Thursday, 30 July 2009

lemon sole with capers, achovies and parsley brown butter


the problem i used to have with going to the gym was the amount of time it took. all that pointless cardio and even more pointless machines. it feels like i spent too many evenings in air-conditioned rooms lit with strips of neon. it makes me want to weep when i see people do it now. weep of boredom, that is.

funny places, gyms. (by gyms i don't mean the body builder's basements in local neighbourhoods.) in your average virgin active or LA fitness, most people have no idea what they're doing and a lot of personal training is not just money for old rope but downright dangerous.

as for the punters...well, most girls just tend to waste time in classes to which they go week in, week out, never looking any different for it. blokes are worse - they think they're strong but they're just one half-arsed squat away from a spine or knee injury. it makes me feel like going round and correcting people and all i know i've learnt from two books and the odd crossfit video. which is better than men's health, i suppose, but still...

my new gym strategy is little and often. rich has always done this though i suppose he manages to cram in a lot more in half an hour by virtue of not being 'disabled', as my GP once called it (i prefer spazzy - www.hypermobility.org). last night all i did were some tabata sprints on the bike (4 mins), a 5 minute climb on jacob's ladder (you think it's easy - it's not, it makes me want to vomit), three sets of deadlifts, some stretches for my ever-dodgy shoulders and thoracic spine, and that was about it.

i suppose what i do goes against the idea that for exercise to be effective you have to balance with one foot on bosu ball, lifting a kettlebell in one hand while simultaneously being stretched by your trainer. in fact, i blame the rise of semi-amateur personal training for the widespread belief that this has to be complicated and involve fancy equipment. the truth is, most guys (it's usually guys, let's be honest) you see who look like they work out generally do pretty basic stuff.

anyway...the point of this rant is to say that not wasting time in the gym means you have enough time to cook a decent dinner when you get at home. we did consider stopping off for a japanese but i knew there'd be an abel&cole delivery waiting at home.

and what an exciting delivery it was - some fat pork belly slices, a bright orange summer squash, acid pink radishes and rainbow chard, beautiful lemon sole fillets - soft, suede-like grey with rusty spots - and, best of all, a little box of heirloom tomatoes. i got inordinately excited about those and decided that nothing more should be done with them than a simple tomato salad.

a word about tomato salads (actually, two words): never, ever keep your tomatoes in the fridge as they will taste of nothing at all, and always season generously, especially with salt, and leave the whole thing to stand for a little while.

flat fish like lemon sole is pretty versatile but we decided to go for a simple and quick recipe of basically frying it in clarified butter. it's funny how i now don't flinch when the recipe includes a huge slab of the stuff. before i would have given up altogether or used olive oil - which would have been a waste of time as the whole point of this recipe is butter.

i'd encourage you to try this - it was lovely. the fish was spanking fresh - you could see the edges curl when it hit the hot fat - the sauce both buttery and sweet, and salty and sour from the capers and anchovies. i could have eaten more, and i was forcing myself to eat slowly.


LEMON SOLE WITH CAPERS, ANCHOVIES AND PARSLEY BROWN BUTTER
for two

100g butter
6 lemon sole fillets
6 anchovy fillets, coarsley chopped
3tbs capers, drained and rinsed
juice of half a lemon
a large handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

clarify the butter first - melt it slowly in a pan over low heat, then pour away the oil leaving the milky solids behind. you won't be able to get it completely clear but that doesn't matter.

season the fish fillets with pepper and a tiny bit of salt (don't forget the anchovies and capers are both pretty salty). heat half of the clarified butter in the pan and, when it begins to foam slightly, fry the fillets for 2 minutes on each side. you might have to do it in two batches - we did - in which case, keep the cooked ones warm somewhere.

in the same pan, add the rest of the clarified butter and turn up the heat. add the capers and the achovies to the pan and cook until they are nutty brown. turn the heat off, add the lemon juice and the parsley and stir.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

gammon steaks with parsley sauce

i have finally got round to defrosting some gammon from the wellhungmeat company. we ordered one of their mixed meat boxes in june and have been working our way through it ever since. there’s not a lot left, except some diced veal and a shoulder of lamb i’m saving for a rainy weekend. of which we are having many.

i think i have cooked some of their meat on here before – the feather steak didn’t quite make it (i recall the meat being tasty so it must have been the recipe that didn’t impress) but i think the pork steaks and chops from the last few weeks were theirs.

i’m totally sold on gammon after last night. i didn’t think i’d like it – my previous experience was of oversalty and overly pink slabs of pig served with sweet things like pineapple. i’ve said it before and i’ll say it again – pineapple in savoury food is criminal.

this was extremely tasty – nice piggy texture and a good bit of fat to keep it moist. salty, yes but not overly so, and perfectly balanced by the sweetness of the honey and the sharpness of the vinegar.

