Saturday, 30 May 2009

scallop and octopus salad in seafood sauce


well, sort of. this is a cupboard kind of dish and would make a good starter if you haven't got time to cook. the tins themselves are not cheap, admittedly, but it's good stuff.

rich said you'd have to be pretty brave to serve this to guests and i can see his point - it's a fishy affair and some people won't like the seafood sauce the octopus was tinned in. me, i really like that stuff. no idea what it's made of but it reminds me of tinned sardines we used to eat when we were little. they came in a box with a picture of a walrus sailor on the front, in a stripy wife beater vest and a pipe. or maybe i imagined that. the bit i liked best was finding bits of crunchy veg in the sauce but no one seem to do that any more.

i jazzed the sauce up a bit by adding chopped chilli and parsley, and a squeeze of lemon juice. i also put in some halved cherry tomatoes but you could use any veg you like really.

obviously, this would work if the seafood was just tinned in olive oil, in which case be more generous with the chilli and parsley and season with some chilli oil and a generous squeeze of lemon juice.

SCALLOP AND OCTOPUS SALAD IN SEAFOOD SAUCE
for two

1 tin squid in olive oil
1 tin octopus in seafood sauce
5 cherry tomatoes
1 tbs finely chopped parsley
1/2 chilli, finely chopped
a squeeze or two of lemon juice
salad leaves

put all the ingredients together in a bowl and mix. taste and season. just call me heston.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

peach, mozarella and ham salad

just been looking through some old photos (i know, i take pictures of food, it's sad) and found this. it reminded me of how much i liked it. more of an idea than anything else but the basic combination of a soft milky cheese, salty ham and some griddled fruit is pretty awesome.

no recipe needed - just cut some peaches into quarters (you could use pears too, i guess) and grill on a griddle pan until caramelised and slightly soft. put some rocket leaves on a plate, top with torn mozzarella, parma ham and the peaches, dress with some good olive oil and season with pepper.

steamed aubergine with chilli dressing


another jamie oliver recipe, this, but slightly bastardised. he uses sugar in the dressing and a lot of sweet chilli sauce, both of which i have omitted. i don't think the salad is any worse for it. if you're eating sugar, you could try adding a teaspoon or so and see how you like the taste.

i've never thought of steaming aubergines, oddly enough. i think that's the main reason i am posting this - i suspect not many other people have either. all the usual cooking methods involve copious amounts of oil whereas this has none. the aubergines end up soft and silky - it's definitely something i'll be doing again.

you could substitute courgettes, i suppose. but don't. this is a lot nicer - and i know 'cos i chucked in a couple of sliced ones later to have for lunch today. courgettes tasted just like...well, courgettes. not very exciting.

STEAMED AUBERGINE WITH CHILLI DRESSING
for 4 as a side dish

2 large aubergines, sliced in half lengthwise
4tbs soy sauce
3tbs chilli sauce
2tsp sesame oil
juice of a whole lemon and zest of 1/2
4 spring onions, sliced
2 red chillies, sliced (use one if you think two is too hot)
1 large handful or coriander, chopped
1 large handful of mint, chopped
1 large handful of basil, chopped
celery leaves (optional)
seasoning

put the aubergines in a steamer and steam for 15 or so minutes. they'll be soft when you pierce them. leave them to drain in a colander for a bit, then cut into 2-3cm cubes or whatever size you fancy.

while they are cooking, mix all the dressing ingredients together in a large bowl.

try and add the aubergines to the dressing while they are still warm - this way they really absorb the flavour.

eat at room temperature - best not straight out of the fridge as you won't be able to taste anything.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

courgettes with radish leaf pesto


well, there you go. who would have thought it? radish leaf? to eat?? raw???

then again, why not? lots of leaves are edible, so why not this one?

well, because it looks a bit like weed - the leaves are dull green and slightly hairy. it wouldn't be my first choice for foraging if i were lost in a forest.

but in the spirit of my new-found frugality (and greed), i am finding it deeply satisfying not wasting food and using every part of a plant or animal in an ingenious way. i also seem to be obsessed by making pesto sauce. i never knew about the radish thing until i stumbled upon this recipe on the chocolate and zucchini site (http://chocolateandzucchini.com/). sod's law being what it is, this moment of revelation came literally on the afternoon of a morning when i chucked out loads of radish leaves from a bunch bought at the farmers' market. i then forgot about it, as is often the case with these things, until a bunch of radishes practically leaped at me out of the fridge yesterday. unusually for a supermarket, they came with leaves (it was a posh supermarket and the radishes were those nice long french ones which are very slightly hot - if i still ate bread, i'd eat these thinly sliced on some very fresh baguette and lots of good butter with salt). 

for some reason, i liked the idea of combining radishes and courgettes with hazelnuts so this is what i used. the slightly scary leaves came out as a bright green paste with a real grassy, earthy kick - don't really know how to describe it except it's a lot less perfumed than the usual basil pesto, and tastes like how you imagine the colour green would. it was lovely - so lovely that i had to save some for my packed lunch today. in fact, i think i preferred it to the wild garlic version i made the other day.

RADISH LEAF PESTO

1 handful of radish leaves (discard the dodgy looking ones), washed and dried in a salad spinner or a teatowel
15g nuts - i used hazelnuts but you can use almonds, pine nuts, etc. walnuts may be too bitter
15g parmesan or pecorino cheese
2tbs olive oil
a pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
whizz it all in a food processor - you might have to scrape down the sides once or twice. thin to a desired consistency.

to make the courgette thing, gently fry a couple of shallots in some olive oil, then add 3-4 grated courgettes and fry until they're cooked but with a little bit of crunch left. stir in the pesto, check for seasoning, sprinkle with some chilli flakes and some crushed toasted hazelnuts, and serve. 

a great accompaniment to a roast chicken, as you can see from the pic. 

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

sea bass with rocket sauce

finally...the laptop is working again. well, sort of: the battery is dead so it has to stay plugged in, which defeats the point of having a laptop in the first place. but i can get on the internet and that's all i need. obviously, the system restore now means that we have 4 copies of each itunes song we own. thanks for that, apple - you do make a sexy product but itunes truly is a piece of rubbish.

so, it's nice to be back. though, i'd be lying if i said i didn't enjoy being away from the blog for a while. it's a relief not having to explain to people why there are veal shanks in the work fridge or why my browsing history consists almost exclusively of recipe websites.

even better, it was very nice having food cooked for me, both in great restaurants and at a friend's house. more of which in another post. 

this sea bass recipe was the first thing i cooked for a few days. it was a perfect sunny bank holiday dinner. if you know anything about public holidays in the UK, you will be aware of the First Law of Bank Holiday which states that it will piss it down all day. 

so when we woke up in brighton and it was raining, it didn't exactly come as a surprise. but - to everyone's amazement - it cleared up. we went for a long walk later that morning and the sun was blazing. drove back all the way to london with the roof down and some elderflowers we picked wrapped in a cardigan tucked behind the driver's seat.

we stopped off to get some food and agreed it would have to be something summery (i vetoed the duck idea; you can't eat duck in 26 degrees). so we bought the fish and loads of veg.

it was only when we got back that i found this recipe in a book by gennaro contaldo. i did change a few things, mainly because we wanted to keep our fish whole and on the bone, rather than fillet it. you can, of course, use fillets or, for that matter, any other fish. also, i didn't have enough rocket so i used one of those supermarket bags of mixed rocket salad and a bit of spinach to make up 200g. i think you can experiment here - you just need green leafy things. don't be afraid of cooking salad leaves, as many people seem to be. 

the sauce was lovely - a bit like creamed spinach but greener and fresher, with a slight peppery kick from the rocket. it makes a nice change from eating a salad on the side, and it's great with the crispy bass skin and the subtly flavoured white flesh.

PS if you hate anchovies, make the sauce anyway. i promise you won't be able to taste them.

