Sunday, 18 November 2012

there's more to life than financial markets. maybe.

i'd all but given up on the blog since i got this job. there is barely enough time to cook and eat, let alone take pictures and write about it. i kind of new something had to give. blogging - and everything that goes with it - like watching uk tv food for hours on end (i can do the same episode of rick stein at least three times if the time lag in-between is sufficiently long), reading cookery books in bed, or joining daytime twitter conversations - became a luxury that i could ill afford. i have no idea how people with proper jobs and children manage to brush their teeth twice a day, let alone raise human beings not to be axe-murderers.

and then two things happened.

first, someone at work said his wife had started a food blog. obviously, these days everyone who can scramble an egg has to have a blog but you never know, i thought. i'll have a little look - magnanimously wishing for a pleasant surprise, while secretly hoping it was rubbish. and rubbish it was, my friends, utterly rubbish. not just the writing - though that made me feel like fiodor dostoyevski on a particularly good day - but the food too. of course, i smiled politely and said he must eat well, and left it at that. (i am not sure i like the guy anyway.)

second, i've been having a hard time at work choosing between two different jobs that were sort of being offered to me. both had things about them i liked, both would involve working with some impressive people, and both would - sadly - probably mean i have even less time for this. in an insomnia- and headache-inducing frenzy of choosing, i resorted to reading a book called 'how to find fulfilling work' by a school of lifer roman krznaric (as iches go, that's a good one). one of the things he talks about is the need to get 'flow' from your job - flow being those activities when you forget yourself, and don't notice the time passing.  it was pretty obvious to me straight away where i find flow: cooking and writing (and thinking about wording of EU directives on financial regulation, more of which below).

incidentally, i do wonder why i am so terrible at making decisions. my gut feeling is so badly honed that i usually can't find it at all, even if i wanted to listen to it. it's probably in part a curse of being reasonably good at lots of stuff, while not being exemplary or exceptional in anything. but there must be a large portion of southern european upbringing somewhere in there too. we delegate all responsibility to our parents, who are in turn largely happy not to let us grow up. i reckon if you get told to get a summer job if you want money for stuff, and you get kicked out to university or work aged 18, you probably become an adult a lot faster than we did, eating mum's cooking aged 40 and hoping she might iron our shirts too. i think i know which job i am going to choose, but i am still not 100 per cent certain.

anyway, those two things made me think that perhaps food and blogging about it is not a luxury, but a necessity - something that will give me pleasure, keep me sane, and stop me from thinking too much about those EU directives. which really is the third reason for this.

basically, rich told me off for being boring because i spend too much time thinking about all came to a head on a weekday night, while we were ostensibly watching michael palin being nice in brazil (it should have been the title of the series). i was half-watching and half-reading that day's financial times, and then i uttered the sentence that clearly made rich snap. 'you know bank bail-in debt, right? i mean, who's going to buy this stuff?' to which the reply was: 'put the fucking newspaper down and watch the programme. there is more to life than financial markets'.

so there we go. best get myself a hobby. i thought i'd set myself a task of posting at least once every two weeks. that would make it 25ish posts a year, which is pretty good going. and it must be manageable. i'll just have to read less FT.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

solitary dinners

this was my solitary dinner for tonight. it was amazing, and i think i could eat it all over again.

those brown things are buffalo burgers (courtsey of laverstock farm, rather than my own work - sourcing and grinding buffalo meat is a step too far, even for me). i defrosted them when i got in this afternoon - we usually have some buffalo or venison 100% burgers in the freezer as a quick lunch or a speedy dinner like this one.

the burgers are covered with a slide of organic buffalo mozzarella each, and then a dollop of 'ljutenica'. ljutenica is a kind of a spicy relish from serbia, made from flame-grilled red peppers and hot paprika, with only vinegar and seasoning added. the kind of thing that's actually easier to buy in a jar than make yourself - this applies to roast peppers generally in my book, unless you're just making one or two as a meal accompaniment (if i do that, i don't normally peel/chop as it's just too boring and a bit of skin won't do you any harm.)

