any leftovers are amazing for breakfast, reheated and shredded, then piled on to toast which you have dunked in the fat.
Thursday, 10 September 2009
A friend recently went on holiday to Lisbon and very sweetly brought me back this amazing coffee-making device. It is a moka pot but instead of collecting the coffee in the top half of the pot in this little baby it flows up through the central stem and is neatly decanted straight into two coffee cups.
Besides looking very cute, I've discovered its much harder to spoil coffee in it. If you leave a moka pot on the heat for too long it eventually boils, and boiled coffee is nothing more than a nasty bitter brown liquid that will ruin your breakfast and leave you in a bad mood all morning.
When I lived in France I would often put the coffee on the hob then rush down to the bakery for some bread. Normally I would arrive home just in time to hear it bubble through into the top container but if there was a queue at the baker's I would return to the smell of burnt coffee and sometimes splashes of coffee over the wall behind the hob.
However, with this new version the coffee is protected from the heat by both the china of the cup and the little metal shelf it stands on which is not directly above the boiling water. Genius.
Sunday, 6 September 2009
Wake up, and then wish you hadn't. Resolve never to drink to excess again. Try to block out the sunlight and go back to sleep. Wake up a few hours later, go downstairs and attempt to talk to housemates. Fail, and retreat back to bed. Try to remember why a second bottle of wine seemed like a good idea last night. Drink a cup of tea brought to you by your lovely housemate. Eventually feel human enough to go downstairs again in search of sustenance.
Drag a pot out of the cupboard, noticing that it seems heaver than normal, and put it on the hob. Slice a pepper carefully, being aware your physical coordination is not what it usually is. Fry it in oil with a sprinkling of chilli flakes for a few minutes. Add a couple of handfuls of red lentils and enough water to cover them by about 5cms. Retire to moan quietly on the sofa while they cook for 15 minutes or so, adding more water if it dries up. When the lentils are soft and the whole mixture looks thick and soupy it's ready. Add some salt if you want.
Eat from a bowl on your lap. This is not a time for tables and chairs. Feel much better, so go back for seconds.
Thursday, 3 September 2009
Once they'd been out of the oven for a bit they did deflate somewhat and, while not as smooth as I would have liked it the texture looked at least edible. It was just as I was about to take a bite that I realised they would not be edible: I had forgotten to add the sugar to the lemon-egg-cream mixture. Oops.
I hope that those of you who are less forgetful are more successful with this recipe (which is adapted from the Lemon Cream in Nigella Lawson's 'How To Eat').
For the pastry I used the same method as for Green Pie and used it to line four holes in a cupcake tin, then baked them blind for about 10 minutes.
Combine the zest and juice of one lemon, 100ml of double cream, one egg and 75g of sugar (N.B This is not optional) and if you have time leave it to stand in the fridge for an hour or so, or even overnight if you have time. This could be a good pudding to make if you have people coming round for dinner - make the pastry cases and the mixture the day before and then you only have to assemble and bake it on the day. Or make the whole thing the day beforehand, it keeps for a few days and I prefer it cold to hot.
Fill the pastry cases three-quarters full and put into an oven preheated to 150 degree for about 15 minutes - check them regularly to avoid making lemon-scented scrambled eggs.
Some meals are carefully planned in advance, shopping lists written, ingredients bought, anticipated before and lingered over afterwards. Other times things - work, seeing friends, studying, boring domestic chores - get in the way and you have to feed yourself from what you have already languishing in the fridge.
Not that this is a worse way to feed yourself. I think one of the most important aspects of cooking is learning how to make a meal from what you have, rather than being only being able to follow a recipe and having to go to the shop if you're missing an ingredient. When you cook from what you have to hand you experiment, try things you wouldn't otherwise, and discover new combinations. It's cooking off piste, maybe scarier to begin with but ultimately much more satisfying.
I find it helps that I tend to cook like this for myself or maybe one other person. Cooking alone I don't feel the pressure to come up with something with a wide appeal, I can make some variation on fried vegetables with fish sauce again, or whatever suits my mood. (However, I don't understand why everyone doesn't love fried cabbage, especially with chilli, garlic and fish sauce. Their loss, I suppose.)
