Wednesday, 23 December 2009

winter

i can't believe i've not written anything for almost a month. december has just disappeared, days spent lying down merging into one. weirdly, i was not exactly bored but neither was i relaxed. i wanted to kick myself for every time i had that thought, usually when busy at work, about how nice it would be to spend a dull winter day at home reading books or watching movies. the reality is, you only really want to do that for a day or two, and part of the sweet attract on of laziness is precisely because you know you ought to be doing something else - because it feels slightly naughty. when you've been signed off by your doctor and can legitimately spend a whole day watching the good food channel, somehow the appeal is not there. i tried to work a little - not easy lying down, i can tell you - i read a few short stories in french, i watched a film here and there, and i basically fretted over all the things i ought to be doing.

and the truth is, cooking has been the last thing on my mind. there's a lot of bending and twisting when you prep and cook, which was definitely not a good idea, and obviously there's also the job of getting food in, which is impossible when you can't carry stuff. also, when you do nothing but lie down for days on end, you're not really very hungry.

so, my breakfasts and lunches have been pretty weird, by my own admission. eating quickly lost all of the usual patterns and deteriorated into random things you can eat straight from the fridge, without the application of heat, or stuff cooked be cooked with the minimal amount of effort. plates rarely came out of the cupboard. i have eaten: raw carrots from the farmers' market, unwashed (too much effort); sauerkraut straight from a jar (oh yes), small pink radishes, ends untrimmed see carrots), roasted purple sprouting broccoli (in industrial quantities, sometimes with frozen prawns chucked in at the last minute, if available), nuts out of a giant jar in the cupboard, dark chocolate, dried figs, and anything else i could find in the cupboards.

i have cooked a bit and i promise i will post some recipes soon. so bear with me and, if anyone has any great ideas about how to cure a herniated disc in time for a skiing holiday, do let me know!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

slow roast shoulder of lamb with anchovy, rosemary and lemon zest

okay, i don't know how to rotate this picture. that makes me a bit stupid but i ahve tried everything.
i stole the recipe shamelessly from the chocolate and zucchini blog (http://chocolateandzucchini.com/). it's one of my favourites - it makes you realise the skill and attention to detail that you need to put into running a proper blog. very much unlike this thing, with its typos and random formatting.

you must forgive me for the former though - i am typing this lying down, with the small laptop propped up ingeniously on a couple of pillows, and almost entirely with one hand. i have, yet again, done my back in spectacularly - this time warranting a caudal epidural. don't ask. suffice it to say it involved a big needle.

anyway, this is a great recipe and i've made it twice already. every time we've been so eager to tuck in that i forgot to take a photo of the whole thing, as it comes out of the oven. so, instead, you have a half-devoured piece of meat, with only the tomatoes still intact.

there is something about the salty anchovies which, i promise, you can't taste once it's cooked, and the acidy bite of tomatoes cutting through all that fat.

i cut and paste from the original, as typing with one hand is a pain in the backside. the picture you see is of a half shoulder as there were only two of us, so i just halved the quantities.

Epaule d'Agneau Frottée au Romarin, Anchois et Zeste de Citron

For the seasoning paste:
- 1 bushy sprig of fresh rosemary (you can substitute 1 tablespoon dried rosemary, but fresh really is preferable)
- 1 organic lemon
- 10 filets of anchovies packed in olive oil, drained
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled, germ removed if any
- 2 teaspoons whole mustard seeds
- A few generous grinds of black pepper
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons olive oil

For the meat:
- 2.2 kg (5 pounds) bone-in shoulder of lamb (depending on the size of the animal, this may amount to one large shoulder, or 1 1/2 small shoulders)
- 8 small ripe tomatoes, about 650g (1 1/3 pounds)
- 4 cloves garlic, still in the last layer of their papery sheath

Serves 6 to 8.

Pluck the needles of rosemary and discard the tough central stem (you can leave it to dry and use it as a skewer on a later occasion). Peel the zest of the lemon using a zester or a simple vegetable peeler (save the naked lemon for another use).

In the bowl of a mini-chopper or blender, combine the rosemary, lemon zest, anchovies, peeled garlic, mustard seeds, pepper, vinegar, and oil. Pulse until the mixture turns into a coarse paste, scraping the sides of the bowl regularly.

Place the meat in a baking dish large enough to accommodate it, and rub in the seasoning paste, taking care to spread it well, and on all sides. (Clean your hands meticulously before and after the rubbing.) Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 1 hour, preferably 3 or 4.

Remove the meat from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking to bring it back to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F). Remove the plastic wrap from the baking dish. Add the unpeeled garlic cloves and the tomatoes, cored and halved, slipping them under and around the meat, wherever you can.

Place the dish in the oven to cook for 30 minutes. Lower the heat to 130°C (270°F) and cook for another 2 1/2 hours, basting and flipping the meat every 30 minutes or so. Cover with a sheet of foil if it seems to brown too quickly.

Friday, 4 December 2009

thai green curry


can't believe i have never blogged about this before. i have made this curry countless times, as you can tell by the food-splattered page in the nigel slater's cookery book. (ah nigel...i wonder what he does on wet saturdays like this one. jumpers, pots of tea, scones and writing? radio 4 in the kitchen?) not sure why i look at the recipe any more when i know it off by heart.

it's a dish that makes you never want to buy a thai curry paste again - it's just not a patch on this homemade version which, if not necessarily authentic, at least has the zing and the freshness of the real thing. don't be put off by a long list of ingedients - once they're all assembled in front of you, all you need to do is some peeling and a little bit of chopping.
you can vary the veg used - i have done vegetarian versions with squash, aubergine and mushrooms but the addition of chicken is very nice too. i think the aubergine is essential. the rest can depend on what you have in the fridge and your desire for authenticity.

the only thing is, you can't really make it without a food processor, or a very large pestle and mortar and someone willing to do the crushing. i have done it in a blender but you need to add some kind of liquid to get it going, and it will eventually blunt the blades. not to be recommended. (how exactly did i live without a food processor?)

THAI GREEN CURRY
for four, though not in our house

for the paste:
4 stalks lemongrass, tender inside leaves only, chopped
6 green chillies, seeded and chopped
3 cloves of garlic
1 thumb-sized piece of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
a good fistful of coriander leaves
1tsp lime zest or 5-6 lime leaves
juice of one lime
1/2 tsp ground peppercorns

for the rest:
2 chicken breasts, chopped into chunks
4 small aubergines, or 2 large ones, cut into large chunks
200g button mushrooms (or any other kind of mushrooom)
1 400ml tin of coconut milk
300ml chicken stock - usually made from powder in my case
a handful of basil leaves - thai basil if you can get hold of it, chopped
a handful of coriander leaves, chopped

put all the paste ingredients in a blender and whizz until smooth.

in a large pan, fry the aubergine and the chicken in oil over quite high heat. you want them to colour a little. when the aubergine is beginning to soften, add the mushrooms and fry for another couple of minutes.

add about 4tbs of paste, stiring so it doesn't burn, and fry it off for a minute or two, then add the coconut milk and the stock. leave to simmer for ten minutes or until the vegetables are fully tender. taste it and see if needs any more paste adding to it - which i always conclude it does, thus making the initial 4tbs game totally ridiculous. if you do add more, cook it for another minute or two.

that's it. just stir in some basil and coriander before serving.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

things to do with scallops


okay, this is very much the masterchef territory, and i don't mean the professional version either. i am half-expecting greg the egg to come along and say something totally banal and obvious like: she has got the right idea but will it work in practice??

cooking doesn't get tougher than this. and so on.

simple idea - you pair the scallops with a sweet, starchy root veg of some variety, and then you add crispy, salty bits of pig on top. you can't really go wrong with the pork and seafood combination. well, you probably can, but you know what i mean.

the first picture is fried scallops with jerusalem artichoke pure and grilled pancetta and the second is carrot pure with black pudding. i prefered the artichokes - for some bizarre reason they really do go very well with scallops (and i know because this was our christmas dinner starter last year).

SCALLOPS WITH JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE PUREE AND PANCETTA
for two
300g jerusalem artichokes, peeled
a knob of butter
6 slices of very thinly sliced pancetta (bacon won't really do)
6 scallops (or however many you want per person x two)
olive oil and butter for frying
seasoning
some freshly chopped parsley

cook the artichokes in some boiling water until they are tender. they're tender like potatoes - you should be able to stick a knife in them easily. drain well and whizz in a food processor until smooth. return to the pan, reheat and add a knob of butter. season generously. that's the pure done.

in the meantime, grill the pancetta until crispy. drain on kitchen paper and set aside.

for scallops, heat some olive oil and butter in a heavy based frying pan or a decent non stick pan. season the scallops and fry for 2 minutes on one side, depending on size, and maybe a minute - if that - on the other.

to assemble, place a dollop of the pure on a plate, top with scallops and scatter over the crispy pancetta. sprinkle the parsley on top.

for the carrot version, it's the same thing - cook the carrots, whizz up with butter, grill the black pudding, and that's it.

celeriac and carrot remoulade



i kind of made this up, though it is loosely based on a crab starter recipe i am yet to post.

hilariously, i split the mayonnaise for it - AGAIN. i mean, what is it about me and mayo? it's a pretty simple thing to make. i've tried it with handheld whisk, food processor, wire balloon whisk, plastic whisk, i've tried it with vinegar, with mustard powder, with nothing, with one yolk or two, i've tried rescuing the split yellowy gunk by starting again...it's all failed. all of it.

but i'm not bitter. i made macaroons with the egg whites and poured the rest down the sink. and then i went to sainsbury's to get a jar of their own. (the list of ingredients on shop-bought mayo is frightening, have a look when you get a chance. what the hell is all that stuff??).

the remoulade was a success, even with sainsbury's own. we had it with roast chicken and some wilted spinach but it would go well with cold meats too.