GAMMON STEAKS WITH PARSLEY SAUCE
for two

2 gammon steaks
3 cloves of garlic
olive oil
2 tbs white wine vinegar
2 tsp honey
2 heaped tbs finely chopped parsley

heat a generous glug of olive oil in a heavy frying pan and fry the whole garlic gloves until golden brown. don’t burn them so keep the heat relatively low. the idea is to get some garlic flavoured oil.

when they’re done, discard the cloves and fry the gammon steaks for around 3 minutes on each side.

while they are cooking, mix the vinegar with 2tbs of water and the honey. when the gammon steaks are cooked, remove them from the pan and keep warm. add the vinegar mixture together with the chopped parsley into the hot oil. switch the heat off and stir and scrape until it’s all mixed with the fat in the pan and you have a sauce of sorts. taste – it will taste very sharp but trust me, it does work. spoon over the meat and season with a bit of black pepper.

Monday, 27 July 2009

braised peas, rocket and spring onions

the funny thing about eating primal when away from home (or away from london restaurants, with a few exceptions) is that you descend into an atkins-type low carb diet pretty quickly. which is better than eating cakes but still quite a painful experience.

you get to eat cooked breakfasts, and you can ask for salads instead of chips, but you soon start craving vegetables and textures other than flesh and tinned mushrooms. you overdose pretty quickly on processed meat like bacon and sausages – which taste exceptionally salty – and wilted leaves and cold unripe tomato which go by the name of salad in many pubs.

it makes you realise how different paleo or primal eating actually is from plain low carb or atkins, and how there is absolutely no way someone who likes food could stick with the latter: you really would die of boredom even if the heart disease risk is a myth.

anyway, i’ve had a decidedly non-primal weekend – we were at a wedding in lancashire, which was great fun but obviously you eat what you’re given. and what we were given was nice – nicer than the average wedding food, in my opinion. good soup, nice roast beef and a lovely yorkshire pudding.

a particular favourite was the evening snack of bacon or sausage sandwiches in those soft, floury baps you rarely see down south in this age of wholemeal everything. also cheese on toast on thick slices of crusty white. yum. oh, and beer – the bitter was absolutely amazing.

what i struggled with was the pudding – it was a dark and white chocolate mousse and i am sure it was very nice indeed but it was so shockingly sweet that it made me go a bit funny. and, whereas i think it would be relatively easy to get used to eating bread again, i have no desire whatsoever to eat a dessert for a long time to come.

having said all that, peas as in the recipe below are not strictly speaking primal but it seems a shame to ignore something fresh (i podded them myself) and green and seasonal for the sake of a relatively arbitrary rule. we had them with some wilted spinach and a peppered rump steak, and finished the meal off with some fresh strawberries. it tasted clean and summery.

BRAISED PEAS, ROCKET AND SPRING ONIONS
for two

a bag of wild rocket (at a guess, 120g?)
6 spring onions, trimmed (keep the green bits for using in stocks or when you want a milder onion flavour in other recipes)
200g (or however much you want) of freshly podded peas
20g butter
seasoning

put the spring onions, rocket and the peas in a pan with the butter and some salt, add about a tablespoon of water, cover and braise for 10 minutes or so. season with fresh black pepper and a drizzle of good olive oil at the end. that’s it.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

mayonnaise

mid-summer evening
a whisk and a jug of oil
i fear it will split




well, it made me laugh...

Friday, 24 July 2009

roast chicken and fennel puree


cooking has not been a priority over the last few weeks, as is pretty obvious from the number of posts here. we’ve not been at home most weekends, i’ve been out a fair bit during the week, work is a lot busier and we’ve eaten out a few times. when i have cooked, i’ve made things that are already on here.

however, one night when rich was out i made this for myself. i ate it so quickly i practically inhaled it.

roasting a chicken when you’re on your own is dangerous: all that skin and no one to share it with. it’ll turn anyone into a glutton. obviously, i ate most of it standing in the kitchen waiting for the chicken to rest (my argument was that tenting it with foil would just make the skin go soggy, so i may as well eat it before that happens or it goes cold) and the rest with my meal. i probably ate more than half of the meat too.

this fennel puree was perfect – definitely something i will be making again and again. the recipe is by valentine warner and, though it’s not exactly complicated, it makes a nice change from just braising the fennel with garlic and olive oil as i normally do.