This concoction was the result of what I could find in the fridge and that fact that I had some spinach that needed using up. I was particularly pleased by the colour combination here: the bronzed pink of the lardons, the green of the spinach and the violet of the onions. All quantities are, as ever, approximate - use what looks right to you, or what you happen to have to hand. If I'd had either I might have added a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts or a poached egg
100g chopped smoked bacon or lardons
1 red onion
1 small bag of washed baby spinach - about two large handfuls
Fry the lardons in a teaspoon of oil until they're browned then add a sliced red onion and turn the heat down. Leave it to soften, stirring every now and then and adding a drop of water if it looks like it might stick. When the onion is sweet and transluscent throw in the spinach and stir until it has wilted. Serve over rice with a teaspoon of butter stirred through it. Makes enough for one greedy person.
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
As I mentioned in my first ever post, I love ratatouille. Even though it's really a summer concoction I find it really cheering in winter, although that means having to make it with hothouse vegetables, but I doubt many aubergines sold in the UK are grown here so I don't feel too bad about that. (Does anyone know if aubergines do grow in the UK?)
Ratatouille is wonderful hot, tepid or cold when it starts to seem relish-like, which you can play up by chopping it up a bit more. A few days ago I had it on toast for a late breakfast. It is great with roast meat, esepcailly lamb or pork but most often I have it on top of rice, which is how I ate this, with plenty of soft red wine.
I think that a ratatouille is so much better if you cook all of the vegetables separately. This may seem excessively effortful but unless you have an enourmous frying pan then most of them will not be in contact with the base and rather than gently frying in oil then will steam. There is little to love in a steamed ratatouille. For the same reason I tend to use A LOT of oil, it helps the vegetables caramelize. You can drain out the excess before adding the tomatoes but remember that it is supposed to be quite oily.
For enough for two large servings and some leftovers I used one onion, one aubergine, two peppers, two courgettes, two cloves of garlic and a tin and a half of tomatoes - this is also the order in which I cook them. Despite many cooks advising it I don't see much point in salting aubergines to remove water or bitterness. I have never some across a particularly bitter specimen so I think that this must have more of a problem in the past and that it has now been bred out of them. However, aubergines do soak up masses of oil so don't use too much when frying them if you want to avoid creating oil-sponges. One of my housemates told me her dad (who is a fantastic cook) cooks them will a mixture of water and oil to stop them getting to greasy and I think I will try that next time.
So, fry each vegetable in olive oil until soft and slightly browned, then decant to a bowl and start on the next one. Once they're all done add the tomatoes and a pinch or two of salt - use more or a bit of water if it seems to dry - and cook very gently for an hour or so. I'd forgotten until I started writing this that I used to eat it with goats cheese when I lived in Aix. I wish I'd bought these that I saw at Borough Market on Friday.
Monday, 31 August 2009
It was a Sunday evening at the end of August and felt like summer was over. My housemates and I were slumped on sofas in need of something to perk us up. Chocolate cake! Bringer of happiness and lovely kitchen smells!
This is the most basic cake recipe based on twice as many ounces of flour, sugar and butter as eggs. I would normally think of food in terms of grammes and kilos but the formula for cakes is so much easier in ounces. It is worth using a good cocoa powder (don't even think about using drinking chocolate - this will result in bad things) and I borrowed a Green and Blacks one from my housemate.
Even though I made the cake itself with margerine I used butter in the icing because I think that the texture of butter is much more noticeable in the icing. Out of laziness I didn't cut greaseproof paper into the shape of the tins to line them but just placed a square of it over the tins and dolloped the mixture in. This resulted in the cakes being a pleasing flower shape and if I'm not planning on icing the sides of a cake (which I hardly ever do anyway) then I will carry on doing it this way.
6oz Golden caster sugar
4oz Self-raising flour
Beat the butter briefly to soften it (don't put it in the microwave to melt it, I've done this and it gives the finished cake a funny texture) then beat in the sugar until its smooth. Add the eggs one by one with a bit of of the flour and cocoa mixture between each one. Properly you should fold the flour in so as not to lose the air created by all that beating but I just stirred it in and the cakes did not seem heavy.
