Wednesday, 29 April 2009

bob bob ricard, or fiddling while rome is burning

if i were a food writer for a sunday newspaper, i could write a witty 1,500 words piece based around a trope (a theme, a whatever) about how the world could be divided into those who would find the champagne button at bob bob ricard fun (and funny) and those who wouldn't. but i am not and i won't.

because the truth is, i found the button moderately funny. i really wanted to press it, yes. but i can see why it would annoy me after a while, that button, like a comedian with a single punchline or a one-trick pony. what was much more entertaining was the bob bob staff's response to me sending the waiter away so i could press the button and summon him back 3 seconds later to take our order (of sparkling english wine, so we didn't even qualify, technically). he laughed, as if no one had done it before. i could bet my half of tonight's bill that dozens of people do the same thing to him every day, that he thinks we're all prats, and that he moans about it to his mates in a trendy soho bar afterwards. so hats off to you my froggy lebanese friends from bob bob's - i salute your good humour and impeccable manners!

the other good thing in this place is the decor. it's a bit like an old train or a restaurant from black and white movies in which all women wear skirts of modest length and little hats: all crinkly blue curtains, grey marble and the sort of brass railings that make me spark off in static shocks just thinking about them. you get your own little booth with blue leather seats - you could make yourself quite comfortable in one of those, for a quite a while.

as for the food...the food was like the stock market at the moment - moments of irrational exuberance followed by something more akin to quiet desperation. (speaking of which, post-work hours in the west end after working in the city for 3 years are like a return to civilisation. the people! the clothes! the make up! the shops, THE SHOPS! not a cufflink in sight, and no brogues to be seen anywhere unless they're neon pink and worn by girls.) anyway, the exuberance was the starter. some very fine asparagus, perfectly cooked, with a little mound of sea salt and a bowl of wobbly hollandaise sauce. i'm not normally too keen on the stuff, mainly because it tends to look a bit too fluorescent yellow and taste like it's been thickened with cornflour - but this was exceptional. i have pangs of jealousy, having tried and failed to make mayonnaise three times in the last six months.

it was the next course of slow-cooked pork belly that was more of a quiet disappointment. not terrible by any means but it could have been a lot better. the pork was a bit on the cold side - though the warm plates helped. you can't really eat fatty food cold - instead of that gorgeous, melt-in-your-mouth feel, you end up with scary lumps of gelatine.

also, i swapped julie some pork for her black pudding, which she doesn't like. it was good but, again, nothing special. i've eaten better. or it might just be that i'd overdone it - by my calculation, the amount i ate probably equals drinking the blood of a small piglet. particularly weird when you come home to find that the WHO has raised the threat level to five while you had your back turned. the pig was accompanied by some fairly non-descript apple salad and we had spinach and peas on the side, which were nice.

i had cheese to finish and we were back in the bull market: four generous pieces, with three rough oatcakes and a small bunch of grapes. i know they charged me 10 quid for all this but it was a lot of cheese and it was good. i've had some seriously stingy cheese plates in other places for at least £7. if it hadn't been a school night, i would have had a glass of red wine with it. julie had the chocolate souffle, which she said was very nice, and it looked it.

finally, the service was perfect - smiley, nice, chatty and in no way pretentious. it started off badly because they were trying to top up our wine in a way both julie and i agreed was our pet hate in restaurants. but they soon slowed down, and turned it into a bit of a joke. as an aside, i seem to have become the sort of person who chats to waiters (and butchers, and greengrocers, and cleaners). i think it's a dangerous sign of old age, like grey hairs or wrinkles - you've surrendered your pretentiousness and coolness and are now quite happy to talk about holidays or make jokes about the champagne button.

so all in all , bob bob ricard is good fun. not cheap, mind, but i'd definitely go back. it's possibly not somewhere you'd go on a first date but as a night out with mates, you could do a lot worse.

wild sea bass with herbs

last friday night, someone got stabbed at the end of our road. i initially thought (and wrote here) that it must be the kids at it again. somehow, that doesn't worry me so much. i just think: london. it happens. it's completely insane that kids of 15 carry knives but there you go. as long as we don't legalise guns, i suppose.

but the bbc news said it was a 34 year old bloke who got stabbed in front of his girlfriend and his two kids. he's okay, apparently, though he can't have been that okay considering the number of policemen and women who were hanging around for almost a day. whoever stabbed him just ran off. 

and then you think - if this is random, it could have been me. what a remarkably stupid, pointless way that would have been to die. imagine surviving a war (albeit only ten days of it) and then getting killed by some kid with a stupid hat and trousers slung too low? i mean, i couldn't bear the irony of it. like someone we went to school with (best student of our generation; extra spoddy but very nice with it), who was in sarajevo for the duration of the seige, then got killed when the swiss air plane on which she was travelling to some conference of physics boffins dropped out of the sky on the way to the US. shocking. i think it's for the same reason i'm a bit wary of fast driving. from sarajevo to a death on a b road in leicestershire - not very glamorous, is it?

so when we went to get the fish from steve hatt's on saturday morning, we had to walk around the police tape. actually we walked under the tape thinking it was all over and promptly got told off by a very stern policewoman. we felt like two naughty children and even thinking about it now makes me smart with shame. 

r thought we should try cooking wild bass because it looked nice. we toyed with the idea of filleting and pan-frying it but a lot of the recipes we found suggest baking it, so that's what we did in the end. i imagine you can cook most similar fish in the same way. it's a jamie oliver recipe which worked perfectly apart from the cooking times. we found we had to increase the time by at least 15 minutes as it was completely raw when we first took it out of the oven. my advice is to check after a while and see how it's getting on. 

what i particularly liked about it - and it was a revelation to me - was how well the red onion and the fennel worked together - both visually, as you end up with pale pink against the pastel green, and in terms of taste, as the red onion ends up almost perfumed. i think the slices of both have to be really thin for this to work as only then will they cook so quickly. 

for two

1 sea bass, scaled and gutted, approx 800g
1 small red onion, very finely sliced (use a mandolin if you have one)
1 bulb fennel, very finely sliced - save the leafy tops and use as herbs, see below
1 1/2 lemons
2 generous handfuls of soft herbs (parsley, bay leaf, basil, dill, fennel tops - use one or a mix of what you like. we used flat leaf parsley and bay leaves)
1 tsp fennel seeds
salt and pepper
olive oil

pre-heat the oven to 220C. tear a piece of foil about 5 times as long as your fish. fold it over so you get a double layer to make it stronger. place the sliced onion in the middle, and layer the fennel over it. put the fish on top, season it both inside and out with salt, pepper and the fennel seeds. squeeze one lemon over it and place the other half, cut up into chunks, around the fish. douse the fish and the veg with a few good glugs of olive oil. close up the foil, making sure it's all tightly scrunched up so that the fish steams inside.

place the fish in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. leave to rest for five minutes before tucking in.

