Wednesday, 29 December 2010

marinated rack of lamb


i pinched this recipe from the ottolenghi cook book. weirdly enough, despite it being just round the corner, we have never eaten there. i have suggested it, on several occasions, but i suspect rich would rather go to dallas chicken than share a large table with complete strangers, in a faux hippy, isn't-being-a-yoghurt-weaver-such-fun. while paying 4 quid for a muffin.

to be honest, i am not hugely keen on going either. i have the same reservations about their set up: i can't help thinking i'd like a bit of privacy (especially at those prices). i have bought meringues from the deli at the front in the past - they look stunning but mine didn't taste much worse - and i've treated others to cakes but i have never tried their 'proper' food.

so why i bought not one but two ottolenghi cookbooks is slightly beyond me. i seem to remember the second one was an attempt to find something to cook for some vegetarian friends - i've since discovered that simon hopkinson's 'the vegetarian option' is a much better bet.

i've cooked hardly anything from either. what puts me off is that a lot of the recipes embody what i dislike about a great deal of vegetarian cooking: it's as if the ingredients have been thrown together without a great deal of thought for which flavours work. this kind of food relies on the 'more is more' principle, whereas the best meat-free options from carnivores are usually the simplest ones. do you really need to cook dill with cauliflower? or sprinkle pomegranate seeds over sea bream? i think not.

i am probably missing a point here - after all, what are you going to eat if you want vegetarian without resorting to stodge? and anyway, this lamb recipe has redeemed ottolenghi from its mung-bean tendencies.

obvious pointers: definitely do marinate for as long as you can. and don't bother doing it unless you have the fresh herbs.

MARINATED RACK OF LAMB
for 4

1kg rack of lamb, french trimmed
20g flatleaf parsley, including stalks
30g mint, including stalks unless they're really tough
30g coriander, again with stalks
4 garlic cloves, peeled
15g ginger, peeled and sliced (fresh, obviously)
3 chillies, seeded
50ml lemon juice
60ml soya sauce
120ml sunflower oil
2tbs red wine vinegar
4tbs water

separate the rack into 2-3 rib portions. place in a bowl. blitz together all the other ingredients in a food processor, then smear/pour all over lamb. the sauce is quite runny. cover and put in a fridge to marinate overnight or even longer.

when you're ready to cook, pre-heat the oven to 220C and get your cast iron pan out and hot on top of the stove. you need the kind you can put in the oven.

remove the meat from the marinade and scrape off excess sauce. sear the meat on all sides - apparently it should take around 5 minutes but i think i did mine quicker. now put the whole pan in the oven, for about 15 minutes. the exact timing will depend on the size of your rack (ahem) and how you like your meat done. 15 minutes is still quite pink.

while the lamb is cooking, transfer the marinade to a small saucepan and bring to boil. simmer the sauce for a few minutes to reduce - you will lose some of the colour the longer you do it but mine would have been too runny without good ten minutes on the stove.

serve the lamb with the hot sauce on the side.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

beetroot soup


everyone always assumes that the yugo food was the standard eastern european fare: grey meat, lots of potatoes, cabbage and beetroot. the reality is different: bosnian food in particular has more in common with what you find in turkey than in krakow or bratislava.

the fact that bosnia was under turkish rule for half a millennium is the obvious reason for this. they left their legacy in every aspect of life: food, language, architecture, mentality and anything else you can think of.

but considering where bosnia is, they were never going to have it easy: their food jostled for position with the cuisine of the austro-hungarian empire. to this day, in any half-decent patisserie in sarajevo you will find both the sweet, syrupy concoctions of the middle east and north africa (baklava, kadaif, tulumbas - universally recognised from aswan to mostar) to the tortes and strudels more commonly found in viennese coffee houses.

climate is the other reason. although bosnia is mountainous, with the exception of the fertile plains of the north, it has a proper continental climate. this means summers hot enough and long enough to grow decent fruit and veg.

for some reason, veg doesn’t feature much in my mind’s eye. all i can see is fruit: tiny wild strawberries, bought from equally tiny mountain women in headscarves and carried home from the market as delicately as you would a dozen eggs to avoid bruising; ripe plums and damsons in colours from apply green to deep, velvety purple of a fresh bruise; small gnarly apples, each with a worm inside. there were also soft, overripe green figs (the kind that is almost untransportable which is presumably why you hardly ever see them here) and cherries brought in small quantities from places like mostar and trebinje, and you could practically smell the sea and sun on them.