FENNEL PUREE
for two. well, it's probably a recipe for four, really

2 large fennel bulbs
2 large garlic cloves
2 tbs olive oil
40g butter
200ml white wine
2tbs pine nuts
a squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper

cut the fennel into small pieces, reserving any feathery fronds for garnish later. put the fennel, the garlic, the olive oil and the butter in a pan and fry gently for a few minutes. don’t burn the garlic whatever you do. then add the wine, cover and simmer until the fennel is soft – at least half an hour and more like 45 minutes.

once it’s cooked through and soft, take the lid off and boil rapidly until the wine has reduced by half. don’t let it get totally dry – it needs some liquid to turn into a puree. take off the heat and let it cool down a little, then whizz in a blender or a food processor until it’s the consistency of hummus, or thereabouts.

in the meantime, toast the pine nuts in a frying pan until they are brown – mind they don’t burn. stir them into the fennel mixture, together with the reserved fronds or just finely chopped parsley as i did.

very nice warm or at room temperature – i can vouch for the latter as i went back to lick the pan afterwards.

Monday, 20 July 2009

dressed leeks with egg and parsley

it's hard to get excited about leeks. nothing against them but it's not often i cook them in anything other soups or casseroles.

in fact, i'd go as far as saying i can only recall one memorable dish in my life that involved leeks. it was the bacon, leek and caerphilly cheese bake eaten in a hotel in wales, appropriately enough. it was a place called montgomery on the welsh border, where we went to see the ruins of a castle in which john donne wrote the primrose (and, i reckon, had a bit of a thing with a married woman. okay, that last bit is conjecture but it made for a good dissertation topic).

i've no idea why the bake was so good though i suppose it's hard to go wrong with both bacon and cheese in one dish. also, their leeks were sweet and tender (we asked - they came from the hotel garden) against all that saltiness, and you get a nice contrast from the crispy bacon bits and the creamy, cheesy sauce.

this is a different kind of a leek dish altogether. less winter, more summer - it made a lovely, clean start to a roast salmon dinner.

don't bother doing this with those giant, woody leeks you seem to find in supermarkets these days. you need medium-sized, thicker than your thumb ones. and don't even think about using baby leeks - what exactly is the point of baby vegetables?

DRESSED LEEKS WITH EGG AND PARSLEY
for two, as a starter

6 medium leeks, most of the green bits chopped off
2 small eggs
a handful of parsley, chopped finely

for the dressing:
1 heaped tsp dijon mustard
1-2 capfuls of white wine vinegar
50ml good olive oil

clean the leeks thoroughly - try not to cut the top bit off completely to stop them from falling apart but do rummage through the leaves as you get a lot of soil and grit stuck in there. boil the leeks in salted water for around 7 minutes - you want them soft to the point of a knife but not disintegrating. leave to drain in a colander (reserve the water in the pan), upside down so the water drains out of them as much as possible.

in the same water, boil the eggs until hard. douse them in cold water, then peel. grate the whites and the yolks separately on a medium grater.

now make the dressing - mix the mustard and half of the vinegar together and, whisking the whole time, add the olive oil slowly. it should all emulsify. taste and see if it needs more vinegar for a sharper kick. i think i overdid it and the dressing was a little too sharp. the original recipe calls for honey (it's by valentine warner, by the way) which i omitted - so go easy on the acidy bit.

arrange the leeks on a plate, pour the dressing over them, then sprinkle with the whites, yolks and parsley in separate bands. if you can be bothered to do that kind of thing. if not, chuck it all on top and eat.

veal with mushrooms and marsala

this was alright but possibly nothing more than that. i suspect i shouldn't have substituted morel mushrooms in the original recipe for dried porcinis. most of the time your dinner will come to no harm from these little experiments but sometimes they just don't quite work. even fresh field or portobello mushrooms would have been better, i think.

the veal is british rose, by the way. i'm still not entirely convinced i should be eating it - the theory behind it is okay but having seen how the calves live, it's doesn't feel right even if they are not kept in dark crates. in any case, this would be nice with steak or even pork chops if you don't eat veal.

i am posting the recipe for record - and in case i do ever lay my hands on morels or some other exciting english mushroom. there is a beardy bloke at our farmers market who only sells mushrooms so you never know...