Monday, 27 April 2009

veal holstein

i never understand people who say they can’t be bothered to cook when they’re on their own. my greed can rarely be fobbed off by a tin of soup or a ready made meal for one (that's not food, that's a snacklet). if anything, solitary suppers are a good excuse to go over the top and treat yourself to something special. 

to be fair, you don’t want to end up making something fussy. there is nothing more soul-destroying than spending two hours in the kitchen to make a meal you’ll eat in five minutes in front of the telly. so the key is to cook something simple but indulgent. that usually means investing in good ingredients and/or eating something that would make your doctor apoplectic.

i've already blogged about veal and creamed spinach being my favourite comfort food. i ended up making both for this dinner but i decide to experiment with veal holstein, which is basically a wiener schnitzel topped with a fried egg, capers and anchovies. not sure where the recipe comes from - the caper/anchovy combination sounds a bit italian to me. i've not met many brits who like either so feel free to skip them but i think you'd be missing a trick - you need the salty, acidic taste they bring.

i also thought i'd experiment with using almond flour for the escalopes - figuring i can always just scrape the batter off if it tastes rubbish. it was a pleasant surprise - not as nice as crispy breadcrumbs but a worthy substitute nevertheless.

in fact, the whole thing was so nice - all crispy batter with soft yolk with the capers kick behind it - that i ate it in about 1.5 minutes. so much for indulgence. 

my only warning would be that you might not want to attempt it unless you have a dishwasher. the kitchen looked like a bomb had hit it after i'd finished. good job i was on my own as r would have said the usual 'you think you're jamie oliver, you do'. 

for two (i'll be having the leftovers for breakfast)

2 veal escalopes, flattened slightly (my buthcher does this but you can do it yourself with a rolling pin or your fist)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup of ground almonds
1tbs butter
1tbs olive oil
1tbs capers, rinsed very well
4 anchovy fillets (if salted, rinsed very well)
2 eggs (i used duck's 'cos i'm greedy)
some chopped parsley

set the oven to very low, like 50C or less. this is to keep your veal warm while you finish off the dish.

spread the ground almonds on one plate, and place the beaten egg in another. season the veal escalopes and then dip them first in the egg, then in the almonds, shake off the excess and fry in hot olive oil for 2 minutes each side, depending on thickness. don't overcrowd the pan as they will go soggy (you might have to do it in two batches, as i did), and don't have the heat on too high as the almonds will burn. put on a plate and keep warm in the oven.

wipe the pan clean and then fry the eggs briefly - the yolk should be soft.

in a separate pan, melt the butter with a tiny bit of olive oil and add the capers and the parsley.

to plate, place the anchovy fillets on top of the veal, cover with the fried egg and pour over the parsley and caper sauce.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

razor clams with garlic and pancetta

this is a mark hix recipe again, with a few modifications. for example, he uses wild boar bacon. i can’t see that one being available in a supermarket near you any time soon, so best use pancetta or bacon instead. also, the original recipe calls for hedgerow garlic leaves, which i don’t have, so i substitute half a clove from the marinade. it’s not quite the same as the flavour is a lot stronger – hedgerow garlic has quite a delicate garlicky perfume - but it will do. funnily enough, when we go for a walk by the grand union canal the day after, the grass verges are overgrown with the tiny white flowers of the wild stuff. bloody typical.

it’s the first time we’ve cooked clams at home. they’re not too expensive – maybe a pound each, and we have four altogether. they’re still alive when we start cooking – their feet poke out of shells like strange muscular tongues when you squeeze them (as r of course does – once a scientist, always a scientist) or when you run water over them. also, if you direct water straight into their weird little mouths, they squirt it back out in a quite a powerful jet. you can imagine them taking over your kitchen, horror movie-style.

i loved this dish. the clams taste like a cross between squid and scallops, with the texture of the latter, and the taste of the former. the crispy pancetta is a nice contrast in texture and flavour - i guess it’s the same idea as serving black pudding with scallops: something porcine, meaty and salty to accompany the delicate seafood base.

finally, don’t be tempted to skip the butter at the end. it matters to the final taste of the dish and it would all be too dry otherwise. serve with some salad leaves – we have some lightly dressed peppery watercress which is perfect for cutting through the fat. i think rocket would work , or just some plain leaves sharpened with a little vinaigratte.

for two

4 razor clams
1 sprig thyme
a few stalks of flat leaf parsley
1/2 glass of white wine
2 small cloves of garlic
75g pancetta or bacon, cubed
25g butter
some hedgerow garlic or save half a clove or so from the marinade above

put a serving dish in the oven to warm up. wash the clams under running water for 10 minutes. when done, place them in a pan with the wine, parsley, thyme, garlic and seasoning and bring to the boil. cover and cook for 2 minutes or until the shells start opening. ours did in no time at all, probably less than a minute. 

take the clams out of shells and discard the black stuff (it's the stomach, and the black stuff is just sand). cut each clam into two or three pieces and place back in their shells.

in the meantime, fry the pancetta (or bacon) in a bit of olive oil until crispy, add the butter and the garlic and let it melt to form a sauce.

put the clams into your warmed serving dish, pour the butter and pancetta on top and put in a warm oven for a couple of minutes to warm up.

sunday morning or asparagus with poached eggs

sunday morning:

decide who makes coffee and who goes to get the newspapers.

make coffee as r eventually gives up trying to persuade me that it's my turn to go. have a conversation about how we should really get the weekend papers delivered. we've been having this conversation for approximately 5 years.

the order in which sunday newspapers are read:

first, the glossy food supplement. dismiss the endless cake recipes and drool over the parisian salad of artichoke and soft-boiled eggs.

second, the magazine. usually from back to front. skim the restaurant reviews, then the recipes. not interested in cous cous, thanks. skip the 'how to get a killer body' bit (it will run every week from now till the end of august should i suddenly get interested in some personal trainer's wisdom, which is unlikely), get to fashion and wonder if too old for 1. jumpsuits 2. harem pants. conclude that i can wear what i like, within reason.

read the book reviews, making mental notes about which books i should buy. remember i'm running out of space and should therefore only be buying stuff for the e-reader. not sure e-book publishers will see a book about melancholy particularly profitable.

read the main bit of the paper. we'll all be dead of swine flu. so much for my pork obsession. you live by the pig, you die by the pig. unfortunately, so much for a dive holiday in the sea of cortez as well. shame. just saying the words sea of cortez makes the whole thing sound impossibly romantic. few other places elicit the same mix of wonderlust, beauty and adventure. sumatra is one. i can trace that particular one to a book we read at school, a particularly gruesome account of the muddy and cold eastern front in WW1, and the protagonist soldier who dreams of sumatran dawns the colour of blushes. two years ago, when we went to borneo, we'd wake up almost every morning to sit on the balcony and watch the sun rising, and the dawns really were rosy.)

eat breakfast. poached eggs with boiled asparagus, with smoked mackerel, salad and a double shot capuccino.