there were vegetables as well, of course. the very first greens after the winter warranted a great deal of excitement, and rolled-up filo pies would suddenly feature the very dark green metallic leaves of spinach or swiss chard. the excitement would fade by the end of summer – in fact, as kids, we used to dread the detour to outside markets to pick up massive bags (made of red netting) full of peppers, aubergines or marrows. the reason for such huge quantities was that this was the time to convert the glut into something to be enjoyed during the winter. the trip to the market involved a lot of haggling and tutting and shaking of heads, before money was exchanged and bags loaded in the back of our zastava. i don’t know if it is my imagination but those peasants with big, fat bags of produce were also themselves bigger and fatter than their mountain counterparts who would sell bitter greens or bilberries earlier in the summer.

anyway, this is all a long-winded way of saying we didn’t eat a great deal of beetroot. in fact, i cannot recall a single instance where we consumed it as a vegetable. my memory is probably playing tricks on me but i only even remember dad juicing beetroots in one of his concoctions that was meant to ‘cleanse the blood’ when you were a bit run down or had a cold: it was beetroot, apple and orange and tasted of muddy fields and sweetness. it always makes me smile when i see that kind of stuff sold in health food shops now.

beetroot soup is a recipe for beetroot haters, in my opinion. for some reason, it comes out less earthy than eating beetroot either raw or roasted, which is what i would normally do. everyone seems to enjoy it.

what vegetables you use as a base is up to you – i don’t think there is any need to be prescriptive when it comes to soups – but you do need decent stock. i don't mean to be a food ponce but it makes all the difference - it's the soul of the soup. mine was the leftover roast chicken stock, which had boiled down to almost jelly-like consistency. i would also say don’t skip the creme fraiche at the end – the fat adds that little bit of extra creaminess but, more importantly, the slightly sour note balances out all that sweetness.

BEETROOT SOUP
for four

4-5 large beets, scrubbed (they always say that in recipes but i rarely scrub because the skin gets peeled off)
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1-2 sticks of celery, chopped
1 medium leek, chopped
2 pints chicken stock
100ml creme fraiche
olive oil
a splash balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

preheat the oven to 200C.

make a large parcel from some tin foil – i tend to tear off a big piece, fold it in half, then seal the edges by pleating the foil a couple of times on three sides. you will be left with a tinfoil bag of sorts. put it in a roasting dish and put all the beetroots, whole and unpeeled, in the bag. add a splash of vinegar, a splash of water and a good glug of oil, plus some seasoning. seal the last edge of the parcel and place the tray in the oven to roast. it will take at least an hour and in reality more like two. the beetroot should be soft when pierced with a knife but don’t worry about it too much – you can always cook it in the soup for a bit longer (and it's no big deal even if it's a bit raw).

when the beetroot is cooked, take it out of the oven and leave to cool. peel off the skin – either with your fingers or the potato peeler. chop the roots roughly into quarters.

now, in a big pan, fry the vegetables gently. don’t brown them – just allow them to become translucent and soft. this will take ten or so minutes so be patient. add the chopped beetroot, let it cook for a couple of minutes, and top with the chicken stock. cook for another 5-10 minutes until all the vegetables are cooked through.

blend the soup in batches and return to the pan. check the seasoning – it does need salt but the stock i use is normally salty which is why i don’t go crazy before it’s all amalgamated.

serve in bowls, with a dollop of creme fraiche and some more black pepper ground on top.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

sea bass with rocket

this is one of the last photos for the blog taken with an iphone. proper camera from now on, so hopefully the blog will look a bit better!

when i first started cooking anything other than student or deli food (you know what i mean – pasta and pesto, bagels with mozzarella, that sort of thing), i thought gennaro contaldo was pretty cool. this was before he became jamie oliver’s sidekick, appearing in tv programmes as an italian clown with a stupid hat and an incomprehensible accent.

