Wednesday, 23 September 2009

chicken with beetroot and slow roast tomato sauce


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

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

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

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

still...it is a bit crazy.

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

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

CHICKEN WITH BEETROOT AND SLOW ROAST TOMATO SAUCE
for two

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

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

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

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

courgette and feta cheese bake


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COURGETTE AND FETA BAKE

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 21 September 2009

autumn roast of squash, carrots and onions

september is possibly the best month of the year for food, with the exception of may. it's those months on the cusp, the ones that span two different seasons and so get the best of both, that seem to get me really excited about food.

it's the tail end of summer - the markets are still full of tomatoes and aubergines, and there are raspberries and strawberries around. but there are also squashes and first pumpkins, wild mushrooms and game - all of them precursors of colder autumn days.

it made me think about food, this bounty of september. no sooner had i nailed my colours to the mast http://n1kitchen.blogspot.com/2009/08/primal-blueprint.html) than i started to have second thoughts about the whole thing. not about the food itself - though it amazes me i am still eating like this a year later - but about aligning myself with a 'movement'.

the problem is, like all fringe activities, this community - for want of a better word though it's making me cringe as i write it - is full of nutters. we sometimes refer to them as 'the crazy people'.

in my experience, the crazy people fall into two categories: the militant primals and the fluffy food allergy/nutritionist brigade.

the first are the people who talk about potatoes or bread as if it's arsenic. pictures of their food on blogs (for every crazy person shall have a blog!), look kind of...brown. or sparse. it's not the sort of thing that would make you salivate. but they're so convinced they've found the holy grail that it never crosses their mind to entertain the possibility that they might actually be wrong, wholly or partially. i find it hugely ironic that they fall into the exact same trap as the one for which they lambast the low-fat proponents. it's pretty obvious that our understanding of what's good for us moves on as science develops so who knows where we will be in 50 years time. this seems to make more sense than anything else at the moment but i think it would be preposterous to presume (sweet jesus, that's too much alliteration) that we've cracked it.

the second are the allergy/nutrition people. usually women, usually into homeopathy and usually not primal but just low-carb and/or gluten-free. they come up with some good recipes but by and large their understanding of science is on a par with my grandmothers. actually, i might be doing my grandmother a disservice by saying that, especially because i really liked michael pollan's rule in in defense of food of not eating anything your grandmother wouldn't recognise as food.

the thing is, food is about more than fuel. it's about pleasure and it's about socialising. although intricately bound with cultural and social norms, it's by and large not about rigid rules and about denial. life is just too short for that, and prolonging it by a little bit by never touching a banana or a piece of bread just doesn't make sense to me in the great cost benefit analysis of life. look at our froggy friends across the channel - my recent day trips to paris and brussels have served to remind me just how different their attitude to food is. there is pleasure oozing out of every patisserie and every greengrocer, and there is wine, and cream, and chocolate all over the place.

don't get me wrong - i am not advocating that anyone should go out and stuff themselves full of cake. but relax a little, and enjoy the seasons. you could get run over by a bus tomorrow.

so to celebrate autumn, here is a recipe for a nice seasonal bake. hardly a dish, really - more of an idea. i do think that roasting onions and carrots creates magic, and the addition of thyme, cumin and chilli just lifts it from being plain. it's the kind of food where the quality of ingredients does matter so buy the best you can find.

we ate it with some lamb chops fried in sumac (i'm officially addicted to the stuff), beetroot leaves wilted in the leftover lamb fat, and some baba ghanoush from yesterday.

AUTUMN ROAST OF SQUASH, CARROTS AND ONIONS

1 yellow squash - or any other variety, cut into chunks, seeds removed
5-6 thin carrots, scrubbed
5-6 onions, halved
6-7 sprigs of thyme
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 whole dried red chillies (or less if you prefer)
olive oil
sea salt and black pepper

set the oven to 180C. put all the veggies in a roasting tray, sprinkle the olive oil and then rub it all in with your hands, trying to coat everything with a thin layer. season, then sprinkle the thyme (take the leaves off the sprigs if they are hard) and the cumin, crumble the whole chillies and season. you could add some chopped garlic if you want - i didn't as the baba ghanoush was very garlicky.

roast for 45 minutes or longer, until everything is cooked through, soft, and starting to caramelise.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

baba ghanoush

i suspect most people have eaten this at some point, either in a turkish restaurant or as part of those horrible supermarket dip selections (food snob, moi? jamais!). it's usually not bad in restaurants - i guess it's difficult to mess up such a simple thing - though it's sometimes a bit too watery for my taste.

i think a good baba ghanoush needs to pack a real punch of garlic and tahini. also, it tastes much better when the aubergines are chargrilled or cooked on a barbecue - it seems to impart a subtle smokey flavour which works really well. (we did an aubergine and yoghurt thing on a barbecue in turkey and it was delicious.) i cooked mine in the oven this time as i was roasting pork at a very high temperature, and they were nice anyway. you can also grill them or cook them over a naked flame on a gas hob but i am way too clumsy and would end up burning down half of islington if i tried it.

by the way, the recipe is from the moro cook book.