VEAL WITH MUSHROOMS AND MARSALA
for two

2 large veal escalopes or 4 small ones
a generous handful of dried mushrooms
1/2 bulb of new season garlic or 2-3 cloves of normal
25g butter, fridge cold
50ml marsala
a squeeze of lemon
1tbs chopped parsley or tarragon
olive oil and seasoning

soak the dried mushrooms in some boiling water - enough to cover so probably no more than 100 or so mils - until they are soft. break the garlic into individual cloves and peel.

heat a little olive oil and half of the butter in a frying pan. turn the heat up once the butter has melted and fry your veal escalopes, turning occasionally, until they are cooked and brown. they won't take long though it does depend on how thick they are. once they're done, take them out of the pan and keep warm.

drain the mushrooms - keep the liquid in which they have been soaking - and add them to the pan with the garlic cloves. cook until the garlic has browned and is getting soft - probably 5-6 minutes. (you might need to add more oil to the pan when you are doing this.) add the marsala, then the soaking liquid which should pour through a sieve as it's usually full of grit. let it bubble and reduce by around a half. add a squeeze of lemon juice and the remaining butter, and whisk until the sauce is thick and glossy.

return the veal to the pan to warm through and add the chopped herbs.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

pork chops with salsa verde


rich made this one night last week when i was out. he saved some for me to have when i got back at 10 - and even a couple of hours after it was cooked, it was amazing. the pork chop was succulent with a salty, savoury crust and the sauce, though punchy-sounding, was not overwhelming at all. more kind of...fragrant.

for simple food like this, i think much rides on the quality of meat and the skill of the cook to not overcook it. in this case, both were good. this is perfect food for a summer evening - even one so wet that our living room got flooded thanks to a blocked gutter and that the cab driver who took me home told me he was driving barefoot as his socks were wet.

ah the joys of english summers.

PORK CHOPS WITH SALSA VERDE
for two

2 pork chops, bone in
1tbs fresh thyme, finely chopped
seasoning
olive oil

for salsa verde:
a generous handful of parsley and basil each, chopped
2 bunches of rocket, chopped
2tbs mint leaves, chopped
1tbs capers, chopped
2 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
olive oil
1tbsp red wine vinegar
1tsp dijon mustard

for the salsa verde, mix the chopped herbs together with the capers, anchovies and garlic. add enough olive oil to moisten, then stir in the vinegar and the mustard. cover and set aside.

drizzle the pork chops with a bit of olive oil and then season with salt, pepper and chopped thyme leaves. heat some oil in a heavy based frying pan and fry the chops on each side until cook. you want brown and caramelised to the heat needs to be quite high. also fry the fat side down to crisp it up. when cooked through, leave to rest for a few minutes.

serve the chops with a tablespoon of salsa verde on the side.

Friday, 17 July 2009

souffle omelette

this is just a posh omelette, really - the sort of thing i can only be bothered to do if there is a dishwasher around. (doesn't look too posh on my rubbish photo, of course.) you can eat it with sweet or savoury things - i stewed some strawberries with a bit of pomegranate sour i brought back from turkey and had a dollop of creme fraiche on top, but i imagine some nice crispy bacon would be pretty good too.

i used to eat these, with copious amounts of jam, when i was first a student in sarajevo. for some insane reason, i chose to do a joint degree of sorts, where you take all the classes of one (english) and most of the other (french – i did everything except spanish and maybe latin). this in reality meant that i spent a whole day at uni, going to lectures and tutorials, and just hanging around, smoking, drinking coffee and talking to mates. i was permanently knackered and rarely got home before 7 in the evening.

as a result, my eating was totally out of synch with anyone else’s so i’d have to eat leftovers or make something quick for supper when i got in. souffle omelettes like this featured a few times, or mum would fry me some french toast (AKA eggy bread) to eat with creme fraiche or salty sheep's cheese.

sarajevo university philological faculty was on what later became known as the sniper alley, opposite the holiday inn hotel. i don’t know the number of people shot on that street but it must have been many.

truth be told, the war did me at least one favour – i didn’t have to sit any exams as they were all scheduled for the summer. i am not sure how many i would have passed. french literature, for example - i didn’t have a clue. i just kept putting it off, thinking i could somehow absorb everything i needed to know about the french romantics by osmosis. the old professor whose name i can't remember used to come and talk to us for an hour about stendhal or something, after which i would promptly forgot everything. english lit was okay – i’d developed a crush on sir philip sidney, dead since 1586, on the back of a couple of poems and i was quite happy reading salinger in phonetics classes.

i get a funny feeling thinking about those last days of uni before the war started. a fading memory: first the tail ends of winter days, walking back in snow parallel to the tram tracks all the way home, then late afternoons in the month of ramadan daydreaming during french grammar classes and looking out of windows to dusk spreading across hills and white columns of mosques, and finally meeting anela in early spring, sitting on a bench somewhere and watching the tanks roll in on the other side of the river. that was the beginning of the end, and we didn’t have a clue it was coming.

