Saturday, 31 October 2009

quail with ras el hanout

A Nigel Slater recipe, this. It made me think that, all things considered, I would actually quite like to have Nigel Slater’s life.

No, really.

Of course, I don’t really want to be Nigel, with his strange childhood and his slightly awkward manner. But I can’t help thinking that his life, his day to day existence that most of us spend on crowded trains and in air-conditioned offices, would actually be really rather pleasant.

In my head, in Nigel’s life it’s usually winter. Proper winter of snow and wooly coats and jumpers, rather than the pointless, wet and mild winters of north London that he endures with the rest of us. The garden is covered in frost. Nigel wakes up early - he is no slacker, I reckon - and goes downstairs to his big white kitchen for a pot of proper espresso and maybe a croissant. The kitchen is, I think, all stripped wooden surfaces, with a bit of marble here and there, and cabinets painted white, with Kitchen-aids and Magimixes artfully exposed. No ostentatious displays of wealth, and nothing fancy, frilly or chintzy abut the place.

He goes back upstairs with another cup of coffee, and writes a little. Maybe he has had a wander around the garden too, and a quiet think on the bench at the bottom behind the gate.

Mid-morning, he goes out shopping. Not to the local supermarket, with screaming children and women loading sliced white and crisps into enormous trolleys. No, he’ll go down the road to La Fromagerie for some cheese and crème fraiche, and maybe the odd sausage or two, then to the butcher’s on top of Highbury Fields. A veg shop, and maybe a pastry from somewhere nice.

Then he’ll go home and cook lunch, making something he is thinking of including in a new book. Obviously, in my head, his recipes come out perfect every time, and no time is spent making the same thing over and over again until you’re sick of the sight of the bloody thing. And, though Nigel lives alone, and likes the solitude (thank you very much), he actually always has people round for lunch.

So they eat lunch around a big kitchen table, looking on to the garden, and, at the end, someone offers to stack the dishwasher and tidy up, before more coffee is brewed.

In the after non, alone again, Nigel does a bit more writing. He also talks to his agent, or suppliers, or his book people. He replies to a few emails, popping down to the kitchen every now and again, to stand in his stockinged feet on one leg in front of the fridge, absent-mindedly snacking on whatever is there - a piece of leftover ham, a chicken leg or a piece of fruit. Though I think he doesn’t actually eat a lot, somehow.

And then in the evening, more people and more cooking, and a bottle of wine.

I’m sure his life is actually nothing like this at all, and he’s probably stupidly busy and certainly doesn’t have time to go to five different shops every day. But the idea that pottering about, cooking, gardening and eating, while also seeing enough people and being sociable, actually constitutes gainful employment is just amazing to me and fills me with visceral envy. The truth is, I think if I had to spend every day in the kitchen - not cheffing, mind, just cooking - and have someone eat the proceeds with me, I’d be very happy.

As for the recipe - it uses ras el hanout, the Moroccan spice made with rose petals. Which sounds weird but isn’t. To continue the middle-Eastern theme, we ate it with baba ghanoush topped with toasted pine nuts, roasted red peppers and slow-roast tomatoes. Lovely.

For two

4 quail
1 large clove of garlic
1 heaped tbs ras el hanout
3-4 tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper

First, spatchcock the quail. I cut through the backbone with a pair of sturdy scissors but you can of course do it with a sharp knife. Once done, place the quail breast side up on the chopping board and squish with the back of your hand. You’re trying to flatten the bird to speed up the cooking time on the griddle pan (of course, this would be perfect on a barbecue).

Now mix the finely chopped garlic with a bit of salt, the ras el hanout and the olive oil into a paste. Spread this mix thoroughly all over the quail with your hands, and then leave it to marinade for a couple of hours (I left it overnight).

When you’re ready to cook, heat the griddle pan, and whack on the quail - we could fit all four on in one go - for about 10 minutes each side. It might need longer, depending on how big it is and how much you’re managed to flatten in (I didn’t do a very good job). The juices have to run clear.