the rest are roast sweet potato and cauliflower (olive oil, seasoning, chilli flakes, 220C for about 20-25 mins), and mixed green salad from the garden (no snails included - they floated to the surface when i washed the leaves, and made a desperate bid to escape. i chucked them outside the window, hoping they'd land in the grass. both landed in neighbour's garden. oops.)

that's it. it took about 5 minutes to prep - 2 to cut up the veggies and season them, 3 to make the salad dressing - plus a minute to put the burgers in a pan. you don't need to watch the burgers, you just need to flip them after 5 mins and go back to reading your newspapers.

why would you eat baked beans on toast??

Friday, 1 June 2012

roast monkfish wrapped in san daniele ham

we have been making a concerted effort to eat more fish though in all honestly, i have more of an issue with fish than i do with meat. in fact, i could never get my head around the fact that many 'vegetarians' continue to eat fish even when they eschew meat. it seems more legitimate to eat animals we have domesticated for the purpose, many of which - let's be honest about it - wouldn't stand a chance in the wild, than to empty the seas of fish which are just minding their own business and having nothing whatsoever to do with us. why not eat rabbits or squirrels instead, or wild deer or birds? there are plenty of them and their numbers presumably need controlling. plus those puffins on nature programmes always look quite tasty.

it's diving that's done this to me. once you've been down there, you can't really see dead fish on fishmongers' slabs without thinking of how beautiful the reefs are, or how amazing it is to get caught in the middle of schooling barracuda, or how privileged you are to be able to watch mackerel feeding on the surface or sharks hunting (i wish). This parallel underwater world - and i really can't avoid this sounding like a cliche but it is SO different that you can't but think of it as being wholly alien from our terrestrial existence - seems more precious because it is basically irreplaceable.

the point of all of this is to say i approach fish-buying with a heavy heart. we have pretty much stopped eating scallops unless they're cold water and MCS-certified ones (waitrose, in case you were wondering) and eat nothing more exciting that local mackerel, octopus, squid and the odd bit of salmon. gurnard too but it's so bony that you lose the will to live a little by the time you're done picking bones out of your mouth. there are only so many jokes about the heimlich maneuver you can make before your husband wants you dead.

monkfish was a bit of a departure from the usual, then. i actually had in mind a monkfish curry - a recipe from skye gyngell i've been circling around for months like an obese person circles mcdonalds. but then i realised we had some ham in the fridge and thought it might be nice to roast it wrapped, the way we have done with beef or even salmon. we toyed with the idea of filleting it but decided it's probably the same as the meat: it's better to roast it on the bone to preserve some juice. we were right (though of course i'd have to cook it off the bone to be sure). a meat thermometer is probably a useful tool for cooking this, as you can judge the cooking time much better with it. we didn't use one (though we have it and use it for meat all the time) so i think we got lucky.

PS san daniele ham is a close relative of parma ham.


1 monkfish tail, bone in (ours was about 800g, including the bone)
150g or thereabouts of san daniele ham
a sprig of rosemary
olive oil

preheat the oven to 200C. wash and dry the monkfish, and remove any membrane you can spot. oil it a little, then season lightly with salt and generously with black pepper. lay the ham flat - if you buy it from the deli, it will usually come perfectly packed, in a single layer of lightly overlapping thin slices. if it's from a supermarket, you'll have to take out those annoying plastic sheets they put between the slices. but you get the idea of what it should look like from the photo, hopefully. put the fish in the middle of the ham slices, so they face east-west and the fish north-south. (i don't know why i am struggling to find the words to explain that - i am in belgrade and i seem to have forgotten how to speak english in 3 days). if you have any rosemary, lay a sprig in the middle of the fish.

now wrap the ham around the fish - take a slice from the left, then one from the right, overlapping slightly, and continue until it's all used up. kind of like plaiting. it doesn't have to look perfect. i didn't need to secure it with toothpicks or anything - it stuck to the fish enough to be able to handle it without it all falling apart.