SOUFFLE OMELETTE
for one

2 eggs and 1 egg white, separated (or just use two eggs - i had an eggwhite left over from another unsuccessful bout of mayonnaise making)
butter for frying

in a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites till stiff. add the yolks and whisk briefly to incorporate. transfer to your frying pan gently so as not to knock all the air out and cook in hot butter until set. it should only take a few minutes. you'll see the top beginning to bubble like an american pancake - and you can always just flash it under the grill at the end.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

roast chicken pieces with lemon, bay leaf and cracked black pepper

it gets boring writing about food so often. i mean, i don’t get bored of eating it (ever) or cooking it (most of the time). but there are only so many adjectives you can use to describe something that was tasty. after that it’s a question of scale: raving on about the really good stuff and being politely appreciative of the mediocre. in fact, thinking about it, i’m surprised i’ve managed to stick it out for so long.

no wonder restaurant reviewers are often mean to the places they visit – it’s much easier to write about bad food or poor service. the vitriol can take many forms, and it can be very funny.

when i used to write gig reviews for a fanzine, in my dim and distant camden past (oh tim of ligament, i loved you so even though you looked like an ape), the guy who ran the fanzine only ever wanted good reviews for the same reason. NME did it pretty well (i mean badly) in my time, and that annoying little bloke who does restaurant reviews for the times now is like the forever-adolescent, never-made-it-in-A&R-let-alone-in-a-band NME reviewer of the food world, just with better grammar. which is why he talks about anything but what he has eaten. you have to pad these things out a bit.

what i am trying to say is that i can’t be bothered to write about this dinner. i wanted a chicken recipe, i couldn't find one, i thought i’d just bake the chicken pieces so we can eat it with our hands with a green salad and mayonnaise, the mayonnaise split AGAIN - so it was this, and battered aubergines, and mustardy-dressed lettuce.

don't bother making this unless you're going to eat the skin. eat fat, that's my new mantra!

ROAST CHICKEN PIECES WITH LEMON, BAY LEAF AND CRACKED BLACK PEPPER

take however many pieces of chicken you want to eat (this was half a whole chicken which the butcher jointed for me), stick in a roasting dish, squeeze a whole lemon over it, then chop up what’s left and scatter around the dish. tuck 4-5 fresh bayleaves around it. in a pestle and mortar, crush some peppercorns roughly (about a tablespoon or so), mix in about a tablespoon of olive oil, and spread over the chicken. sprinkle with some sea salt – without crushing it – and bake at 200C for about an hour.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

prawn curry

there is no way of making a curry look good on a picture taken with a goddam rubbish sony ericsson phone.

some weeks, it just doesn’t come together, this cooking thing. you try and you make stuff but one look at your plate when you dish out is enough to stop you from taking a photo (i really do need a better camera) or giving it any more thought beyond the last mouthful.

there was an attempt at crumble, which was no more than a waste of good cherries. there was roast salmon which was just...nice. there was a grass-fed feather steak which was good but nothing like the sirloin with wild mushrooms that is making my mouth water even now.

but then one dish will come along and redeem days of mediocrity, and this was most definitely it. it’s not a dinner party special but a nice midweek supper, when you haven’t really got time to cook but fancy something more than meat and two boiled veg.

i spotted the recipe on eatlikeagirl blog (http://eatlikeagirl.com/) and stole it shamelessly. i did make a few minor modifications– one green chilli is nowhere near enough so i used two red ones, one with seeds still in (laziness - and yes, it was reasonably hot). i added an extra garlic clove. i excluded the sugar, which did make the whole thing a bit too acidic and tomatoey, so i used maybe 2/3 of the tin of coconut milk and some extra coconut cream for sweetness. the rest of the tin of milk i whizzed up with some strawberries, blueberries and dessicated coconut for breakfast the next morning. it was disgusting. had to have a boiled egg as well as it was like eating air.

this recipe could be easily adapted for vegetarians once you’ve made the tomato-coconut sauce as a base – just chuck in some quorn or tofu (though maybe at an earlier stage so it absorbs some of the flavours).

PRAWN CURRY
for two

250 raw prawns (though cooked will do)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin coconut milk, plus some coconut cream if you wish
2 red chillies, deseeded and chopped
1 inch ginger, peeled and chopped and grated
1 onion, finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
a handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped
2 tsp ground tumeric
12 black peppercorns
3 cloves
1 tsp cumin seeds
a squeeze of lemon juice

fry the onion, ginger and ginger until the onion is soft and translucent. add the garlic and fry for another couple of minutes.

grind the spices in a pestle and mortar and add to the pan. continue frying for a couple of more minutes. add the tomatoes, and let them boil down a little, probably five or more minutes, then add the coconut milk. you most likely won't need the whole tin - just see how runny the sauce is when you add about a half. taste and then see if you need to add a bit of coconut cream to sweeten.