Tear two squares of greaseproof paper, larger than the sandwich tins, and place them on top. Spoon the cake mixture into the middle and spread it out a bit but don't worry about making it reach the edge of the tins, the wobbly edges will be part of their charm.
Bake at 170 degrees for about 20 minutes. If you can't put both tins on the same shelf then swap them over halfway through.
I played this by ear so can't give exact quantities with any confidence but I beat about 75g of butter until it was soft and then added about 200g of icing sugar. At first it looks like this it far too much but keep beating and eventually it will yield to a smooth paste. Then I stirred in 50g of slightly cooled melted dark chocolate.
I know you should wait until cakes are cool before icing them but I couldn't wait and the warmth of the two layers hugging the icing caused it to begin to melt just a tiny bit which emphasised the generally gooey goodness. From now on I'm going to judge cakes according to the volume of 'ooh' they create. This one did well.
Thursday, 27 August 2009
Bill’s is a greengrocer’s, deli and café in the quaint town of
I had smoked mackerel, spinach, grilled tomato and poached eggs on toast which was fantastic. The mackerel was the best I'd had in ages, sweet and not too smoky, and the grilled tomatoes were intensely tomato-y and slightly charred. I meant to take a photo of it when it arrived couldn't resist diving into it first.
My mum had a plate of salads which included shaved fennel and sprouted seeds, Israeli cous cous and a sort of coleslaw with red cabbage. Most of the vegetables and fruit sold at Bill's are grown locally and all of these were really fresh and tasted strongly of themselves.
The bread that came with both these dishes was fantastic - toasted sourdough with mine and, if I remember rightly, olive bread for my mum.
I bought a loaf of sourdough in the shop afterwards and am keen to make things-on-toast: fried tomatoes, sardines, mushrooms, and maybe the smoked mackerel, cheese and cream on toast from Nigel Slater's 'Appetite' book.
The shop attached to the cafe was a greengrocers, Willy Wonka style: piles of vegetables in amazing colours (I particularly liked the yellow and orange beetroot), huges bunches of herbs and dried chillies hanging from the ceiling, and armfuls of wild-looking flowers.
As well as the sourdough I also bought a slice of sheep's cheese called Duddleswell that is sweet, nutty and almost crumbly. The two make a good combination.
Tuesday, 18 August 2009
It is a familiar situation: I had decided to take food to work rather than buy it at the overpriced canteen, but it was getting late and I couldn't find anything in the house I would have wanted to eat the following lunchtime. All I could find was some eggs and salad, and although egg salad would do in an emergency, I wasn't feeling excited by it.
Then I remembered some spinach and peas in the freezer, and that with some flour and butter I could make pastry. Spinach and pea quiche it was, then.
I make fairly awful pasty. This doesn't seem very fair when my Mum makes some of the best pastry I've ever tasted. Maybe pastry-making ability skips a generation, like twins. So I crumbled the butter into the flour, trying to think light thoughts while I did it, then slowly mixed in some cold water.
While that rested in the fridge I put a handful of frozen peas and four spheres of frozen spinach into a pan with a lump of butter and put it over a low heat to warm through. Rather than rolling out the pastry I'd heard of people just pressing it out in the pan with their fingers until the bottom and sides were covered evenly. This was easier than it sounds, and more fun than struggling with a rolling pin!
Two beaten eggs were mixed into the pea and spinach mixture along with a teaspoon on pesto and a tablespoon of crumbled Lancashire cheese. This went into the pastry case and I intended to bake it for about forty minutes, but got distracted and eventually retrieved it after about an hour. Amazing it wasn't burned and I think the firmer texture made it better suited to being shaken about in a box on the way to work.
A slice of this, with some green salad and sun-dried tomatoes (halved cherry tomatoes, tossed in oil, in the oven on gas mark one for five hours) made a really satisfying lunch that was far better than anything on offer in the canteen. Next time I might not bother using any peas though as they didn't add much.