CELERIAC AND CARROT REMOULADE
for four

1/2 celeriac, peeled
2 carrots
3 tbs grain mustard
1 level tsp dijon mustard
3 tbs mayonnaise
1/2 lemon, juiced
small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper

grate the celeriac and the carrot - magimix is great for this unless you press your thumb against the raised dimples on the grating disk and cut your finger so badly that your kitchen looks like a scene from a slasher movie.

put into a large bowl and add the lemon juice. stir. in a separate bowl, mix the mustards and the mayo. stir into the vegetable mix, then season (generously). finally, stir through the parsley. taste for seasoning and serve.

it was great the next day too.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

prawn tangiers


this is the kind of recipe i'd read and think - whatever. prawns and spinach - big deal. but somehow, despite the very modest list of ingredients, this was so succulent and lovely that i'm sure it will become a staple. valentine warner, whose recipe it is, is rarely off the mark (apart from that sloe gin jelly which i will never forgive.)

one note: don't use baby spinach from supermarket bags. this is the job for the old, dark green leaves.

PRAWN TANGIERS
for two

100 raw prawns, peeled
2 large bunches of spinach, washed thoroughly and chopped into wide ribbons
2 vine tomatoes
1 garlic clove
1 level tsp of cumin seeds
3 tbs olive oil
juice of a 1/4 of lemon
sea salt and black pepper

dry fry the cumin seeds in a frying pan till you can smell them - they'll get darker but just make sure you don't burn them. when they're done, chuck in the olive oil, then the spinach. you'll have to do it in batches, turning the leaves in the pan as they wilt. then put in the garlic, the tomatoes, the lemon juice and the seasoning. cook quickly so you get the moisture to evaporate but the whole thing doesn't burn.

you can cook the prawns in some olive oil separately but i just cut each into half and added them to the pan at the end. they're ready when they've changed colour. that's it. taste for seasoning and tuck in.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

root vegetable daupinoise (sort of)


after the first excitement of the winter food, i get a bit despondent about the whole thing. i've spent ages at the greengrocer's this afternoon, looking around for something marginally more exciting than purple sprouting broccoli. abel and cole boxes come full of mud.

but this is it - from now until about april, it will be cabbages, squashes and root veg. all of which i like, of course, but they don't give me the same thrill as the first crop of asparagus, the green leaves of wild garlic or baby courgettes.


the fridge is full of roast veg and i am not using it fast enough. i keep making mash, mixing and matching parsnip, swede and celeriac. but i am bored of mash and it doesn't exactly go with everything.

so i had an idea instead, one that can only be executed if you're in possession of a mandolin or a sharp knife, and some double cream. everyone loves dauphinoise potatoes. i couldn't think of a good reason why it wouldn't work with other root vegetables. you slice the veg thinly, layer it with some thyme and chopped garlic, pour over the cream, and that's it. wonderfully creamy, earthy and sweet root veg, with crunchy, caramelised bits around the edges and on top. you could use a lot more cream, of course, and a proper dauphinoise does, but i didn't really fancy that kind of a dish.

in terms of your choice of veg, you need things that cook in about the same amount of time. i choose sweet potato, swede and jerusalem artichoke but you can do it with celeriac, which i think would be pretty amazing, and squash or pumpkin. lots of people don't like jerusalem artichokes so you might want to skip that. i think they're weirdly interesting - every bite is somehow a surprise.

ROOT VEGETABLE DAUPHINOISE
for two

1 sweet potato
1/2 swede
2-3 jerusalem artichokes
100ml cream
a splash of water or stock
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked off
1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
20g butter

preheat the oven to 200C. grease a round 8in tin generously.

scrub the veg, then slice very thinly using a mandolin or a very sharp knife (the latter would be a pain). put overlapping layers of veg into the dish, until you've used about half of what you've sliced. scatter over half of garlic and half of thyme, season, then pour over half of the cream. repeat with the rest of the ingredients. when done, add just a splash of water if it doesn't look like there is enough cream. or use more cream.

put little knobs of butter evenly over the top and bake in the oven for some 40 minutes or until the veg are properly soft when you stick a knife in them and the top is caramelising nicely. check after 15 mins and if it's browning too quickly, cut a disc of greaseproof paper and put it over the top, pushing it down with your hands so it sticks.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

jellied ham, parsley and quail's eggs

so...this is the second of the ham recipes. the dish you end up with is pretty big - it would easily serve six as a starter, if not more. i gave half of it to a friend - hence the cut (though a wiser person might have taken a photo before cutting it but there we go), and there was still enough left for our lunch and for my breakfast the next morning. well, why not?

i have to confess a couple pf things about this recipe. it is a faff to make so you have to be the sort of person who enjoys spending time in the kitchen (having a dishwasher would also help), and it kind of falls apart when you cut into it. the first cannot be remedied - you're either willing to spend 10 minutes chopping up ham or you're not. which brings me to the second thing - cutting up the ham really finely, into chunks much smaller than i could be bothered with, is the way to ensure the ease of cutting. the falling apart thing doesn't really bother me but it's probably not something you would want to serve at a dinner party.

the dressing is a must - the mustard kick makes all the difference.

JELLIED HAM, PARSLEY AND QUAIL'S EGGS

1kg or a bit less of leftover ham, cut finely into very small dice
reserved ham cooking liquid (you can throw away the veg or make a little soup with some of the remaining stock - you should have more than the 500ml needed here)
2 eggs
100ml nice white wine (possibly not as nice as the italian gavi i used)
5 sheets of gelatine
12 quail's eggs
a huge bunch of curly parsley, chopped very finely

DRESSING:

2tbs white wine vinegar
2 tsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper
5tbs olive oil or more

put 500ml of the reserved cooking liquid into a pan and bring to a simmer. break the eggs, reserving the shells, then separate the yolks from the whites and beat the whites until they form stiff peaks. spoon the whites onto the stock. crush the egg shells with your hands and also pour over the stock. stir, then turn up the heat until it comes to boil. as soon as it does, turn the heat down completely and let the mix calm down. then repeat the process one more time. the point of the bizarre egg white business is to clarify the stock and, though it definitely works, i just don't think i'd bother next time. cloudy stock is not really one of my top concerns in life.

strain the stock through a fine sieve. stir in the wine.

in a separate bowl, soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for five minutes. lift them out with your hands, squeeze out the excess water and put into the pan with the stock and the wine. stir until the gelatine has dissolved.

now do the eggs. put them in a small pan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil and after exactly two minutes, take them off the heat. drain and rinse until cold water to cool down. to peel, roll each egg gently under your hand to break the shell. cut in half - wetting a knife will help not drag the yolk out of its nest.

in a large bowl, mix the ham and the parsley, and season generously.

take a loaf tin and line with clingfilm so it overlaps the sides. start putting layers of the ham and parsley mix, interspersed with some egg halves. you might want to start with a few eggs as that is the side that will be visible when you turn the whole thing out. if you see what i mean.

when you've used up the lot, pour the stock over. cover with clingfilm and leave to set in the fridge for at least eight hours or preferably overnight.

for the dressing, mix all the ingredients together and whisk. and to serve, cut into generous slabs and spoon over the dressing.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

roast ham with honey and mustard


i am such a sucker for the christmas food write-ups that invade every newspaper, blog and tv programme from about mid-november right up until christmas eve. i know it's ridiculous - there are only so many ways you can cook a turkey and use up its leftovers. and i don't even like turkey that much. but, for a greedy person, there's something quite seductive about a mountain of food featured, desired and consumed.

eating primal(ish) for christmas is actually remarkably easy - if you're at home. you can do snacks and starters of nuts, cold meats, pickles, smoked salmon, and then the roast bird with some veg for the main. you can either skip the pudding or have something diary-based and not very sweet: last year we had panna cotta, probably with some sort of a berry coulis. this year i might consider some version of a chestnut/chocolate moussey combo but we will see. you can then have a huge cheese board - i am leaning towards a whole vacherine baked till runny and eaten with rosemary skewers with apple chunks, but i guess there will be stilton and goat's cheese and dried figs and frozen grapes. (you don't really need biscuits with all that stuff.) yes, you'll eat more than you ever normally do but it's all good stuff and won't do you any harm.

