Friday, 26 June 2009

chicken breasts stuffed with herbs, roasted wet garlic and goat's cheese


my appetite is out of control at the moment. i made this, with a huge pile of vegetables, thinking i’d have enough leftovers for breakfast but then proceeded to eat it all, practically licking the dish in which the chicken was cooked.

wet garlic was a bit of a revelation. it came in an abel&cole box a couple of weeks back. which is odd, because i think of it as a spring thing. anyway, i have cooked with it before – i’ve put it in soups and i think i roasted a chicken with it once. but this time i thought i’d try something different and roast it on its own. i bought some young, soft goat’s cheese because i figured the two would go well together, but then realised that what you would really want to eat that with is some crusty bread. that plan abandoned, i had to go back to the drawing board.

it took me almost a week to come up with an alternative recipe and i am so glad i did. as is usually the case when i make something up rather than follow a recipe from a cookery book, the quantities are a little random so this is general guide to what should work.

stuffing a chicken breast usually sounds like such palaver but in reality this took no time to cook at all, required very little attention, and it was seriously good. you just need to allow a bit of time for the garlic to roast (and resist the temptation to just sit down and eat all of it when it comes out of the oven).



CHICKEN BREASTS STUFFED WITH HERBS, ROASTED WET GARLIC AND GOAT’S CHEESE

2 chicken breasts
75g soft goat’s cheese
a handful of basil, finely chopped
a handful of parsley, finely chopped
3 heads of wet garlic
olive oil
salt and pepper

first, roast the wet garlic. preheat the oven to 160C. tear off a piece of foil, put the whole heads of garlic on it (as in, don’t separate out the cloves), sprinkle with olive oil and season, then scrunch up the foil. the idea is for the garlic to roast and steam at the same time. you don’t want it to burn as it will taste bitter. roast in the oven for an hour or so.

in a bowl, mix the goat’s cheese and the herbs together. when the garlic is cool enough to handle, squish out the soft cloves into your cheese and herb mix and mix in so it’s evenly spread. eat the leftover garlic skin – it will be sweet, caramelised and garlicky and gorgeous. and it’s the chef’s prerogative to pick at stuff while cooking.

now tear off two pieces of clingfilm and lay them on your counter. take the chicken breasts, put each in the middle of a piece of clingfilm, and with a sharp knife, make a little pocket. stuff each breast with half of the cheese mixture, then secure with a toothpick. roll up the clingfilm, almost like a sweetie, twisting the edges. repeat.

put both breasts in the freezer for 20 minutes to half an hour so they firm up a little and don’t fall apart when you start cooking. up to you how you cook them – i grilled mine for about 7-8 minutes on each side.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

grilled sausage with vegetable mirepoix

this was a solitary dinner for one. i felt slightly guilty for it, as i always do when i cook sausages when rich is not around. especially as these were allegedly the best sausages in the world and ones you would be served should you visit the dorchester hotel at breakfast. that's if you believe the guys who sold them at taste of london (http://www.tastefestivals.com/london/) this year.

their stall was a sight to behold - whereas some small producers (british turkey, anyone?) struggled to attract the passing trade, others, like the sausage stall, had a throng of hungry people eyeing the sausages like they hadn't eaten for a week. as soon as the chef moved them from the grill into a bowl (the sausages, not the people), there'd be a forest of hands grabbing toothpicks and trying to skewer as many as possible, before returning for more. i confess i did the same.

taste of london was great, incidentally. good drunken fun for old people who can afford to eat well. we hung around the black pudding stall, we had some beef at the hereford road and compared it to the wagyu beef at cocoon and chicken at busaba ethai, and we got pretty tipsy in the BA lounge where we stood right by the kitchen door so, like one of those strange corals grabbing the passing plankton with their hairy tentacles, we swiped every scallop and bacon canape going past. and we ordered three glasses of wine instead of two, one for rich's imaginary friend jennnifer who was due to join us later.

we went home with two cans of singha beer, two packets of sausages and a subscription to a grass-fed, organic meat box from the well hung meat company.

the last was something i'd intended to do anyway, and i'd already emailed them to ask what they feed their cows with. they assured me it was all free-range and grass-fed and i cursed the world in which i have to pay extra for cows to eat what they're meant to be eating anyway. but i'd dithered, as you do when you do these things by email, so this was a perfect opportunity to just bite the bullet and place an order.

this is how the conversation went, more or less.

whmb (well hung meat bloke): is it just the two of you? maybe a small box would be suitable?

rich (hating the chat, would much rather have done it online): doesn't look big enough.

me (swaying slightly, glass of champagne in hand): we eat a lot of meat. professional carnivores, sort of thing.

whmb, pointing to a beautifully arranged display of meat: medium box, then. i think that would be right for you. it's quite big.

rich: how many joints is that? ten? yes, that's better. that'll do.

whmb: we vary the joints you get each month so you might get something weird and wonderful. is there anything you don't like?

us (in unison): no.

me: we like steak. and chicken. and i really like pork.

rich: but we also like everything else.

whmb: if you'd like to give me your card number...

the following day we went to a BBQ. the day after i almost contemplated becoming a vegetarian.

anyway, this recipe is from pork and sons. i realised that this blog is rapidly turning into one of those 'cook the book' jobs but the recipes in it really are very good. this one sounds weird (ginger and ketchup??) but tasted delicious when it all came together.

GRILLED SAUSAGE WITH VEGETABLE MIREPOIX
for two

olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1in piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
2 very ripe tomatoes, cut into quarters
1/2 tsp tomato ketchup
2 shallots, chopped
1/2 celeriac, diced
1 aubergine, diced
1 courgette, diced
1 onion, sliced
4 sausages, cut into half lengthways

heat some oil in a pan and fry the ginger and garlic for a few minutes. add the tomatoes and cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes until they are soft and pulpy. stir in the ketchup, then whizz the whole thing in a food processor until it's like a thick and smooth sauce. set aside.

heat more oil in a pan, then fry and shallots and celeriac for ten or so minutes. add the aubergines and courgettes and fry together till cooked but slightly crispy around the edges.

in a separate pan, fry the onion slices for 5-10 minutes. grill the sausages.

to assemble, make a dome of vegetables on each plate, then cover with alternating layers of sausages and fried onions. garnish with the tomato sauce.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

tides turning and other stuff

i've been a bit lazy of late. i haven't cooked a great deal and when i have, i've resorted to old favourites rather than trying anything new. so i've eaten some spicy thai curries with okra and aubergines, prawn 'linguine' with lashings of fresh chilli, and summery salads to go with the sunny weather. there was also a barbecued rack of pork ribs, which was awesome, but i stupidly forgot to take pictures.

i also haven't felt like writing much if i am honest.

anyway, there'll be more recipes soon but in the meantime, here are two links to stories that made me think that the tide is slowly (very slowly) turning. i know other bloggers come up with academic research to support this way of eating all the time but this is mainsteam media, which is why it attracted my attention.