Thursday, 29 October 2009


there'll be some autumnal food later but, in the meantime, i just wanted to post a picture taken this sunday on highbury fields. for no other reason than because autumn is pretty good-looking.

Monday, 26 October 2009


it has all slowed down a bit in N1 kitchen. being busy at work doesn’t allow time for just daydreaming about food, mulling over what goes with what or what i have in the fridge that needs using up. there has been cooking, of course, but the kind of utilitarian, stripped-down version that gives me little pleasure. the kind of cooking that has led my mum (a great cook, especially when it comes to puddings – unfortunately) to say that thirty odd years of cooking for a family of four have knocked the fun out of cooking somewhat. she just doesn’t find day-to-day feeding of oneself particularly exciting any more and i could sympathise with that last week. i could also see the appeal of ready made meals – coming home from work and thinking about the latest twist on ratatouille is just not what you want to do, or have time for. masterchef final was on, for one thing. (and there are only two of us - i really don’t know how people with children actually have time to do anything at all.)

anyway, sarma...every yugo worth his salt would have eaten sarma hundreds of times, me included. it’s staple food – i bet there are thousands of pots of sarma slowly simmering on thousands of stoves all over the balkans right now. and this afternoon, once the kids are back from school and parents from work, families will be sitting down to tables covered with patterned lino, to warm plates of sarma (soup plates, this is stuff more suited to eating with a spoon), perhaps with a bit of creme fraiche on top, and always with lots of sliced bread.

there are lots of version of sarma, and probably lots of arguments about what is authentic and what’s just some new-fangled nonsense. big, hefty sarmas made with sauerkraut in the winter boiled with cured pork knuckles or bits of ham for extra flavour, dainty little sarmas made with fresh vine leaves in the summer, nestling in a pot like miniature green parcels, and common-or-garden sarmas made with ‘sweet’ cabbage as it is called at home, sauce thickened with tomato and a bit of flour, with a whiff of paprika.

they’re all good – though i have a personal preference for the vine leaves version: they taste pleasantly bitter, and of minerals somehow. conversely, i’ve never liked the middle eastern cinnamon/sultana twist that seems to be quite common in the uk – sugary sweet is one thing sarma should not be, if you ask me.

this recipe is from my grandmother's pata markovic cookery book - i thought that would be as authentic as you get, all things considering.

for 4 (sort of - it was for two in our case, plus one breakfast)

250g minced beef
250g minced pork
1 large cabbage
2 onions, finely chopped
1 large egg
a handful of finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper
olive oil
one tin of chopped tomatoes, mashed so it's puree-like
1tsp paprika
2 long green peppers (or just normal ones)

discard the tough outer leaves of the cabbage and try and take out as much of the core as possible without damaging the leaves. put the cabbage in a large pot and pour some boiling water over it. leave it on low heat for a while, until the leaves start to come away from the cabbage. separate the leaves and put them aside - cut out the spine if hard. you want the leaf to be soft and pliable, so you can fold it, but not to soft as to be falling apart so the timing is crucial.

now make the filling. fry the onions in some olive oil until soft and translucent, then add the meat and fry for ten or so minutes until cooked through. take off the heat and, when it's cooled down, add the egg, seasoning and the chopped parsley. set aside to go completely cold as it's much easier to make sarma that way (apparently).

take a leaf of cabbage (or two, overlapping, if small), put some meat in the middle and roll up like a cigar, tucking each end in. i messed this up quite spectacularly - i blame the cabbage but it was probably more to do with my skill. pata gives no instructions on how to do this - she just says 'now roll sarma in the normal way' - err, thanks. i resorted to toothpicks and force - it kind of worked.

take a large lidded pot, put any discarded small leaves and the cabbage core at the bottom, and then layer your sarmas on top. pour over the tomatoes - shake the pan a little so they are evenly distributed throughout the pan. sprinkle over the paprika, lay the two green peppers on top (whole) and leave to simmer on low heat 'until it's cooked'. that probably means an hour or so but do keep checking as you don't want it to burn. if it's too 'wet' at the end, take the lid off and boil rapidly to evaporate some of the sauce. you don't want it to be too dry - sarma should be juicy and there should be some bread mopping at the end.