SEA BASS WITH ROCKET SAUCE
for two

2 whole seabass
1tbs olive oil
1tbs butter
salt and pepper

for the sauce:
1 tbs olive oil
15g butter
3 anchovy fillets
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 medium courgette, finely chopped
300ml vegetable stock
200g rocket, roughly chopped, plus some to serve

for the sauce, heat the oil and the butter in a pan and add the anchovy fillets. cook on gentle heat until the anchovies have almost dissolved in the fat. add the shallots and the courgette and cook until they have softened a little (at least 5 minutes, i would say). add the stock, bring to boil and simmer for one minute. add the rocket, simmer for 2 minutes and remove from heat. allow to cool slightly and whizz in a blender until smooth. return to the pan and simmer until almost all the water has evaporated and you end up with a creamy sauce.

for the fish, melt the oil and the butter in a pan and, when hot, fry the whole fish for a few minutes on each size. can't really be more precise than that as it all depends on the size of your fish. just don't overcook it.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

the house

went to the house http://www.themeredithgroup.co.uk/House/menu.asp for sunday lunch a couple of weeks ago.

i have a love-hate relationship with this place. love probably stems from the fact that it’s on our doorstep. i couldn’t get any closer to it unless they turfed out the arsey woman downstairs and moved in, which would be nice.

second, i like the way it looks. not too restauranty and not too pubby, both cosy and clean at the same time. nice tables and chairs too, by which i mean nothing too rickety: i can’t cope with the gastropub (that's you, eagle/anchor and hope) approach to furnishing where you’re perched on a chair so old and so small that someone as tall and lanky as me has to try and fold limbs away like a circus contortionist.

third, i’ve had some very nice dinners with rich there. we’ve drank champagne, smoked cigars (while you could still do it) and read papers by open fires. we’ve brought friends for sunday lunches and friday night sessions of too many bottles of red wine.

but they also get it so spectacularly wrong sometimes that i end up having periods of hating the place.

when we first moved to N1, i thought the house was just overpriced. it lured you in with a promise of nice pints and pub lunches and then slapped you on the head with a 50 quid a head food bill. the food was okay but it was just a pub on a back street. and even when we were reconciled to paying our hard earned cash, there were a couple of occasions (at least) when the service was so abysmal that i vowed never to go back. we even walked out once.

and yet i do come back – it’s like a bad relationship where everything has been said and done but you can't help coming back for one more go, hoping against all odds that things will somehow be different this time.


so, you see, i want to like this place.

and the last couple of times we went, the food was very good. the prices had stayed the same so the rest of the world kind of caught up with the house. or is it the other way around? anyway, the menu never seems to be too exciting – it had hardly changed over the years – but you knew what you were getting and you knew it’d be well executed. sometimes, that’s all you want from a local. when i want fancy, i’ll go into town.

this sunday was a beautiful sunny day and the garden was packed when we got there. so far, so good. luckily, they had a table for two inside. less good is that it was the fool's table. you know the one – near the serving area, or the toilet, or just somewhere where arsey waiters will be tripping over your feet every 20 seconds. normally, not being a brit, i ask to be seated elsewhere. they usually oblige. i don’t bother today – the sun is shining, i’ve had a small beer and i am quite content.

the menu is a surprise – i assume it’s a sunday thing. it's shorter and cheaper and all the things i was looking forward to are not there. in fact, you could call this cheap – the credit crunch is clearly hitting the N1 pretty hard. the mains are all around £14, which is less than they cost five years ago.

we both order half a chicken despite it being odd somehow – i might want half a chicken at home or in nando’s but not in a place like this, and not even for 14 quid.

suffice it to say that i could roast a better chicken in my sleep. it lacked any flavour or seasoning or just something, like a little spike of lemon or a whiff of garlic to lift it out of mediocrity. it came with a bland turnip and another root veg (carrot? who knows) mash which was stone cold. i imagine this is what baby food tastes like – no sign of salt or pepper or even the sweet undertone of butter. there is also cauliflower cheese – i get a minute portion, half a florette, and i can’t taste the cheese at all. plus savoy cabbage, also cold, and a yorkshire pudding bigger than the plate.

we’d skipped the potatoes and asked forore vegetables instead. if this was more, i dread to think what you would have got otherwise. a seed to grow some cauliflower? this has increasingly become my way of judging restaurants. if they’re happy to accommodate such a request – and i don’t think it’s a particularly weird one – then all is good. if they don’t, it’s usually a sign of sloppiness.

i need to mention the starter even though i don’t really want to. whilst i am happy to spend money on good food – and i say that as a woman who has just spent £1.78 on about 4 anchovies in waitrose – i hate feeling ripped off. rich said he was amazed they would put something like this out of the kitchen. basically, it was a disc of puff pastry (shop bought, i am certain), baked in the oven and topped with some roughly cut slices of apple and chicory which have been caramelised with honey. it was all way too sweet – to the extent you could hardly recognise it was chicory, and should have been sliced much more finely. on top of this puddingy concoction were some spinach leaves, with no discernible dressing, some pomegranate seeds and the stingiest grating of cheese.

in fact, now i think of it, the starter was like a collection of ingredients pretending to be a course, like something that failed the audition to become a delicious tarte tatin.

anyway...i hope this was just a blip. i know, i just know there will be a thursday night when i fancy nipping out somewhere as local as this so let's hope they sort it out.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

why the hell would you want to eat cereal

when you can have asparagus wrapped in parma ham and roasted in the oven, with spinach, tomatoes and soft boiled eggs.

Friday, 22 May 2009

coconut and coriander half roast chickens


a triumph of taste but the kitchen looked like a scene from a horror movie. if you're squeamish, make sure your knife is very sharp or get your butcher to do the work for you. 

the idea behind this dish is that you cook the chicken at low temperature so the marinade doesn’t burn. the original recipe, from the british larder (http://www.britishlarder.co.uk) says to cook it for an hour but i found this was nowhere near enough. i’d say an hour and a half but do check that the juices are running clear as well.

the other important point to note is that you need allow time for the marinade to work. we ended up eating at half nine at night because of that and the mistiming in the recipe. so probably better as a weekend dinner though i think you could easily leave it overnight too.

COCONUT AND CORIANDER HALF ROAST CHICKENS WITH CREAMED COCONUT DRIZZLE
for two

1 organic free range chicken, around 1.5kg
20g desiccated coconut
½ tsp tumeric
½ tsp madras curry powder (any will do)
50ml oil
30g fresh coriander (a very big bunch will do for the whole thing), chopped finely
zest and juice of 2 limes (i used some lime leaves instead of one zest as the lime looked a bit manky)
10g honey
1tsp fish sauce
1 clove of garlic, crushed
10g flaked almonds

for the ‘drizzle’
50g coconut cream
150g natural yoghurt
2tbs chopped mint
2tbs chopped coriander
seasoning

mix all the marinade ingredients together.

with a sharp knife, cut the chicken in half through the breastbone. flatten the two halves a little, then make several slashes so that the marinade can penetrate the flesh. rub the mixture in with your hands, then leave for an hour.

in the meantime, preheat the oven to 150C.

make the drizzle by mixing all the ingredients together. taste and season.

roast the chicken for around an hour and a half.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

battered aubergines


this is the second part of my julie aubergine rehabilitation programme (http://n1kitchen.blogspot.com/2009/05/roast-red-pepper-and-aubergine-sauce.html). these taste nothing like the stuff you normally get, even in decent restaurants. their taste is more mellow, somehow. also, because they're sliced thinly, the frying ensures they're cooked properly which i find to be the usual mistake with the english treatment of aubergines. 

also, this is the taste of my childhood. 

it tastes of:

sarajevo streets in warm summer afternoons, shady balconies and the smell of cooking in dusty streets below, quiet passage of august days with dark green, forest green blinds drawn in rooms smelling of turkish coffees and polished parquet flooring. steep asphalt of the old town, shaded by trees dripping fruit onto pavements, or big blocks of flats further down the valley. damp, shady courtyards where the sounds of football and the beating of persian carpets hung over metal frames grow sluggish in hot afternoon lulls. i see english homework and grandmothers in aprons stuffing courgettes with minced meat, and battered aubergines and shorts and tee shirts and afternooon walks and ice creams and dads reading newspapers and mums washing dishes in small kitchens.