(i don't just read the telegraph, by the way. in fact, i almost never read it so finding these articles was a stroke of luck.)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/science/sciencenews/5599916/Polar-Bears-are-not-dying-out-say-scientists-in-book-on-popular-scare-stories.html

this is interesting because of the cholesterol point. there seems to be plenty of evidence to suggest that the link between cholesterol and heart disease is not as straightforward as your GP would have you believe, or indeed that saturated fat is bad for you. i have stopped believing this to such an extent that i am genuinely surprised when i hear (mainly girls) say they like something because it's low fat and therefore good for you. give me lard any day.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/science/sciencenews/5604296/Is-farming-the-root-of-all-evil.html

the second article i find interesting because of its attempt to weigh up the costs and benefits of agriculture versus the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. whatever you think about that - i.e. what a particular choice of food meant for how our society is organised and what the consequences of it may have been - does not negate the point that we probably really are evolved to eat a plant- and meat-based diet, rather than a grain-based one. there is, of course, a whole debate to be had about farming and sustainability of alternative lifestyles but this is not the best place for it. there are plenty of blogs that deal with that sort of thing (i am only interested in eating).

Sunday, 21 June 2009

broad bean salad with bacon, spinach and red peppers


and everything else i could find in the fridge, quite literally.

another bag of broad beans came in the able&cole box this week. their boxes do make me laugh - the one we order is meant to feed a family of four for a week. i am not sure whether our vegetable consumption is off the scale but it never lasts for more than two or three days.

oh, i lie, i do have a cucumber left. (it might be there for a while: i confess i find cucumbers a bit pointless: too bland and watery. those small cucumbers at home were different, i think. their flavour was stronger, like a vegetable in its own right rather than anonymous salad fodder, though i might be looking at these mythical vegetables of my childhood with rose-tinted spectacles.

so. i had some small tomatoes, some naturally-cured bacon, some painstakingly podded and shelled broad beans, a bag of spinach and a jar of those flame-grilled spanish peppers. it's the kind of salad you can chuck anything into - some asparagus would have been nice, for example, or even some sweet roasted onions.

BROAD BEAN SALAD WITH BACON, SPINACH AND RED PEPPERS
for 1

2 rashers of bacon, cut into pieces
7-8 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
3 roast red peppers from a jar, sliced
1/2 cup or so of podded broad beans
200g or so of spinach or other leaves
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1/2 red chilli, chopped
a handful of parsley, finely chopped
seasoning

first, blanch the broad beans in boiling water for 3 minutes, then slip them out of their green outer shell. set aside.

fry the bacon pieces until they're starting to crisp. no need to add any fat to the pan, probably. add the garlic, chili, tomatoes and beans and fry for 3 or 4 minutes making sure the garlic doesn't burn.

add the spinach and parsley right at the end and stir through until the spinach is almost wilted. season and drizzle with some good olive oil if you wish.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

fig and walnut bread

this is something between a bread and a cake. not sweet enough to be the latter but definitely sweeter than a normal loaf. nice though - both as a snack, and to eat with some very strong cheddar cheese.

FIG AND WALNUT BREAD

3oz of figs - i used those ready-to-eat ones that come in sealed bags. otherwise use dried and soak them in water until they plump up
2oz walnut halves
6oz ground almonds
3 large eggs
80ml walnut oil (or any other oil)
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp cider vinegar

grease and line an 8 inch tin - i used a square one. preheat the oven to 160C.

put the figs in a food processor and process until you have a paste. add the almonds, and pulse until the mix resembles breadcrumbs - don't overdo it. add the walnuts and pulse again until they are coarsely chopped. always nice to have a bit of crunch in these things.

in a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with an electric whisk until they are frothy, then pour in the oil in a thin stream, still whisking, until the whole thing has increased in volume and turned pale.

sprinkle on the bicarb of soda and the vinegar and whisk until combined.

put the nut&fig mix into the eggs and mix in with a metal spoon. tip the whole thing into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for twenty minutes or until the skewer comes out clean.

the recipe comes from a blog straight into bed cake free and dried (http://milkforthemorningcake.blogspot.com/) - no, i don't know why either.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

radishes and radish leaves in pork fat

this is not really a recipe as such but a simple idea for what to do with a bunch of radishes when you don't fancy a salad. leaves and all.

i never knew you could cook radishes. well, i didn't think you couldn't cook them, it just never crossed my mind that it's worth doing. radish to me means salad - a crunchy peppery thing to be eaten raw.

i am pleased to say that frying the radishes whole preserves most of that freshness and crunch. the leaves, added at the end of cooking, taste a bit like spinach.

a word of warning though - pork or other animal fat (duck and goose would be good) is essential - without it, it's likely to taste a bit bland.

so: fry the radishes in pork fat for about 5 minutes, then add the leaves and fry for another minute or until they are wilted. season with some pepper and serve.

pork chops with cider and mustard sauce


it’s obvious, really. the english way of eating is meat WITH some kind of sauce on the side. the yugo way of eating is meat IN sauce, with bread to mop it up. or, quite commonly, just meat on its own. when i think of all the classic yugo dishes: stuffed courgettes or peppers, pasulj (like a bean cassoulet on speed, with smoked pork knuckle), ‘bosnian pot’ (where you chuck in all sorts of veg and meat in an earthenware pot and cook for hours) – it’s all the same principle.