Monday, 17 August 2009
While looking through past posts I came across a terrible discovery: despite being named after them, aubergines have not featured once on this blog. Shock horror! I haven't eaten them all summer, with courgettes and broccoli taking over as vegetable of choice. Both of them have their charms, and I think broccoli is often underrated, but neither have the dark, sexy appeal or the versatility of the aubergine. This, of course, had to be swiftly remedied.
One quick shopping trip later I was ready to make aubergine purée/babaghanoush. I love this rough smoky purée as part of a mezze or stuffed into pitta with grilled lamb but today I wanted it to be the centre of attention, with some fried peppers on top for sweetness and colour.
I pricked the aubergine a few times to stop it exploding then left it under the grill for about 40 minutes, turning it every now and then, until it was charred and soft. Then I cut it in half, and scrapped the innards, seeds and all, into a sieve. Make sure you get the really dark flesh from next to the skin that has absorbed the taste of the charred skin, if you get a bit of skin as well that doesn’t matter. Roughly chop the flesh and leave it to drain for about 10 minutes.
At this point I sliced a red pepper and put it in a pan along with far too much olive oil, on a medium heat. Decant the strained aubergine goo into a bowl and beat with a fork until it's a fairly smooth paste. Add some oil to loosen it, and whatever seasonings appeal. I used a tiny clove of crushed garlic, a little salt and a squeeze of lemon, but sometimes add a pinch of chilli flakes or some tahini or yogurt as well. Tip the now soft and slightly charred peppers over the aubergine.
Good bread of some sort is essential with this; I had an olive fougasse (a flat bread from the south of
Sunday, 9 August 2009
I have only recently discovered Soho as a place for food-related adventures. In the past few years I'd been there once or twice for so-so Chinese food and went to an insalubrious bar, cruelly lured in by the offer of a free shot which turned out to be Ribena.
I started cutting through Soho as a way of avoiding the hell that is the herds of aimless, ambling crowds on Oxford Street, but now go there to gaze in the windows of the Italian delis and sushi bars - window shopping for food.
On Friday, while I was gazing in shop windows at kinky accessories, reading menus posted on walls and adding to my mental lists of restaurants I want to visit I came across a little red shop that smelt strongly of roasting coffee beans. The Algerian Coffee Stores is a Aladdin's cave of all things hot-drink related: huge glass jars filled of dried flowers and herbs for tisanes, tiny Moka pots, wooden drawers with coffee beans roasted to different degrees and the prettiest tins of sweets you've ever seen. Most appealing of all was a large board listing all the different types of coffee and blends on offer.
I couldn't decide between the Lebanese blend (with cardamom) or the Arabic (with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom). The man behind the counter recommended the Arabic so I went for that one and he set about measuring out a mixture of dark and medium roast beans, grinding them and then adding the ground spices. Then to compound my love for the shop, after I had paid I was offered a dried fig dipped in chocolate to taste: I was completely seduced.
Despite the blend of dark and medium roast beans the coffee is much darker than what I'd been drinking before. The spices work really well, mingling with the aroma of the coffee to create a small and taste that is not quite like coffee or sweet spices something new, and more intriging. It's a coffee that I think is better suited to after-drinking than breakfast, and I can't wait to try it out alongside baklava. Even though six hours have passed since I made the coffee my kitchen still carries a faint scent of a Middle Eastern souk.
Algerian Coffee Stores Ltd, 52 Old Compton Street, London W1D 4BP
Thursday, 30 July 2009
In the supermarket this evening while looking for cake ingredients a little box of tinned octopus caught my eye. I had been looking at the tinned sardines, with their beautiful retro patterned boxes but having never cooked octopus, tinned or otherwise, I decided to buy some.
Lately I have been eating far to many chips and various other stodgy beige foodstuffs and am in desperate need of vegetables so the half broccoli in my fridge was also called into service. Fried broccoli sounds odd but if you chop it finely enough and use sufficent oil so that it doesn't burn it give off a wonderful smell, that is a purer, cleaner version of normal broccoli-odour.
So I fried it in oil with a sprinkle of smoked paprika which I thought would complement the octopus. I would have added garlic but didn't have any; it would have been better if I had. Once the broccoli was bright green and slightly softened I threw in the pretty, pinky-purple pieces of octopus and let it all fester on a low heat until it had warmed through (read: until I couldn't wait any longer). Finally I poured in the juice of half a lemon, some more olive oil and a chopped teaspoonful of the pickled chillies I made last week.