in those pre-fame days, gennaro ran passione, a restaurant on charlotte street. i lived nearby, on the wrong side of euston road, and spent many a day hanging around fitzrovia. (now pointlessly renamed ‘noho’, this area is still where i’d still like to live. it’s weirdly quiet for somewhere so central, and it has lots of decent shops, pubs and restaurants. it’s a staggering distance from soho as well.)

passione was expensive – too expensive for what i was earning then. when i first started going out with rich, he promised he’d take me there as a birthday treat. but the year it was meant to happen, we managed to get spectacularly drunk the night before on beer and makers mark bourbon at some gig in borderline. that was no chance of ever making it out of the house: i was sick for much of the next day. the year after i had food poisoning from a pre-birthday lunch – chiefly remembered for the worst food i have EVER eaten in london and the fact i wore seethrough trousers (not deliberately; and the food was on top of st george’s hotel by the bbc on regent street. never trust a restaurant with a view, i’d say.).

we did finally make it there and thankfully, i was not disappointed despite the tiny little pinch of anti-climax which was unavoidable. i now think it taught me more about what i like eating – and making for other people – than most other places i’d been to until then. it was relatively simple food – in a way i think most italian food is, and there were no foams or jus or artfully arranged micro salads. it wasn’t an ‘experience’ – it was just food.

first thing i loved: every table had a glass of perfectly ripe cherry tomatoes on the vine. they brought out the olives and bread later but i loved those tomatoes – it seemed like such a perfect start to an italian meal. they were totally unadorned – no oil or salt – and they looked, smelt and tasted amazing. afterwards i thought they may have been decorative - i ate them all anyway.

i can’t remember what i had for starter – there may have been truffle oil involved – but for the main i had a big plate of pasta with some kind of ragu, possibly wild boar, which was the meatiest, most delicious plate of food i had eaten in my life. i think i had tiramisu for dessert, the logic being that you may as well try it when it’s made properly.

so, i loved passione. i wanted to go back but it closed a few years after. gennaro started appearing on telly and i bought the cookery book instead. it may in fact have been the second cookery book i have ever bought. i have cooked lots of things from it – i still use the panna cotta recipe, and i loved the limoncello ice cream. the steak ragu and gnocchi was pretty amazing, as was the aubergine parmigiana.

but then the cookery books multiplied, and i forgot about passione until recently. it may have been a search for a sea bream recipe that finally led me back to it (it’s here: http://n1kitchen.blogspot.com/2010/06/sea-bream-with-tomatoes-and-basil.html).

it was then that i also saw this recipe. it is really easy to make and tasted seriously delicious. no idea why, maybe it was a fluke but i’d recommend you try it just to check. i have departed from the original only in the frying of fish - in gennaro's original, the fillet is fried flesh-side down and the skin is then peeled off. madness, if you ask me - there are few things nicer than crispy fish skin. you could make this with bream or other similar fish.

SEA BASS WITH ROCKET
serves 4

4 sea bass fillets
2 tbs olive oil
25g butter - a knob
4 tbs white wine
salt and pepper

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

make the sauce first. heat the oil and butter in a pan and chuck in the anchovy fillets. cook, stirring, until they have dissolved in the oil. sounds weird but you will see it happen. add the shallots and the courgette and cook gently (i.e. don't brown) until the vegetables start to soften. add the stock, bring to the boil, simmer for a minute and then stir in the rocket. season with black pepper and cook just until the rocket's wilted - a couple of minutes, if that. turn the heat off, leave to cool a little and then whizz in a blender until smooth. return to the pan and stir over high heat with a wooden spoon until nearly all the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has become creamy. remove from the heat and set aside.

for the bass, season the fillets first. heat the oil and butter in a large frying pan. add the fillets, skin side down, and fry for around 3 minutes until crispy and golden. don't poke about with the fish during that time - just leave it to cook. turn over gently and cook for another 2-3 minutes. add the wine and cook until it evaporates.

reheat the sauce gently. spoon over a generous amount on each plate and place the sea bass fillet on top.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

braised pigs' cheeks


pigs’ cheeks. not much i can tell you about pigs’ cheeks except that they don’t much look like cheeks and that it’s probably best not to think about where they come from if you're squeamish. what i can tell you is that this is the best stew i have ever made in my life. ever. fact.