i am not sure why this is the case though there must be some socio-anthropological reason for it. there usually is. in the same way that the world is divided into those who drink tea and those who drink coffee, maybe there are also meat-with-sauce and meat-in-sauce eaters. perhaps the yugo climate is just better for growing vegetables or, as i suspect is more likely, all those aubergines and onions pad out a meal, making a small piece of expensive meat go further.

whatever the case, i think this is probably the reason why making sauces to go with meat doesn’t come naturally to me. sauce on the side is just a bit...poncey. i just wouldn’t think to do it – i am quite happy to gnaw on a pork chop without having to dip it in some weird, usually sweet, concoction. (what i hate even more is when they give you a mere suggestion of a sauce in restaurants. usually a small comma of goop on an expanse of a big white plate, which some poor bugger in the kitchen has been perfecting for weeks.)

but occasionally, i read a recipe and decide to go ahead and make the sauce and all. especially if it's as simple as this one. a word of warning - when i tasted the sauce for seasoning, i thought it was a bit weird. a bit too sweet and tasting too strongly of cider. but it does go very well with pork - it's the two flavours together that make it work.

PORK CHOPS WITH CIDER AND MUSTARD SAUCE
for two

for the pork:
2 pork chops, bone in
5 bay leaves
1tsp salt
½tsp fennel seeds

for the sauce:
½ pint of cider
1tbs wholegrain mustard
4tbs creme fraiche
knob of butter

in a pestle and mortar, crush the fennel seeds with the salt and the bay leaves. apparently you’re meant to end up with a green paste. i didn’t – my bay leaves were too dry for that so make sure they’re fresh. otherwise try and squish some flavour out of them the best you can and either sieve the large bits of bay leaf out in the end or just use as is. i am not sure it matters too much.

make the sauce – in a small pan, boil the cider and the mustard until reduced by half. add the creme fraiche, bring back to the boil, then stir in the butter and season.

heat a heavy-bottomed frying pan or a griddle pan. oil the pork chops on both sides, then season with the fennel and bay leaf salt. fry for 3-4 minutes each side, depending on how thick your chops are. when you think they’re done, leave them to rest for 4-5 minutes.

Monday, 15 June 2009

scotch eggs


this was a bit mad, even by my standards of wasting time in the kitchen.

i have no idea what possessed me to try making scotch eggs. must have seen a picture somewhere and fancied trying them out. i justified it by thinking i'd make use of the two lonely sausages sitting in the freezer (two sausages is neither here nor there, really - perfect for a solitary weekend breakfast but those are thankfully quite rare. and two sausages between two people...well, you may as well not bother).

i used to find the idea of scotch eggs hilarious. i mean, what's the point? why not take a boiled egg and a sausage and eat them separately? you could take a bite of each at the same time if you really fancied the eggsausage taste?

seventeen years later, i think a scotch egg is a marvellous invention. they look great (an egg? inside a sausage? brilliant!) and taste even better - what's not to like?

i have to say my version is probably not as good as the good shop-bought stuff but i make no apologies for that. for a start, these are not full of crap. and, if you watching calories, they are not deep fried. though i think i will fry them next time, purely for aesthetic reasons.

in terms of quantities, i think you're looking at one sausage per egg though, if you were patient and could be bothered to roll out the sausage meat thinly, you could do more. if you have spare boiled eggs, they'll be fine in the fridge for a few days - just eat them as a cold snack.

if you don't make a larger quantity, you'll have some beaten egg left - i used it to batter aubergines and courgettes as it's a shame to waste it. those could make a nice addition to your picnic fodder.

SCOTCH EGGS

2 eggs
2 sausages
a handful of chopped thyme
a handful of chopped parsley
1tsp chilli flakes
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup of so of coarsely ground almonds or just ground almonds out of a packet

put the eggs in cold water, bring to the boil and boil for 9 minutes. i have no idea why 9 minutes exactly but that's what every recipe for scotch eggs says so it must be right. run under cold water, then peel. leave to cool a little.

now cover a chopping board with clingfilm and tear off another piece the same size. do this now before your hands are covered with goo. take the sausagemeat out of casing and, with your hands, mix in the parsley, thyme and chilli. shape it into 2 (or three, or however many eggs you're using) balls and flatten each ball a little. put it between two pieces of clingfilm and roll into a thin circle with a rolling pin.

make sure the eggs are dry - you can even dust them with a bit of flour to make sure the sausage meat sticks better. then encase each egg in the sausage circle, sealing all the edges carefully and thoroughly.

spread the almonds on a plate. dip each egg into egg (oooh) and roll into the almonds so it's covered on all sides.

now either place on a baking tray and cook for about 30 minutes on 180-190C (keep checking that the casing doesn't look too burnt) or fry in some olive oil.

stuffed courgettes

every year countless words are written by food journalists, writers and bloggers about the summer glut of courgettes and what to do with them. and it is true - there is a point in the summer calendar when you've had enough of them, however nice.

the truth is, courgettes are kinda bland. they either need to be fried, dipped in egg, griddled or grated in little patties, or paired with something that will impart sufficient flavour to them, like strong cheese.

the slightly bigger courgette - almost a marrow, really - can take being stuffed with meat and herbs and simmered in stock and tomato pure until it is pale green, soft and silky.

this is the treatment normally given to courgettes and marrows where i come from. in fact, this recipe is from my grandmother's cookery book, with a few minor modifications. i have eaten this countless times - it's the kind of thing your mum would make in advance and re-heat during the week. sometimes it's the peppers that get stuffed, or tomatoes, or onions. but i think i like courgettes best.

the original recipe calls for flour and rice but i have managed to eliminate both without much trouble. the rice is use to break up the meat so it doesn't end up in one big hard lump. i used ground almonds and whole pine nuts instead, which loosened the texture nicely. i also didn't chop the onions too finely for the same reason. the flour is used to thicken the sauce which i am not bothered about - i just reduced it until it was more concentrated.

the whole thing looks like it'd be hassle to make but it took no time at all and it tasted a lot better than you would think a combination of two basic ingredients would. i'd recommend leaving it in the fridge for a day.