(note: pata obviously doesn't use a tin of tomatoes. instead, she simmers a kilo of fresh, chopped tomatoes with some onions and a red pepper, and then pushes it through a sieve. one day, i might make it that way but in the meantime, j sainsbury will remain a good friend.)

Sunday, 25 October 2009

pear clafoutis

i have to tell you, this is not really clafoutis as such despite being billed as such. traditional clafoutis are light, with soft fruit bleeding juice into the batter and the crunch of caster sugar on top. this, on the other hand, is more of a custardy pie with fruit - but no less nice for that. serve it while warm when it's at its best - though i ate the rest cold for breakfast.

like all low carb desserts, this is seriously easy to make. just as well, really, because my previous experiences of making clafoutis have been a bit of a disaster. i once tried making it in a tart tin with a removable bottom, with the predictable result that it leaked all over the oven. we were scraping sweet batter off baking trays for days afterwards. the original recipe, from elana's pantry (another food porn website, and one that doesn't cease to amaze me with its inventiveness and quality), uses two mixing bowls for wet and dry ingredients but i am willing to bet that the whole thing would work if you just bung it all in and mix. i'll try it out one of these days. i omitted all the agave nectar from her recipe too - i find the pears sweet enough and it didn't seem to spoil the texture.


4 large eggs
½ double cream
½ cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup almond flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon sea salt
4 large pears, peeled, cored and sliced

butter a 9in cake tin - ceramic looks nice but i only have metal. be generous. preheat the oven to 170C.

in one bowl, combine the eggs, cream, butter and vanilla. in another bowl, mix the almond flour, cinnamon and salt. stir dry ingredients into the wet ones and mix thoroughly.

arrange the pears in a circular patters at the bottom of the tin - i ended up with two layers. use the smaller bits to fill in gaps, unless you are very fussed about it looking neat. pour the mixture over the top and bake for 50 or so minutes.

the pears start off at the bottom but as the clafoutis cooks, they rise to the top, which is how you end up with a cake that looks like the one on the photo.

autumn salad of squash, salsify, cavolo nero and cobnuts

i've half-stolen this recipe from the british larder ( it's a bit of a food porn website for me, i have to admit, as the food is consistently mouth-watering. it also seems to give me ideas, rather than full copy&paste recipes - perhaps it's because what she cooks is basically seasonal so makes use of weird and wonderful recipes you pick up as the year goes on.

speaking of which, enter black salsify. it arrived in an abel&cole box, all muddy and misshapen, and cost me half an hour on the internet looking for what to do with it. i reckon it's one of those they only dare include once a year because they know they'll be outrage, middle-class stylee, at being given stuff you barely reoognise.

anyway, black salsify tastes like a cross between a jerusalem artichoke and nothing. literally nothing. it's one of those vegetables, a bit like turnip, that to me are just padding, something to give texture rather than any real flavour (or excitement about eating it).

the picture really doesn't do this justice: the light is wrong and it all looks a bit grey. in real life, it was a beautiful mix of deep greens and oranges. i loved the crunch of the nuts and the black salsify with the soft, caramelised flesh of the squash and the wilted leaves.

for two

1 very small butternut squash
2 roots of black salsify, cut into finger-length batons
10 or so cobnuts, shelled
1/3 head of cavolo nero, leaves stripped off tough stalks and shredded
olive oil
parmesan cheese for shaving on top
salt and pepper
1tsp wholegrain mustard
1 lemon, juice only

preheat the oven to 200C. first, core the squash and slice into 5mm or so thin slices. put in a roasting tin and coat with enough olive oil to cover. season. add the shelled raw cobnuts to the same tin and shake it all together for the nuts to get a coating of oil. roast for half an hour or until the squash is cooked and starting to caramelise around the edges.

while it's roasting, prepare the salsify. have a bowl of water with half a lemon squeezed in ready - this is to stop the salsify discolouring when peeled. bring a pan of water to boil and cook the salsify batons for about 3 minutes. drain and, when cool enough to handle, peel the skin off. it comes off quite easily but you might need to help it out with a vegetable peeler. put them in lemony water as you go along.