anyway, the reason i'm rambling on about christmas (is it too early for decorations???) is because of the ham.

we’ve been talking about getting a ham to bake since last christmas. then it was prompted by the ginger prince’s triumph of luck over knowledge in getting a waitrose vacuum pack to roast perfectly in time for christmas dinner in the cottage we rented. the only thing that defeated us was the skin. there were calls for it to be roasted separately until it resembled proper crackling. despite my assurances that there was no way on god’s earth that was ever going to work, the boys went ahead and tried it, as boys would. needless to say, they ended up with a piece of soggy, disturbingly human-like skin swimming in a puddle of fat. not nice. the ham itself was gorgeous though – salty, meaty and with that pen, grainy texture that just gives when you bite into it, without any gristle or fat.

also, for the whole of last december, our butcher had hung dozens of ham on hooks in the ceiling and every time we went to the shop, in addition to salivating over mini melton mowbray pies on a weekly basis, i also had to content with the hammy goodness above my head.

a couple of weeks ago, we finally bought a ham. not the bone-in variety that you would do for christmas, but a hunk of boneless salted pig. the idea was to get two meals out of it - a baked ham like the one prepared by the ginger prince, and a ham-jelly thing i've been hankering after since seeing the recipe in valentine warner's book.

ham prep is a simple thing if you know how salty it is. many hams need to be soaked overnight to get rid of some salt but this one, according to the butcher, only needed bringing to the boil once (and throwing away the water) before the full cooking. how you cook it seems to be a matter of some disagreement - it was not easy to find a definitive recipe so everything was a bit of an improvisation.

for some reason (haste? greed?), i failed to take the picture of the ham as it came out of the oven so all you get are slices on my plate. i've concluded i loved ham and will definitely be baking one for christmas.

ROAST HAM WITH HONEY AND MUSTARD

1 hm, 2kg approx
1 onion
2 celery sticks
2 carrots
6 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
a few sprigs fresh thyme
3tbs honey
3tbs dijon mustard
10 or so cloves
seasoning

put the ham into a large pot of water, bring to the boil and, as soon as it has started bubbling, drain and throw away the water. repeat, if the ham is very salty - you do need to follow the instructions on the packet or ask your butcher.

next, put the ham into the same pot again, cover with cold water and add all the veg, the black pepper and the herbs. bring to the boil, and for the first 10 or so minutes, skim the grey horrible stuff that collects on the surface. cover and simmer gently for about 2 hours.

when it is done, turn the heat off and leave the ham to cool in the liquid for an hour or so - or until it is completely cold.

put the oven on to heat at 220C. drain the ham, reserving the liquid (for the next recipe, to follow) and put the ham on a chopping board. with a sharp knife, take off the skin leaving a thin layer of fat on the meat. you can throw the skin away - not sure it can be used for anything else. score the fat in a criss-cross patter and stud the rhomboids with cloves.

mix the honey and the mustard in a little bowl, then smear over the ham as well as you can. this is much easier done when the ham is cold - when hot, as mine was (impatience is my middle name), the honey just melts and slides off the ham.

stick it in the oven for about 20-25 minutes or until the skin has caramelised nicely and the ham is golden brown and sticky. yum.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

creamed chicory



very exciting news - we have been given a small grant from the council to start growing veg in our communal garden. kind of like a mini-allotment. the idea is not only to grow things to eat but also to bring neighbours together. which is nice, especially when you live on an inner city estate.

now, i haven't got the faintest idea of how to do this - grow stuff, i mean - but if i am not eating my own stuffed courgette flower next summer, i'll be damned.

in the meantime, eat some cream - i bet you've forgotten just how good it is.

CREAMED CHICORY
for two


2 head of chicory, cut in half lengthways
a knob of butter
1/2 lemon, juice
150ml double cream (or more!)
salt and pepper

melt the butter in a frying pan and, when it's finished foaming and hot, put the chicory in cut side down and fry until it's beginning to soften and caramelise. it will take a few minutes. season, then pour over the lemon juice. let it bubble for a minute. pour in the double cream and let it bubble for another 5 minutes or so. you want the chicory to be soft so carry on cooking (and maybe add a bit more cream) if it's still hard.

Monday, 9 November 2009

mash - celeriac, parsnip and swede - but not potato

people always seem surprised when i tell them that i am not overly bothered about ditching potatoes. it's the truth - i am just not. rich and i never ate that many potatoes anyway and it's not something i would ever have bought regularly. so it's not been a great loss.

but there are days when all you want is something creamy and fluffy to mop up the meaty juices from a gravy or a stew. though i love using green leafy veg to soak up some of the liquid, sometimes only mash will do.

the good news is, it doesn't have to be potato. i have used three different kinds of root vegetables in the past week and i can vouch that they are all pretty amazing.

number one is celeriac. who would have thought it, eh? i think i am actually falling in love with this the ugliest of vegetables. its mash is perfectly textured, with a faint whiff of not so much celery as just something earthy and fresh. it is also amazing in soups, again because of the texture, and raw grated and mixed with mustard and mayonnaise.

to mash, just peel it and cut it into chunks, then boil until tender. drain well, then put in the food processor with a generous knob of butter and lots of salt and pepper. if you have some double cream or creme fraiche, put a little of that in too.

next up, parsnip. seems obvious, right? same cooking method, though you're better off steaming than boiling them - they end up less soggy. they also like a lot of dairy so don't skip the butter and the cream. i'd say the former is absolutely indispensable and the latter is nice to have.

finally, swede. which i suspect isn't called swede in the US. rutabaga? maybe, though i reckon that's a parsnip. which is too watery for a mash, in my opinion. don't eat swede too often but its yellowy buttery mash is actually lovely. again, same cooking method and same warning about steaming and letting them drain properly to avoid the mash being too watery.

you can also combine the three - with each other or with potatoes.

there you have it, mash without spuds. it is seriously good and hits the spot on a cold winter evening. so good i found myself going back to the kitchen to lick the cold parsnip mash off the food processor bowl.

maybe i shouldn't have mentioned that.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

butternut squash and walnut soup


it's squash season - there's barely been a day when i have not eaten it in some shape or form: in muffins, roasted with chilli, as a sweet in its own right (more of which later) and in soups like this one.

i have blogged about squash soups before but normally about ones made with chilli and possibly coconut milk. this one is a much simpler affair and would suit those not hugely keen on spicy food.

the addition of walnuts and toasted seeds works not only as a crunchy contrast but actually improves the taste. even rich, who is not normally a lover of walnuts, said it worked.

do try and use home made stock. i know it's a pain but it really does make a difference. i didn't have any and, though it was perfectly acceptable, the soup lacked that creamy mouthfeel that i guess comes from either fat or gelatine in the real thing.

the recipe is mark hix's.

1 onion, chopped
1 small leek, chopped
1kg butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
a knob of butter
1.2l of stock, preferably homemade
10-15 walnuts, shelled
1tbs or more of pumpkin seeds, dry toasted till crunchy

melt the butter in a saucepan and fry and onion and leek gently until soft. don't rush this bit and don't burn the vegetables. next, add the squash and the stock, bring to boil, season and let simmer for about half an hour, or until the squash is totally soft.

transfer to a blender, leaving a few squash chunks behind. cut those up into small cubes and blend the rest until smooth. be careful - hot liquids and blenders are dangerous so always wrap a tea towel around the lid to stop the hot liquid from exploding all over you and your kitchen (i speak from experience).

return the soup to the pan and reheat if necessary. check for seasoning, and plate. add the walnuts and the seeds to each bowl and stir some cream or creme fraiche if you like.

thai prawn omelette


my phone is playing up so, for some strange reason, i can't transfer pictures to the pc. no picture of the thai omelette - instead, that's me, aged not much, picking my nose.

we had this as a weekend brunch dish but i actually think it would make a nice, spicy supper to be enjoyed with a glass of beer. it's quite punchy and there is every chance you will stink of garlic. (i know it's ridiculous but somehow i can't help telling myself that all that chilli and garlic are somehow really good as a cold preventative.)

the original recipe uses sugar and i can see how that would work but there is no real need for it.

THAI PRAWN OMELETTE
for two

for the spice mix:
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 stalks of lemongrass, soft inner leaves only, finely chopped
2 coriander roots, finely chopped - or use coriander stalks as i did, just make sure they're chopped finely
1 or more red chillies, finely chopped
10 large raw prawns, halves (though you could of course use cooked ones too)
3 sping onions, chopped, white and green parts, plus a bit more for garnish
1 tbs fish sauce

for the omelette:
4 eggs
2 tbs water
2 tsp fish sauce

small bunch of coriander, chopped, to garnish

first, make the spice paste. gently fry all the spices with the coriander root in oil - make sure it doesn't burn as burnt garlic and chilli is pretty horrendous. after a few minutes, add the prawns, the fish sauce, the spring onions, and season with some black pepper. cook until the prawns have changed colour to pink.

remove the mix from the frying pan into a bowl and wipe the pan clean. in a clean bowl, mix the eggs with the water and the fish sauce. heat some more oil in a frying pan and pour in the egg mixture. working quickly, lift the set edges and tilt the pan so that the egg mixture spreads to the sides. i tend to do it with a small knife though i guess a spatula would make more sense. once the egg is barely set - and by that i mean the middle is still slightly runny, tip the spice mixture on top and quickly fold the sides of the omelette so you get a square with a hole where you can see the spice mixture.

transfer to a warm plate and scatted over the shredded spring onions and the coriander to garnish.