STUFFED COURGETTES
for 2

2 very large courgettes or marrows, peeled
450g minced beef or half beef, half pork
2 onions, chopped finely (but not too finely)
1 egg
2tbs or more of finely chopped parsley
1tbs pine nuts
1tbs ground almonds
2tbs tomato pure
300ml chicken stock
olive oil
seasoning

first, hollow out the courgettes with a little spoon or some other implement. i tend to use the veg peeler and it's slightly cylindrical shape makes it easier to get around the inside.

then, in a pan, lightly fry the onions in olive oil, the add the meat and brown. switch the heat off and leave to cool a little. add 1 egg, salt and pepper, the almonds and the pine nuts. stuff the courgettes with this mixture. use your hands and don't worry too much about bits falling out though try and pack the meat in as tightly as possible.

heat more oil in a deep pan and fry the courgettes carefully on all sides. i didn't bother waiting for them to go golden brown though i think that would look quite nice. add the stock and the tomato pure, season a little more, then leave to simmer until the courgettes are cooked. do check that there is enough liquid in the pan - the point is that they cook in stock rather than fry so add more stock or water if it looks a bit dry. or, you can use more stock as i did, then take the courgettes out at the end and reduce the sauce by boiling the stock vigorously for a few minutes.

the cooking should take 30-45 minutes - pierce with a knife to see if the flesh is completely soft. be quite gentle as you don't want them falling apart at this stage.

serve sprinkled with parsley, maybe with a dollop of creme fraiche.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

poulet saute au vinaigre


or chicken with vinegar. the recipe comes from simon hopkinson's book roast chicken and other stories. i bought it ages ago because it won some prize or other but could never understand why it became so popular. i was then firmly in the low-fat brigade and this was full of french recipes laden with butter, cream and fatty meat.

now i think the frogs, give or take a pastry or two, could teach the rest of us a great deal about both cooking and eating. half a century ago, that would have been patently obvious but we have moved on to what we, wrongly in my view, perceive to be healthier cuisines. i think this explains the rise of faux italian eating in this country. pasta is seen as healthy, therefore pasta with veg is super healthy.

anyway, i'd eyeing up this recipe for ages but was always a bit dubious about the vinegar bit. i needn't have worried. it was lovely. cooking vinegar with tomatoes makes the whole thing kind of jammy, in a good way.

POULET SAUTE AU VINAIGRE
for four (you can of course make a smaller quantity as i did - get your butcher to joint the chicken for you, then freeze in portions)

1.8kg chicken, jointed into 8 pieces
salt and pepper
80g butter
some olive oil
6 very ripe tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped
300ml the best quality wine vinegar
300ml good chicken stock
2 heaped tbs chopped parsley

season the joints and fry in half of the butter and some olive oil gently until golden brown on all sides. turn occasionally and don't have the heat on too high. add the chopped tomatoes and carry on frying until they are jammy and thick and dark red colour. they should lose all their moisture. pour in the vinegar and reduce by simmering until it's almost all gone. add the stock, and simmer again until it's reduced by about half.

remove the chicken to a serving plate and keep warm. whisk the rest of the butter into the sauce, add the parsley and pour over the chicken.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

roasted red pepper and fennel soup

you could track the state of my health by the number of times a soup recipe appears on the blog. every time i feel a bit under the weather, i seem to resort to making soups.

also, this was another exercise in frugality which worked beautifully. when you buy a bulb of fennel, it comes with foot-long fronds attached to it - i never know what to do with them but it seems criminal to waste them. this time, i used some to roast a salmon fillet on - i literally put a bed of fennel fronds at the bottom of a roasting tin, with a splash of water, some olive oil and seasoning, put the salmon on top, covered the whole thing with foil and roasted it for 20 or so minutes. it looked great but i am not convinced the fennel imparted a detectable flavour to the fish.

the rest i thought i'd make into a soup.

when i say a soup, this is little more than the veg cooked and liquidised. there is no great skill involved in soup-making but somehow the end result is always more than the sum of its parts. the only thing i think is important is that the stock is good - i am not sure i'd bother making it with a cube. i had some homemade stuff from a couple of carcasses i'd been saving in the freezer.

you could add a splash of pernod to accentuate the aniseedy flavour but i'm not sure anyone keeps a bottle of pernod at home these days. you could also finish it with sour cream or creme fraiche which i didn't bother doing.

ROASTED RED PEPPER AND FENNEL SOUP
for two

1-2 red peppers (i only had one but would use two next time)
1 fennel bulb, fronds and all, chopped up (save a little for garnish)
olive oil
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
500 ml chicken stock

first, grill the pepper. stick it under a very hot grill until the skin blackens on all sides - keep turning it. when it's done, put it in a bowl and cover with clingfilm for a few minutes. this makes it easier to peel.

in a pan, fry the fennel with the fennel seeds and some salt and pepper for 5 minutes or so. if using pernod, add a splash now and let it evaporate. add the stock and simmer for 15 or so minutes. right at the end, add the peeled and chopped red pepper. taste and adjust the seasoning.

liquidise with a hand held blender or a food processor until very smooth. you might need to pass it through a sieve if don't like 'bits' in your soup - personally, i don't mind. stir in the sour cream if using and decorate with some reserved fennel fronds.

Friday, 12 June 2009

mackerel with gooseberry sauce

i ate this once, ages ago, when i first came to this country. it must have been around 1993 and i doubt i'd ever seen a gooseberry in my life until that point. we just didn't do gooseberries at home. no idea why. i don't even know what the word for gooseberry is in serbo-croat, or serbian, or bosnian, or whatever it is i'm supposed to speak these days.

the sauce and the fish were cooked by shiela, the then boyfriend's mum. she was a great cook, with hindsight, and she had a large vegetable and fruit garden which is where the gooseberries came from. they grew in the shade of laurel trees, together with some rasberries, covered in green netting to protect them from birds.

i think i have sheila to thank for some of my love of food and the burgeoning desire to have a garden to grow stuff to eat. her son may have been a nutter (no, really) but she probably taught me the basics of not just cooking but eating. she loved food and took us to some very nice restaurants at the time when i couldn't have afforded fish and chips, let alone a three course dinner at some michelin-starred joint. we always used to joke that i should write a 'poor refugee's guide to the best restaurants in the north west england and scotland'.