BATTERED AUBERGINES

1 aubergine (1 is enough for two people as a side dish), sliced lengthwise into slices 1/2in thick
1 egg, beaten
1tbs or so of flour
olive oil and seasoning

slice the aubergine, salt and leave in a colander for about an hour. this is to draw the juices out - some people claim they're bitter (i rarely find that's true) but in this case it's to get rid of excess water so they don't go soggy when you cook them.

drain off the liquid and dry the aubergines with some kitchen paper. i do this quite vigorously as i find you need less flour to absorb the moisture (thanks mum!).

dip into seasoned flour (or just sprinkle a bit on top and rub it in with your hand), then into egg and fry on relatively high heat for 2-3 minutes on each side. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

wild garlic pesto - to the lighthouse...


we stayed in a former lighthouse keeper’s cottage this weekend. 

i really must get round to reading virginia woolf’s to the lighthouse. i have no idea what happens in it (probably not a lot, knowing woolf) but i never think of it as being about reaching the lighthouse from the sea. in my head it’s about getting to the edge of the land. there is something quite seductive about that – going as far as you can go in one direction before the sea stops you. it makes me feel dizzy thinking about it. but that’s just me.

the lighthouse itself and the cottage behind it are perched on the edge of a cliff, quite literally. you get a slight sense of unease when you see the structure from a distance – it looks like it’s about to topple into the sea, suspended between the scree and the rocks below. but when you get there - down hairpin bends and steep stairs - you realise how solid it is, with thick walls and window shutters designed to withstand gale force winds.

we went for a walk on a coastal path into lynmouth on the first day we were there. the last part takes you through a ‘wood’ (can’t bring myself to write it without parenthesis - woods to me mean places you get eaten by bears or least chased by some WWII nazi occupiers, rather than a muddy path into a pretty village). but it was beautiful. it had been raining intermittently so we walked through a mass of dark green foliage, smelling of spring and wet earth.

half-way through, we suddenly hit a patch of wild garlic – shiny dark green leaves and masses of tiny white flowers on both sides of the path. i roasted a chicken with some a while back (http://n1kitchen.blogspot.com/2009/04/roast-chicken-with-wild-garlic.html) except i then paid a pound for a few leaves, london farmers’ market style. really must stop doing that.

on the way back, after a pint and a crab salad, we picked a couple of handfuls of leaves each. rich carried them back to the cottage in his pockets. walking in front of me, even in the wind on the cliffs, he left behind him a faint scent of garlic.

i blanched the leaves straight away, then froze them. when we got back to london, they had de-frosted during the long drive. i used half of them in a stir-fry but had a fair bit left so thought i would make some pesto sauce. (anything to get the magimix out, basically.) i vaguely remembered seeing a recipe for it somewhere recently.

it was great. but i don't feel the need to sell this recipe - everyone seems to love pesto and i think they would also love this. you can't go wrong really. go for a walk this weekend and pick some. bet there's loads of it about still.

we ate most of it with some boiled asparagus we bought from a farm shop in somerset on our drive back. i also swirled some through a breakfast omelette and we had the rest on the pork medallions the next day.

WILD GARLIC PESTO

the basic idea behind pesto – leaves combined with nuts and hard cheese – can extend way beyond the usual basil and parmesan. in fact, i would have used walnuts in mine but didn’t have any. i know some people use wild rocket or even parsley to make their own version of pesto but i am not sure about that one.

it’s hard to be precise about quantities here. start with a handful of leaves, a handful of pine nuts and a handful of good parmesan or pecorino cheese (it’s probably about 50g each of nuts and cheese but i am guessing), whizz in a blender and taste. (you can do this in a pestle and mortar but it will take a lot more elbow grease.)

you’ll be able to tell what it needs – too claggy, add more leaves and stay off the nuts; not salty enough, add a bit more cheese; too bland, add a few more leaves, etc. it also depends on your personal taste.

you can toast the pine nuts lightly before you start – they will taste more nutty. depending on what leaves you’re using, you can add a little bit of garlic, i’d say no more than half a clove. this being wild garlic, it obviously didn’t need any.

when you think you’ve got the flavour right, add some good olive oil to thin it. you might not need a lot and it depends on how thick or not you want your sauce to be. season with a bit of pepper and that’s it.


sausage and cherry tomato bake

as much as i love a sausage now, my relationship with it has had to overcome some serious obstacles. we are now okay but it has taken a long time. it's just as well, really, considering i am marrying a man with a love of sausages so profound that they would probably be his last dinner.

unlike most other foods (with the exception of rice pudding and maybe polenta topped with milk and sugar), sausages were not on my menu for a long time.

this had nothing to do with the sausage itself, i should add. true - i’ve never been too keen on hotdogs: there is something about biting hard into their plastic-like casing only to be greeted by what to all intents and purposes is no longer meat that still turns my stomach a bit. but sausage – the ordinary pork banger – i know is delicious.

instead, it was to do with thinking that the devil might cut off my leg if i ate them.

i know. 

it’s a long story.

when i was about six, my best friend was a girl called amela. amela’s parents were clearly religious as they sent her to school with a copy of koran for children. it came out in the after-school club, called produzeni boravak.

we only went to school between 8 and 12, which seems extraordinarily short by british standards. most of our parents worked till 3 or 3.30 so we would have to spend a few hours in produzeni boravak unless there were grandparents or relatives to look after us.

produzeni boravak was no disneyworld. i hated the place with a passion, as did my brother. it was just a couple of rooms inside the school and it smelt of the inside of wet ski gloves. even the name was slightly institutional – it literally translates as ‘prolonged stay’ which doesn’t exactly have connotations of fun. more like what you’d get in prison for bad behaviour.

amela would read her koran to me, encouraged by one of the teachers. it was written in verse form but without rhymes, rhyming obviously being far too frivolous for this kind of thing. i vividly remember being scared by the language i didn’t understand and, for some reason, by the arabesque drawings on each page. in fact, i was absolutely terrified by the whole thing.

i had no idea what religion was, this or any other. my parents are both atheist even though they sometimes pretend not to be (the truth is,  i think they’re the sort of people who wouldn’t want to commit either way more in order to hedge their bets rather than because they really believe that man was made from adam’s rib). 

to be fair, amela could have been reading from the bible, it would have made no difference. what scared me was the core message of punishment for disobedience - it was all stick and no carrot. it turned me off god for life. 

anyway, presumably to bring these tales to life, amela also told me that the devil would cut off my leg if i ate sausages. not both legs and not instant death (in some more child-friendly version of events); and not all pork, just sausages. i couldn’t sleep that night for fear that i’d already eaten too many of them to ever be able to walk again. there'd be no more games of jump rope with amela after school or running away after not paying for our ice creams on the 'sweet corner' in bascarsija (that came later, i wasn't really shoplifting at the age of six). 

and that was it. i spent the next twenty or so years avoiding sausages. it's taken a long time for me not to flinch every time i see one on my plate. i still think the right ratio of fry-up ingredients is two pieces of bacon and one sausage, unlike r who judges breakfast places by the number of sausages served. but, as i said, sausages and i are now basically fine. more than fine. 

PS we didn't stay in produzeni boravak for long either. a year or so later mum let us go home on our own, which seems completely insane but then you don't know my brother. 

SAUSAGE AND TOMATO BAKE
for two

1kg ripe cherry tomatoes
2 sprigs of thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
6 pork sausages, the best you can afford
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
seasoning

preheat the oven to 190C.

in a large baking tray, put the tomatoes so they fit in one layer, smugly. sprinkle with the garlic and the herbs, then add a few glugs of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. shake the tray so it’s all mixed together and the tomatoes are covered with oil and vinegar. put the sausages on top.

bake in the oven for around 45 minutes until the sausages are browned all over. you might want to turn them once during cooking.

if, at the end, you end up with too much tomatoey liquid, take the sausages out (keep them warm somewhere) and put the roasting dish on the hob. boil to reduce for 5 or 10 minutes, depending on how much you start with. you want quite a thick gravy.

this is a jamie oliver recipe and it's really quite awesome in its simplicity. you will wonder how come you'd never thought of doing something like this yourself. we ate it with some quickly steamed rainbow chard - the slight bitterness was perfect for the sweet tomatoes. 