Friday, 24 April 2009

courgette and mushroom 'pasta' with walnuts, bacon and parmesan

there is no doubt in my mind that part of the reason why i cook is just pure, unadulterated greed. i like eating and eating like this allows me to eat stuff that's good for me - and a lot of it.

so when i tell you that i rushed home before going out tonight to rustle up a quick meal with the leftover walnut crema from yesterday, it should come as no surprise. all day i've been mulling over what i could do with it, and what i've got in the fridge. i didn't really know until i got home. and then it came to me: a pretend pasta dish.

and i tell you, it was bloody nice, even if i say so. admittedly, there is an element of - if you fried my size 9 left foot with some bacon and cheese, it would probably taste pretty good. so in that sense, it's not a surprise. but it was more than that - the walnut sauce was creamy and sweet and moreish, the courgette had a little bit of bite left, and the mushrooms had melted in the sauce. it was closest i'd got to pasta since we started eating paleo last year and it kind of reminded me that i don't really miss the taste of it but i do miss the ease with which you could put a dish like this together.

i left some in a bowl for r to try but i am not convinced it's going to last. i had to stop myself from eating it all and licking the pan by physically walking out of the kitchen.

for one, when hungry

2 courgettes, sliced very thinly (i used a mandolin but you could do it with a knife - they should not be more than 1/2cm thick)
a handful of mushrooms, which even kind you have, sliced finely
2 tbs finely chopped parsley
2 thin slices pancetta or streaky bacon
some grated parmesan cheese
olive oil

in a non-stick frying pan, fry the pancetta till crisp. you can probably do this without any oil or with just a drop. take out of the pan and drain on some kitchen paper. in the bacon fat, fry the courgettes and the mushrooms with a good pinch of salt on relatively high heat, until soft and browning in parts. this will take a while - both courgettes and mushrooms are full of water and you want this to evaporate. add half of the parsley while they are cooking.

when you think they're done, add the walnut crema and stir it in. i say 3 tbs but you can put as much or as little as you like. warm it through, stir in the rest of the parsley and serve with the crisp pancetta slices and the grated cheese on top.

PS got home at midnight (had to walk around police lines as kids are stabbing each other again) to find an empty bowl and a bottle of chilli sauce on the side. oh.

asparagus with walnuts and parmesan

the asparagus season has started and i had the first bunch delivered on wednesday. i would normally just boil it - it's only later, towards the end of may, that you start roasting, frying and adding it to other things. but the bunch i got in the veg box this week was most definitely past its best. i’d already clocked a recipe on and knew it would work perfectly as a starter for our night in/night out (see the note below).

plus, i like the idea of doing things to nuts – probably because eating them raw gives me indigestion. boiling them and then combining them with fried onion intensifies their sweetness, which is a perfect foil for the salty cheese. i made a similar thing recently to go with trout: this time it was almonds boiled in milk and combined with fried shallots. so, the same idea, really.  not sure why that never made it in the blog, come to think of it.

you could, of course, make this without the cheese if you’re going for the strict paleo version but i am not sure it would work. you would have to salt the asparagus very generously to achieve the same contrast.

the full quantity for the walnut crema given in the recipe feeds six as a starter. i made the full amount as it’s a bit too much of a faff to scale it down for two. i’ll probably be buying asparagus again on saturday – as with purple-sprouting broccoli, i tend to go a bit overboard when the season starts – so i can make the same thing for lunch, maybe with a fried duck’s egg on the side. also, i think it would go very nicely stirred through some courgette ribbons, gently fried in olive oil.

night in/night out – this happens on weekdays when we want to go out but also feel like having some time at home. we can’t do both, so we tend to go out for dinner early somewhere local (part of the reason why we moved to N1 are the 80 or so restaurants within 10 minutes walk) and then come back home for a chat, a glass of wine and the 10 o’clock news. somehow, that final sit-down at home makes you feel like you’ve cheated time a bit, had some fun behind its back and added half an hour to a hectic day. today, we had a night in/night out at home, in the kitchen and lounge. 

for 2 (walnut crema for six)

1 bunch of asparagus
1 ½ cups of fresh walnuts
1 small red onion, finely chopped
salt and pepper
olive oil
parmesan or pecorino cheese

start with the walnuts. put them in a pan with enough boiling water to cover and cook for 10 minutes. make sure they don’t boil dry – add some water if necessary. drain and reserve the cooking  water.

in a separate pan, fry the onion with a generous pinch of salt for 10 or more minutes. it needs to be cooked through and completely soft so don't rush it.

in a processor (i used a blender, which is a pain, as you have to keep scraping the sides down), put in the nuts, the fried onion and about ¼ cup of the cooking liquid and blend until smooth. then, with the machine still on, start adding ½ cup of olive oil (or a little less, i think i used around 1/3) in a slow, steady stream. once you’re done, it should look quite a lot like hummus. if it is too thick, add a bit more of the cooking water. 

pre-heat the oven to 260C. put the asparagus on a roasting tray and rub olive oil into each spear. salt, and roast for 10 minutes or so, depending on how thick and woody your asparagus is. the very fine young spears will only need 7-8 minutes, probably. 

to assemble, cover the bottom of each plate with an even layer of crema. mine was about ½ cm thick. put the asparagus spears in a single layer on top. use a potato peeler to scatter generous slices of cheese over the asparagus. try and do this while it’s hot, so the cheese melts a little. season with black pepper.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

beetroot and shallot salad with hazelnuts and feta cheese

roast some baby beetroots at the same time. scrub them well, then place them whole in a roasting dish. if they're big, cut them in half. cover with some balsamic vinegar and olive oil, put in a few sprigs of thyme and some whole garlic cloves (i'd say about 5 cloves per 500g of beetroot, with 2tbs each of vinegar and oil), cover the pan tightly with foil (or make a foil packet so you don't need to use a roasting tin at all), and bake in a hot oven at 200C for around 1 hour. after that time, if the beetroot is soft when pierced, it's cooked. leave it to cool, then see if it needs peeling - i often don't bother if it's young. cut into quarters, or whatever a bite-size piece turns out to be.

dry-roast some crushed hazelnuts - put them in a plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin to crush but don't overdo it, you don't want breadcrumbs or rubble. watch carefully as they burn really quickly. you're aiming for golden brown.

crumble some feta cheese in a bowl. about 200g or a packet per half a kilo of beetroot. it would work with goat's cheese too, and even blue cheese like stilton but i would use less of the latter as it's more powerful.

add the shallots, the beetroot and the hazelnuts and mix it all together with your hands. dress with 3 parts olive oil, 1 part sherry or balsamic vinegar. season - but you don't need salt as the cheese is salty enough. add salad leaves if you wish.

the beauty of this is that you can 1. roast the beetroot and the shallots at the same time and 2. do all the prep in advance and 3. leave it in your fridge for a few days. make a large quantity and improvise with different salads during the week. it's perfect for parties or as a dinner party first course (i would add some leaves for the latter, and maybe something meaty on the side like thin slices of bresaola).

by the way, if you're lucky enough to get beetroot with its leaves still attached, add them to the salad. they can also be wilted like spinach.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

venison stew

told a few people at a work lunch about the lack of evidence for saturated fat being responsible for heart disease. i was careful not to talk about cause and effect - i just said there seems to be little evidence. silence and blank stares all around, as i've said that i secretly like roasting babies for breakfast. so while i tucked into some pork belly and calves liver, they were clearly picturing defibrillators and cardio wards, i am certain of it. (i find it particularly hard breaking the news to vegetarians - it's like telling children that santa doesn't exist.) to be fair, it's not like i'm advocating an atkins-style orgy of meat and cream. the reality is that we put away so many vegetables that, as i might have said before, the greengrocer down the road probably thinks we have a couple of super-healthy (and super-unfussy) kids we keep locked up at home.