they had a great big kitchen overlooking the herb garden outside. with an aga, of course. sheila had all the stuff - the magimixes, the scales, the composting bin, the pots, the pans...also, a fridge full of nice hams, fruit and yoghurt and and a freezer in a slug-filled cellar downstairs. the then boyfriend would raid the freezer when stoned, eating icecream with scones and cheddar cheese, which tastes nicer than you think.

last sunday at farmer's market they were selling gooseberries for the first time this summer. as we'd already bought some mackerel, i thought i'd buy a punnet and try to recreate the sauce. oily fish like mackerel and sour berries go very well together but you could also substitute other acidy fruit and veg like rhubarb or tomatoes.

most recipes i found use lots of sugar to temper this acidity and, though i think it is true that you need some (otherwise you'll be sucking in your cheeks all the way through your dinner), you definitely don't need nearly as much as most suggest. it defeats the point, apart from anything else.

apologies about the picture. not sure what happened there.

MACKEREL WITH GOOSEBERRY SAUCE
for 2

2 mackerel, cleaned, gutted and filleted
1/2 cup of rolled oats (you can skip the oats if you're 100% primal but it's only a little bit and they add a nice crunch to the fish)
1 punnet gooseberries, washed and topped and tailed
25g butter
1/2 cup of chicken stock
1 level tsp honey
salt and pepper
olive oil

melt the butter in a saucepan and add the gooseberries. add the honey and the stock, then cover and cook on medium heat for 10 or so minutes. the berries will have turned yellow and gone soft. leave to cool a little, then whizz in a blender or a food processor until smooth. pass through a sieve to get rid of the pips if you can be bothered - i could though i'm not sure why. return to the pan and simmer for a bit longer to thicken and reduce it. that's it.

when ready to eat, lightly oil and season the fish fillets. spread the oats on a plate, then dip each fillet into them and fry in preheated pan for around 3 minutes on each side. don't have the oil in the pan too hot as the oatmeal will burn.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

beetroot, carrot and pine nut salad


this was so good i am looking forward to eating it again. the addition of feta was an inspired one, as were the toasted pine nuts. they transformed a good salad into a great one.

make this, you won't regret it.

BEETROOT, CARROT AND PINE NUT SALAD
for me, it's all for me!

2 small to medium carrots, scrubbed and grated
2 small young beetroots, washed, scrubbed and grated
1tsp walnut oil
1tsp balsamic vinegar
1tsp chilli sauce - mine was the not sweet, vinegary kind from the turkish shop up the road - the best, in my opinion
1tbs chopped parsley
a handful of pine nuts, toasted
50g feta cheese, cubed (optional)

mix everything together in a bowl and leave to stand for a while (oooh i lasted about 4 minutes) and eat.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

beetroot leaf salad with garlic and thyme


did you know you could eat beetroot leaves? have i said this before?

i can't help it. it's like a disease. i find it pathologically satisfying to not throw anything (however vaguely) edible away. every single day i think how nice it would be to have a garden so i can compost leftovers. or at least a rabbit. i revel in infrequency of our bin-emptying.

i think it would be glib to presume this has a lot to do with my commie upbringing. maybe a little bit but not a lot. i do, however, find it funny that we're now going back to what i grew up with. you know, recycling plastic bags, or shopping at local markets, or making your own jam. maybe we could introduce the odd/even car number plate driving on alternate weekends? add a few power cuts (by neighbourhood, please, spending a whole evening playing cards by candlelight is a lot more boring than you think) and we could be on to something.

but i don't think it's that. it's more to do with feeling a bit sorry for the thing that had to die so i could eat it. if you think that's an exaggeration, believe me, it's not: aged ten, i got very maudlin (i think i wrote a story about it) because they cut down a spruce tree so they could build our cottage in the mountains. incidentally, that is why vegetarianism based on humane grounds never made much sense to me - i feel as sorry for a lettuce that's just been cut as i do for a dead animal.

so, somehow, the fact that i've used the whole plant or animal makes me feel a bit better about death. it's hard work being a slav, no?

and anyway, beetroot leaves are nice. these were glossy, almost waxy green and came from a new stall at the farmer's market. the woman who runs it actually has dirt under her fingernails and sells fennel with fronds and beetroot with leaves - and you can't go wrong with that.

the leaves taste a bit like spinach but more earthy. i wanted to cook them simply to go with the fennel-roasted salmon i was having for dinner.

(a word of warning - your kitchen may look like a scene from the exorcist. beetroot stains everything red, including your wee.)

BEETROOT LEAF SALAD WITH GARLIC AND THYME

a bunch of young beetroot, leaves and all
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
pine nuts, toasted
pumpkin seeds, toasted (feel free to use any other nuts and sees. i think it would be nice with walnuts)
a small bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked

separate the leaves from the roots, and discard any discoloured ones. wash both (you might need to scrub the roots a bit), then steam the roots for 15 or so minutes and leaves for ten. leave to drain. chop the leaves. scrape the skin off the roots with your hands (wear gloves if you can be bothered, it will stain), the chop and mix in with the leaves.

add some olive oil, some balsamic vinegar, the thyme, the garlic and some seasoning. try to do this while the beetroot is still warm as it seems to absorb the dressing better.

dry-toast your chosen nuts and/or seeds and add to the salad. mix well and eat at room temperature.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

mackerel recheado with katchumber salad

i fancied something very spicy last week so i thought i'd make this crazy-sounding recipe from rick stein. it was crazy-tasting too but makes a nice change from the usual mackerel dishes.

you'll end up with more paste than you need so stick in in a plastic container and freeze it to use later. which is quite handy, as making it is quite laborious.

i'd thoroughly recommend the salad too, as as accompaniment to this or any other dinner of the same ilk. i think the shallot or the red onion has to be sliced very thinly so don't even think about it even you don't have a mandolin or a very sharp knife.