Monday, 18 May 2009

garufa

reviewing restaurants makes me feel a bit like the way i felt in my final year of uni about reading. i became so overly analytical and so engrossed in critical theory, that i’d kind of stopped enjoying books. when i graduated, i vowed to forget everything i’d learnt and just start reading again. 

so now i am back to swallowing books whole, and spitting out only the largest bones of detail. i quickly forget the rest. i also give up on books that bore me – i never understand why you would insist on finishing something you are not enjoying. there are too many great books to waste time on mediocre ones. which is not to say i don’t go back to things and try again (the engineer of human souls by josef skvorecky – that was a triumph the second time around. i still can’t do: bothers karamazov (never made it past the 60ish page), hopscotch (just looking at it makes my heart sink) and moby dick (always give up as the leaves the inn at the very beginning).

talking about the food in restaurants and, to a certain extent, the food i make, brings out this over-analytical side. i am not sure i enjoy it much. i think that is the real reason why i avoid taking photos when we go out to eat or, god forbid, take notes on the menu.

thinking about it, food is actually easier to be analytical about than reading because the process of putting it together is to a large extent mechanical - which makes the process of taking it apart equally so. i know there are some dishes which blow your mind and you have no idea how they have been concocted. but home cooking is usually pretty straightforward. you can educate your palate and learn how things work together but the basic process is not that different from being a car mechanic. i often think that’s why i’d enjoy surgery too.

so...we went to garufa (http://www.garufa.co.uk/) last week. i’d heard good things about it, namely that the steak is amazing. and it wasn’t half bad. but there were other things that weren’t quite right. 

we had black pudding and grilled provolone to start – nothing fancy, literally just a small black pudding sausage and a plate of melted cheese. they were both nice, in a way good ingredients left alone can be. we also had some hugely overpriced salad. i resent paying £6.50 for a bag of leaves they clearly bought from the supermarket (i would hazard a guess which one as well) and a single asparagus spear. it’s insulting and it’s not necessary: making a good salad is hardly difficult or expensive.

we both had sirloin steaks, mine of 300g, r’s of 400g, both done medium rare. i thought mine was great – properly seasoned and burnt on the outside, which is the best bit (though probably the worst for your health). r thought the meat was rare, rather than medium rare, which slightly spoilt the experience for him. although i argued the toss that night (the argentinian malbec may have had something to do with it), he’s a man who’s eaten a lot more steak than me, and a lot of it in the US, so he probably does know best. it was blue, i suppose, and i am not sure why i didn’t mind. to think i was a vegetarian once...

we had some grilled peppers and a salad with tomatoes on the side. again, it was a joke. a single roasted red pepper, doused with a bit of oil and garlic, which probably cost about 60p to make, and a salad with more of the same supermarket leaves and some unripe tomatoes chopped into chunks.

i know garufa probably thinks people will flock to it because of the steak and may be willing to forgive the rest. but i am not so sure. i for one wouldn’t rush back. it’s a nice place – the atmosphere is pleasant, the wine list is good and the steak is better than in most places – but it takes more than that to make a successful restaurant.

waitresses that smile would be a good start. a decent salad a close second.

Friday, 15 May 2009

salmon fishcakes


have just bought a brand shiny new magimix food processor. it cost me a proverbial arm and a leg but, seeing as i say something like ‘i really need a food processor’ with varying degrees of frustration about four times a week, i thought it was about time to make an investment. i even haggled for it, in a slightly nervous, totally unconfident way – and when the shopkeeper agreed easily to my offer, i immediately regretted not being more brazen. that’ll learn me.

incidentally, i think my penchant for repetition is getting worse as i get older. there are phrases and stories i repeat so frequently that it has become a joke (i can see r’s lip curling into a wry smile even as i write this).

these include:
  • crap jokes about shallots every time i chop one, which is quite often (that’shallot);
  • seeing evan davies on tv, him of radio 4's today programme, and saying: 'he's gay. x had a drink with him once in soho'. 
  • apocryphal stories about my youth: How We Got Snowed In In The Cottage In The Mountains (“It’s Not a Cottage, Really”); How We Went Skiing (Every Season), sometimes accompanied by finding a season pass from 1990/91 with a black and white photo of me looking superbly maudlin); How We Listened to Punk&Hardcore&Wore Black, etc.
anyway...having lugged the magimix back home from the shop – it's pretty heavy – i was determined to use it that very same night. of course, i couldn’t remember any of those amazing recipes that i’d often thought of making but couldn’t because i didn't have one. and the only thing i had in the fridge were salmon steaks. 

so i thought the obvious: fishcakes.

i’ve been thinking about fishcakes for a while, as one does. it’s a natural reaction to eating salmon quite often. it gets a bit boring just grilling or pan frying it. okay, in the end the crispy skin is worth it every time but sometimes it's nice to try something different.

now if you think fishcakes, what’s the first thing that springs to mind?

big, slightly dry, more-potato-than-fish pseudo-gastro-pub-in-the-provinces menu? well, not these. no potato, no flour, nothing but salmon and some veg and herbs. not entirely sure why they stick together without egg or flour to bind them but they do and they’re bloody nice.

SALMON FISHCAKES

750g salmon fillets
1 level tbs of shallot chopped into very small dice
1 level tbs of pepper chopped into very small dice
1 small garlic clove, chopped finely
a pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
1tbs capers
1tbs wholegrain mustard
½ lemon zested
a squeeze of lemon juice (1/4 lemon)

first, chop the salmon into large pieces, skin and all, and pulse in a food processor (wooohooo) a few times – you don’t want mush, you want them chopped quite finely so don’t overdo it.

heat a little oil in the frying pan and gently fry the onions and the peppers for a couple of minutes, then add the garlic and the chilli and cook until the veg is soft but not brown. turn the heat off and leave it to cool a little. season with some pepper and maybe a little salt, depending on how salty your capers are.

in a large mixing bowl, use your hands to mix the salmon and the rest of the ingredients. form into balls, somewhere between a golf and a tennis ball.

heat oil in a frying pan until hot. place each ball in a pan, squashing it down so it’s about an inch thick. sear for about a minute on each side. you don’t want to overcook them as they will dry out too much. maybe test with a smaller ball first and see how you fare. 

eat with copious amounts of chilli sauce.


Thursday, 14 May 2009

eggs with tomatoes and parmesan

just a little breakfast idea. rubbish picture but very nice to eat and a pleasant change from boiling, frying and making omelettes. 

EGGS WITH TOMATOES AND PARMESAN
for 2

1 small onion
1 tin of tomatoes
a handful of basil
4 eggs
1/2 cup of parmesan cheese
olive oil
seasoning
broccoli (optional - you can basically chuck in any veg you like)

heat some oil in a frying pan and fry the onion gently until soft, but not brown. take your time - there's nothing worse than raw onion in cooked food.

add the tomatoes, season (go easy on the salt because of the cheese) and simmer gently for 15 or so minutes. don't let it get dry - add a little water if it looks like it will.

stir in the basil. make little hollows in the onion/tomato mixture and break the eggs into them. cover and cook until the white has just set. you're basically poaching the eggs in the tomato sauce. if you haven't got a frying pan with a lid, just use some tin foil or cover with a baking tray which is what i did.

finally, sprinkle over the parmesan and cook, covered, for another minute if that, until the cheese has melted.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

sweet potato soup with pancetta

i have made this kind of thing before but this was really quite nice and i felt i wanted to post about it again. it's just a sweet potato soup but it ends up being a half-decent lunch once you've added a few bits. also, i liked the picture and that's a good enough reason for me.