The combination of the slighly scorched bits of broccoli ends, the firmer stalks and the slightly chewy octopus worked really well together, and the oil and lemon juice mixed with the paprika to create a sharp, smoky brick-red dressing. I'm falling in love with pickled chillies in a serious way, and finding a reason to include them in everything at the moment.
Saturday, 25 July 2009
Monday, 20 July 2009
The market on Battersea High Street was selling huge bowls of red and green chillies on Saturday. They were so beautiful I was tempted to buy some and string them on to thread and hang them around the kitchen. Instead (thinking my housemates might object to living in a chilli grotto) I decided to pickle them.
One of my favourite kebab shops Taza, on Bayswater Road, always has a bowl of pale green pickled chillies on the counter to poke into your pitta or to nibble whilst waiting for your food. They are juicy, salty and sour, and somehow manage to taste spicy and cool at the same time.
A lot of the recipes I looked at called for peppers, bayleaves or other additions but I wanted pure, unadulterated chillies.
Wash the chillies and put them in a large jar. They fit better if you put half of them in upside down, as they are snuggled together top-to-tail. At this point you are supposed to pour the salt on top, although I forgot and added it after the vinegar. Bring the vinegar and sugar to the boil in a small pan. Take off the heat to cool for a moment then pour over the chillies. Allow to cool then seal the jar.
I tasted mine the next day, and although they were a bit hotter than I had hoped for, they were still good. Not quite as good as Taza's, but nearly.
Monday, 13 July 2009
I tend to use recipes as loose guidelines at best, and with salads this applies even more so. Today I wanted something strong and spicy so added spring onion and red and green chillis. On other occasions I've added a teaspoon of pesto to the dressing or used cashew nuts instead of seeds.
Cook the broccoli until it's tender. Meanwhile mix some dressing in a large bowl. I like dressing best made with red wine vinegar. Sometimes I think I'm the only person in the world who doesn't understand the fuss about balsamic. I think it's alright on its own but overpowers anything it's paired with.
So, red wine vinegar, a pinch of salt, a drop of mustard and olive oil, stirred together. Add the broccoli while it's hot so it soaks up the dressing. Leave to cool for a bit then throw in the feta, spring onion/chilli/other, some seeds or chopped nuts and some carrots roasted in a hot oven for about 20 minutes.
Best eaten straight out the bowl, in the garden on a hot day. It also makes a damn fine packed lunch.
Saturday, 11 July 2009
And then I remembered cherry clafoutis. A clafoutis is a billowy, almost custardy batter studded with fruit. Traditionally it should be made with sour cherries but they're difficult to get hold of in London, and the market near me was selling enormous bowls of normal cherries for £2.50.
This was incredibly quick and easy to make. I was lazy and made the batter using a hand blender, but even with a whisk or a fork it wouldn't have taken long. I wondered if it would be a bit flat because I didn't whisk the batter but it puffed up impressively in the oven. (I forgot to take the photo of it until it had been standing for about half an hour - I promise it was higher that it looks there!)
Cherry clafoutis - serves four
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Stone the cherries; I discovered a cherry stoner in the back of a drawer but it's actually just as easy to squash them and take the stone out.
Either whisk the flour, sugar, eggs and milk/cream in a bowl until it's smooth.
Put the butter in the tin and put in the oven for a minute or two to melt. Add the cherries to the tin and pour the batter over the top. Bake for about 35 minutes until the edges are puffed up and browned and the centre is golden and looks set.
I had a little bit of batter left over. I'd had a disaster last week with too much cake mixture in too small a pan and was anxious to avoid a repeat. Because the mixture was just a batter with cream in it I thought I'd try making a pancake with the remains. It was slightly softer than a normal pancake but good nonetheless.
At that point I was getting overexcited and made a cherry sauce/topping by heating a small hanful of stoned cherries, a tablespoon of fruity red wine, two of sugar and a splash of water in a small pan for five minutes.