heat a frying pan with a knob of butter and some olive oil. fry the salsify until browned, then remove and drain on kitchen paper. in the same pan, fry the cavolo nero for 5 minutes or so until soft and cooked through. don't burn it - if it looks too dry, add a little water to get it going.

make the dressing with 3 parts olive oil, 1 part lemon juice and stir in the mustard.

return the salsify to the pan to heat through. now mix the squash and cobnuts with the cavolo nero and the salsify. drizzle with the dressing, then scatter over the parmesan shavings.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

roast partridge - redux

well, if something is so good, you obviously have to do it again. so we did.

our usual pigeon supplier at the market was selling braces of partridges and it seemed churlish not to buy one. i think the flavour of the bird bought at steve hatt's a couple of weeks ago was better - they were probably hung properly - but these one had the advantage of getting a bit of bling in the form of streaky bacon. there are few things in life that can't be improved with the addition of streaky bacon (and pig, more generally).

this doesn't warrant a recipe as such - basically i just wanted to post a picture of it because i enjoy looking at the two birds with their neat bacon coats.

you take a partridge, season it, stuff a quarter of a lemon and a few sprigs of thyme inside it, rub it with butter all over and then drape it with a couple of slices of streaky bacon. you whack it in a very hot oven (220 C) for half an hour, leave it to rest for ten minutes, and that's it.

eaten with some gem lettuce braised in chicken stock.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

aubergine stew

for the past 17 years, i have tracked the passing of seasons with an obsessive zeal of a proustian meteorologist. i am not sure where this comes from: i've never been too concerned with time: most years i can't even remember how old i am, and i couldn't tell you what year it was when i met rich or started work. it's probably more of a worry that things will pass away and disappear. the inbetween seasons, spring and autumn, when the change is actually happening, are the ones that make me slightly mad.

at the beginning, i had harboured a mild disappointment with the english seasons: i remember thinking (and writing) that the springs were colourless, and the wet, mild winters induced only despair.

i guess this has changed and, probably precisely because the four seasons are not as distinct as at home, i have learnt to appreciate the nuances. i'd still rather have a full-blown frozen february of my childhood, or the sticky august of car journeys to the croatian seaside. but all this week i have been desperate to go for a walk in the woods somewhere, just to enjoy the changing colours, even if they do make me melancholy.

and this week, walking past the little park on the way to the station in the morning (which has become my only real insight into what's going on in nature), i suddenly realised that when i really miss sarajevo, it is actually its autumns that i miss.

you'd think i'd miss the snows, the white winter mornings, the springs in full bloom or the summers of overgrown hillsides. i do but the real nostalgia is for sarajevo at its ugliest - cold, dirty, grey and full of smog. the summers would end abruptly - by the time the school started, you'd need more than a tee shirt. octobers it would rain, clouds hanging off the side of the mountains, slopes into the city dark green and dripping with fog. sometimes wet snow, with unmelting slush on the streets for days. dirty shoes and wet feet. then november - colder (now in full winter gear) and more rain and snow. and that was it. december was winter, and it would last until the end of february.

this is a recipe from nigel slater's new book - it's the kind of thing i've made before in various guises but this was pretty good, so i thought i'd note the recipe. perfect for a dull october day.

for four, greedy ones

2 very large aubergines
3 medium onions
8 ground cardamom pods
2 tbs coriander seeds
2 level tsp black peppercorns
4 cloves of garlic
a thumb sized piece of ginger
2 rounded tsp ground tumeric
10 medium sized tomatoes (or a couple of tins)
500ml stock - i used chicken
2 400ml coconut milk tins
4 red chillies, finely chopped
a small bunch of mint - i didn't have any
2 small bunches of coriander

cut the aubergines into quite large chunks - i find if you cut them into bitesize pieces, they dissolve into mush during cooking. sprinkle with salt and leave in a colander to drain for half an hour.

while they're doing that, peel and roughly chop the onions, and cook with oil in a large pan until soft and translucent. don't burn them.