boil for another 5-6 minutes, then add the prawns and cook till they turn pink. finally, add the coriander and a little squeeze of lemon juice.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

spicy burgers with basil mayonnaise, and body composition one year on

two interesting things happened in the last couple of days.

we got our first grass-fed meat box from wellhungmeat.com. they left it with a neighbour downstairs as it came while we were at work. a lovely woman, freda at number 41, but she now clearly thinks we're mad. she put a note through our letterbox that just said: 'i have a box of meat for you'. it's not often you get one of those.

the monthly medium-sized box contained lots of different cuts from different animals: some chicken wings (i already seeing a lemon and cracked black pepper watching-a-movie-with-a-beer kind of a snack coming), a couple of veal steaks (it's time to buy some parma ham), some diced veal, gammon steaks, a couple of big joints (lamb shoulder and beef topside), some sausages, mince, and a few steaks.

the other thing is that i had the annual health check paid for by work. i know the theory behind my choice of diet should be right but it's still quite something to see a proof of how it works.

after a year of eating more fat than even in my life - chicken skin, pork belly, fatty bits of bacon, bottles of olive oil and enough nuts to cause a thousand indigestions - my body composition has changed quite radically. my body fat has dropped by stonking five per cent to 20%, while on paper i have only lost 2kg. i know i've done a bit of exercise this year but nothing as much to produce that kind of difference to the amount of lean mass. and all without ever being hungry or feeling like i am depriving myself of something.

so there you go - eating fat does not make you fat.

incidentally, my cholesterol is more or less the same (the good is just as good, the bad is marginally higher) and my triglycerides are still tiny. my glucose has also dropped but that was the least surprising bit. and all of this after a week away in turkey, eating more rubbish than usual and drinking beer.

obviously, these two bits of news together required an orgy of red meat as a response. i've been thinking about burgers a lot recently, ever since i saw a post on one of the food blogs about some pork and chorizo ones - and that's what i nearly made as i had some chorizo in the fridge. but in the end, i went down the spicy route and added lots of chilli, garlic and coriander and accompanied them with some home-made mayonnaise. i used half pork and half beef to make the burgers - mainly because that is what i had but i'd say this would probably work better with pork as it's fattier if you had to choose one or the other.

i served the burgers in enormous vegetable stacks - a couple of washed and dried spinach leaves at the bottom, topped by a juicy field mushroom, sliced ripe tomato, more spinach, battered aubergine, then burgers and finally the mayo. it was awesome - the pictures don't do it justice.


SPICY BURGERS
makes 8-9 small patties

250g minced beef
250g minced pork
1/2 young garlic head, stalk and all, chopped as finely as possible - you can use a small clove of normal garlic instead
2 small red chillies, chopped very finely
2 stalks lemongrass, soft inner leaves only, chopped very finely
1 lime leaf, crushed
2 generous handfuls of coriander
a few basil leaves

mix all the ingredients together and combine well with your hands. make around 8 or 9 small patties - i make golf balls first and then squash them down to the right size.

heat a little bit of oil (or none if you're using 100% pork) in a griddle pan, then fry the burgers on relatively high heat for five or so minutes, turning a few times. you're looking for a nice crust on both sides. then turn the heat down and allow them to cook through. check one after a while - if it's pink in the middle, it's not done. you don't really want to eat raw pork.

if you want to stack the burgers with various vegetables as i did, chuck a couple of field mushrooms on the griddle pan at the same time and cook till soft and juicy. you can do the aubergines at the same time (in a separate pan, obviously!) - just slice lengthways, dip into beaten egg and fry in hot oil.

BASIL MAYONNAISE

1 egg yolk
1tsb mustard
50ml walnut oil
50ml olive oil
a large handful of basil, chopped finely
2tbs creme fraiche
a squeeze of lemon juice

in a food processor, put the egg yolk, the mustard and 1tsp of the oil. whizz for 20 seconds, then slowly start adding the oil. be patient and don't rush it. carry on drizzling it in until it's all incorporated. you'll end up with quite stiff mayonnaise.

transfer it to a serving bowl, add the chopped basil, the creme fraiche and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste. season, then taste again and see if it needs more lemon or salt.

pork loin steaks wih grilled bacon

so, pork loin steaks, with a garnish of pork, from a book called pork and sons. you could say it's turning into a bit of an obsession but it's what you get from spending a week in turkey and eating too much lamb.

actually, we also ate too many aubergines. like at home, summer means you suddenly end up eating courgettes, aubergines and peppers every day. grilled, stuffed, baked, with or without meat, and usually with lots of garlic. i swore i wouldn't touch another aubergine for a while after we came back but they are in season and they're so perfectly fresh and shiny that i couldn't resist.

i thought i'd just grill the steaks with some herbs - they're thinner than pork chops so lend themselves to quick cooking. but, while i was having my morning coffee before work, i just thought i'd check that there isn't some great recipe i'm missing out on in pork and sons. i swear to god the book opened on this page, which was uncanny because the only thing i had in the fridge were the two aubergines.