BABA GHANOUSH
for four or six

3 large aubergines
2 cloves of garlic squished to a paste with 1 tsp of salt
juice of one lemon
3 tbs tahini
4 tbs olive oil
sea salt and black pepper

preheat the oven to 230C. prick the aubergine skin a couple of times - this stops them from exploding - and then roast them whole on a baking tray for about 45 minutes or until they are completely soft and collapsed. remove and leave to cool a little.

peel the skin off, scraping any bits of flesh stuck to it. discard the skin and place the flesh and any juices into a large bowl. beat with an electric whisk (as i did) or by hand until the mixture is almost smooth. add all the other ingredients and mix well. taste and see if it needs more of anything - i kept adding lemon juice and salt until it got to the point where i liked it.

serve with meats - traditionally with lamb but it went well with roast pork as well.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

roast pork belly with fennel seeds and garlic

i can't believe i have never blogged about pork belly before. pork is my favourite meat by a long way and pork belly is probably one of my favourite cuts. all that fat - there is no way it could taste anything but great. amazingly enough, the gordon ramsay chefs we met at the loft said they cooked pork belly with goose fat - now you know why restaurant food tastes so good!

i have made this dish before when a friend came round for dinner but i generally don't blog about food i cook for other people - all that picture taking and faffing about detracts from just eating and talking.

the recipe is seriously simple but very very tasty. pork and fennel seeds is a classic combination and the addition of garlic makes it sing. i ate it with some baba ganoush (recipe to follow) and some thinly sliced cabbage and fennel tossed in olive oil and lots of wholegrain mustard.

ROAST PORK BELLY WITH FENNEL SEEDS AND GARLIC
for two

1.5kg piece of pork belly, bone in and skin scored
1tbs fennel seeds, ground finely in a pestle
2 cloves of garlic, crushed with a bit of sea salt
olive oil
sea salt

mix the crushed garlic with the fennel seeds and rub the flesh (not the skin) with mixture. dry the skin as much as possible and sprinkle with fine salt (about 1 tablespoon or so) and leave to rest for about half an hour. halfway through, heat the oven to 230C.

after half an hour, scrape off the excess salt and whack the pork in the oven on the top shelf and roast on high heat for 230C. reduce the heat to 190C and cook for another two hours or a little bit longer. you can grill for a couple of minutes to crisp up the skin if you want - but watch it very carefully as it can burn in seconds.

when done, take the pork out of the tin and put it on a plate, cover with foil and leave to rest for at least ten minutes. you can make the gravy with the leftover fat in the pan - i didn't bother as i was too keen to get my chops around that crackling.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

sirloin steak with chimichurri sauce


this should just be called chimichurri sauce as i am not posting another recipe on how to cook a perfect sirloin - there is one on the blog already.

we got the steak for free when we were buying grass fed burgers at the farmers' market this weekend. getting there at the last minute clearly pays off as we also got a chicken for five quid less than it should have cost.

a word on the meat - we buy it from muddy boots and i have to tell you that their burgers make me swoon with pleasure. really. i keep checking the label to see if they've sneakily put something else in them, like sugar or e numbers or msg or something but no, it's just the meat. it's bloody expensive but it is worth it as a sunday treat. a burger apiece and some fresh leaves from the market, and maybe some mushrooms from the beardy mushroom stall man, and that's all you need. (http://www.muddybootsfoods.co.uk/)

i'm not convinced that posting a chimichurri recipe is particularly helpful as there are so many versions of it about. and it's not exactly as if i've invented it. it's a traditional thing so who knows how authentic this one is. it was nice though, so it seems a shame not to log it.