anyway, i made another 3-day stew: a day to marinate, a day to cook and a day to eat. this time, we had venison from farmers' market. it's pretty cheap buying chunks for stewing but you do need to cook them for ages for the meat to go tender. i added some chocolate to it (you can see the grated stuff in the first photo), after the pork experiment, and a chilli. the recipe is yet again a bastardised version of a couple of things i found online. to be honest, you can't go very wrong with a stew whatever you put in it, as long as you observe a few basic rules: marinate the meat if possible, use the basics as if for soup like onions, carrots and leeks before you start adding anything exotic, and cook for ages on low heat. i put in a small kohlrabi and another couple of carrots before cooking but i don't think you really need them, so i've omitted them from the recipe below.

this ended up being amazing. it smelt and tasted of chocolate and not in a subtle way - but instead of being a distraction (chocolate = sweets, usually), it seriously enhanced the flavour of the meat. i did worry slightly when i realised i actually have no idea how carb-heavy pure chocolate is. but i think its carb content is negligible considering the amount used, as long as it's the stuff with no sugar added. i think you could easily do this without the chocolate too.

i cooked the stew in the oven for a couple of hours (on 150C) and there simmered it on very low heat on the hob for the last hour. i think you can do either - i usually find it easier to just chuck it in the oven and forget about it - though you should probably have a look after a couple of hours to make sure it's not getting too dry.

for three (2 with a bowl left over for breakfast)

500g venison, cut into chunks
2 small leeks, finely sliced
2 carrots, finely sliced
1 onion, finely sliced
1 sprig rosemary
a couple of sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
2 dried chillies
1 tbs coriander seeds, ground
1 bottle of decent red wine
100ml sherry vinegar
80g 100% chocolate

put the venison in a bowl with the leeks, onions, carrots, coriander, herbs, chillies, red wine and vinegar. leave for at least 12 hours - i left it for 24.

the proper way of doing the next step is to fry off the venison chunks in small batches first, to brown them, and then fry the veg separately before combining the two. i couldn't be bothered to do this (i rarely find the browning makes much difference apart from making the meat look nicer) so i chucked it all in together, with a bit of olive oil and seasoning, added the chocolate and put it in the oven at 150C for 2 hours. it does need about 3 hours to cook so you can either leave it in the oven or finish it off on the hob - especially if the sauce needs reducing.

all we had with it was a bit of lettuce.

pigeon breasts with bacon and white wine dressing

had pigeon for dinner again. i know, i know - it’s getting boring, and most people can’t buy pigeon breasts every week. in my defence, i will say that this would work very well with chicken breasts. 

it’s a salad, of sorts – though not what most people would understand by the word. it all gets done in about half an hour and the result is so good that we both made contented noises while eating it. what i particularly liked about it is the salty bacon and the slightly bitter chicory, with the sweet caramelised bits of roast veg and the sharp dressing. you can, of course, use other veg but aim for a similar kind of contrast.

i used some leftover shallots from yesterday, and roasted some broccoli, cauliflower and 3 tiny purple chicories i found on sale in a supermarket. all you do, once you’ve put the veg to roast in the oven with some olive oil and seasoning, is fry a few rashers of streaky bacon until golden and crisp, take it out and then in the leftover bacon fat fry the pigeon breasts for a couple of minutes each side. take them out of the pan and leave to rest. deglaze the pan with a couple of tablespoons of white wine vinegar and the same amount of white wine (i used marsala as i didn’t have any wine). leave it to bubble down – if it reduces too much, add some water. assemble the salad with all the veg, the pigeon, the bacon and some salad leaves and pour over the dressing.

Monday, 20 April 2009

roast shallots

just thought i should add a recipe for the roast shallots we ate with the chicken, as it's pretty tasty. you can make loads (scale up up the recipe) and add to salads during the week.

i cooked the shallots at the same time as the chicken so it's a nice lazy accompaniment to other dishes. about 1lb is enough for 2 people for dinner with a few left over.


1 lb shallots
1-2 tbs vinegar (sherry or balsamic, i used sherry)
2 tbs olive oil

preheat your oven to 200C. peel the shallots and slice them in half. place, cut side up, in a roasting tray/pyrex dish. pour in the vinegar and the oil and season. cover tightly with foil and roast in the oven for 45 minutes. take the tray out of the oven and try to turn the shallots - they might just fall apart but that's fine. cover again and roast for another half an hour or so. i'd say check them after 20 minutes and then keep extending the time until they are cooked - you want them to be soft and caramelised, so they need to burn a little (those are the best bits).

Sunday, 19 April 2009

roast chicken with wild garlic

can't believe i paid a pound, a shiny english pound, for some wild garlic leaves that i could have foraged from the side of the road somewhere. ah the joys of farmers' markets.

but how could i resist? it's sunday, the sun is shining, it's orthodox easter (check out my mum's traditionally-dyed eggs in the pic below, she does it by boiling them in onion skins which colour the shell red), and there's a picture of nigel slater's roast chicken stuffed with wild garlic in the observer magazine.
you can't beat a roast chicken and, having read this, i wasn't going to be shy with the butter.

the recipe is basically nigel slater's. we have roast shallots and wilted spinach with it, with loads of gravy.

for, errrr, two?

1 happy chicken (i don't care if that makes me a food snob but not eating non-free range), around 1.5kg
1 bunch of wild garlic
1/2 lemon
1 head of garlic
salt and pepper
50-60g butter
a little olive oil
2 small glasses white wine or stock

preheat the oven to 200C. place the chicken in a roasting tin, stuff the cavity with the wild garlic leaves and the lemon half. place half of the butter, cubed, inside the chicken as well. spread the rest of the butter all over the chicken. season. take the cloves out of the head of garlic (unpeeled) and just squash them with a knife a little. scatter around the chicken in a roasting tin.

turn the chicken so it's lying on the breast side and roast for 30 mins. then turn the right way around and cook for another hour, depending on size (normally 20mins per 500g, plus another half an hour).

when cooked (the juices should run clear when you pierce the thickest part), take the chicken out and leave it to rest for 10 minutes under some foil. pour away most of the fat from the roasting in, then put on high heat on the hob. add the stock or wine and let it bubble, scraping away any nice, stuck-on bits in the pan. let the gravy reduce a little. check for seasoning.

we end up eating the wild garlic stuffing with the chicken - it tastes like perfumed, garlicky spinach.

indonesian rendang curry

i love asian food. for me, it's not just about the heat (though i do like chilli) but about the balance and complexity of flavour. i especially like malaysian and indonesian dishes, sweetened with coconut and slightly sour from the tamarind and fish sauce. i realise that much of this food does in fact contain sugar but i genuinely don't think you notice it's not there in highly spiced dishes like this.

rendang curry is not like the 'wet' thai curries most people make when they use coconut milk. it's pretty dry as the sauce cooks for almost an hour and ends up clinging to the meat or veg.

i have no idea how authentic this recipe is (i nicked the basis of it from a random website) but it tasted like the Curry To End All Curries. r liked it, claiming the flavour built up slowly and saying it was nothing like those curries that promise so much but then fail to deliver the punch. personally, i thought it was like one of those curries that make you sweat garlic and ginger through every pore the next day. in a good way, obviously.

when you start adding the spices to the blender, you'll probably double-check the recipe to make sure i really did mean to include all of them. i do.

this would work really well with chicken, jointed and on the bone - it can cook for an hour in the sauce. i made it with butternut squash and prawns, as another fridge-cleaning exercise before going to edinburgh for the weekend. i guess you can skip the meat altogether and make a veggie version.

for two, when you're feeling very greedy. i was convinced there'd be some left to freeze. i realise now how laughable that idea was. like much of paleo food, to me at least, this tastes like it should be bad for you so you eat more when you realise it isn't.