PORK LOIN STEAKS WITH GRILLED BACON
for two

12 cloves of garlic
6tbs oils
2 aubergines, cut lengthways into batons
4 pork loin steaks
2 rashers of bacon (or more if you're greedy)
120ml of white wine
30g unsalted butter
salt and pepper

place the whole cloves of garlic in a pan and cover with about 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil. cook on very low heat for about 40-45 minutes. the heat has to be low because the garlic (and the oil) will taste bitter if burnt. remove the garlic from the pan with a slotted spoon and then fry the aubergine batons in the garlic-flavoured oil until golden brown and tender. make sure the aubergine is cooked through - i know i repeat myself but there is nothing worse than biting into undercooked, spongy flesh.

heat the remaining oil in a separate pan. add the pork and bacon and cook on high heat for about 5 minutes, turning occasionally. you're looking to brown the pork evenly.

add the wine, bring to boil and cook until reduced. add half of the butter and cook for another 5 or so minutes until the pork is cooked through.

to serve, place two pork steaks and a rasher of bacon on each plate and divide the aubergines and the reserved whole garlic cloves among them. add the second half of the butter to the meat juices in the pan and whisk over low heat till glossy, then pour over the steaks.

we ate it with some courgettes with radish leaf pesto.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

scallops with chorizo


i've decided to finally face the fish issue, once and for all. from now on, i will try to buy only mcs-certified stuff, or fish and shellfish i know isn't endangered.

it's not a major change of heart or anything. i have thought about this in the past and i would have never eaten tuna or cod or something i knew was in trouble. but somehow, a few prawns would always sneak into quick weekday suppers, or some bream from a dodgy greek farm for a weekend dinner, or a bag of frozen baby octopuses (octopi?) going cheap at steve hatt's.

i think it's snorkeling in turkey that did it for me. we brought the masks, the fins and the boots - but there were no fish. apparently, turkish coastline has been overfished, including by dynamite. which is fairly typical.

i did see two cuttlefish in the shallow by some submerged ruins in phaesalis - that was pretty amazing. they stopped to look at me - whereas with other fish (and some mammals), the overwhelming impression you get is of a dumb, unseeing creature, with squid it's different. it's like they've got you in their sights, and they are watching you as much as you are watching them. these two hung around for ages, first just observing (and moving back and forth in perfect unision, in that disconcerting, squid-like way), but when we started swimming, they performed a threatening display of making themselves look bigger and changing colours. they're amazing creatures. not sure how i'll eat one again.

scallops, though, i can eat quite happily. i know this is a bit of a masterchef recipe, in the sense that it's been done to death and is almost certainly being served in a restaurant with pretensions near you. but that doesn't mean it's not good - there is a reason why these things catch on and become popular.

salty and spicy chorizo with sweetly bland scallops, served on some peppery salad is a classic combination. it also works with black pudding, or bacon, and you can add other bland, earthy flavours in the background like cauliflower or jerusalem artichokes. in fact, just before we went on holiday, i made a similar thing with cauliflower pure and roasted tomatoes.

SCALLOPS WITH CHORIZO
for two as a generous starter

16 small scallops
100g chorizo, cubed or sliced into rounds 1cm thick
2 handfuls of peppery salad leaves (i used spinach, watercress and rocket)
a squeeze of lemon juice

fry the chorizo in a pan until crisp. you don't need any oil and chorizo will release lots. remove with a slotted spoon, then fry the scallops in the leftover oil for about a minute on each side, depending on size. return the chorizo to the pan, heat everything through very briefly and squeeze over some lemon juice. serve immediately over some torn salad leaves.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

turkey, fruit and barbecues

i am fascinated by places where you can easily grow stuff to eat. i don't know if that comes from growing up in a place where frost kills but the hardiest of plants (though in reality there was food growing everywhere) or from some happy childhood memory of spending summer in places like gacko - where we ate only what you could get from the farm (air dried hams from the attic, honey pressed in a giant metal cylinder kept in dark hut, bread baked in a wood fired oven, eggs from the chickens running around, kajmak made fresh from the cows milked that morning - that kind of thing) or mostar - where we used to go to pick cherries (an occasion remembered as much for my brother's memorable and entirely out of character punching of someone in the face).