it tasted how i want beef stews to taste and they never do. it had the deeply sweet, rich fatty, slightly gelatinous meaty THING. i don’t know what the THING is, but it’s what you get from koffmann’s pigs trotters or gennaro’s wild boar stew. it’s that fleeting moment of pleasure that makes you want to put your fork down and verbalise the joy.

which just goes to show you – you need pig for this sort of thing.

the key to success is slow braising. don’t even attempt to do this if you can’t keep it in the oven for good four-five hours. the rest is like any other stew - easy. these things are pretty forgiving – as long as you don’t let it dry out, whether you put 2 carrots or three, or add a leek (which would be nice) or not is pretty much irrelevant. once you've done the prep and chucked it all in, you don't need to do much with it. make a big batch and freeze half - it'll be proper autumn soon and you'll want some stew for sustenance.

i should add - the pigs' cheeks are from www.markymarket.com he'll deliver to your door and everything. not always handy when you're in a meeting with a vegetarian and have to walk past with a bag full of pigs' cheeks, steaks and a whole rabbit (head'n'all). i had to steal a bin bag from the cleaners to cover it up but i still smelt like blood.

BRAISED PIGS’ CHEEKS
serves four

1 kg pigs' cheeks, trimmed of fat. it's probably about 10 cheeks or so, depending on size
olive oil, for frying
4 onions, peeled and cut into chunks
2 large carrot, peeled, cut into 1cm cubes
4 sticks celery, cut into 1 cm cubes
1 clove garlic, sliced
200 g tomato purée or loads of deeseded and chopped tomatoes (which is what i did, plus some semi-dried ones from the deli i had left over)
1 bottle of red wine – i used pinot noir which i don't like much
600ml stock, or enough to cover – i used chicken but meat would be better
1tsp black peppercorns
3tsp caraway seeds
2 bay leaves

heat the oven to 140C. dry the cheeks with kitchen towel and season on both sides with salt and pepper. heat some oil in a large, ovenproof casserole (that has a lid) and fry the cheeks on both sides until golden brown. get the oil quite hot and don’t crowd the pan or the cheeks will boil rather than fry. you want them nice and crispy and the only way to achieve that is to keep the oil hot and the pan quite uncrowded.

when they’re done, take them out of the pan and set aside. turn the heat down to medium and add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic. fry until they start to colour. then add the tomato pure and a little of the wine, and cook until reduced and thick. keep adding the wine like this, letting it evaporate and cook into the sauce between each addiition.

return the cheeks to the pan and pour in the stock. add the peppercorns, caraway seeds and the bayleaf, stick the lid on and put in the oven. you can now leave it for good four hours – though check after 2 or so to see if there’s enough liquid. if not, add more stock or water.

after four-five hours, when the meat is soft and falling apart, take the pot out of the oven, remove the cheeks and keep warm, then pass the sauce through a sieve. easiest done with a soup ladle – but really push the stuff down to extract as much flavour out of the veggies. if your sauce/gravy is too liquid and thin, let it bubble on the stove for a bit to reduce. put the cheeks back in and heat through. check seasoning.

this would be nice served with some root veg mash – i think celeriac would be perfect as squash is a little too sweet.

Friday, 13 August 2010

fried cauliflower with green sauce


you’d think i’d be blogging every day now i’ve resigned and working the hours my contract says i should. i am cooking often enough. but no. i’ve not written a word for weeks. it would appear that my decision to change jobs has come with an unexpected side effect: my brain has turned to mush.

i come in every day full of good intentions. i have a long list of things to do and i have arranged things is neat piles on my desk. some of it is urgent and important. for example, i have to get my head around the subject of otc derivatives and, trust me, it ain’t easy. it means reading paragraphs like these: ‘novation is what distinguishes ccp from a clearinghouse. the latter, in effect, performs only bilateral netting, interposing it between two or more counterparties in order to give parties only one point of interaction, but without assuming any risk on its own in the transaction. the alternatives to novation can be open offers or guarantee schemes.’ that’s that settled, then.

but i get distracted. by crap. i waste time lurking on twitter, i check my yahoo email, i read endless recipes and restaurant reviews, i google places to eat, i look at clothes i would like to buy...rubbish, basically. my favourite is twitter. if you follow enough people, you can waste an incredible amount of time reading what they say. most of which is of absolutely no use whatsoever but is, somehow, weirdly interesting.