MACKEREL RECHEADO
for 2

6 small mackerel, filleted (but preferably so the fillets are still joined by a piece of skin)
for the goan masala paste:
1tsp cumin
2tsp coriander
2tsp black peppercorns
1tsp whole cloves
1tsp tumeric
110g red chillies, chopped
1tsp salt
6 cloves of garlic, chopped roughly
5cm piece of ginger, peeled and chopped roughly
1tbs tamarind water
2tbs red wine vinegar

katchumber salad:
1 very large beef tomato, sliced very thinly
1 shallot, sliced very thinly
2tbs chopped coriander
1/4tsp ground cumin
pinch cayenne pepper
1tbs white wine vinegar
salt

grind the cumin, coriander, peppercorns and cloves in a spice grinder. i use the coffee grinder i am not sure i will ever be able to use for coffee again unless i want it to taste like curry. chuck that and the other paste ingredients in a food processor and whizz until you have a paste.

now spread a little of the paste on one mackerel fillet - i'd say around a teaspoon or a bit less, then top with the other. take two pieces of kitchen string and tie around the fish to keep the fillets together. repeat with the other five.

when ready to eat, ]fry the mackerel parcels in a little olive oil in a heavy based pan for around 3 minutes on each side.

before you do that, make the salad. use a large shallow dish, then layer the ingredients in the order in which they are listed. so a layer of tomatoes, a layer of onions, a sprinkling of coriander, cumin and caynne, then the vinegar, then salt. don't mix it up, just leave it to stand while you cook the fish.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

asparagus and herb soup

i have not felt great for the past week. my stomach has been playing up in quite a major way, which has put me off food a little. still eating, of course (i think when i stop eating you can safely pronounce me dead) but not really hungry. i'm not even enjoying pottering around the kitchen.

the only bit of pottering i did was to make stock from two chicken carcasses and some giblets i had in the freezer (it was like a vegetarian's nightmare, that stuff). i let it simmer for ages and the stock came out beautifully flavoured - properly meaty and savoury. i'd also saved some veggie scraps from dinners made during the week so i had a few green parts of leek, woody bits of asparagus, celery, onions, carrots and herbs for flavouring.

we had a bunch of asparagus past its prime in the fridge. it's towards the end of the season so the spears are getting a bit straggly and woody. i'd never thought of making an asparagus soup before but couldn't see any reason why it shouldn't taste good.

this is a mark hix recipe heavily adapted. he suggests serving the chilled - which sounds nice if you can stop yourself from eating it hot.

it's quite a thin soup so if you want it to be thicker, use less stock or, if you eat them, add a potato at the same time you add the asparagus. i saved the tips to be included whole but there's no real reason for doing so beyond the fact that i like having something to chew on in a soup - a change of texture is always good. i am sure you could vary the herbs to suit your taste - a bit of basil would have been nice, i think. and for a real treat, you could poach an egg in it for the final couple of minutes - now that would be nice.

ASPARAGUS AND HERB SOUP
for 2

1 bunch of asparagus past its best, cut into pieces, with top of each spear reserved
4 spring onions, white parts only, sliced
1 stick celery, finely chopped
500ml good chicken stock
small bunch of parsley, chopped
a few leaves of mint, coriander and thyme, chopped
a few celery leaves, chopped
seasoning
olive oil

heat oil in a pan and sweat the spring onions and the celery for a few minutes. add the asparagus pieces and continue cooking for a little while, then add the stock. bring to the boil, season, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

turn the heat off and leave to cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a blender together with the chopped herbs, and liquidise until smooth. return to the pan, add the reserved asparagus spears and cook for 2-3 minutes more but no longer, or the herbs won't taste of anything.

lamb salad with pomegranate and mint. or how to get a doggie bag from drapers arms.


went to the refurbished drapers arms up the road on friday night (http://www.thedrapersarms.com/). it used to be a lovely pub before the owners apparently had a few disagreements and it all went horribly wrong. now it's back, under new management (fay maschler's son - now that's brave) and painted a weird bluey-green colour, the kind you used to see in school polyclinics when we were kids. looks nice though - it's a lovely building and you'd have to borderline blind to get it wrong.

can't tell you much about the food though. had a globe artichoke to start with, which was lovely in a pointless, globe artichoke-y kind of a way. these things probably tell you a fair bit about a person's attitude to food - and i could extrapolate this into some great thesis about attitude to life too, but i won't, 'cos it'd be bollocks. but there definitely are people who can be bothered to peel the leaves away painstakingly, one by one and dip each into the dressing, and suck. i thought i was one of those people. you know, chat, have a glass of wine, nibble on an artichoke...but no, half-way through, i just wanted the good bits: skip the sucking and the peeling and the chatting and just give me the bloody edible part.

i digress. the reason why i can't tell you much about the food is because we looked at the menu, saw the lamb shoulder for 3-4 people, decided it was written with dieting girls in mind and we could ask for a doggie bag anyway, and proceeded to order the whole thing. so i have no idea how anything other than the lamb tastes. i can tell you there was a lot of fish on the menu, and the starters were mostly of the cheeky 'can prepare in advance' variety.

now when i say the lamb was big, you'll have no idea of just how big i mean. draper's arms will do themselves out of business if they carry on like this. or their staff will get fat on leftover lamb. this can serve six people, easy. and i mean six people like us, what a friend called 'hardened carnivores'.

there was an uncomfortable moment when everyone stared at our table. which was, of course, too small for the giant plate that arrived. we didn't bother ordering anything else - and they didn't ask. the waitress (a bit snooty, to be honest, considering we've just racked up a bill 3 times the size we should have done) said to let her know if we wanted some potatoes or bread in an 'ironic' kind of a way.

so we ate. and ate. and ate. so much i had the momentary meat blindness towards the end. you know that feeling when you are so full of protein that you can't quite see properly. it goes quickly though - and weirdly, we went home not totally stuffed. (that's what happens when you don't eat bread.)

the next day, reconciled with the idea of eating lamb all weekend, we thought we'd make a salad we made once in the past. it's a nigella lawson recipe - one of the few i've ever made, probably. how that woman became famous is not beyond me but in my personal chef hierarchy, she's somewhere down there with anthony worral thompson.

not really a recipe this, either. more a suggestion about how to eat this kind of slow-cooked lamb.

basically, if cold, you have to warm it in the oven, then tear it into chunks and sprinkle with chopped mint and pomegranate seeds. that's it. we ate it with some griddled aubergines - there's something about lamb and aubergines that just works - and some yoghurt, seasoned lightly and spiked with a bit of chopped mint. lovely. you could make a little stack of aubergine slice, topped with lamb, drizzled with the yoghurt dressing.

next time we go to drapers arms, i bet the lamb will be on the menu for 5-6 people.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

lamb and spinach curry with spicy aubergines and cucumber raita

a madhur jaffrey recipe, more or less verbatim - though i did have to chuck in a couple of whole kashmiri chillies because i didn’t think it was quite hot enough.

do make the other bits that go with it – the aubergines and the raita – i think it all works together very well.