either way, i find it inordinately exciting to be able to just go and pick a piece of fruit from a tree. somehow, i can't quite believe that it is possible or that it can be so easy.

so when our holiday ended up being a cottage in an orchard in anatolia, with the owner, serpil, who grows her own veg and has a herb garden and lots of chickens, you can imagine how pleased i was.

her orchard is mainly lemons, limes, oranges and pomegranates. the pomegranates were still unripe, as were the figs (which grow literally everywhere), which is a shame as they are probably two of my favourite fruits. i did take a few lemons, mainly the ones that had already fallen to the ground - though i confess i did pick one of the tree just for the feel of it. i even brought two home, dreading that they might search my suitcase ('why have you got two lemons wrapped in a plastic bag, madam?).

i also picked some of the nicest plums i have eaten in my life, if not the nicest. they were small and perfectly spherical, warm yellow in colour and tinged with a bit of violet. straight from the tree and warm from the sunshine, they tasted like honey, and apricots, and the plummiest plums ever. the tree was the perfect height to stand under the canopy and just eat, without any effort at all.
the biggest revelation, however, was the mulberry tree. why does no one talk about mulberries?? it's amazing stuff. serpil called me over one day to taste some she had just picked. i didn't have the heart to tell her that, the day before, i'd already spotted the ladder left underneath the tree, and already been up it to pick a few big, purply fruits - without knowing what they were. there were in fact two trees - mulberry is called dud in turkish (and in serbian - one of the many many words we've borrowed) but the really good stuff is called karadud, i.e. the black mulberry. i can't really describe the taste of it - you expect raspberry but you can something both sweeter and more sour. if i ever have a garden, i am definitely growing one of those trees. i can just imagine sitting in its shade, listening to the occasional dull thud as the ripe fruit falls to the ground.(the photo above shows both plums and mulberries i picked surreptitiously for breakfast one morning - i pretended to go out and get my flip flops from the car and then raided the orchard, hiding the fruit in my hat. it's still stained purple from karadud.)

anyway, part of the reason we went on a self-catering holiday was to have barbecues. like true northern europeans, the novelty of being able to sit outside and eat never wears off and neither does the primeval desire to play with fire and eat charred lumps of meat. we had one barbecue after another.

it's amazing what you can cook on them, really. if you were doing it in your own garden, you could be a lot more adventurous as you can prepare marinades with different herbs, spices and sauces. we were pretty limited - self-catering places always have empty kitchens, and turkish supermarkets are not exactly exciting. some of my suggestions, based on what we had, include:

  • minced lamb mixed with mint and parsley - the mint i found by the roadside and the parsley came from serpil's garden - shaped into kebabs and eaten with whipped yoghurt with more mint stirred through it
  • whole onions baked tightly wrapped in tin foil with a bit of olive oil
  • chicken thighs cut into cubes and skewered with some hot peppers and courgettes, eaten with copious amounts of chilli sauce
  • slices of haloumi cheese, toasted on an improvised tray made of triple layer of tin foil. i poured some olive oil on them into which i chopped thyme also found by the roadside and a tiny squeeze of lemon. awesome.
  • courgettes, peppers and aubergines sliced, oiled, salted and peppered and grilled till soft and velvety.
  • whole aubergines cooked till soft and mushy while the coals are still very hot. i then scraped the insides and chucked away the skin and mixed the flesh with some roasted garlic, salt and lemon juice.
  • chicken breasts simply grilled but eaten with lots of barbecued lemon juice squeezed over them - halve a lemon, place it directly on the grill cut side down and cook until caramelised. the heat releases incredible amounts of juice.
  • roasted whole garlic - take a bulb, wrap it in foil and barbecue until the cloves are soft and sweet and can be squeezed out like a pure.

  • lettuce cooked in a foil parcel with a bit of olive oil - make a pocket out of double layer of foil into which you stuff the lettuce leaves. make sure some water still clings to them from washing as that means they steam nicely.


  • fruit, also cooked in a foil parcel, and either eaten warm or cold for breakfast the next day. we had plums (with yoghurt and chopped pistachios, see picture) one morning, some apricots on the day we left and - the best of all - some halved and pitted cherries spiked with a bit of crazy pomegranate 'sour'. never heard of the stuff but it's a pomegranate concentrate, allegedly with nothing else added. it tastes sour, obviously, but also sweet and fruity and it is a nice counterbalance to the very sweet fruit like cherries. i've since macerated some strawberries it in and they were also great.

there was only one problem with having barbecues in turkey - you could find any pork for love nor money. and a barbecue without a sausage is not quite right, is it?