in fact, i behave how i imagine people who work from home behave, which is why i could never do it: i need someone to crack the whip and shout every now and again. i know it’s not very mature but if i’ve not sorted this out by the age of 37, it’s unlikely i ever will.

all in all, i am astonishingly unproductive. i don’t think booking a restaurant online would count as an achievement, or an ‘outcome’ as they like to call it now, in anyone’s book. i mean, it is an outcome of sorts and i will hopefully have a full belly at the end, but it’s not going to get me ready for the new job.

anyway, here is something i DID cook the other day, and i am only blogging about it so i don’t forget i ever made it. it’s a cauliflower thing, and i am rather fond of cauliflower things, especially when they involve frying or roasting and not boiling. quickly blanched and then fried, cauliflower loses that mildly sulphuric blandness that most people hate (that was syntax worthy of nigella. see post from 25 july. and then kill me.)

as for the green sauce, it’s a pretty standard combination of ingredients, which you can vary according to what you have. you could also put in some capers, i think that would be nice. the quantities given are just approximate. you need to taste and add things and carry on tasting and adding until you have something you are happy with. i’d definitely not put all the lemon juice in at once as it might make it too acidic.

(PS i don’t know why i didn’t just call this salsa verde and be done with it – somehow, i like the ronsil-like approach of ‘green sauce’.)

FRIED CAULIFLOWER WITH GREEN SAUCE
for two

½ large cauliflower, broken into florets (i REALLY want this to be spelt ‘florettes’. isn’t that nicer?)
1tsp sweet paprika (i did not use the smoked spanish stuff, this was ordinary serbian sweet paprika)
½tsp ground cumin

for the sauce:
a small bunch of parsley
a small bunch of basil
a small bunch of coriander
4 anchovies
½ to 1 clove garlic
half a lemon, juiced – but only add half to start with
1tsp dijon mustard
olive oil

olive oil
salt and pepper

blanch the cauliflower in boiling water for about two minutes and drain, leaving it in the sieve for all the water to drip off. either on a big plate or in one of those sealable plastic bags, mix the cumin, paprika and a good grinding of salt and pepper. add the drained and hopefully pretty dried florets, and try and coat with the spice mixture as much as possible.

now make the sauce. whizz all the ingredients in a food processor with enough olive oil to make a paste. kind of like pesto, but maybe a bit runnier. taste, adjust the seasoning, and that’s it.

heat the oil in a big frying pan until hot, then add the cauliflower florets and fry until golden. don’t crowd the pan or they will be soggy – just stick them in and leave them for a couple of minutes on medium heat until they get a bit of a nice crust thing going. keep turning them over as much as you can to get the same effect on all sides. drain on kitchen paper, and eat immediately.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

beetroot and feta salad


have you heard of the flavour thesaurus? it’s fugging genius. someone – well, not someone, she is called niki segnit - has sat down and written a book about what goes with what. how brilliant is that!? some combinations you have heard of, some not - avocado with strawberry dressing, anyone? i am resisting the urge to go out now and buy some.

and it’s such a pretty book – colourful hard cover and an index to die for. useful too – for those of us who don’t really plan our shopping with military precision, it is not unusual to end up with random stuff in the fridge and no idea what to do with it. even though this is not a recipe book as such, if you have the basic vocabulary of cooking, it gives you enough ideas about what could work.

despite its brilliance, i should say this is the kind of project that gives me existential angst. my mind will not bend itself to this kind of order, precision and...well...analness, if that's a word (i know it's not). in particular, it’s how looooong it would take to compile something like this...i would have given up halfway through avocado, no doubt about it. i’ve never been very good at finishing things – i lose interest, and the little real satisfaction i get from seeing the end result does not outweigh the pain of doing it.

all that aside, the feta/beetroot combination was sparked from the book – though she talks about goat's cheese. goat, sheep...it's not that different. beetroot and sharp, salty cheese is something i have done before and i am sure there is a recipe somewhere on this blog for grated raw beetroot with feta. what was new was combining it with some leaves and a lot of chopped parsley – it was all i had but i would be inclined to use other herbs of the same ilk too – and adding some crunch with the toasted sunflower seeds. i had it for lunch at work, as you can probably see from the picture. not ideal as the beetroot bleeds everywhere so you end up with pink cheese and blood-stained leaves. probably best to assemble and eat immediately if you’re trying to impress.