SWEET POTATO SOUP

1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 large sweet potato, chopped into chunks
1 stalk lemon grass, bruised with the back of a knife
1/2 tsp or to taste of chilli flakes
a large bunch of coriander, chopped finely, stalks and all
1 bag of coconut cream (or some coconut milk)
600ml good chicken stock
to garnish:
1 slice of pancetta
1tbs creme fraiche
toasted pumpkin seeds

heat some oil in a pan and fry the onion, the celery and the carrots for about 10 minutes or until soft. add the lemon grass, the chilli and half of the coriander. cook for another couple of minutes, then add the sweet potato and the stock.

cook until the sweet potato is almost soft, then add the coconut cream and let it simmer for another minute or two until the cream has dissolved and the potato is cooked.

in the meantime, grill the pancetta and drain on some kitchen paper. dry fry the pumpkin seeds.

discard the lemon grass, then puree the soup in a blender in batches (be careful not to overfill). stir in the creme fraiche, sprinkle with the crumbled pancetta, remaining coriander and the seeds and serve.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

ossobucco with gremolata

i remember my dad sucking marrow out of bones after sunday roasts. i used to think it was gross.

we used to eat a lot of veal at home - and by that i just mean young cows rather than the milk-fed and crated calves that made veal so unpopular in the UK. big, bone-in pieces were roasted with potatoes and eaten with creamed spinach and dressed lettuce leaves. escalopes were pounded with a heavy-duty meat tenderiser, then breaded and fried. thin chops were wrapped around bacon, onion and carrot pieces, secured with a toothpick and cooked in a meaty gravy till tender. the year that mum went to the US for work for almost a month, this last dish became dad's mid-week speciality. it was a revelation to suddenly realise he could make food other than salty cheese omelettes or pre-school sandwiches with cigarette-paper thin home-cured pancetta. we thought we'd spend a month being fed polenta (with yogurt and cheese, usually reserved for those rare days when there was nothing else to eat) and his special home made cheese and spinach pies. instead, dad took to his home duties so well that i am not sure we noticed mum was away when it came to cooking.

it's only now i realise what a treat bone marrow is. i have been meaning to cook something with it for a while - more precisely since i had a hanger steak accompanied by a hollowed-out piece of bone stuffed with marrow mixed with parsley and flashed under the grill at mark hix's restaurant. 

by accident, my recent search for gremolata recipes led me to ossobucco, a classic italian dish with which it is traditionally served (and also with risotto with saffron, which i think would induce a post-prandial coma because the whole thing would be so rich). so i went to the posh butcher in the city, just behind st mary le bow church on cheapside, and got six thick pieces of veal shin.

the finished dish is not for the faint-hearted. it kind of smacks you in the head from the first mouthful, right between the eyes. it has the smell and the taste of proper meat, somehow, as far removed from the cellophane-wrapped chicken breast as you can imagine. the meat itself was tender, coming away from the bone, and the marrow could be scooped out with a point of a knife and smeared on the spinach and broccoli we had on the side.

if you're scared of fat, look the other way - there's nothing to see here. if you're not, open a bottle of red wine and settle down for some serious eating.

OSSOBUCCO
for six

6 veal shanks
3 celery sticks, chopped
6 carrots, chopped into large-ish chunks
2 onions, peeled and finely sliced
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
a bunch of parsley
4 bay leaves
1 tin of tomatoes
750ml white wines
salt and pepper
olive oil

tie kitchen string around the shanks if you can, as this will stop them from disintegrating completely while cooking. season on both sides.

heat the oil in a large, heavy based pan and brown the shanks on both sides lightly. remove from the pan and set aside.

pour away any fat, then add more oil and gently fry all the vegetables, the garlic and the herbs for about 15 minutes. add the tomatoes and the white wine, and simmer on slightly higher heat for another ten minutes.

return the veal to the pan, cover, and cook on fairly low heat for about an hour and a half. check the seasoning at the end. if your sauce is too runny, take the lid off and cook it for a bit longer but make sure you don’t dry out the meat.

serve sprinkled with gremolata (http://n1kitchen.blogspot.com/2009/05/gremolata.html)

Monday, 11 May 2009

sirloin steak with wild mushroom sauce



this was undoubtedly the best steak we’ve ever cooked at home and the closest we’ve ever come to restaurant quality cooking. unfortunately, the pictures don’t do it justice at all. i really need to wait until the food has cooled down a little - everything i photograph is covered with the bluish-grey mist of the still-smoking plates.

the steak was so good that i ate it so quickly and immediately regretted not savouring it properly. but then i’ve never been a slow eater. i was relieved to be going out with someone equally greedy, otherwise finishing my plate first would have looked distinctly unladylike.

most of the credit for the success of this meal goes to r – i had very little to do with the meat part of it. this is the usual division of labour: r does the kind of cooking where the margin for error is very thin and where the difference between tasty and ruined is a matter of seconds. i do the frilly bits around the edges: the bits you could live without but which make food that little bit more interesting. 

the other reason for the success were the ingredients. the farmers’ market was a joy that morning: bundles of thin spears of green asparagus, purple butterhead lettuces opening like giant flowers, lipstick chard by the bagful with stalks that look like they’ve been dipped in fuchsia paint, punnets of sweet early strawberries, and piles of crisp, peppery radishes. it’s hard to resist spending money on this stuff and we buy so much that the fridge looks like a greenhouse. we also get a bag of mixed mushrooms from a man who looks like he spends a lot of time in the woods, mushrooms or no mushrooms, and a couple of grass-fed sirloin steaks.

the thing with cooking steak at home, especially a cut like sirloin that has a bit of fat on it, is that you need to get the pan really really hot. r’s trick is to turn the oven up as high as it will go and put the pan in there to heat up for ten minutes or so. he then heats it for another few minutes on the hob. the steaks get heavily seasoned (my blood pressure is so low i am practically dead – i can afford to go to town with the salt) and oiled before they hit the oil and butter. i think it’s this that gives them that savoury crust that contrast so beautifully with the pink, rare inside – my mouth is watering writing about it.

the mushrooms get as gentle a treatment as possible – they’re too nice to be mucked about with. we have some roast asparagus on the side, and a simply dressed green salad.

SIRLOIN STEAK WITH MUSHROOM SAUCE
for two

2 sirloin steaks
around 500g of wild mushrooms. any mushrooms will do, obviously, but try to get the more interesting varieties
a dash of brandy, probably no more than a tablespoon
100ml chicken stock (i used the liquid concentrate dissolved in boiling water)
2tbs creme fraiche (you could also use double cream and add a little squeeze of lemon juice at the end)
1tbs parsley, chopped finely
1tsp butter
olive oil
seasoning

get the pan really really hot. season the steaks and rub with a bit of olive oil. melt the butter together with some more oil until the pan is practically smoking, then add the steaks and cook for 3 minutes or so without disturbing them. turn, and cook for another minute and a half for medium rare.

take the meat out of the pan and leave to rest somewhere warm. don’t skip this bit – it does make a difference, and do warm the plate on which the steaks will rest.

turn the heat down, pour away most of the fat from the pan, then add the stock and a splash of brandy. it might flame, so be careful. scrape the crusty bits from the bottom, if there are any. reduce down a little, then add the mushrooms and sauté gently for 30 seconds or so. add the creme fraiche and the parsley, and cook for another minute or so. you want the sauce to heat up without overcooking the mushrooms. check for seasoning and pour over the steak. 