LAMB AND SPINACH CURRY WITH SPICY AUBERGINES AND CUCUMBER RAITA
for two

for the lamb:
4 tbsp olive oil
a couple of black peppercorns
2-3 cloves
1 bay leaf
3 cardamom pods
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
a little cube of ginger, as big as your thumb fingertip, peeled and finely chopped
450g lamb, cut into 2.5cm cubes – i used leg, the original recipe calls for shoulder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
2-3 tbsp yoghurt or creme fraiche
500g spinach, washed and finely
a sprinkle of garam masala

for the aubergines:
2 aubergines, cut into wedges lengthwise
1tsp tumeric
1 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper

for the raita:
5tbs natural yoghurt
¼ cucumber, peeled and chopped
salt
a little bit of coriander or mint, chopped finely

heat the oil in a heavy-based pan with a lid and add in the peppercorns, cardamom, cloves and the bay leaf. fry until the spices start releasing their aroma. add the onions, garlic and ginger and fry for a few minutes, until the onions are starting to brown. add the meat, cumin, coriander, cayenne and half the salt, fry for a minute, then add 1tbs of the yoghurt. stir until incorporated and fry for a minute, then add the rest of the yoghurt and repeat.

add the spinach and the rest of the salt, and cook until the spinach has wilted completely. keep stirring. put the lid on and simmer on low heat for about an hour and a quarter. take the lid off, add the garam masala and cook until the sauce has reduced completely and is no longer watery.

in the meantime, prepare the aubergines. slice them into thin wedges, salt and leave to drain. or skip this bit altogether as i am not sure it makes a blind bit of difference. mix the tumeric, cayenne, salt and pepper together. when the curry is nearly done, sprinkle the aubergines with the spice mixture and rub it in a bit with your hands. fry in hot oil until tender. you will need A LOT of oil. drain on some kitchen paper for a few minutes.

for raita, just mix the peeled and chopped cucumber into the yoghurt, add salt and some chopped mint or coriander. leave it in the fridge until needed.

Friday, 5 June 2009

asparagus, broad bean and chorizo salad

rich came home last night, looked at what i was cooking and asked if i'd been eating like a squirrel while he'd been away. (no, he doesn't read the blog, otherwise he'd know that's not the case. he claims he doesn't need to read it 'cos knows what i'd say anyway, which is probably true.)

he looked so forlorn that i offered to make a starter - i knew exactly what i could rustle up in five minutes from the stuff that came in the abel&cole box. not entirely sure broad beans are primal but it seems daft not eating green stuff when it's in season.

it was lovely - spicy and fresh and light. i think a few leaves of young spinach stirred through at the last minute would have been a nice addition.

ASPARAGUS, BROAD BEAN AND CHORIZO SALAD
for two

a 10cm piece of chorizo, cut into cubes
a few asparagus spears, cut into 5cm pieces
a handful of freshly podded broad beans
seasoning
olive oil
some parsley, finely chopped

bring a pot of salted water to boil and add the asparagus. boil for 2 mins, then add the broad beans and cook for another two. drain, then pop the beans out of their outer shell. yes, it's boring but you're only doing a few and they do taste a lot nicer.

in a frying pan, fry the chorizo until it releases it's orange, paprika-flavoured oil and starts getting crisp. add the veg and fry for a minute or so to warm them through. then stir in the parsley, and spinach if using. that's it.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

greek-style chicken paprikas

there's a whole category of food at home for which a word doesn't really exist in english. it's something called varivo, a genetic noun for a type of dish that contains either just veg or, more usually, meat and veg, cooked together in some kind of a sauce. i guess the closest you'd come to it as a concept is a curry. paprikas is like a distinct species in this particular genus of food (or is it the other way round?) paprika is obviously a pepper, so paprikas is a varivo that contains it. bear with me, it gets easier from here.

you eat a lot of paprikas when you're a southern european of any variety. it's the kind of thing your granny would have said was good for you, something you can 'eat with a spoon'. i thought i'd make paprikas in honour of my new cookery book, which has at least a dozen recipes on it.

unfortunately, it blew my idea of not eating dairy for a while (just to see what happens) but 2 1/2 tablespoons of creme fraiche is hardly a big deal. the thing about giving up all grains and legumes is that i am more than happy not to eat them; the thing about not eating diary is that it all gets a bit too boring. and life is too short for boring food.

so...this was not exactly michelin-starred food but as a meal to have on a weekday after work, you could do a lot worse.

below is the exact translation of the original recipe, with my changes.

GREEK STYLE CHICKEN PAPRIKAS

choose a well-fed chicken, clean it and cut it into pieces. slice a kilo of onions and fry it in lard until it is cooked but not brown. add salt and a few large peppers, and leave it to simmer for a little while. add 100g of butter (i skipped this bit), a bit of paprika, season with pepper and mix it all well. put the chicken pieces in with the onions, 4 ripe tomatoes cut into chunks, 200g creme fraiche. stir everything together, put the lid on and leave to cook without adding any water.

i used 2 joints of chicken on the bone, 2 peppers, 1 green, 1 yellow, 2 1/2tbs creme fraiche, and 3 sliced onions. also, 1 tsp of paprika and i added some parsley and a tiny bit of thyme. once the lid was on, i left it to cook for half an hour, with the last few minutes without the lid to thicken the sauce a little.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

chicken livers with leeks and white wine

when i went home for the weekend, mum gave me a copy of my grandmother's cookery book from 1939. i've had my eye on it for a while now but never wanted to ask - i know it has sentimental value for mum because of the handwritten notes in the margins, left by my granny when she could still do these things. even so, i secretly hoped i would get it eventually. and this weekend, because it was my birthday, i did.