Friday, 6 November 2009

roast duck and squash salad





amazingly, there were leftovers from the duck we roasted the other day. this is a rare occurrence in n1 kitchen. there are, occasionally, bits of chicken dutifully stripped from the carcass destined for the stock pot, saved in the fridge in some tin foil. but more often than not, they'll end up getting eaten as a snacklet, something to gnaw on while cooking or, most likely, the thing that rich will pick at after he's arrived home from work, before he's taken his shoes off or got changed. (which sounds very 1950's, come to think of it.)

it was a large duck. really, the duck i went out to buy was an imaginary one. i know full well that you either get a mallard, i.e. a small wild duck, or a proper, big christmas-for-six number. yet i though i would get some mythical creature that was a cross between the two.

of course, when i got to the butcher’s, the duck in the cabinet was a stonker of a bird, yours for £14.99. we  bought it at rich’s insistence.

this salad was a great way of using the leftovers. in fact, i think it was one of the dinners i've enjoyed most in a while. i think it would be very nice with other meat too, though chicken might be a bit too bland. some rare roast beef would work - it seems to go well with limey, spicy thing, as vietnamese beef salads demonstrate more than adequately.

i admit it's a bit of a faff to make but it really is worth it.

ROAST DUCK AND SQUASH SALAD
for two

leftover duck meat, stripped from about half of a roast duck
a small bunch of mint leaves, chopped roughly

for the roast squash:
1 dried chilli, crumbled
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
a pinch of ground cinnamon
1/2 butternut squash, cut into half and deeseded but keep the seeds

for the dressing:
1 lime, zest and juice
1/2 tsp of sesame oil
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 fresh red chilli, chopped finely (or less, to taste)
1/2 clove of garlic, finely chopped
2-3 spring onions, finely sliced (including the green bits)
a bunch of coriander, finely chopped
olive oil

first, roast the squash. preheat the oven to 180C. crush the coriander seeds and chilli together in a pestle and mortar, add the cinnamon and a good pinch of salt and pepper. cut the squash into large chunks, sprinkle over the spices and roast for around 45 minutes or until the flesh is soft when pierced with a knife and the edges are starting to caramelise.

for the last ten minutes of the cooking time, warm the stripped duck meat. i just put it all in a piece of foil, scrunch it up and put it directly onto an oven shelf.

while that's happening, wash the squash seeds you've saved and dry them on a cloth. now mix them with a little salt and some olive oil and then dry fry in a pan until they're nice and crunchy. they'll start popping so be careful or you'll have a kitchen full of exploding seeds. kinda dangerous.

put all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and mix it all through with enough olive oil to be dressing-like. taste - you'll probably need a little bit of something. i ended up putting in more sesame oil which seemed to balance the lime.

to assemble, mix the duck and the squash with the dressing and the crunchy seeds, and finally sprinkle over with some chopped mint.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Koffmann pop-up/Restaurant on the roof of the Selfridges

I am spoilt. No two ways about it. Spoilt and possibly a bit stingy though I’d prefer to call it prudent. Or, even better, keen to get value for money.

I was all excited about getting a table for the Koffmann pop-up on the roof of Selfridges, and on Saturday night, no less! (this thanks to obsessive checking of food-obsessed twitterers and emailing Selfridges practically before the ink had a chance to dry on Koffman’s contract).

The man was a culinary legend, his signature dish were pork trotters stuffed with sweetbreads and morels, and the preview reviews (my god, whatever next?) were great. What is there not to like?

Well…quite a lot, as it turns out.

Don’t get me wrong - there wasn’t anything wrong with it, as such. The food was better than good.  But I could think of other ways we could have spent that money. Quite a lot of money. We could have eaten at Tom Ilic’s place at least three times. Damn, I probably could have got Tom Ilic to come to my house and cook for me. (Tom, if you‘re interested, my door is always open. There must be pigs to be had in London.)

Basically, the issue is that I am over expensive French food. I am not entirely sure if I was ever IN it but I am definitely over it.

It all seems so pointless, somehow. The difference - in terms of my enjoyment -  between that and, say, any of the main courses at Ilic is not large enough for me to want to spend the extra cash.

We both had scallops with squid ink for a starter. I’m sure there is some serious technical mastery in getting the perfectly-cooked scallops to sit in a pool of perfectly-textured ink but it tasted no better and no worse than the scallops we rustle up at home.

I then had the trotters - I just had to, of course. Now that was lovely, the sweetbreads a particularly pleasing revelation, and the sauce that made you want to lick the plate clean: rich but cutting through the fatty, melting boned trotter (with a few little piggy bones that had t be spat out). But Rich’s duck was not, in my opinion, a product of a Michelin-starred hand - I’ve definitely seen its equivalents in a less grand restaurants in London.

I forgot which pudding I had but Rich’s apple pie was pretty hideous - cloyinging, teeth-rottingly, diabetes-inducingly sweet, the kind of thing I can imagine being served in a Pizza Express (where it would be appropriate and presumably appropriately priced). Nice pastry, I suppose, but reckon my granny’s was no worse. It came with a dollop of nice ice cream though I couldn’t tell you which flavour it was. The whole thing went back unfinished.

We also had some nice petit fours but by this time, we were both in a bit of a sugar coma, so most went uneaten. The ones I did eat were nice, to give credit where it’s due.

On the plus side, we had a good bottle of Italian wine, expertly poured - if there is one thing I hate in restaurants, it’s when waiters hover around your table wanting to top up your glass every 67 seconds, and to the brim. In this instance, her timing was immaculate, as was the quantity dispensed.

I had other issues with the pop-up. Whereas other reviews have raved about the décor, I thought it looked like it’d been done by a provincial art student let loose in a poncey London furniture shop for the first time. Likewise, whereas some had found the bouncing floors and fabric ‘walls’ charming, I thought they were a pain in the arse. The fake floor felt like the waiters were trampolining along and I kept threatening to fall through the beige, tent-like fabric that was masquerading as a wall on my left. The lighting was all wrong too - it was too bright and felt like eating in an institution of some sort, or a canteen, complete with the smell of new furniture and glue.

And the people…well, the majority looked like they’d been shipped in on a special bus from West London - all identikit blondes in Philip Lim dresses and expensive shoes, and men with double cuffed shirts (I like a cufflink but on a Saturday???) and blazers, sniffing at wine and examining labels like they were born in the Loire valley and not Kensington.

So there you have it. It was a moment of self-revelation in my culinary journey. Give me small, unpretentious, authentic, local, give me Mark Hix’s and St John’s of this world, give me proper portions and seasonal ingredients, give me good food by all means - but don’t bother with Michelin stars for roast duck breasts or apple pies. If I want to spank hundreds, I’ll go elsewhere.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

roast duck


can't believe i didn't take a picture of the whole duck when it came out of the oven. criminal. and what i did take is blurred - maybe my hands were shaking from hunger.

it's a marvellous thing, a roast duck. all that fat, and fighting over who gets which bit of the skin. it's what home life should be all about.

you'll end up with about a cupful of duck fat from pouring away during roasting - don't throw it away. you can use it to roast lovely things like parsnips or sweet potatoes - or anything else for that matter.

ROAST DUCK
more or less verbatim from the channel 4 hugh fearnley-whittingstall recipe

1 large duck, with neck and giblets
salt and pepper

for the giblet stock/gravy:
The neck and giblets, and wing tips
1 small onion
1 celery stick
1 carrot
a little oil
1 bay leaf
1 small glass of red wine
½ teaspoon redcurrant jelly (optional)

preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas Mark 7. if the duck is tied up, untruss it - i.e. cut the strings and gently pull the legs apart, away from the body. this will help the heat to get at them.

cut off the wing tips (the last bony segment) - there's no meat on them and they will boost the flavour of the giblet stock. make this first: roughly chop up the neck, heart, gizzard and wing tips, plus the onion, carrot and celery. fry these over a fair heat in a little oil until the meat is nicely browned and the vegetables slightly caramelised. transfer to a saucepan with the bay leaf, cover with water (about 600ml) and bring to a simmer. leave at a gentle simmer for about 1¾ hours - i.e. the time it takes to cook the duck.

now tackle the duck. remove any obvious spare fat from inside the cavity. you can, if you like, turn the duck breast-side down on a board and press hard on the middle of the backbone until you hear a crack, it means that when you turn the bird breast-side up again it sits flatter in the pan, which helps it to cook more evenly.4. now, using a needle, prick the skin all over the fatty parts at the breast and where the breast joins the leg. don't prick deeper than is necessary just to pierce the skin. you want the fat to run, but not the juices from the meat. season the skin lightly with salt and pepper.

put the bird in a roasting tin. place into oven for about 20 minutes, so the fat starts to run. then turn the oven down to 180°C/Gas Mark 4, baste the bird and return to the oven.

baste the duck every 20 minutes or so. check the bird for doneness after about 1½ hours' total cooking time. poke a skewer into the thickest part of the leg, close to the breast. when the juices runs clear, the bird is done. tip the bird to pour any fat or juices out of the cavity into the roasting tin and transfer it to a warmed plate or carving tray.

now fix the gravy. carefully pour off the fat from the roasting tin into a heatproof bowl or dish, leaving the brown juices in the tin. deglaze the tin with the red wine, scraping to release any tasty browned morsels. strain the giblet stock and the deglazed pan juices, into a clean pan and boil hard to reduce them to a rich, syrupy gravy. taste for seasoning, and add a little redcurrant jelly for sweetness, if you like.