crush the cardamom pods with the back of the knife and get the little black seeds out. add those, the coriander seeds and the peppercorns to a spice grinder - or pestle and mortar, but i struggle with that.

crush the garlic and chuck it into your pan with the onions, together with the tumeric, the ground spices and the peeled and finely chopped ginger. peel and seed the tomatoes and add those too.

now pat the aubergines dry and dry fry them - no oil - on a griddle pan until they are starting to soften. turn them as they cook so all sides get those black lines.

when you've done them all - and you'll probably have to do it in batches - add them to the pan as well, and pour in the stock and the coconut milk. add the chillies and a little bit of soft, then simmer for 45 minutes.

there is a final step in the original recipe which i missed as it's too much of a faff: slater suggests taking out the tomatoes, aubergines and some of the onions and whizzing the rest in a blender before returning the veg in and sprinkling with the chopped herbs. i just sprinkled.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

haloumi cheese with lemon and chilli

we ate this in the place where we will be getting married - one of the reasons why i picked it was because of the food.

admittedly, this is more of a summer recipe but it's a nice way of recreating a sunny feel as the days get shorter. there is nothing to it but i thought it was a really nice way of jazzing up a bit of haloumi which most people eat plain.

for two

1 haloumi cheese, cut into thick slices
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
1/2 lemon, zest and juice
a small bunch of parsley and basil, chopped
olive oil
sea salt and black pepper

heat a dry frying pan (or a griddle pan - though i've never had much luck with those as the cheese always falls apart) and fry the cheese without any oil for a couple of minutes on each side or until nicely browned.

in the meantime, mix the olive oil - 3-4 tablespoons will do - with the lemon juice, zest and the chopped chilli. stir in the herbs and pour over the hot cheese.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

roast partridge

not inspired to write much about this even though it was extremely nice and made me vow to buy more game. i suppose it's because it's not really a recipe as such - more a reminder to myself about how to cook it. (i like looking back at what i have been cooking over the year. it makes me realise that what we eat is pretty seasonal and the blog becomes a diary of the year. it also surprises me what weird and wonderful things i could be bothered to make.)

partridge, in actual fact, isn't very gamey at all. it does smell a bit funny uncooked - kind of like it's gone off - but that's presumably because it has been hung properly. once out of the oven, it's succulent and sweet and really very tasty.

the recipe i used, which was mark hix's, said to cook the partridge for fifteen minutes. we found this was not enough so we doubled the time. they were not overcooked at all - though if you like your partridge pink, perhaps stick to hix's recommendation.

for two

2 partridges
salt and pepper
about 50g butter

preheat the oven to 220C. season the birds generously and then rub the butter all over them. place them in a roasting tray and cook for 30 minutes, basting once or twice. allow to rest properly - at least ten minutes - before eating.

Monday, 12 October 2009

shallot, cauliflower, mushroom and taleggio bake

this was a leftovers kind of a saturday lunch but it was so good that i felt i had to do a post on it. it shows you how a bit of nice cheese can transform a few simple ingredients into something quite special. taleggio melts quite spectacularly but, unlike most melting cheeses which i find a little bland, it also has an interesting flavour. the only reason why we ended up with it is because the woman i let queue jump before our marathon salami-slicing session in the italian deli only bought a chunk of taleggio. it was from a big block cut in half, so the other half clearly had my name on it.

i think the idea for the dish came from an onion and taleggio puff pastry tart i did once for a christmas party. initially, i thought i’d do a thin omelette as a base and pile the stuff on top before grilling it but i’m a bit bored of eggs at the moment (yes, there is such a thing) and i just didn’t fancy another version of omelette/frittata/eggy bake.

so, the way to do this is to peel and halve loads of small shallots – 10 or so will do for two people, break up half of cauliflower into quite small florets, and slice up a couple of large mushrooms quite thickly. chuck them all in a big roasting tin and sprinkle generously with olive oil. rub it in with your hands so that each bit of veg is covered with some. season – generously with pepper but don’t go crazy with the salt depending on how salty your cheese is, and chuck in some thyme sprigs if you have any.