it's an enormous book, over 700 pages, with chapters on everything from soups, making jam, to vegetarian food ("vegetarian diet should be done only occasionally and when there is a good medical reason for doing so"). the paper is yellowing and crumbling slowly in corners, and the whole thing smells faintly of sugar and old age - as if you left a library in a kitchen - and a bit like i remember my grandmother's kitchen smelling when i was little. some of the pages are torn, and the whole thing had to be re-bound by mum in sarajevo.

i found inside a forgotten, folded sheet of A4 paper, written in my grandmother's awkward cyrillic handwriting in faded blue ink. it was obviously the beginning of a shopping list and all it says is 1) HAM. but what granny loved doing best is a making seriously complicated and seriously rich cakes - the kind that start with half a pound of butter and sugar each, and twelve eggs - so the section on 'tortes' is the most obviously well-thumbed.

my grandmother was also diabetic and it was diabetes that killed her.

i spent the entire flight back to london reading the recipes. they belie a different era, one in which chickens had to be killed and plucked, in which lard was the cooking grease of choice, and where every housewife worth her salt knew how to joint a piece of meat or whip up a filo pastry as thin as cigarette paper.

i was itching to get cooking. the first recipe i picked (no index at the back so you really do have to read the whole thing) was for chicken liver with leeks, solely because i've had five leeks in the fridge for days, if not weeks, and they needed using up.

like many old cookery books, this is pretty vague about both quantities and cooking times. pretty rubbish for beginners but, not to flatter myself because things still do go spectacularly wrong, i do love this kind of cooking. it feels free and even if you make a mistake, so what - you can at least claim the final thing as your own. but because of that, i suppose i can't say that what i ended up with was authentic.

to be honest, i didn't have high hopes for this when i started. after all, it's just leeks and a bit of offal. the livers gets cooked for a while, which is different from how i usually have them (seared and still pink in the middle), which also worried me a little.

but my word, this was good. really good. so good i went back for second helpings. the sweetness of the leeks, the slightly sour, acid taste of the wine, and the meaty gravy released from the livers were all perfect. i'd urge anyone to make it, it's very tame for an offal dish though i know some people don't like the texture (it's the best bit, if you ask me).

CHICKEN LIVERS WITH LEEKS AND WHITE WINE
for two
250g chicken livers
4 or 5 leeks, sliced into rounds the thickness of pound coins
a teaspoon of paprika (i used hot paprika which i don't think is very hot at all)
a glug of white wine (100ml or more)
1tbs chopped parsley
seasoning
olive oil

fry the leeks in a pan with some olive oil until soft but not brown. this should take around ten minutes. add the chicken livers, the paprika, most of the parsley and the seasoning and fry for five minutes or so, until the livers are almost cooked. add the wine and let most of it evaporate. you will end up with a thinnish sauce - if it's not liquid enough, add a little hot water. continue cooking for another 5 or 10 minutes but no longer than that as i suspect the liver will end up tough. sprinkle with the remaining parsley and serve. i had it with some braised spinach and boiled asparagus.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

caponata

i flew in on sunday afternoon to find london in a summer haze. it was the hottest day of the year so far, and going past regent's park i was surprised to see an army of people in various states of undress.

i love it when the brits go sun-crazy - i used to find it disasteful in a slightly patronising way of someone who grew up on hot summers. but now i've been here for so long that even i feel slightly dizzy when it's possible to go out in just sandals.

there is something special about british summers, come to think of it, mainly because you never know when it'll turn rubbish again. or maybe it's because, even when hot, summers are never the brutal affairs known to our european neighbours. it's a more genteel affair altogether.

i had to have a summery dinner for a day like this. this usually means italian so i thought i'd make caponata. it's an aubergine stew, really. i reckon it's one of those dishes that has dozens of recipes to its name, none of which bear any resemblance to the real thing. and i have to confess that mine was driven by the desire to use a tin of tomatoes with chopped olives bought by mistake. as rich hates olives, despite many attempts to get to like them, that tin was never going to be eaten unless he was away.

CAPONATA
for two - i had the rest for lunch the next day, at room temperature, with two fried eggs on top

1 aubergine, cut into chunks
1/2tsp dried oregano
2 shallots or 1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, squashed
a hadful of parsley, leaves and stalks, finely chopped
1tbs capers (rinse them well or they'll be too salty)
a handful of green olives
2-3 large tomatoes, chopped, or 1/2 tin of tomatoes with olives in my case
1-2tbs balsamic vinegar

in a large pan, heat some olive oil and fry the aubergine with the oregano on high heat for a few minutes. stir the pan every now and again - you want the aubergine pieces to be golden brown on all sides. you might have to add more olive oil - i did - as they absorb so much.

add the onion, garlic and parsley stalks and continue cooking for another couple of minutes, lowering the heat so the garlic and onion don't burn. then add the capers, the olives and the vinegar and stir until the vinegar has evaporated. add the tomatoes, and cook for 15 or so minutes or until the aubergines are soft. season with salt and pepper and serve hot as a side dish or at room temperature on its own.

Monday, 1 June 2009

radishes with avocado and smoked paprika


this is so nice and so unusual that i've made it twice in the last few days.

the original recipe uses smoked salt as a condiment but, as i am sure most people don't have any, i've substituted smoked paprika. it's this that ties the whole thing together so don't be tempted to skip it - what you'd be left with isn't very exciting on its own. somehow, it's the contrast between the fresh veg, both crunchy and smooth, and the smokey, earthy, weird paprika flavour that gets your palate first confused and then wanting more.

best served as party canapes, or a snack.

RADISHES WITH AVOCADO AND SMOKED PAPRIKA

1 gem lettuce
1 avocado
1tbs lemon juice
6-7 radishes
smoked paprika
sea salt

separate the leaves from the lettuce, wash and drain well. make sure you keep them whole as they will serve as a receptacle for the other ingredients.

mash the avocado with a fork, and add the lemon juice to stop it from discolouring. slice the radishes in half or however you prefer.

spoon some of the avocado mixture into the leaves, top with half of a radish and then sprinkle with a mixture of sea salt and smoked paprika. eat immediately.