1/2 can coconut milk
2 tbs olive oil
1 onion, peeled and quartered
4 cloves garlic
1 thumb-size piece of ginger
1-3 red chillies, i used one fresh (didn't bother de-seeding) and one dry
3/4 tbs tamarind paste
2 tsp dark soy sauce
4 tbs fish sauce
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 heaped tbs ground coriander seeds
1 tbs ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1 tsp shrimp paste or use a little more fish sauce
2 whole star anise

1 butternut squash, cubed
250g raw prawns
2 pak choi, sliced

for the garnish:
a few chives
dessicated coconut

pretty simple stuff, this. basically, put all sauce ingredients in a blender, except the star anise, and blend till you have a smooth paste. it ends up being the thickness of double cream. taste and see if it needs more of anything. i thought mine tasted too sweet and coconutty so i added a little more fish sauce.

put the sauce in a wok or a big pan with the star anise, and put whatever veg or meat you are using. if you're using something that cooks quickly, put it in later. squash was perfect because it takes 45 or so minutes to cook on the stove top.

bring the sauce to the boil, then reduce the heat and leave to simmer for at least half an hour. the sauce should thicken and reduce by a fair bit. stir every now and again. add the pak choi after 30 mins and cook for another 15 or 20. if your sauce is getting too thick, add a bit of water or stock to loosen it. add the prawns and cook for another 2 minutes or until they turn pink.

to serve, garnish with some snipped chives and a sprinkling of coconut, or some finely chopped coriander leaves.

Friday, 17 April 2009

today is exactly 17 years since i left home.

i could always talk about it matter-of-factly, as if it wasn't my own life. 

what did i think about it? then, i read too many books and i thought it a tragedy of epic proportions worthy of a very long russian novel. or - even better - some pretentious french poetry. oh la bruit terrible de la guerre, and all that. when i came over, i felt like stopping people in the street to tell them that in sarajevo, someone, at that very moment, is probably getting their lung punctured by a sniper, or being decapitated by a mortar shell, or just plain old dying in any one of the many banal and ingenious ways humans have found to kill each other.

instead, i said nothing. i drank tea, and bitter, and india pale ale, i watched eastenders, talked about the weather, joined the library, got to like apple sauce with roast pork and my own company, tried scones and muffins and cream teas, learnt slang and picked up pointless facts about childrens tv or 80s dinner party dishes that would make me less obviously foreign, and generally just got on with it as best i could. now, i think shit happens, it's just a bit of a bummer than shit happened to me. but shit happens everywhere, all the time, and i should count myself lucky. and i genuinely do. 

but yes, it was stressful. one morning you had your clothes laid out over the dining room chair to go to lectures (white levi's (this was 1992, give me a break), a grey jersey top, mum's italian chocolate brown suede satchel with a broken zip), and the next night you lie in bed fully clothed wondering if the desk between you and the window and the flimsy headboard could in fact offer any protection against mortar fire. i later found out that no, they most definitely wouldn't: after we left, a piece of shrapnel from a shell falling on the tram tracks outside our block of flats entered the bedroom, and my brother's wardrobe, where it richocheted around crazily before getting tangled in his sport socks. that always struck me as funny - a prosaic end for something that can kill you pretty much instantly. 

it wouldn't have crossed my mind in a million years that this would go on for years, and that soon i would be gone, and not come back.

this year's soundtrack to departure: beirut's postcards from italy

Thursday, 16 April 2009

braised lettuce

we had this with the bison stew the other night. i thought i would include the recipe as here most people wouldn’t think of cooking a lettuce. i’d recommend it. it’s a nice accompaniment to meat or fish dishes but i think it would also make a great base for a vegetarian meal or a snack – maybe with some fontina or gruyere cheese melted on top and something starchy to mop up the juices.

for 2

2 small gem lettuces
a spring of thyme, leaves picked
½ tbs or so of butter, cut into small cubes
100ml chicken or vegetable stock
olive oil

cut the lettuces in half lengthwise without removing the tough end bit (this stops them from falling apart – you can always cut it off just before serving). heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the lettuces, cut side down, for a couple of minutes. they should be golden brown. season, then add the butter and the thyme. when the butter has stopped sizzling, pour in the stock and cover the whole thing with some wet greaseproof paper (just cut a bit off, run it under the tap and wring it out with your hands). reduce the heat and simmer for another 10 minutes or a bit less.

boeuf en daube a la nicoise

most of the time i prefer cooking meals that can be thrown together in half an hour. meals you can still do after work and have enough time for other things. like having a life. 

but there are dishes that can’t be rushed, stews being the main example. most people will read elizabeth david’s recipe below (reproduced verbatim) and give up because it takes so long. but you can do it in stages as i did – i prepared the marinade on sunday while doing something else in the kitchen, i left it in the fridge for 24 rather than 12 hours, i cooked it on monday night up until the point you need to put the tomatoes in, and i finished it off on tuesday. no harm will come to it from sitting in the fridge for a bit longer – in fact, the flavour will intensify and it will taste all the better for it. 

i did tinker with the recipe a bit, mainly to include more vegetables (celery, leek and lots more carrots). the meat i used was bison, bought at the local farmers’ market. it was cheap though of course you can substitute a stewing cut of beef. i used the normal sliced bacon instead of a piece of pork in the recipe.

"3lb round of beef, 1 cloves of garlic, 1/2 lb salt streaky pork or unsmoked fat bacon, 1/2 lb carrots, 1/2 lb stoned black olives, 3 tomatoes, herbs. for the marinade: 1/4 pint of red wine, a coffeecup full of olive oil, a small piece of celery, a carrot, 4 shallots, an onion, 2 cloves of garlic, peppercorns, herbs, salt

heat the oil in a small pan, put the sliced onion, shallots, celery and carrot. let them simmer for a minute or two, add the red wine, peppercorns, garlic and fresh or dried herbs (bayleaf, thyme, marjoram, rosemary), and a stalk or two of parsley. season with a little salt, and simmer the marinade gently for 15-20 minutes. let it cool before pouring over the meat, which should be left to marinate for a least 12 hours, and should be turned over once or twice.

in an earthenware or other fireproof casserole, into which it will just about fit, put the meat. arrange the carrots around it, put in fresh herbs and the garlic, put the bacon in one piece on top, and pour over the strained marinade. cover the put with greaseproof paper and the lid, and cook in a slow oven (regulo 3) for 2 1/2 hours. at this stage add the stoned olives and the skinned and chopped tomatoes. cook another half-hour, and before serving cut the pork or bacon into squares and the meat into good thick slices.

this dish has a really beautiful southern smell and appearance. serve it with boiled haricot or flagolet beans, or pasta, or the aigroissade toulonnaise, and a red rhone wine."