bake in a hot oven at 200 for about 45 minutes or until all the veg is cooked through and starting to caramelise. do shake the roasting tin every now and again and check it’s not getting too dry/burnt. if there are no crispy edges after that time, turn up the heat a bit for another 10 or so minutes. right at the end, slice up the taleggio and drape over the vegetables evenly. let it melt in the oven for a minute or so.

we ate it with reheated leftover roast chicken, which was perfect, though it’s substantial enough to have on its own.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

coconut macaroons

it feels like i've been away from here for months though it's only been a couple of weeks. first we had the outlaws here for a weekend, and then we went diving in egypt.

the thought that only a few days ago i sat on a boat in a bikini seems a bit weird: the weather has definitely turned while we've been away. i spent this morning packing up summer clothes and doing double-takes every time i notice a patch of tanned skin peeking out between socks and jeans or looking back at me in the mirror.

it was nice, this final flirt with the summer. though i've never been any good at beach holidays (fidget gene dictates i get bored surprisingly quickly, even if i have a good book to read), diving is different. you spend a lot of time on boats which are somehow inherently not boring - no idea why but people always seem quite content doing nothing on boats. plus you have to set up your kit, put on your wetsuit (if someone could invent one that doesn't require ten minutes of sweaty agony, i'd be grateful), do all the checking, tightening, squeezing, inflating, deflating, blowing and waddling around trying to put your fins on without falling over and losing your mask.

still, it's kind of nice to be back and there is something quite comforting about the arrival of autumn. i know it's astonishingly shallow but one of the things i actually look forward to most is winter clothes. you can reinvent yourself - in my head, i'm in a bottega veneta a/w 09 campaign. also cosy nights in with heating on and candles (candles seem slightly frivolous in the summer) and lots of red wine. and nice pubs with pints of bitter. and then there's skiing. small things, and all that.

anyway, a bit about food...these little macaroons were so nice i feel like abandoning the blog now to go into the kitchen to make them. you can see from the pictures that i'd nibbled on one before they'd even cooled, and then on another as they were getting the chocolate covering. basically, think i ate three before they were 'ready'.

the only thing is, you needs quite a few egg whites so it's best to do it when you have leftovers. mine were after an attempt at making creme brulee (surprisingly not sweet unless you add the sugar on top which i substituted with mango and lime coulis) - i say an attempt because, although seriously tasty, i lacked what rich's dad called moral courage and took the whole thing off heat a few seconds too soon. it didn't quite set properly - everyone ate it, mind.

the macaroon recipe is from the orangette blog, with a few tweaks. she uses sweetened coconut, for which there is no need whatsoever. she also adds sugar, which i left out completely. and i didn't have any almond extract. but the principle is the same and they really were sweet enough.

a word of warning - they are very fragile, possibly more so than normal because there is no sugar in them.


3 cups desiccated coconut
¾ cup egg whites (about 5 or 6 large)
1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
8 ounces 85% chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup double cream

this is what orangette says, verbatim:

"Place the first three ingredients in a large, heavy saucepan, and stir to combine well. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring regularly, about 10-12 minutes, until the mixture is pasty but not dry. (The uncooked mixture will look sort of granular at first, then creamy as it heats, and then it will slowly get drier and drier. You want to stop cooking when it no longer looks creamy but is still quite gluey and sticky, not dry.) Remove from heat. Mix in vanilla. Spread out the coconut mixture on a large baking sheet. Refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat baking mat. Using a ¼-cup measuring scoop, scoop and pack the coconut mixture into domes, and place them on the baking sheet. You should wind up with about a dozen. Bake the macaroons until golden, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool."

you can leave the chocolate bit out altogether, of course. the only reason i did it is because i had cream left over from the creme brulee. they were perfectly nice without it (see nibbling, above).

if you want to do it, you just put the cream and the chocolate in a pan and heat very gently until the chocolate has melted, stirring well. you then just use a spoon to pour the mixture over your macaroons. leave to set somewhere cold.

i found the macaroons are best eaten on the day you make them, as they go a bit soggy after a while (though still tasty).