Monday, 2 November 2009

beef topside with porcini mushrooms and proscuitto


I’ve cooked up a few disasters over the past couple of weeks. Pumpkin ‘custard’ made with coconut milk that ended up looking like grey scrambled eggs and tasting like...eeer...the unmentinable? The same pumpkin, this time mashed to go with some fat, mustardy sausages, leaking watery juice all over the plate? Roast chestnuts that ended up so hard, I could practically see my dentist rubbing his hands with glee...not good.

So, instead of writing about any of THAT, I thought I’d post a recipe f a dish we ate at least a month ago, and that was so bloody nice it might be time to make it again.

We’ve had a piece of beef topside in the freezer for months. I think we’ve both avoided taking it out because our previous attempt at cooking beef - a silverside, as it happens - was a disaster. I read somewhere that the best way to cook a joint like that is to braise it slowly so it goes meltingly tender. I’m afraid it just ended up grey and tough as old boots.

We weren’t’ going to make the same mistake this time. A decision was made to treat it as you would a piece of fillet, and roast it quickly until it’s about rare to medium rare. But as it’s a pretty fatless piece of meat, I knew it needed a little help with the flavour and juiciness. Enter porcini and ham. You can’t really go wrong with those ingredients, right?

It was gorgeous - meaty, salty and sweet, full of umami and nice things you only get from eating something that’s oozing blood all over your plate.

i think this is a jamie oliver recipe but wouldn't swear on it.

BEEF TOPSIDE WITH PORCINI MUSHROOMS AND PROSCIUTTO
for four (i made risolles with leftovers - tasted okay but can't remember how i made them!)

1kg beef topside
10-12 slices of prosciutto
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 handful of dried porcini, soaked in 300ml water
3 knobs of butter
lemon juice
salt and pepper
some thyme and some rosemary, chopped finely (a sprig of each if about enough)
150ml red wine

preheat your oven to 230C and put a roasting tin in it to warm up.

drain your porcini mushrooms, reserving the water. make sure you sieve them as the mushrooms are usually a bit gritty. heat a knob of butter in a frying pan and fry one of the cloves of garlic (chopped) with the porcini for a minute or so. then add half of the mushroom soaking liquid and leave to simmer until it's reduced quite a bit. add a squeeze of lemon and stir in the other two knobs of butter. season.

lay the pieces of prosciutto on a large piece of greaseproof paper or clingfilm, overlapping slightly lengthwise. it's the way they usually come anyway if you buy them in a deli - the supermarket ones have the annoying bits of plastic in-between which makes this quite a painful job.

spread the mushroom mixture over one half of the laid out ham.

season your beef and roll it in the herbs laid out on a plate or a chopping board - they should stick. if some fall off, it doesn't matter much. now place the beef on the ham and roll it so it's wrapped in it. make the paper/clingfilm help you do it - though it's still a delicate operation. tie some string around the beef to keep the ham and mushrooms in place - about 3 pieces spread out evenly will do.

now put a drop of oil in a tin and place the beef in it with a couple of cloves of garlic. cook for about 30 minutes for rare or 35-40 for medium rare, adding the wine to the tin halfway through. don't even think about well done - you may as well be making something else for dinner.

while the beef is resting, reduce the red wine gravy if it needs it. you can add the beef juices to it once it's rested.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

quail with ras el hanout


A Nigel Slater recipe, this. It made me think that, all things considered, I would actually quite like to have Nigel Slater’s life.

No, really.

Of course, I don’t really want to be Nigel, with his strange childhood and his slightly awkward manner. But I can’t help thinking that his life, his day to day existence that most of us spend on crowded trains and in air-conditioned offices, would actually be really rather pleasant.

In my head, in Nigel’s life it’s usually winter. Proper winter of snow and wooly coats and jumpers, rather than the pointless, wet and mild winters of north London that he endures with the rest of us. The garden is covered in frost. Nigel wakes up early - he is no slacker, I reckon - and goes downstairs to his big white kitchen for a pot of proper espresso and maybe a croissant. The kitchen is, I think, all stripped wooden surfaces, with a bit of marble here and there, and cabinets painted white, with Kitchen-aids and Magimixes artfully exposed. No ostentatious displays of wealth, and nothing fancy, frilly or chintzy abut the place.

He goes back upstairs with another cup of coffee, and writes a little. Maybe he has had a wander around the garden too, and a quiet think on the bench at the bottom behind the gate.

Mid-morning, he goes out shopping. Not to the local supermarket, with screaming children and women loading sliced white and crisps into enormous trolleys. No, he’ll go down the road to La Fromagerie for some cheese and crème fraiche, and maybe the odd sausage or two, then to the butcher’s on top of Highbury Fields. A veg shop, and maybe a pastry from somewhere nice.

Then he’ll go home and cook lunch, making something he is thinking of including in a new book. Obviously, in my head, his recipes come out perfect every time, and no time is spent making the same thing over and over again until you’re sick of the sight of the bloody thing. And, though Nigel lives alone, and likes the solitude (thank you very much), he actually always has people round for lunch.

So they eat lunch around a big kitchen table, looking on to the garden, and, at the end, someone offers to stack the dishwasher and tidy up, before more coffee is brewed.

In the after non, alone again, Nigel does a bit more writing. He also talks to his agent, or suppliers, or his book people. He replies to a few emails, popping down to the kitchen every now and again, to stand in his stockinged feet on one leg in front of the fridge, absent-mindedly snacking on whatever is there - a piece of leftover ham, a chicken leg or a piece of fruit. Though I think he doesn’t actually eat a lot, somehow.

And then in the evening, more people and more cooking, and a bottle of wine.

I’m sure his life is actually nothing like this at all, and he’s probably stupidly busy and certainly doesn’t have time to go to five different shops every day. But the idea that pottering about, cooking, gardening and eating, while also seeing enough people and being sociable, actually constitutes gainful employment is just amazing to me and fills me with visceral envy. The truth is, I think if I had to spend every day in the kitchen - not cheffing, mind, just cooking - and have someone eat the proceeds with me, I’d be very happy.

As for the recipe - it uses ras el hanout, the Moroccan spice made with rose petals. Which sounds weird but isn’t. To continue the middle-Eastern theme, we ate it with baba ghanoush topped with toasted pine nuts, roasted red peppers and slow-roast tomatoes. Lovely.

QUAIL WITH RAS EL HANOUT
For two

4 quail
1 large clove of garlic
1 heaped tbs ras el hanout
3-4 tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper

First, spatchcock the quail. I cut through the backbone with a pair of sturdy scissors but you can of course do it with a sharp knife. Once done, place the quail breast side up on the chopping board and squish with the back of your hand. You’re trying to flatten the bird to speed up the cooking time on the griddle pan (of course, this would be perfect on a barbecue).

Now mix the finely chopped garlic with a bit of salt, the ras el hanout and the olive oil into a paste. Spread this mix thoroughly all over the quail with your hands, and then leave it to marinade for a couple of hours (I left it overnight).

When you’re ready to cook, heat the griddle pan, and whack on the quail - we could fit all four on in one go - for about 10 minutes each side. It might need longer, depending on how big it is and how much you’re managed to flatten in (I didn’t do a very good job). The juices have to run clear.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

autumn

there'll be some autumnal food later but, in the meantime, i just wanted to post a picture taken this sunday on highbury fields. for no other reason than because autumn is pretty good-looking.