Saturday, 9 May 2009

pork fillet mignon with pancetta and rosemary

nothing to this, really. you take a fillet mignon, you slice it in however many thick slices you can get out of it (8, in my case) and then wrap each piece with a thin slice of pancetta. secure with a rosemary stick (or, if the rosemary is too soft, just wedge it inside the pork belly so it doesn't slide out), then thread on a skewer.

this would be perfect for a bbq but use a very hot (i mean very hot - put it on the hob for a few minutes before adding the oil) griddle pan.

roast red pepper and aubergine sauce

i have a friend who doesn't like aubergines.

she doesn't like lots of other things, some of which also begin with A, but it's the aubergine that i find particularly bothersome. i can forgive a dislike of artichokes, or anchovies (more of which later), or even avocados but aubergine is somehow so innocuous that it should not belong in the category of 'difficult' or 'you need to educate your palate' foods.

so every now and then i threaten some kind of a vegetable rehabilitation course, where the stuff she doesn't like is made (okay, disguised) in various ways she hasn't tried before. we could have a chart where she'd tick off failures and successes.

battered aubergine, a la my mum, has been on that list for a long time. it's one of my favourite foods ever. and now i've discovered this.

it was an accident, really. i opened the fridge last night to see what i could make with the pork we were having for dinner, and i found two red peppers and 2 small aubergines. i bought both for a reason but the reason escaped me - this happens a lot.

the first cookbook i grabbed off the top of the fridge was the gennaro contaldo one, on account of the nut-stuffed trout i made the other day. in it there was a recipe for barbecued squid with this sauce. i got a little flutter of excitement, the way other people get when they find a fiver in their pocket, or win £2 on a scratchcard. and that was it, i knew i had to make it.

it was delicious, and particularly delicious with the roast vegetables. i know i keep banging on about roasting cauliflower but it's such a good way of adding a bit of variety to what you eat. when we finished, r proclaimed that these were 'the best vegetables ever'.

you can vary the proportions of aubergines and peppers used - if you want more smokey flavour, add more aubergine. the original recipe uses only one and 500g of peppers.

you will notice the recipe also contains anchovies. most people don't seem to like them - i think that's because they've been made to eat rubbish ones in brine on dodgy pizzas - but i am convinced you would not know they are in this sauce. they sort of dissolve, leaving just a little of the salty, savoury taste.

ROAST RED PEPPER AND AUBERGINE SAUCE
for four (eat the leftovers cold as a dip)

2 red peppers
2 small aubergines
2 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
6 anchovy fillets, chopped roughly
1 tbs capers
a couple of glugs of olive oil
seasoning

first, preheat the oven to 220C. place the peppers and the aubergines on a tray and roast in the oven for about 35-40 minutes. i just put them in whole, without any oil or seasoning. they are ready when the skin has blackened and the vegetables are soft. if your aubergines are small, they'll take about the same amount of time as the peppers. if they are large, they'll need a bit longer.

when they are done, peel the skin off the peppers (should come off easily) and scrape the aubergine flesh out, discarding the skin. if you can, save the juice that will come off the peppers.

put the vegetables flesh in a food processor or blender and pulse with the garlic, capers and anchovies until smooth. then add a couple of glugs of olive oil and whizz again until smooth. if it's very thick - and mine wasn't - add some of the saved pepper juice.

transfer to a pan and heat gently before serving but don't let it boil.

Friday, 8 May 2009

gremolata

less of a recipe, more of an idea, this.

i had gremolata for the first time in terroirs (http://n1kitchen.blogspot.com/2009/03/terroirs.html), with a juicy pot-roasted quail. i was amazed by how a sprinkling of parsley, garlic and lemon could transform a dish, admittedly an already tasty one, into something really special. 

so i thought i’d test it on a salmon steak i was going to grill for dinner. lemon and parsley are a natural pairing for the fish anyway, and i also thought it would cut through the oiliness of salmon nicely. you can also use it with any

i have to confess that, although it was nice – and nice enough for me to want to do it again – it didn’t have that zingy quality of the terroirs version. i am not sure why – i may have overdone the parsley while being too stingy with the lemon zest.

the measures i used were:

zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
a handful of parsley
½ clove of garlic

you just chop it all up as finely as possible and that’s more or less it.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

braised rabbit with mushrooms


a couple of people said to me recently about a meal they had – that’s the kind of thing you would cook. it’s funny, i never thought there was a particular kind of food i favour more than other, or a style of eating i prefer.

but perhaps there is – and perhaps the cookery books breeding on top of my fridge are a testament to this.

not sure how you’d describe it – i guess it’s about local and seasonal food and about making stuff that’s not pretty but eats well. it's about making paleo food that you want to eat, rather than having protein and steamed veg every day. it’s also a bit about unloved vegetables and unusual cuts of meat.

anyway, this meal was definitely it, whatever it is (answers on a postcard, please). it's a mark hix recipe that is meant to use seasonal st george's mushrooms. but obviously, the stuff that grows all over the place in england you can't get for love nor money in a supermarket, so i have used a mix of shiitake and normal button mushrooms. it also uses a bit of flour which is not exactly primal but i don't think a tablespoon or so makes much difference in the grand scheme of things.

it was exceptionally nice. bear in mind it has to be eaten caveman-style with both hands. rabbits are tough little buggers as it is and this one must have been a bit old as well - so you don't get very far with a knife and fork.



BRAISED RABBIT WITH MUSHROOMS
for 2

1 rabbit, jointed
1tbs of plain flour
3 shallots
1 garlic clove
50ml white wine
500ml of chicken stock
250g mushrooms
2tbs of creme fraiche
1tbs chopped parsley
50g butter
olive oil
seasoning

heat some oil in a heavy bottomed pan (with a lid) and fry rabbit pieces gently for a couple of minutes. remove and set aside. in the same pan, melt 25g of butter and fry the shallots and the garlic for a few minutes until soft. add the flour and stir well. gradually add the wine, stirring all the time, and then the stock. bring to the boil. you can use a whisk if you like but keep stirring - the aim is to prevent the lumps from forming while the sauce is thickening.

add the rabbit pieces to the pan and season. lower the heat, put the lid on and simmer for at least an hour and preferably an hour and a half.

while the rabbit is cooking, melt the rest of the butter in a frying pan and fry the mushrooms gently for 4 or 5 minutes. when the rabbit is cooked, add the mushrooms, the creme fraiche and the chopped parsley to the pan and cook for another 5 minutes or so.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

about food

i read an article in vogue last night about a woman who decides to stop watching what she eats in order to see what happens. she describes how she’d spent the last twenty years being extremely disciplined about food. 

she writes about her discovery of hot chocolate and salami baguettes as if she were doing some amazing, never-tried-before scientific experiment that might provide a clue to a rare disease, like the guy who infected himself with heliobacter pylori to prove that it causes stomach ulcers. not just eating.

the article is written by christa d’souza who i find so patently vacuous that the admission that being thin was her ‘thing’ didn’t surprise me. but when you think about it, it is extraordinary that this is how you would choose to define yourself. just being thin. not smart, or talented, or even beautiful. just not eating much.

and yet, i know plenty of slim and seemingly normal girls and women who behave in the way d'souza describes. it’s a life of constant denial and guilt: you eat cottage cheese and rice cakes and you drink diet coke but then have a splurge on cake or chocolate (it’s always something sweet, you rarely hear about women falling off the diet wagon by eating loads of roast pork belly) that leaves you racked with remorse.

these are the women who count every calorie, and every gram of fat. there is one in a supermarket near you as we speak – a young, trendy woman, spending far too much time by aisles of ready made food, or pasta sauces, or ice cream, examining labels for nutritional content as if her life depended on it. this is a woman who will order steamed fish in restaurants and then eat half of her boyfriend’s chips. a woman who will only drink vodka and slimline tonic or white wine. a woman who buy pret’s slim sandwiches and asks for salad dressing on the side.

more than that, these are women who think that all their problems would disappear if only they were thinner. they would miraculously find those elusive boyfriends, and the high street shops full of size 8s would be theirs.

don’t get me wrong though – i am pretty slim. and i know part of the reason why i do the primal/paleo thing is not just health but also sheer vanity. the older you get, the harder it is to look good and keep the weight off. you work out pretty soon after your 33rd birthday (or thereabouts) that something has to give. most people turn to exercise, not realising that their chances of losing weight by that alone are pretty much zero. they may be higher if you give up your job and train 5 hours a day but that’s about it. 

in reality, the only way to lose weight is to change how and what you’re eating. you have two choices there – either pick a ‘diet’, which is almost always going to be of the low fat, high whole grains variety, and continue counting calories and watching every mouthful; or pick paleo and eat what you want from a limited range of foods. it seems blindingly obvious to me that anyone sane would choose the latter. but the fact that we have failed to convince anyone we know to do the same shows how hard-wired certain beliefs about food are. 