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

trout with almonds

there are days when i have an overwhelming feeling that i am wasting my time with this, especially as i suspect that those who don’t eat like this still think we’re insane. but this dinner was awesome, so here goes...

we bought 2 whole trout in a supermarket for the princely sum £2.15. for both. no, i don’t know why either. and it was waitrose too. 

the only dish i associate with trout is the classic pan-fried trout with almonds. very paleo, which is a happy coincidence. the french make their truit aux amandes with mountains of butter. as we eat some butter but not lots of it, i have more than halved the amount. you still get some of the nutty, sweet taste but feel free to use more if you wish (i’d say about 100g altogether, 50 to fry the trout in and 50 for the almonds). also, the trout is normally dredged in flour before frying but we didn’t bother. not because i think a small amount of flour matters that much but basically because it makes too much of a mess and we couldn’t be bothered.

for two

2 whole trout, heads on but cleaned and gutted
50g flaked almonds
olive oil
1 –2 tbs of butter

preheat the oven to 200C. heat some olive oil in an oven-proof frying pan and, when almost smoking, add the trout and fry on one side for around 4 minutes. turn carefully and place in the oven immediately to finish cooking. this should take another 4 minutes or thereabouts.

when cooked, take out the fish and put aside on a warm plate. pour the oil out of the pan and wipe the pan with some kitchen paper. add the butter and the almonds and fry until the almonds are golden brown. spoon over the fish.

we had it with roast broccoli and cauliflower, and some wilted spinach. i know my vegetable choices are getting seriously dull but it’s a funny time of year, this. you have to wait until the beginning of may for things to get exciting, unless you get imported stuff from the supermarket which i have been trying not to do. so at the moment, we’re still on winter veg, give or take an exciting little salad leaf or two (and purple sprouting but, as predicted, i am a bit sick of it now). so bear with me, i am sure it will get better.

Monday, 13 April 2009

prawn and tomato linguine (without the linguine)

this is the staple of N1 kitchen. it’s what we fall back on when the fridge is empty, or when we can’t be bothered to cook, or when we need cheering up (see previous entry on copious quantities of chilli (and booze) as a path to cheerfulness). it’s often a meal for sunday nights when you feel like you’re going back to school on monday, or a quick weekend lunch.

the ingredients are mainly store cupboard and freezer. the only thing you need fresh is parsley and even that you can get frozen from good supermarkets. it’s up to you what you eat it with – the choice is endless.

the recipe started off as your usual chilli and tomato linguine, a dish well known from many a bad italian restaurant. i think we used to make it with one tin of tomatoes and a single clove of garlic, with a little fresh chilli added.

over the years it has evolved into a monster that it is now: first came the second tin of tomatoes, then the extra three or more cloves of garlic. parsley too, stalks and all. don’t think of it is as a subtle seasoning in this dish, it is an essential part of it. in fact, on a few occasions we’re realised that we don’t have any, we’ve not bothered at all. parsley stalks might seem a weird addition but they are sweet and add a bit of extra flavour.

the early prototypes featured those cooked prawns you get in packets  from supermarkets. not bad – but fresh frozen prawns are much nicer. you can buy a big bag from your fishmonger, or smaller bags from supermarkets.

other ingredients have featured in the mix every now and again, some more successfully than others. mange tout, halved green beans, kale and spinach have all made guest appearances but none has made it into the final recipe.

we used to have the sauce with linguine but since we stopped eating pasta, we just eat it with vegetables though we still refer to it as ‘prawn linguine’. we have tried very thinly sliced courgette ribbons (raw is okay, or you can stir-fry them for a couple of minutes) and a variety of other green veg. at the moment, the favourites are steamed spinach and broccoli though this particular one has curly kale wilted in boiling water and some steamed broccoli hiding underneath all that sauce.

we have made this dish dozens of times over the years. when i say we, i ought to add that i am usually relegated to sous-chefing. i can chop the garlic and the chilli – in fact, i am actively encouraged to do so – but then r takes over. he claims he does a better job than me and who am i to argue.

finally, don’t be shy with the salt. if it tastes bland and you wonder why on earth i’ve devoted a whole page to it, you’ve not put enough salt in.

for two

1 bag of frozen fresh prawns (300g or thereabouts), defrosted – easy way to do this quickly is to put the prawns in a bowl of cold water
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
4 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
a bunch of parsley, including the stalks, finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
salt and pepper
olive oil

heat a little oil in a frying pan and gently fry and garlic, the chilli and the parsley stalks. don’t burn the garlic or it will taste bitter. ditto with chilli. after a couple of minutes, add both tins of tomatoes and half of the chopped parsley.

add salt and pepper and simmer gently for around 15 to 20 minutes on low heat – you want to reduce the sauce but you don’t want it to be too thick or too watery. when you think it is almost right, add the prawns and cook for another couple of minutes – they will change colour to pink when cooked.

finally, add most of the leftover parsley, reserving a little for garnish. taste for seasoning – you may need to add more salt. spoon over the veg, garnish with parsley and serve.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

roast pork with chocolate and chilli

before we go on, i have a confession to make. i know it's bad but the truth had to come out at some point.

i was a vegetarian.

there, i said it.

not quite sure how this came about. i think partly it must have had something to do with the meat we ate at home. most of it had never seen a plastic tray in a supermarket, or a cellophane wrap. there was no disguising what it was. nose to tail eating was just what you did. and it wasn't that you got soft, pillowy ravioli made out of calf's head, beautifully dressed with some fruity olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar: you got a calf's head on a plate, probably with its eyes still in place. i exaggerate, of course, but it's definitely the case that everything got eaten and, as a result, the chances of getting something gristly and fatty on your plate were higher.

also, we just ate a lot of meat. looking back it seems extraordinary that for most of the winter, our breakfast (always made by dad) would be slices of bread, sometimes lightly toasted, with thinly sliced cured pancetta on top. it would have to be paper thin, otherwise i wouldn't eat it. not having meat for your main meal and eating something like polenta with creme fraiche was more unusual than finding unidentifiable bits of pork in aspic slowly cooling to a firm wobble on the kitchen windowsill.

you can see how tofu has a certain appeal after this.

so i naturally gravitated towards meats that aren't very gristly, like chicken, or where i could visually assess the situation and despatch the bits i didn't like with surgical precision. and it's a short hop from a chicken or a bit of ham to not eating meat at all.

the final leap happened when i moved to the UK and ended up in a house full of hippies in liverpool. they were all artistes, in the loosest sense of the word possible, who smoked mountains of dope and were all vegetarian (of course). militant vegetarian too, the kind who wouldn't let anyone keep meat in the shared fridge. i thought them all faintly ridiculous and, when they went to college during the day, i sat around, read newspapers (sarajevo on the front pages for months on end), smoked fags, listened to nick drake, and wondered if i'd had a lobotomy but somehow just didn't notice it. i ate what they ate which, considering how poor we all were, wouldn't have been much. there was a lot of toast and jam, and a lot of tea.