Monday, 26 October 2009

sarma

it has all slowed down a bit in N1 kitchen. being busy at work doesn’t allow time for just daydreaming about food, mulling over what goes with what or what i have in the fridge that needs using up. there has been cooking, of course, but the kind of utilitarian, stripped-down version that gives me little pleasure. the kind of cooking that has led my mum (a great cook, especially when it comes to puddings – unfortunately) to say that thirty odd years of cooking for a family of four have knocked the fun out of cooking somewhat. she just doesn’t find day-to-day feeding of oneself particularly exciting any more and i could sympathise with that last week. i could also see the appeal of ready made meals – coming home from work and thinking about the latest twist on ratatouille is just not what you want to do, or have time for. masterchef final was on, for one thing. (and there are only two of us - i really don’t know how people with children actually have time to do anything at all.)

anyway, sarma...every yugo worth his salt would have eaten sarma hundreds of times, me included. it’s staple food – i bet there are thousands of pots of sarma slowly simmering on thousands of stoves all over the balkans right now. and this afternoon, once the kids are back from school and parents from work, families will be sitting down to tables covered with patterned lino, to warm plates of sarma (soup plates, this is stuff more suited to eating with a spoon), perhaps with a bit of creme fraiche on top, and always with lots of sliced bread.

there are lots of version of sarma, and probably lots of arguments about what is authentic and what’s just some new-fangled nonsense. big, hefty sarmas made with sauerkraut in the winter boiled with cured pork knuckles or bits of ham for extra flavour, dainty little sarmas made with fresh vine leaves in the summer, nestling in a pot like miniature green parcels, and common-or-garden sarmas made with ‘sweet’ cabbage as it is called at home, sauce thickened with tomato and a bit of flour, with a whiff of paprika.

they’re all good – though i have a personal preference for the vine leaves version: they taste pleasantly bitter, and of minerals somehow. conversely, i’ve never liked the middle eastern cinnamon/sultana twist that seems to be quite common in the uk – sugary sweet is one thing sarma should not be, if you ask me.

this recipe is from my grandmother's pata markovic cookery book - i thought that would be as authentic as you get, all things considering.

SARMA
for 4 (sort of - it was for two in our case, plus one breakfast)

250g minced beef
250g minced pork
1 large cabbage
2 onions, finely chopped
1 large egg
a handful of finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper
olive oil
one tin of chopped tomatoes, mashed so it's puree-like
1tsp paprika
2 long green peppers (or just normal ones)

discard the tough outer leaves of the cabbage and try and take out as much of the core as possible without damaging the leaves. put the cabbage in a large pot and pour some boiling water over it. leave it on low heat for a while, until the leaves start to come away from the cabbage. separate the leaves and put them aside - cut out the spine if hard. you want the leaf to be soft and pliable, so you can fold it, but not to soft as to be falling apart so the timing is crucial.

now make the filling. fry the onions in some olive oil until soft and translucent, then add the meat and fry for ten or so minutes until cooked through. take off the heat and, when it's cooled down, add the egg, seasoning and the chopped parsley. set aside to go completely cold as it's much easier to make sarma that way (apparently).

take a leaf of cabbage (or two, overlapping, if small), put some meat in the middle and roll up like a cigar, tucking each end in. i messed this up quite spectacularly - i blame the cabbage but it was probably more to do with my skill. pata gives no instructions on how to do this - she just says 'now roll sarma in the normal way' - err, thanks. i resorted to toothpicks and force - it kind of worked.

take a large lidded pot, put any discarded small leaves and the cabbage core at the bottom, and then layer your sarmas on top. pour over the tomatoes - shake the pan a little so they are evenly distributed throughout the pan. sprinkle over the paprika, lay the two green peppers on top (whole) and leave to simmer on low heat 'until it's cooked'. that probably means an hour or so but do keep checking as you don't want it to burn. if it's too 'wet' at the end, take the lid off and boil rapidly to evaporate some of the sauce. you don't want it to be too dry - sarma should be juicy and there should be some bread mopping at the end.

(note: pata obviously doesn't use a tin of tomatoes. instead, she simmers a kilo of fresh, chopped tomatoes with some onions and a red pepper, and then pushes it through a sieve. one day, i might make it that way but in the meantime, j sainsbury will remain a good friend.)

Sunday, 25 October 2009

pear clafoutis

i have to tell you, this is not really clafoutis as such despite being billed as such. traditional clafoutis are light, with soft fruit bleeding juice into the batter and the crunch of caster sugar on top. this, on the other hand, is more of a custardy pie with fruit - but no less nice for that. serve it while warm when it's at its best - though i ate the rest cold for breakfast.

like all low carb desserts, this is seriously easy to make. just as well, really, because my previous experiences of making clafoutis have been a bit of a disaster. i once tried making it in a tart tin with a removable bottom, with the predictable result that it leaked all over the oven. we were scraping sweet batter off baking trays for days afterwards. the original recipe, from elana's pantry (another food porn website, and one that doesn't cease to amaze me with its inventiveness and quality), uses two mixing bowls for wet and dry ingredients but i am willing to bet that the whole thing would work if you just bung it all in and mix. i'll try it out one of these days. i omitted all the agave nectar from her recipe too - i find the pears sweet enough and it didn't seem to spoil the texture.
www.elanaspantry.com

PEAR CLAFOUTIS

4 large eggs
½ double cream
½ cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup almond flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon sea salt
4 large pears, peeled, cored and sliced

butter a 9in cake tin - ceramic looks nice but i only have metal. be generous. preheat the oven to 170C.

in one bowl, combine the eggs, cream, butter and vanilla. in another bowl, mix the almond flour, cinnamon and salt. stir dry ingredients into the wet ones and mix thoroughly.

arrange the pears in a circular patters at the bottom of the tin - i ended up with two layers. use the smaller bits to fill in gaps, unless you are very fussed about it looking neat. pour the mixture over the top and bake for 50 or so minutes.

the pears start off at the bottom but as the clafoutis cooks, they rise to the top, which is how you end up with a cake that looks like the one on the photo.



autumn salad of squash, salsify, cavolo nero and cobnuts



i've half-stolen this recipe from the british larder (http://www.britishlarder.co.uk/). it's a bit of a food porn website for me, i have to admit, as the food is consistently mouth-watering. it also seems to give me ideas, rather than full copy&paste recipes - perhaps it's because what she cooks is basically seasonal so makes use of weird and wonderful recipes you pick up as the year goes on.

speaking of which, enter black salsify. it arrived in an abel&cole box, all muddy and misshapen, and cost me half an hour on the internet looking for what to do with it. i reckon it's one of those they only dare include once a year because they know they'll be outrage, middle-class stylee, at being given stuff you barely reoognise.

anyway, black salsify tastes like a cross between a jerusalem artichoke and nothing. literally nothing. it's one of those vegetables, a bit like turnip, that to me are just padding, something to give texture rather than any real flavour (or excitement about eating it).

the picture really doesn't do this justice: the light is wrong and it all looks a bit grey. in real life, it was a beautiful mix of deep greens and oranges. i loved the crunch of the nuts and the black salsify with the soft, caramelised flesh of the squash and the wilted leaves.

AUTUMN SALAD OF SQUASH, SALSIFY, CAVOLO NERO AND COBNUTS
for two

1 very small butternut squash
2 roots of black salsify, cut into finger-length batons
10 or so cobnuts, shelled
1/3 head of cavolo nero, leaves stripped off tough stalks and shredded
butter
olive oil
parmesan cheese for shaving on top
salt and pepper
1tsp wholegrain mustard
1 lemon, juice only

preheat the oven to 200C. first, core the squash and slice into 5mm or so thin slices. put in a roasting tin and coat with enough olive oil to cover. season. add the shelled raw cobnuts to the same tin and shake it all together for the nuts to get a coating of oil. roast for half an hour or until the squash is cooked and starting to caramelise around the edges.

while it's roasting, prepare the salsify. have a bowl of water with half a lemon squeezed in ready - this is to stop the salsify discolouring when peeled. bring a pan of water to boil and cook the salsify batons for about 3 minutes. drain and, when cool enough to handle, peel the skin off. it comes off quite easily but you might need to help it out with a vegetable peeler. put them in lemony water as you go along.

heat a frying pan with a knob of butter and some olive oil. fry the salsify until browned, then remove and drain on kitchen paper. in the same pan, fry the cavolo nero for 5 minutes or so until soft and cooked through. don't burn it - if it looks too dry, add a little water to get it going.

make the dressing with 3 parts olive oil, 1 part lemon juice and stir in the mustard.

return the salsify to the pan to heat through. now mix the squash and cobnuts with the cavolo nero and the salsify. drizzle with the dressing, then scatter over the parmesan shavings.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

roast partridge - redux



well, if something is so good, you obviously have to do it again. so we did.

our usual pigeon supplier at the market was selling braces of partridges and it seemed churlish not to buy one. i think the flavour of the bird bought at steve hatt's a couple of weeks ago was better - they were probably hung properly - but these one had the advantage of getting a bit of bling in the form of streaky bacon. there are few things in life that can't be improved with the addition of streaky bacon (and pig, more generally).

this doesn't warrant a recipe as such - basically i just wanted to post a picture of it because i enjoy looking at the two birds with their neat bacon coats.

you take a partridge, season it, stuff a quarter of a lemon and a few sprigs of thyme inside it, rub it with butter all over and then drape it with a couple of slices of streaky bacon. you whack it in a very hot oven (220 C) for half an hour, leave it to rest for ten minutes, and that's it.