i know that eating this way can also be seen as an exercise in denial, no better than d’souza’s fear of chocolate. but it doesn’t feel like it to me, and i suspect it’s the same for most people who’ve made the switch. this is partly a purely physiological response – you’ve brought your blood sugar under control and don’t get the same peaks and troughs you normally experience. this has been the biggest shock for me, and strangely disappointing at first. my relationship with food was driven by the extreme blood sugar crashes – that feeling that you will pass out if you don’t eat NOW. with paleo/primal, within a few weeks i wasn’t getting that ravenous hunger – but nor was i getting a nice, carb-laden reward at the end of it.

the fact that it doesn’t feel like denial is also about eating fat. fat is deeply, luxuriously satisfying and getting rid of the tyranny of low fat eating has to be one of the high points. fat is filling, it tastes good and – crucially – it’s quite hard to stuff your face full of it. as any good primal/paleo proponent will tell you - try eating loads of butter or even something like pork crackling. it’ll make you feel sick pretty quickly. but try eating cake with the same amount of butter in it but also containing sugar and flour will be...er...a piece of cake.

there are other differences too. there is no restriction on the amount you eat. just piling stuff high on a plate can sometimes feel good. i never think about portion control any more (to be fair, i don’t think i ever did but i certainly did leave the chicken skin on my plate whereas now we practically have a punch-up in the kitchen over who gets the best bits of it). it’s hard to eat enough fennel or spinach or fish for it to ever be a weight issue. you might overdo it occasionally on the nut front but it doesn’t seem to make a huge amount of difference. the odd sugar binge, is you are ‘clean’ most of the time, is irrelevant, though as the time goes, you feel less and less like having one of those anyway. high carbohydrate foods start tasting too sweet (i ate some butternut squash last night and it tasted overwhelmingly of...jam).

also, unlike ‘normal’ dieters, you are not excluding foods you should be eating simply in order to stay thin. i’ve seen it many times – christ, i’ve done it myself – those amazing feats of arithmetic where you pre-allocate your daily calories in a way you think will allow you to stick to the recommended daily intake (which you read in a magazine and so is probably rubbish but you fail to see that in your weight-obsessed blindness) and still go out for dinner or drinking.

but there is a more general point about women like d’souza. i find it perverse – and this can apply to my own eating choices – that we have become so neurotic about food when half of the world is starving. it would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragically sad. when i succumb to my frequent affliction of seeing life as it is now from the perspective of history (with capital h), all i see is this bizarre morality – i can’t think of another word - that allows women in the western world to remain locked in a constant, relentless pursuit of thinness. do we stand a chance of being judged kindly by our descendants when women like d’souza say they go to bed straight after dinner so as to avoid temptation lurking in the kitchen?? or that they swig white wine to dull hunger pains? i feel like getting a tube to kensington, finding her and giving her a slap.

the weirdest thing is that people like her clearly don’t feel ashamed of admitting to being like this. the fact that you can write an autobiographical piece for vogue, embellished or not, means that you assume your behaviour is shared by others. so there must be lots of moneyed women roaming around kensington and chelsea in hungry, fake-tanned and designed-clad packs, validating each other’s neuroses.

i don’t know what the solution to this is. i am not going to end on a didactic note about how we should all ditch doughnuts and muesli and start eating venison. i know full well that the whole world couldn’t eat like i do – there are too many of us on this planet and i feel guilty about that on a daily basis. 

most people reading this will be in a fortunate position to buy whatever food they like. i guess my message is that they should at least question the accepted wisdom of nutritional advice. even if you don’t believe the science behind books like taubes’ good calories, bad calories (and you would be amazed if you read it, i promise you), you should at least realise that public health policy, like any policy, is not made on the basis of absolute truths discovered by scientific boffins in white coats. there’s a lot of intervention, a lot of dodgy clinical trials, a lot of conflicts of interest, and a lot of political interfering. 

so don’t believe everything they tell you, whoever they are.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

trout stuffed with almonds

part of what drives me to cook every day is a visceral dread of repetition. it's not because i write this blog and it's not just because i like food. it's more that i can't bear to do the same thing every day. this applies to cooking as much as anything else. for example, i will walk home a different way or switch from tubes to buses to trains a few times a month just because going down the same street and getting on the same bus with the same people i see every day gives me existential angst. i feel the similar about my job though, as a friend once said, at least it's like a different crossword puzzle every day.

so, trout again, but a different recipe and the best so far (even if i say so myself). it is almost but not quite primal. you could leave out the cheese out - it won't taste the same, of course, but it ought to work. you might need to season more generously and maybe use a bit more of the nut mixture so the paste is dry enough.

oh, i should add it's a gennaro contaldo recipe. yes, it's him from passione and yes, i wouldn't mind going there again (http://www.passione.co.uk/).

STUFFED TROUT
for two

2 whole trout, gutted and scaled
25g hazelnuts
25g almonds
25g pine nuts
4 anchovy fillets (in oil, not brine as they are too salty)
1/2 clove of garlic
1tbs capers
1 egg, beaten
1tbs parsley, finely chopped
40g parmesan, grated
zest of 1/2 lemon, finely grated
salt and pepper
olive oil and butter

place the nuts, anchovies, garlic and capers in a food processor and blend. i had to do this in a blender, so i pulsed the nuts first, then added the rest. i actually think this worked better as i ended up with a slightly coarse paste which made the texture more interesting. tranfer to a bowl and stir in the egg, parsley, parmesan, lemon zest and salt and pepper. it should be like a paste - if it's too runny, add a bit more almond flour.

fill the fish with the mixture and then tie each one with some kitchen string.

heat a mix of butter and olive oil in a frying pan and fry the fish for 3-5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through.

baked mushrooms



by and large i find mushrooms a bit boring. i that i mean the ones you can buy in supermarkets all year round - either the small button mushrooms or the larger field ones. there are, of course, some mushrooms which to me are as exciting as asparagus or courgette flowers or pork scratchings: the oriental ones you can sometimes find in corner shops, or the dried porcini i used to use in risottos. the most exciting mushroom i have ever seen was in a farmers' market in belgrade (all markets are farmers' markets in belgrade - now that would be a slogan for advertisers) - it's called chicken of the woods, because of its appearance and texture, and it was sold by a jolly old man who could speak mushroom in at least 4 european languages.

anyway, i bought four field mushrooms the day before, thinking i might use them in a thai curry. i didn't make one in the end and i knew that if i didn't eat the bloody things soon, they would end up slowly shrivelling at the back of the fridge until they find their way into an omelette or a stir-fry.

not sure why 'normal' mushrooms fail to excite me. i think it's partly because they have a whiff of failed vegetarian cooking about them - the kind where they're used as pretend meat or to pad out otherwise dull dishes. when it comes to food, i am not too keen on pretend anything. that's why i find things like vegetarian mince extraordinary - you give up eating meat to then eat something that's pretending to be meat?? what the hell is that all about? for the same reason, i have made pretend puddings fewer than half a dozen times in a year since we started eating like this.

anyway, back to the mushrooms. there is a general rule in cooking which comes in handy when you are faced with boring vegetables: there are few things that don't taste better with the addition of copious amounts of butter. (actually, this applies across the board.)

i am pretty certain i stole this recipe from jamie oliver but not sure whether i've made bits of it up or not. it was something i saw on tv but i can't remember the exact ingredients or quantities. it tasted great so must be about right.

BAKED MUSHROOMS
for two

4 large field mushrooms
50g butter, softened (take it out of the fridge an hour before you want to start)
5 sun dried tomatoes, chopped (if dehydrated, soak in boiling water for 10 minutes before chopping)
1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped finely
5 sprigs of lemon thyme, leaves only, finely chopped. or use normal thyme but less as it's more powerful
seasoning

preheat the oven to 200C.

in a bowl, mix together the butter, garlic, chilli, thyme and seasoning. place the mushrooms in a baking dish and smear the top of each with the butter mixture.

place in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. we garnished ours with basil and had them with some salad leaves, boiled broccoli and a fried duck's egg each.