SIRLOIN STEAK WITH CHIMICHURRI SAUCE
for two

4 garlic cloves
2 long red chllies
a handful of parsley
1 heaped tsp of dried oregano and a little bit more
1 tsp of sea salt
2 tbs red wine vinegar
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs cold water

chop the chillies, the garlic and the parsley very finely together and then add the rest of the ingredients. best done in an old jam jar with a lid you can screw on and shake vigorously. leave to stand for a few hours at least, overnight if possible.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

pecan and carrot bread

back from liverpool and it was just nice to be back at home. it was a fun weekend: apart from spending time with friends, i also saw the most amazing sunset on friday night, exorcised some small ghosts, and slept in a very comfortable bed. small things, and all that.

i've written before that sunday afternoons are my favourite time for pottering around the kitchen. i think it may be because a nice sunday dinner is a way of warding off the back-to-school dread - a huge roast chicken is a pretty good way to make you stop thinking about hedge funds. i also tend to rustle up something for during the week as it's realistically the only time i have for spilling almond flour on the kitchen floor, getting every spoon in the house dirty and running a dishwasher with just the food processor parts in it.

this sunday i fancied making a snack but wanted something that was an edible symbol of the feeling of gladness to be at home, and messing around in the kitchen, and sitting around and reading newspapers on the new chair. maybe also a little touch of the end of summer - you don't go in for much baking in july when fruit on its own is enough but now there is definitely a turn.

so i spent some time looking for a thing to bake. it had to be something not sweet as i didn't really fancy that, and it had to be pretty straightforward. this was perfect.

the recipe is from straight into bed cakefree and dried. i omitted the honey and i changed the cooking time - i found that an hour at 160 is nowhere near long enough. also, i ground my own nuts in the magimix.

PECAN AND CARROT BREAD

7oz grated carrots
8oz pecan nut flour
4oz butter
3 large eggs
Pinch salt
good squeeze of lemon
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp cider vinegar

preheat the oven to 180C. grease a 1lb loaf tin (or whatever) and line with paper - if it hangs over the sides, you can lift the cake out much more easily.

whizz the butter in in a food processor with about 2 tbs of the nut flour and the bicarbonate of soda. separate the eggs and add the yolks to this mixture one by one and beat until it's all light and a bit fluffy. stir in the rest of the nuts and the carrots. (i just pulsed it all in a food processor briefly.) in a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then add the vinegar and a squeeze of lemon and whisk a bit more.

fold in about 2 tablespoons of the whites into the rest to loosen it a bit and then stir the remainder with a metal spoon, trying not to knock all the air out. cookery books always try and make this sound complicated but you just need a few firm and decisive stirs and that's it.

pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for around 75 minutes. check it's ready by inserting a skewer and if it comes out clean, it's done. leave to cool for a few minutes in the tin, then transfer onto a rack and let it cool completely.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

calves' liver venetian style


rich is not very keen on offal. like most people these days, the thought of liver, kidneys or various 'glands' doesn't fill him with too much excitement. it's not squeamishness - i can vouch for that as he would happily eat bits of animals that i wouldn't dream of putting in my mouth. apparently it's the texture he objects to. which is funny because that's precisely why i like them.

liver and kidneys were a part of my mum's cooking repertoire. it's not something we ate all the time - maybe once a month, if that - but it was pretty standard stuff. she used to make these amazing kidneys simmered in sauce (i always think: a small enamel pan with two side handles), and pan fried chicken liver with lots of salt. so, i guess my liking for offal is inspired less by the nose-to-tail fashion and more by her.

i usually cook it when rich is away as a solitary and self-indulgent treat. unfortunately, i found this recipe in roast chicken and other stories only after i'd already bought the liver. as the dish demands VERY thin slices cut into pieces no bigger than a postage stamp, i had to do a bit of surgery on it myself. suffice it to say that i was elbow-deep in blood and what remained on the chopping board in front of me looked like a result of a particularly nasty operation.

PS though i do like offal, i've never been not too keen on brains. my mum's attempt to make us eat them by telling us it would make us clever (sorry mum but even at the age of seven i knew that was just bollocks) failed when she presented us with a heap of steaming, grey, mushy...stuff. there was no disguising what it was: it just looked like a brain on a plate, the grooves and the bulges pretty much how they'd look in a medical textbook.