eaten with some gem lettuce braised in chicken stock.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

aubergine stew

for the past 17 years, i have tracked the passing of seasons with an obsessive zeal of a proustian meteorologist. i am not sure where this comes from: i've never been too concerned with time: most years i can't even remember how old i am, and i couldn't tell you what year it was when i met rich or started work. it's probably more of a worry that things will pass away and disappear. the inbetween seasons, spring and autumn, when the change is actually happening, are the ones that make me slightly mad.

at the beginning, i had harboured a mild disappointment with the english seasons: i remember thinking (and writing) that the springs were colourless, and the wet, mild winters induced only despair.

i guess this has changed and, probably precisely because the four seasons are not as distinct as at home, i have learnt to appreciate the nuances. i'd still rather have a full-blown frozen february of my childhood, or the sticky august of car journeys to the croatian seaside. but all this week i have been desperate to go for a walk in the woods somewhere, just to enjoy the changing colours, even if they do make me melancholy.

and this week, walking past the little park on the way to the station in the morning (which has become my only real insight into what's going on in nature), i suddenly realised that when i really miss sarajevo, it is actually its autumns that i miss.

you'd think i'd miss the snows, the white winter mornings, the springs in full bloom or the summers of overgrown hillsides. i do but the real nostalgia is for sarajevo at its ugliest - cold, dirty, grey and full of smog. the summers would end abruptly - by the time the school started, you'd need more than a tee shirt. octobers it would rain, clouds hanging off the side of the mountains, slopes into the city dark green and dripping with fog. sometimes wet snow, with unmelting slush on the streets for days. dirty shoes and wet feet. then november - colder (now in full winter gear) and more rain and snow. and that was it. december was winter, and it would last until the end of february.


this is a recipe from nigel slater's new book - it's the kind of thing i've made before in various guises but this was pretty good, so i thought i'd note the recipe. perfect for a dull october day.

SPICED AUBERGINE STEW
for four, greedy ones

2 very large aubergines
3 medium onions
8 ground cardamom pods
2 tbs coriander seeds
2 level tsp black peppercorns
4 cloves of garlic
a thumb sized piece of ginger
2 rounded tsp ground tumeric
10 medium sized tomatoes (or a couple of tins)
500ml stock - i used chicken
2 400ml coconut milk tins
4 red chillies, finely chopped
a small bunch of mint - i didn't have any
2 small bunches of coriander

cut the aubergines into quite large chunks - i find if you cut them into bitesize pieces, they dissolve into mush during cooking. sprinkle with salt and leave in a colander to drain for half an hour.

while they're doing that, peel and roughly chop the onions, and cook with oil in a large pan until soft and translucent. don't burn them.

crush the cardamom pods with the back of the knife and get the little black seeds out. add those, the coriander seeds and the peppercorns to a spice grinder - or pestle and mortar, but i struggle with that.

crush the garlic and chuck it into your pan with the onions, together with the tumeric, the ground spices and the peeled and finely chopped ginger. peel and seed the tomatoes and add those too.

now pat the aubergines dry and dry fry them - no oil - on a griddle pan until they are starting to soften. turn them as they cook so all sides get those black lines.

when you've done them all - and you'll probably have to do it in batches - add them to the pan as well, and pour in the stock and the coconut milk. add the chillies and a little bit of soft, then simmer for 45 minutes.

there is a final step in the original recipe which i missed as it's too much of a faff: slater suggests taking out the tomatoes, aubergines and some of the onions and whizzing the rest in a blender before returning the veg in and sprinkling with the chopped herbs. i just sprinkled.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

haloumi cheese with lemon and chilli


we ate this in the place where we will be getting married - one of the reasons why i picked it was because of the food.

admittedly, this is more of a summer recipe but it's a nice way of recreating a sunny feel as the days get shorter. there is nothing to it but i thought it was a really nice way of jazzing up a bit of haloumi which most people eat plain.

HALOUMI WITH LEMON AND CHILLI
for two

1 haloumi cheese, cut into thick slices
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
1/2 lemon, zest and juice
a small bunch of parsley and basil, chopped
olive oil
sea salt and black pepper

heat a dry frying pan (or a griddle pan - though i've never had much luck with those as the cheese always falls apart) and fry the cheese without any oil for a couple of minutes on each side or until nicely browned.

in the meantime, mix the olive oil - 3-4 tablespoons will do - with the lemon juice, zest and the chopped chilli. stir in the herbs and pour over the hot cheese.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

roast partridge

not inspired to write much about this even though it was extremely nice and made me vow to buy more game. i suppose it's because it's not really a recipe as such - more a reminder to myself about how to cook it. (i like looking back at what i have been cooking over the year. it makes me realise that what we eat is pretty seasonal and the blog becomes a diary of the year. it also surprises me what weird and wonderful things i could be bothered to make.)

partridge, in actual fact, isn't very gamey at all. it does smell a bit funny uncooked - kind of like it's gone off - but that's presumably because it has been hung properly. once out of the oven, it's succulent and sweet and really very tasty.

the recipe i used, which was mark hix's, said to cook the partridge for fifteen minutes. we found this was not enough so we doubled the time. they were not overcooked at all - though if you like your partridge pink, perhaps stick to hix's recommendation.

ROAST PARTRIDGE
for two

2 partridges
salt and pepper
about 50g butter

preheat the oven to 220C. season the birds generously and then rub the butter all over them. place them in a roasting tray and cook for 30 minutes, basting once or twice. allow to rest properly - at least ten minutes - before eating.

Monday, 12 October 2009

shallot, cauliflower, mushroom and taleggio bake

this was a leftovers kind of a saturday lunch but it was so good that i felt i had to do a post on it. it shows you how a bit of nice cheese can transform a few simple ingredients into something quite special. taleggio melts quite spectacularly but, unlike most melting cheeses which i find a little bland, it also has an interesting flavour. the only reason why we ended up with it is because the woman i let queue jump before our marathon salami-slicing session in the italian deli only bought a chunk of taleggio. it was from a big block cut in half, so the other half clearly had my name on it.

i think the idea for the dish came from an onion and taleggio puff pastry tart i did once for a christmas party. initially, i thought i’d do a thin omelette as a base and pile the stuff on top before grilling it but i’m a bit bored of eggs at the moment (yes, there is such a thing) and i just didn’t fancy another version of omelette/frittata/eggy bake.

so, the way to do this is to peel and halve loads of small shallots – 10 or so will do for two people, break up half of cauliflower into quite small florets, and slice up a couple of large mushrooms quite thickly. chuck them all in a big roasting tin and sprinkle generously with olive oil. rub it in with your hands so that each bit of veg is covered with some. season – generously with pepper but don’t go crazy with the salt depending on how salty your cheese is, and chuck in some thyme sprigs if you have any.

bake in a hot oven at 200 for about 45 minutes or until all the veg is cooked through and starting to caramelise. do shake the roasting tin every now and again and check it’s not getting too dry/burnt. if there are no crispy edges after that time, turn up the heat a bit for another 10 or so minutes. right at the end, slice up the taleggio and drape over the vegetables evenly. let it melt in the oven for a minute or so.

we ate it with reheated leftover roast chicken, which was perfect, though it’s substantial enough to have on its own.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

coconut macaroons



it feels like i've been away from here for months though it's only been a couple of weeks. first we had the outlaws here for a weekend, and then we went diving in egypt.

the thought that only a few days ago i sat on a boat in a bikini seems a bit weird: the weather has definitely turned while we've been away. i spent this morning packing up summer clothes and doing double-takes every time i notice a patch of tanned skin peeking out between socks and jeans or looking back at me in the mirror.

it was nice, this final flirt with the summer. though i've never been any good at beach holidays (fidget gene dictates i get bored surprisingly quickly, even if i have a good book to read), diving is different. you spend a lot of time on boats which are somehow inherently not boring - no idea why but people always seem quite content doing nothing on boats. plus you have to set up your kit, put on your wetsuit (if someone could invent one that doesn't require ten minutes of sweaty agony, i'd be grateful), do all the checking, tightening, squeezing, inflating, deflating, blowing and waddling around trying to put your fins on without falling over and losing your mask.

still, it's kind of nice to be back and there is something quite comforting about the arrival of autumn. i know it's astonishingly shallow but one of the things i actually look forward to most is winter clothes. you can reinvent yourself - in my head, i'm in a bottega veneta a/w 09 campaign. also cosy nights in with heating on and candles (candles seem slightly frivolous in the summer) and lots of red wine. and nice pubs with pints of bitter. and then there's skiing. small things, and all that.

anyway, a bit about food...these little macaroons were so nice i feel like abandoning the blog now to go into the kitchen to make them. you can see from the pictures that i'd nibbled on one before they'd even cooled, and then on another as they were getting the chocolate covering. basically, think i ate three before they were 'ready'.

the only thing is, you needs quite a few egg whites so it's best to do it when you have leftovers. mine were after an attempt at making creme brulee (surprisingly not sweet unless you add the sugar on top which i substituted with mango and lime coulis) - i say an attempt because, although seriously tasty, i lacked what rich's dad called moral courage and took the whole thing off heat a few seconds too soon. it didn't quite set properly - everyone ate it, mind.

the macaroon recipe is from the orangette blog, with a few tweaks. she uses sweetened coconut, for which there is no need whatsoever. she also adds sugar, which i left out completely. and i didn't have any almond extract. but the principle is the same and they really were sweet enough.

a word of warning - they are very fragile, possibly more so than normal because there is no sugar in them.