Monday, 4 May 2009

sausage gratin and vegetable tian with thyme


a poncy name for a very simple dish.

yet again, this is adapted from pork and sons (i promise it will stop soon, i do have other cookery books), but more by a happy collection of circumstances than by design. this is basically what we had in the fridge and freezer and it required minimal effort. not sure why, but after our nottingham trip we were both so tired that we literally couldn't keep our eyes open that evening. there was no way i was going to spend more than 10 minutes in the kitchen.

there is yet again a lot of slicing for which you probably need a mandolin or a very sharp knife. if the veg is too thick, it won't cook properly.

i would say it's probably best made in the summer when the veg used is at its best. i give the original recipe quantities rather than my own - we didn't have enough tomatoes or courgettes but it's the same principle.

recipes like this show you it's worth having a few fresh herbs stashed away in your fridge draw - this kind of dish would be seriously bland without the thyme and the bay leaves. the original recipe uses the small smoked sausages called montbeliard, which i am sure would be nicer, but we just use the normal pork ones from the butcher. you could, in theory, make this with veggie sausages but i would increase the amount of butter and maybe crumble over a vegetable stock cube to give it a bit more flavour. that would be nice sprinkled with grated parmesan.

SAUSAGE GRATIN WITH VEGETABLE TIAN WITH THYME
for six

2 aubergines, cut into thin rounds
6 tomatoes, cut into thin rounds
4 courgettes, cut into thin rounds
3 large onion, cut into thin rounds
6 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves only (i chucked the whole thing in and took it out at the end)
4 bay leaves
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
175ml white wine
100ml olive oil
20g unsalted butter
6 smoked or other sausages
sea salt

preheat the oven to 160C.

place all the veg vertically, in layers, in a casserole dish. i started from the outside and just alternated a few slices of each of courgette, aubergine and onion. i filled the dish as best as i could, quite loosely, and then squeezed the slices of tomatoes in-between the other veg.

add the thyme and bay leaves, garlic, white wine, oil and butter. prick the sausages and place them on top.

cover with the lid and bake in the oven for 1.5 hour or until the vegetables are tender. the original recipe says an hour but i found that not long enough so i took the lid off and increased the temperature to 200 for the last 20 minutes. this browned the sausages and cooked the veg through without drying it out too much.

you might not need to add salt at all, depending on how salty your sausages are, so don't do it until the very end.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

chicken with lemon



i made this for myself while r was away. you do feel a bit greedy cooking a whole chicken for yourself but it makes sense. it's easy - you just bung it in the oven after 5 minutes prep - and you can live off the leftovers for two days. in fact, i made a thai curry from scratch with the shredded meat and i had some in my lunchboxes.

i ate it with some spring onions mixed into a tub of creme fraiche. i love this stuff but it's usually a solitary treat: there is no avoiding the fact that your breath will stink afterwards. you should try it though - mix a couple of very fresh spring onions, both white and green parts, into about half a tub of creme fraiche (so about 125ml). season and eat, preferably on a nice sunny day.

i also had some plain green salad with these tiny black olives i got on a whim from waitrose. a bit of chilli-infused olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice was all it needed.

ROAST CHICKEN WITH LEMON AND CHILLI

1 free range organic chicken
4 unwaxed lemons
1 tsb chilli flakes or to taste (i used more)
2 handfuls of parsley, chopped finely
salt and pepper
olive oil

get your butcher to spatchcock the chicken for you. this means they cut through the bone in the middle so you can lay the bird flat. put it in a non-reactive dish (i did the marinading and cooking in a standard oval china dish - my chicken was quite small). sprinkle the parsley and the chilli flakes on top, then squeeze all four lemons over it. season and pour a little olive oil on top just to get it going. leave to marinade at room temperature for an hour.

preheat the oven to 200C. when hot, roast the chicken for about an hour, depending on size. the juices should run clear when you pierce the thickest part.

take it out of the oven to rest for 10 minutes. the parsley will have gone dark and shrivelled so scrape some of it off, carve the chicken and sprinkle over the remaining parsley. you can make the gravy with the lemony juices but i was too hungry to bother. in fact, i sat in front of the tv tearing the chicken legs with my hands and eating them like i'd never seen a fork in my life. quite satisfying.



Saturday, 2 May 2009

black pudding, apple and sweet potato and fennel 'tart'

i've been meaning to try the cauliflower 'crust' that lots of paleo bloggers write about as being the perfect base for pizzas, tarts, and anything else where you would normally use pastry, puff and shortcrust. i was convinced it wouldn't work - when you first assemble it, it seems too wet and it doesn't look like it will dry out enough not to fall apart completely. but it did, and very nice it was too.

a word of warning though - don't believe those who say it doesn't taste like cauliflower. 'my kids couldn't tell it wasn't a real pizza' - i've seen that more than once. well, there is something wrong with your kids' taste buds 'cos this tastes exactly like cauliflower. cauliflower cheese, to be more precise. that'd be the cheese in it.

the tart idea came from my favourite recipe book at the moment called pork and sons. it's a huge thing filled with recipes for different cuts and bits of pig - no starters, no puddings, just pork in various guises: sausages, black pudding, hams, ribs, roasts, casseroles....i've taken to looking at it in bed at night, which i admit is a bit weird.

the tart in question uses puff pastry and waxy potatoes so that's what you should do if you don't fancy the paleo version. also, i know some people dislike fennel - you could easily leave it out. you shouldn't, of course - there is not a whole lot of it in there and it adds a little aniseedy bite every now and again. finally, a word on equipment - buy a mandolin, it's the best 23 pounds i ever spent on a piece of kitchen kit. there's a lot of slicing involved here and you'd probably get RSI doing it by hand.
i wouldn't normally recommend cooking something as faffy as this but the final result is more than worth it. have a glass of wine, chat to whoever you live with, and cook. i can't think of a nicer way to spend a friday night.

PS i am writing this on saturday morning in the kitchen (lost the other half to jetlag - he woke up, demanded water, proclaimed it's the middle of the night and went straight back to sleep) and i am willing myself not to go to the fridge and have a little nibble at the leftovers. i'd already picked off the caramelised bits of the cauliflower around the edges every time i went in the kitchen last night, so there is not a lot left anyway...

BLACK PUDDING, APPLE, SWEET POTATO AND FENNEL 'TART'

3 shallots, very finely sliced
4 tbs creme fraiche
3 tbs olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 large sweet potato (or 3 normal waxy ones), finely sliced
2 eating apples (think mine were granny smiths), finely sliced
100g smoked lardons, pancetta or bacon (cubed)
400g black pudding, finely sliced
1 small cauliflower
1 ball of mozzarella, grated
1 egg
1/4 fennel bulb, finely sliced
1 bunch of rocket (optional)
preheat the oven to 230C. to make the cauliflower crust, steam the cauliflower for about 5 minutes, leave to cool a little, then grate so it looks a bit like rice. sounds weird but you'll know what i mean when you do it. take 1 and a bit cups of it (don't pack it in), put it in a bowl, add the egg, the grated cheese and the seasoning, mix well and then spread onto an oiled baking sheet. i had a rectangular 25x35cm one so that's what i used - you can spread it as thinly as a pizza crust would be. bake in the oven for 12 minutes.

in the meantime, mix together the shallots and the creme fraiche, add 1tbs oil, season and set aside.

spread the lardons or pancetta in a small baking tray and cook in the same oven as the cauliflower. you can also grill them instead. some of the fat will render so take them out and drain them on some kitchen paper when done.

fry the apple sliced in some olive oil until they are beginning to brown. do the same with potatoes. (next time i would probably try to bake the potato and then slice it, to save on frying time. having said that, if it's very finely sliced, it doesn't take long to cook in a pan.)

when you take the cauliflower crust out, turn the oven down to 180C. spread 2tbs of the shallot mix evenly over the crust, sprinkle with the fennel and the lardons and then top with alternating layers of black pudding, apple and potato. top with the remaining shallot cream and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

cover the tart with rocket and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. we ate it with some fresh tomato salad - just sliced ripe tomatoes - NOT straight from the fridge (in fact, don't put them in the fridge in the first place) - with salt and pepper and a tiny bit of olive oil.