by the time i was a student at nottingham a year later, i had already lapsed. though i probably still claimed to be a veggie of sorts, and the bulk of my diet would have been bean curries and such like, i was buying smoked bacon to be stirred into pasta with some pesto sauce thinned with yoghurt, or baked into potatoes with cheese. there was probably also mince, and chicken breasts. i don't think i knew how to cook anything else anyway.

i had another bout of vegetarianism in my mid to late twenties, brought on by a short-lived infatuation with someone who liked taking a moral high ground about many things, including food. it didn't last long.

now, i could write a pig eulogy, including the wobbly aspic part. a return to my roots, of sorts.

we were going to stick to sausages and chicken wings for the party. it's safe food for this kind of event - stuff you can eat with your hands while standing in the kitchen. then i saw a recipe for a slow roast pork covered with chilli and chocolate and i was sold.

the recipe is basically this with a few variations. we decreased the cinnamon and increased the cooking time, as our joint was bigger. also, we had kashmiri chillies which are probably less hot than the ancho ones - but we used about twice the amount. we also used grated 100% chocolate but you can just use cocoa powder. i am, of course, a sucker for new things so when i saw the thick circles of 100% chocolate being sold in a supermarket, i had to have one. but beyond having a hot chocolate to drink, i couldn't really think of anything else to do with them, having given up cakes. this was perfect - and i am saving the rest for a repeat of this recipe.

it was tasty, in a way that slow roast meats are - moist and easy to pull off the bone. you could barely taste the chocolate or the chilli - they just gave it a bit of a spicy whiff. so, though it sounds scary, it wasn't.

for 8-10
1 bone-in shoulder of pork, 3 or 3.5kg (ask your butcher to trim the excess fat)
6 kashmiri chillies, soaked in water for 10 minutes and finely chopped
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
12 cloves
1/2 stick of cinnamon (5cm)
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp salt
6 tsp grated 100% chocolate
oilive oil

preheat the oven to 140C.

toast all the spices in a dry frying pan till fragrant. it probably takes around 4 minutes but be careful that they don't burn. grind to a powder in a pestle and mortar, before adding the garlic and the chilli. mix with enough olive oil to form a paste, and stir in the chocolate and the salt.

rub all over the pork. place the joint in a roasting dish and cover tightly with foil (or cook it in a lidded pot though i'd be surprised if you had one large enough). cook for around 5 hours.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

party I

we had a party on friday.

there was drinking:

and dancing:

some things worked well:

devilled eggs with crab and chilli, almond flour carrot cakes with mascarpone and cream icing, oven-roasted tomatoes with mini buffalo mozzarella and basil, cold roast salmon with dill mayonnaise, chocolate cake, apricots wrapped in parma ham on homemade bread crostini...

But some things didn't work at all:

Blackcurrant and raspberry jelly with sloe gin. In a shape of a bunny. Or not.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

pigeon breasts with chicory and nuts

is it wrong to start thinking about your dinner at half past seven in the morning?

before you say it, it’s got nothing to do with this blog. i just do, and always have done. sometimes, when i go to bed at night and do an inventory of things to look forward to in my head, i will have a little daydream about breakfast or lunch the following day. i think i started doing it as a teenager – not the food bit but more generally, especially if there was something horrible to do in-between, like a trip to the dentist.

i knew what the main ingredient for this dinner would be and i’d been excited about it all day. i took some pigeon breasts out of the freezer last night – more out of necessity than a burning desire to eat pigeon: we’re having a party on friday and there is no room in the freezer to put even a bread roll (sideways), let alone anything else. so something had to go and pigeon looked the most tasty.

i also defrosted some soup - the last of this winter’s batch of orangey stuff – could be anything from pumpkin, squash, carrot, sweet potato or any combination of the above. i never write labels on anything i put in the freezer, which is a bit stupid. after a while, all the bags and containers begin to look the same and you need a forensic scientist to tell you what’s what. this is in great contrast to my mum, who labelled everything – not in an anal way, just making a brief note about the contents. there was all sorts of stuff in that freezer in sarajevo – bits of pigs and piglets bought directly from farmers and hauled into the little kitchen up five flights of stairs, roast red peppers smothered in oil and garlic, wild strawberries and myrtilles collected in the mountains and frozen at the end of hot summer days when your hair smelt of fresh air and your jeans had grassy knees, blanched and chopped spinach...she once left some lunch out for me and a friend who came to study physics before a school competition (i know, i know – me and physics, it can’t be right but i didn't do too badly then despite feeling like a fraud) – it was a container of cheese and spinach pie, which she froze with a note that simply said: “pie: excellent”.

anyway, the soup was taking up a lot of room but it was also there to prop up the pigeon, as pigeon breasts normally mean a light meal. lovely – but light. it’s more of a weekend lunch thing in N1 kitchen, hot on the heels of a breakfast containing at least a couple of eggs each and a juicy smoked fish from steve hatt’s.

so first thing this morning, while looking at another recipe in valentine warner’s what to eat now book, i came across this recipe for pigeon. (remember him? slightly weird, gangly bloke that looked a bit chimpish, baring his gums every time he laughed?)

pickled walnut? tick. chicory? tick. sherry vinegar? tick. salad leaves? tick. dijon mustard? tick. it was just meant to be.

for two

6 pigeon breasts
large head of chicory
1 1/2 tbs sherry vinegar
thin slice of butter (1/2 tbs or use olive oil)
50g hazelnuts, crushed
2 pickled walnuts, sliced finely
handful of salad leaves
olive oil

first, make the dressing. whisk a tablespoon each of olive oil and sherry vinegar with a teaspoon of dijon mustard.

next, do the chicory. preheat the oven to 250C (yes, as high as it will go). cut the chicory in half lengthwise, then cut each half again. don't trim the base or leaves won't stay together. put into a dish where it will fit snugly, sprinkle with about half a tablespoon of sherry vinegar, dot with a little bit of butter (or olive oil but it won't taste as nice) and season. after 15 minutes, turn the chicory pieces over and roast for another few minutes. you want it to be sort of caramelised but also cooked through. for those last few minutes, you should also roast the hazelnuts - just put them in the oven with the chicory (in a separate pan). watch that they don't burn - it happens very quickly.

for the pigeon, heat olive oil in a frying pan. season the breasts with salt and pepper, then fry on high heat for 2 minutes on each side. rest for a minute while you assemble the salad. they should still be rare in the middle and will ooze a bit of bloody juice while resting. don't overcook them whatever you do - they end up incredibly tough.

put the some salad leaves in a bowl - not too many, you don't want to drown out the better stuff, add the pickled walnuts, the nuts and the chicory. pour in the dressing and mix with your hands. place the sliced pigeon breasts on top.

chicken with garlic and herbs

not the most exciting of dinners, this. but i'm pressed for time and i can't be bothered to cook. you can prepare this in five minutes and then forget about it until the timer goes. it then takes another two minutes to put everything together.

for two

4 chicken joints (bone in)
6 cloves of garlic, skin on, gently crushed
olive oil
a slice of butter (you don’t have to use butter)
small handful of parsley, finely chopped
tsp of chopped thyme
1 glass of dry white wine

heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan with a lid, then add the butter (if using). when it starts sizzling, add the chicken pieces and brown on all sides. the heat should be quite high at this stage. once brown, turn the heat down, chuck in the whole cloves of garlic, season and put the lid on. it will probably take 45 minutes for the chicken to be cooked, though it does depend on the size of your joints.

when it’s cooked, take the chicken pieces out of the pan (and keep warm in a very low oven), get rid of the garlic cloves and pour away most of the fat from the pan. turn the heat up, add the wine and the herbs and boil till the alcohol has evaporated and the sauce has reduced slightly. pour over the chicken.

veg is just very finely sliced white cabbage, red peppers and pak choi, stir-fried in a little olive oil.

we eat 85% chocolate for after, having watched a programme about that posh bloke making his own chocolate bars in a farm in devon. not sure why he annoys me so much though the programme does coincide with an idea i have for the party on friday...let's hope we won't be ordering pizza instead.