COCONUT MACAROONS

3 cups desiccated coconut
¾ cup egg whites (about 5 or 6 large)
1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
8 ounces 85% chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup double cream

this is what orangette says, verbatim:

"Place the first three ingredients in a large, heavy saucepan, and stir to combine well. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring regularly, about 10-12 minutes, until the mixture is pasty but not dry. (The uncooked mixture will look sort of granular at first, then creamy as it heats, and then it will slowly get drier and drier. You want to stop cooking when it no longer looks creamy but is still quite gluey and sticky, not dry.) Remove from heat. Mix in vanilla. Spread out the coconut mixture on a large baking sheet. Refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat baking mat. Using a ¼-cup measuring scoop, scoop and pack the coconut mixture into domes, and place them on the baking sheet. You should wind up with about a dozen. Bake the macaroons until golden, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool."

you can leave the chocolate bit out altogether, of course. the only reason i did it is because i had cream left over from the creme brulee. they were perfectly nice without it (see nibbling, above).

if you want to do it, you just put the cream and the chocolate in a pan and heat very gently until the chocolate has melted, stirring well. you then just use a spoon to pour the mixture over your macaroons. leave to set somewhere cold.

i found the macaroons are best eaten on the day you make them, as they go a bit soggy after a while (though still tasty).

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

chicken with beetroot and slow roast tomato sauce


as i stood barefoot in the kitchen at half past ten at night slicing tomatoes and wondering if i should use the turkish pepper or just the normal chilli flakes, i had one of those rare moments when you see yourself as others see you. a kind of a sub specie aeternitatis job. and i thought the whole cooking thing had just gone too far.

at half ten at night, i am normally tucked up in bed reading a book. okay, sometimes it's a cookery book but most of the time i just read fiction. (cookery books are too big to read in bed). so what on earth possessed me to slow roast tomatoes while i am asleep, and on a school night too??

well...i bought some beetroot at the farmers' market and i knew it needed using. so, while watching telly that night, i was leafing through some cookery books, as you do, and i spotted this recipe for a slow-roast tomato and beetroot sauce to go with roast birds.

suddenly, the idea of chucking some tomatoes in the oven at 60 or so degrees C overnight seemed like such an obvious thing to do. it's easy - it only took me a few minutes to prepare, and you end up with leftover tomatoes for lunchboxes. there is also something nice about your oven humming and glowing warmly in the dark while you're asleep - but maybe that's just me.

still...it is a bit crazy.

the craziest bit was making the sauce the following day. beetroot is an absurd vegetable, a freak of nature - nothing not artificial should be THAT red. the food processor looked like a nasty accident in an abattoir or like i'd whizzed up a smallish mammal in it.

the end result was worth it - a sweet, earthy sauce with just a hint of an acid kick from the tomatoes and the yoghurt, and then the crispy and salty chicken skin. it's definitely something to do again, especially as i am always looking for ways of using beetroot.

CHICKEN WITH BEETROOT AND SLOW ROAST TOMATO SAUCE
for two

4-5 slow roast tomato halves
2 medium beetroots
1-2 tbs of creme fraiche
seasoning

first, you have to slow roast the tomatoes. just halve them, put them in a roasting dish cut side up, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper and drizzle of olive oil (plus chilli flakes if you like) and roast in a very low oven for a good few hours. when i say low i mean less than 100C and when i say a few hours, i mean four or five at least. mine were done at about 60C overnight. oh, and start with good tomatoes, otherwise it's all a bit pointless. and make quite a few - no point in doing one or two.

take 2 medium beetroots and boil them in their skins for about an hour or until you can stick a knife in them and they're soft. when cool enough to handle, peel off the skins, chop roughly and put in a food processor with 4-5 tomato halves, a tablespoon or so of creme fraiche (i used thick yoghurt - but no low fat stuff please), and quite a lot of salt and pepper. whizz until smooth. reheat in a pan and serve with the chicken.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

courgette and feta cheese bake


i've not eaten a meatless or fishless dinner for a long time now. until tonight. the truth is, i couldn't really be bothered to cook so i wanted something i could put together and whack in the oven while i do other things. this fitted the bill, and i had no meat in the fridge anyway.

i didn't exactly set out to eat meat every day. it just kind of worked out that way. i think i function better on lots of protein as it keeps me sated. this dinner only served to reminded me that i was permanently hungry when i was a vegetarian (and i did spend the rest of the night going back to the fridge to 'investigate').

you could say i am permanently hungry now, and i certainly think about food often enough, but it's really not the same. i can wait for my food now without thinking i will faint, and i can exercise hungry. i used to get into a mild panic at the thought of going somewhere where i won't be able to eat for a few hours, that's how bad it was. i guess i must have been prone to massive blood sugar fluctuations and i did/do have a sweet tooth. my palate and my tastes are changing but it takes time. i'd still like to ditch fruit - there is just no need to eat 2-3 pieces a day when you eat tons of vegetables.

it was funny timing to be eating a veggie dish because i am in the middle of a book called the vegetarian myth by lierre (only in america) keith. the title kinda says it all but what's interesting - and what makes it different from the usual carnivore 'propaganda' - is that it was written by a former vegan.

she does the same job as ex-smokers who proclaim the evils of fags louder than the healthy lobby itself: she's pretty militant. as a result, the tone can be a little annoying in places. but i still think it should be obligatory reading for anyone who is open-minded enough to realise that the vegetarian doctrine has some serious holes in it. and that's for both ethical and medical reasons.

we're made to eat meat, that's about the long and the short of it.

being a vegetarian is a bit of a crazy choice to make, for your own health and the health of the planet. the medical argument seems pretty obvious to me - there is so much science to support it (proper science, not some dodgy observational study paid for by the soya manufacturers) that i think you'd have to be seriously blinkered not to accept it.

it was the idea that the meat is destroying the planet that used to bother me a lot more. but it is only partially true: yes, it is the grain that's fed to cows that's wiping out huge swathes of rainforest and grassland but there's the bleeding obvious hiding in there: cows are not meant to eat grain in the first place. HELLO!!!! and that's the nub of it: we need to go back to proper animal husbandry. yes, the price of meat will shoot up and only the rich will be able to afford to eat grass-fed beef fillet steaks. the rest of us will go back to cheaper cuts and the whole nose-to-tail job. we'd also have to make do with cheap protein. a bit grim but perhaps that's the price worth paying in the long run.

interestingly, keith also dismantles the humane i-don't-want-to-hurt-anything stance which i was definitely prone to (except in my case it applied to plants too). the brutal truth is: for everything you eat, something has to die, and that includes grains. in fact, she puts the blame squarely on the rise of agriculture for much of the destruction of flora and fauna. it's a pretty convincing argument too.

have a look at the book and also check out dr michael eades' blog for a shorter summary of the arguments (www.proteinpower.com/drmike/.) and hold the veggie hate mail, i am not interested.

anyway, for something semi-made up, this dinner was really very nice. very soft, pillowy on the inside - the courgette almost turns to thyme-scented, salty mush - with the crispy, cheesy, baked outside. while i was making it, i thought i must have lost my mind and was in fact making a fritatta in a pointlessly complicated way. but i promise you this tastes different - somehow, it is like a souffle in the middle which i don't think you really get when it's done on top of the stove.

COURGETTE AND FETA BAKE

2 large courgettes, sliced into rounds no thicker than a two pound coin. best use a mandolin but you can do it by hand
2 smallish cloves of garlic, crushed
2 eggs
1 cup of feta or a bit less (to taste, really)
5-6 sprigs of thyme
1 tbs of creme fraiche or thick greek yoghurt
olive oil
sea salt and pepper

preheat the oven to 180C. grease a 20cm/8in round dish.

in a large dish, fry the sliced courgetes in olive oil until they begin to soften. add the garlic and thyme and season. you don't have to fry this for ages as the courgettes will carry on cooking in the oven.

mash the cheese with the fork, then whisk in the eggs and the yoghurt or creme fraiche.

now place a layer of courgettes (a third of your mixture) in the bottom of a dish, cover with half of the eggy cheese, then put another layer of courgettes and top with the rest of the 'filling'. finish off with a nicely arranged layer of courgettes and bake in the oven for about 45-50 minutes. if it starts to brown too quickly, cover it with some foil and then uncover for the last few minutes to crisp up.