heat some oil in a ovenproof, heavy-bottomed frying pan. sear the fish for about a minute on each side, then put the whole thing in the oven for another 10-15 minutes. you will need to check it as it's pretty nasty when it's overcooked - i'd go as far as to say you're better off taking it out of the oven after 10 and cutting into it to see what it's like, than overcooking it. if it's still translucent, put it back for 5 mins or even less. if it looks done - sort of white and opaque, take it out. transfer it to a warm plate and leave it to rest - don't overrest though, cold fish is grim.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

bream with chorizo, broad beans and tomatoes

when we first moved to this flat, we didn't think we'd stay long. it was our first property - a one bed ex-council flat in a 1920's block - and we thought we'd do better in a couple of years.

somehow - 7 years later - we never moved, even after we could afford to do it.

i'm not sure what it's about, this reluctance to sell up and move on. it may partly be because we have been largely happy here. we did have a couple of years with a crack den on the ground floor. i was desperate to get out then. my reaction to the den evolved from misery to fear, and then from fear to anger - which i guess is why we went to court to get the guy evicted. during that period, the whole idea of keeping it real and not wanting to live a weird and isolated life of a posh tosser was out of the window completely - all i could think about was a nice row of georgian houses somewhere like hampstead. but when the crack den went, and a very nice woman with flower baskets and barbecues and a slightly loud family replaced it, we have done very little about moving. i do look at property websites practically every day but i do it in a way i look at facebook - as a habit, and without much conviction. we've even been to see a couple of places but beyond talking about it excitedly at dinner, we never follow up.

the other part of not wanting to move is the strange microcosm of shops and services around us. when we first moved, i'd never heard of steve hatt's - in fact, i remember rich sending me a text message to tell me he'd found this amazing fish shop just round the corner. little did we know that half of north london went there to buy their fish. next door to hatt's is the greengrocer and next to them a butcher. it took a while but we now know all of them, and have little chats every weekend. i thought i'd made it when one of the fishmongers from hatt's said hello to me on the street and not in the shop - considering the volume of people they see, i was chuffed he remembered me.

it makes a difference, this sort of thing. we all want to be a part of something, and being a part of a community in the middle of a very urban london neighbourhood is quite unusual. don't get me wrong - even while writing this, part of me fears i've jinxed it and will be mugged tomorrow, and it's not all sweetness and neighbourly love - our car's been broken into at least twice since we came here.

but still, i enjoy it enough to carry on living here, even if we have outgrown this flat in many ways.

the point of all of this was to say that the fish in this recipe was from hatt's, and i can't tell you how much difference it makes compared to buying a sad, wet and slightly smelly shrink-wrapped fillet from a supermarket. rich did the filleting here (and the fish cooking but shhhhhh i like to pretend it's all me), and the recipe is - surprise, surprise - angela hartnett's. she makes it with potatoes, which i replaced with broad beans for something slightly starchy. it really did work - though i do think you need to get rid of the outer broad bean shell unless they are very very small, so it's not something you want to do if you are cooking for more than two.

for two

4 sea bream fillets, skin on and scored - you can kind of see it on the picture: just take a very sharp knife and make a few slits on each fillet but without slicing through the flesh. scoring the skin in this way helps it not curl up and go weird during cooking
olive oil
about 300g broad beans, unshelled - podded, boiled for 3 minutes, then released from the tough outer skins
100g chorizo sausage, diced into 1cm cubes
2 leeks, very finely sliced
250g cherry tomatoes, cut in half
a few fresh thyme sprigs
a small handful of parsley, chopped
a squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper

first, fry the chorizo in a little bit of oil until it releases its spicy oil - 2 or 3 minutes, i guess. add the leeks and cook over high heat for around 5 minutes, but don't allow them to brown. add the cherry tomatoes, the chopped herbs and season to taste.

heat some oil in a separate pan, then add the bream fillets, skin-side down, and pan fry for 3 minutes until they are golden. turn the fish over carefully and continue to cook for a minute, if that.

spoon the veggies onto plates and top with fish. squeeze a little lemon juice on top.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

communal garden

'salright, innit? you can't quite see my swiss chard though.