Monday, 6 April 2009

pan-fried salmon with roast tomatoes and parsley and chilli dressing

in a bit of a mood today. it's monday, for a start. and 17 years is quite a long time, however you look at it.

needed a dinner that would cheer me up and there is usually just one answer to that (okay, two - the other one is booze): excessive amounts of chilli. in fact, i knew from about 11 in the morning that what i wanted to eat is crispy, seared salmon skin doused in some kind of chilli sauce. first i thought i'd go down the thai route and make something with fish sauce, lime juice and spring onions but then i decided it can be a bit too overpowering. so i settled on just plain parsley and chilli, with a bit of vinegar for the acid kick.

for two

2 salmon fillets, skin on
8 small tomatoes
a few sprigs of thyme
a handful of parsley, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped (or to taste - 1/2 is plenty if you're not used to it)
1 tbs white wine vinegar
1 tsp lemon juice
olive oil

the roast tomatoes take around 3 hours so this is not something to make when you come home from work. it's worth cooking a bigger batch and just having them in salads or as a side dish during the week. also nice in omelettes.

halve the tomatoes and put them in a roasting dish, cut side up. sprinkle with olive oil, season generously with salt and pepper and sprinkle some thyme leaves on top. cook in a very low oven, around 70C, for 2.5 hours or 3 hours. you want tomatoes to dry out a little and for the flavour to concentrate. (you can also leave them in the oven for longer, like overnight, they will dry out even more. i rarely have the patience for this.)

to make the parsley and chilli dressing, mix the finely chopped parsley, chilli, vinegar, and a tablespoon of olive oil. season and taste. you want it to be quite acidic but not overwhelmingly so, so you might not need the lemon juice at all. i think you have to do this by taste. you can, of course, swap the vinegar and lemon juice but i find it a bit much, somehow.

for salmon, open the window, put the extractor fan on and take the battery out of the smoke alarm. heat the pan till smoking hot and fry the salmon fillets, skin side down and undisturbed, for 3 to 4 minutes. turn and cook for another minute or so.

divide the tomatoes between two plates, put the salmon fillet on top. we had it with some wilted spinach and - surprise, surprise - purple-sprouting broccoli. finish with the parsley and chilli dressing spooned over the salmon.

put the battery back in the smoke alarm.


6/4/92 (Monday)

(a) Military activity

Combat and Shelling Activity :
Artillery fire was reported all around the airport. The centre of the city and the main television tower was shelled. Daylong firefights reportedly eased in an evening downpour of rain. Source: United Press International; Reuters; New York Times.

Targets Hit :
Bazaar District; Unidentified homes and shops in the Old Town District; the Main Television Tower; the Centre for Social Work. Source(s): The New York Times, United Press International, Government of BiH.

Description of Damage :
Not specified.

Sniping Activity :
Suspected Serb snipers fired on peace demonstrators in front of the parliament, wounding from 13 to 15 people. The sniping was reported to have originated from the Holiday Inn. Source(s): United Press International, Reuters.

Casualties :
At least 11 killed, 100 wounded. Source(s): United Press International and Reuters.

sweet potato and carrot soup with chilli and coconut

i struggle with soup recipes a bit. it seems pointless giving quantities when in reality all i ever do is look at what it's in the fridge and proceed accordingly. today, we had a leftover chicken carcass and i had another one in the freezer (kind of useful to know you can freeze them for days when making stock after sunday dinner is the last thing you want to do). so i made stock, half of which i froze, and then thought i'd make soup with some slightly soggy carrots and two sweet potatoes we had lying around the fridge. a bit of chilli and a some coconut and you get a perfect spicy, creamy, sweet soup. even better the next day.

sweet potatoes aren't strictly speaking paleo (too sweet, funnily enough) but i think they're okay for days when you've been to the gym. also, we've not had a lot to eat today, give or take a whole chicken between the two of us.


2 shallots, chopped
2 small leeks, chopped
5-6 small carrots, roughly chopped
2 large sweet potatoes, roughly chopped (same size chunks as carrots)
1/2 tsp chilli flakes or to taste or use chilli powder
2 mild dried chilli (get kashmiri ones if you can - they look scary but are very mild. or skip altogether)
1 sachet creamed coconut - or about 3/4 of cup of coconut milk
1 l chicken or veg stock
olive oil

gently sweat the shallots and the leeks in olive oil till soft and translucent. add the carrots, the sweet potatoes, the coconut and the chillis. add the hot stock, season and cook for 20 mins or until the vegetables are soft. pure in a blender and serve with a dollop of creme fraiche, a little bit of chopped parsley and some extra chilli flakes.

you can make this with butternut squash or pumpkin - i don't think the ratio of veg matters that much as long as you don't overdo the carrots.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

scallops with butter, garlic and parsley

i love scallops. though i do worry whether we should be eating them at all as some are caught by dredging the sea bed which kills just about everything on it. this is the simplest way of cooking them, and the best, in my opinion. anything else detracts from their flavour. (though, having said that, we did make a mean dish of pan-fried scallops with a pure of jerusalem artichokes and chunks of black pudding as a christmas dinner starter.)

the recipe is nigel slater's - his was one of the first cookery books i bought, and i think it taught me how to cook more than any other. i used to stop at his picture of scallops in a pool of foamy butter and salivate. the page is covered by oily stains and dried flecks of parsley.

there's something about only using a few ingredients to create a perfect dish. and, of course, there is definitely something about using this much butter. you can make it with olive oil if you're scared of butter - and you shouldn't be but that's another story - but you'd be missing a trick.

nigel slater calls this a solitary supper for one. but we've made it lots of times over the years, usually as an indulgent saturday night in starter for two. a getting-older-i-can-afford-scallops-and-nice-wine kind of a thing.

very nice with fresh crusty bread if you eat that kind of thing.

for two

6 or 8 scallops, depending on how greedy you are and what you can afford. make sure they're fresh
2 cloves of garlic
a handful of parsley
50g butter (a couple of thick slices)

heat a non-stick frying pan. season the scallops on both side. melt the butter in a pan, wait until it's stopped sizzling, then put the scallops in. leave them for 2 minutes, undisturbed. turn and cook for another minutes or less. take them out and put them on a warm plate.

discard any butter left and wipe the pan with the kitchen paper. add the second slab of butter and, when melted, put the garlic and the parsley in. don't burn the garlic or it will go bitter. you're just looking to get the flavours together and cook the garlic a little.

pour over the scallops.