CALVES' LIVER VENETIAN STYLE
for one solitary offal indulgence

1 red onion, peeled and sliced very thinly
4 thin slices of calves liver - they ought to be as thin as possible so ask your butcher to do it for you, and cut into small squares, postage stamp-size
1 tbs red wine vinegar
olive oil
a handful of finely chopped parsley

cook the onions in a frying pan in a bit of oil until they are completely cooked through and soft. it doesn't matter if they catch a little bit but the point is to cook them gently for a long time - mine took at least half an hour.

when that is done, heat some oil in another frying pan till smoking hot. season the liver with salt and pepper, then toss into the hot oil for 20 seconds or so. drain in a colander. add the onions to the pan and fry briefly until golden brown and crisping in places. now return the liver to the pan with the chopped parsley, and stir in the vinegar. that's kind of it. don't overcook it - the whole thing, from when you add the onion to the pan, shouldn't take more than a minute.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

cauliflower cheese mash

not sure where the idea for this came from - i am pretty certain i've not seen it anywhere else though it seems like such an obvious thing to do. it might partly have been the cauliflower paste dessert we had at the loft the week before or it could be that the autumn really has arrived and i suddenly crave soft, pureed food redolent of milky mashed potatoes of my childhood. or it could just be that i had some leftover grated parmesan and a small nugget of hard goat's cheese in the fridge and i didn't want them to go to waste.

either way, all i did was boil a whole cauli broken up into florets until soft, drain it well, then whizz it in a food processor with the grated cheeses (a couple of handfuls), a little knob of butter and a teaspoon or so or creme fraiche. i was tempted to put it some milk but think it ought to be hot and i couldn't be bothered to get a pan dirty for it. that was it. you do need to season it well - a generous amount of salt and pepper makes all the difference.

we had it with veal saltimbocca (sage and parma ham attached to the veal with a toothpick - i find the process worrying satisfying) and some swiss chard fried in the same pan while the veal was resting. it was absolutely delicious and took no more than fifteen minutes to do the whole thing. you can't argue with that.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

harissa

well, yes, making your own harissa seems pretty mad. but it's not exactly difficult and you do get a lot of it - we've been eating it all week (not sure that is always a good thing).

the picture is of some chicken roasted with harissa - basically, smother the chicken with the sauce (be generous), leave it in the fridge for a few hours if you can, then roast as normal. a word of advice - before you put the chicken in the oven, pour some oil over it and lightly grease the roasting tin. if you don't do this, the harissa just burns (which tastes ok but looked like an accident in a crematorium).

don't forget to make gravy with the leftover burnt bits in the tin - while the chicken is resting, pour away most of the oil from the tin, heat and pour some stock or water plus some lemon juice or white wine and stir until reduced, scraping all the nice bits into the sauce.

HARISSA

250g red chillies - (not the really hot, small ones. just the normal longish ones, deseeded and roughly chopped
3 heaped tsp ground caraway seeds
3 heaped tsp ground cumin seeds
4 garlic cloves
100g piquillo peppers (mine were from a jar, sold by most supermarkets) or 1 large red bell pepper roasted, peeled and seeded
1 dessertspoon tomato puree
1 dessertspoon red wine vinegar
2 level tsp sweet smoked paprika
6 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper

put the chillies, half of the spices and pinch of salt to the food processor and blend. add the peppers and carry on blending until the paste is really smooth.

transfer to a mixing bowl and add the rest of the spices, the tomato puree, vinegar, paprika, olive oil and seasoning. mix well.

that's it. if you want to store it in the fridge, cover with a layer of olive oil.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

almond and coconut pancakes

it's been a foodie bank holiday in N1.

i have damsons and chilli behind my fingernails and i probably smell of garlic a little. every kitchen surface is covered by vegetables - there are small, orange and green harlequin squashes lined up against the wall, muddy baby beetroots with leaves still attached, a paper bag full of baby plum tomatoes, and two melons slowly turning orange and perfumed on the windowsill. the fridge is full of jars of sauces: rocket and basil pesto in clear tubs, damson dipping sauce with garlic, damson puree to be stirred into creamy turkish yoghurt, olives marinating in spices since last week. there were almond and coconut pancakes with plums fried in butter, there was a roast pork belly and cured ham and chorizo. we went to the farmers' market and the local greengrocer, had a chat with the butcher about football and walked up to la fromagerie in N5. and, of course, there was a trip to the loft.

i might get around to posting a few recipes of dishes we ate but, for a starter, here is a holiday brunch treat: coconut and almond pancakes. they are an amalgamation of various recipes collected from primal blogs. it seem that most people go for either the almond or the coconut variety but i thought it would be nice to combine both. i am sure someone else has thought of that already - it does seem the obvious thing to do.

these are obviously a bit heavier than your normal american pancake. i am not sure if my palate has changed but, to me, they taste no worse than those.

we ate ours with plums fried in butter and a dollop of creme fraiche - i know, it sounds like a fat-phobe's nightmare - just fry some plum halves in a hot butter until soft and caramelised.

PANCAKES
makes around 8 or 9

2 large eggs
1 cup of almond flour
1/4 cup of coconut milk plus more if required
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
2tbs dessicated coconut
a pinch of cinnamon
a dash of vanilla essence
coconut oil to fry

just mix all the ingredients together - easily done by hand. check the consistency of your batter - if it's not wet enough, add a bit more coconut milk. i can't really tell you how i know it's the right consistency but when i first mixed it, it was a bit like a hardcore bowl of porridge. you want it wetter than that.

heat the coconut oil in a pan over a medium heat. when hot, drop generous spoonfuls of the batter making sure there's enough space between them as they spread a little. fry on one side until bubbles appear and the underside is golden brown, then turn and fry on the other side until cooked through - probably 3-4 minutes.

nuno mendes - the loft project

i wasn't sure if there was any point in writing about our trip to the loft. as i've said before, writing about food is difficult enough when you know what it is that you're eating. but when you can't get further than just stating that something is crunchy or savoury without having any idea even what foodstuff it is, you're going to struggle.

i decided to do it simply because i didn't want to forget the food. it's as close to heston as i have got so far (there are plans...) - though, for nuno, i expect the comparison will probably get a bit irksome after a while).

the whole concept is pretty crazy: you pay upfront to sit in someone's flat with a dozen strangers and watch someone cook. it's a nice flat and all - but it's still a strange way to spend a saturday night.

but it works. it's a self-selecting group of people, for a start: i can't imagine a banker's wife from chelsea wanting to go to shoreditch (dalston, if you're feeling less generous) for some cauliflower paste dessert. the people we ended up sitting next to were good fun: two chefs from gordon ramsay's restaurants, and a couple from staines who, like us, just like food and booze. and there was plenty of booze too, which helped - they give you a lychee cocktail topped with basil oil as soon as you walk in and continue with white wine, sake, red wine and finally dessert wine. it helps people relax but, as the wine is poured for you, there is no risk of anyone getting drunk.

as for the food....my god, the food was amazing. it made me realise i know NOTHING about cooking. not in the sense of 'technique' as they'd want you to demonstrate on masterchef - though, of course, i'm not exactly an expert in using a water bath that rich recognised from his time in the lab (it's the currently fashionable sous vide). i mean cooking in the sense of knowing how flavours and textures work and what makes something taste right - and experimenting, mixing ingredients in a way that produces something new. what surprised me most, i think, was that none of it felt pointless, and done solely for the sake of being different. it genuinely tasted amazing.

i can't remember all the courses we got - there must have been ten or more. there was the onion soup formed into a perfect, soft little sphere, like a table tennis ball, that you pop into your mouth whole and then it just kind of...melts. there was the egg cooked in the water bath where the yolk and the white were of the same texture and tasted like the eggiest egg ever. there was the 'cake' (in a very loose sense of the word) served with passion fruit and a thick, tar-like black olive sauce. there was some black squid porridge and steak cooked in the water bath with enoki mushrooms. (there was basically more umami going on there than you could shake a stick at.)

the two dishes that really stick in my mind - the ones where i wanted to pick up a plate or a bowl and lick it clean - were the aubergine roe with an aubergine consomme, truffle oil and a slick of the most amazingly savoury japanese plum paste; and the strawberry cauliflower dessert which was without doubt the strangest thing i have eaten in my life - a patisserie cream consistency and colour but smelling of blue cheese and white chocolate, eaten with some sliced strawberries and something else i couldn't identify. when i first tasted the cream, i thought it would be the first dish i didn't like. but then rich said i should eat it all together rather than taste the individual components. this seems logical until you're presented with a plate of unrecognisable stuff so your instinct is to try each bit. and it worked, it worked so crazily well i was blown away. maybe i have a weird palate but i just wanted to carry on eating it. it's funny how your brain works too - i smelt the cream and all i could think was - cheese and chocolate. it's only when one of the ramsay chefs said cauliflower and vanilla that it suddenly smelt of precisely that.

we walked home after midnight, tipsy and content. maybe you wouldn't want to eat like this all the time - but i'd be quite happy to have supper at the loft every couple of weeks.

so, when nuno opens his restaurant next year, i suggest you go. http://www.nunomendes.co.uk/loft.html