BEETROOT AND FETA SALAD
enough for two lunches if you're greedy

3 small beetroots, whole
1tbs balsalmic vinegar
2tbs olive oil
125g feta cheese, cubed
a generous bunch of parsley
salad leaves - as many as you like
a handful of sunflower seeds
salt and pepper
more oil and balsamic vinegar for dressing

preheat the oven to 200C. take a big piece of foil and place the beetroot - whole, unpeeled but scrubbed - on to it. pour over the oil and the vinegar and season well. scrunch up the foil so you end up with a little parcel that will both roast and steam the beetroot. cook in the oven for an hour or so - actually mine took longer and you just need to test them: if you can stick a knife in them easily, they are ready.

once cooked, leave to cool a little and then peel. you'll have very red hands and i can't really advise you on what the best remedy for that is. cut into chunks, cubes or whatever you want.

finely chop the parsley. toast the sunflower seeds in a dry pan until fragrant and starting to change colour. be careful not to burn, as it happens very quickly.

in a large bowl, chuck in your beetroot pieces, the crumbled cheese, the leaves if you are using them, the parsley and the sunflower seeds. make a dressing with the olive oil and vinegar and mix in to the salad lightly - the easiest way to do it is with your hands. taste and season. that's it.

oh - and don't be alarmed when you next go to the loo. things might be a little pink. you've not had a hemorrhage, it's just the beetroot.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

courgette, mint and feta fritters


i have a nasty habit. you could almost call it an addiction. it’s not too bad if i am distracted by other things but, left to my own devices and with no one to keep an eye on me, it quickly spirals out of control.

it’s called uk tv food.

actually it’s called something else now but i can never remember what – that’s how successful their rebranding was. and - i know, i should be ashamed of myself. there must be better ways to spend an evening than watching ace of cakes and rick stein’s food odyssey shouldn’t really be seen more than once.

but i’m a sucker for it. i think it’s ‘cos it is such benign telly: no one dies, whether for real or for pretend, and usually people are quite calm and happy. you can’t have unhappy people on cookery programs – they’re meant to convey enjoyment. there might be a bit of shouting from professional kitchens but you know that bit is edited to make it look worse than it probably is.

anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying that i watched an episode (or two) of nigella’s forever summer.

as an aside, i normally dislike nigella a fair bit. initially i thought it was for the faux-sexiness but i actually don’t really mind that: if licking fingers and appearing on telly in her nightgown helps her sell stuff, good luck to her. personally, i’d rather have a morose nigel with that pinched face looking like he’s just eaten a lemon, or someone like delia, who has a relaxing, almost soporific effect on me (all is well with the world when delia is in charge).

then i thought i objected to the food she makes. a lot of the time you could hardly call it cooking and there is no way you should be feeding your children most of what she makes. this to me is prime nigella territory: http://www.nigella.com/recipe/recipe_detail.aspx?rid=96 or this: http://www.nigella.com/recipe/recipe_detail.aspx?rid=169. it’s not the fact that it is as far removed from the message of this blog as you can get. rather, it’s the total lack of sophistication - most of this stuff is just sugar and very little else.

however, i realise now that what i actually most hate about her is her use of language. same syntax every time. over the top adjective/s + either made up or unusual noun. guinness cake: damp blackness. trifle: cream-swathed berriness. i could go on – it’s in practically every recipe. it makes me want to go and slap the woman. with a copy of beckett, or something.

anyway, having said all that, the inspiration for these courgette cakes did come from watching nigella skipping around the kitchen jauntily. i did change a few things but the basic premise of courgettes, mint and feta is true to the original.

a few things to note: first, a food processor makes this really easy. it takes about 4 seconds to push two courgettes through a magimix. you can, of course, grate them but i always find that a bit of a pain. second, you really do need to drain the courgettes properly, so this is not one to make in a hurry. i left the grated ones in a colander, salted, for an hour at least and then i wrung them in a clean kitchen cloth. there is A LOT of water in a courgette – you’d be surprised. i’d also say you need to be a bit brave with adapting the basic recipe. much will depend on how big your courgette is and how much water you’ve managed to get out of it. it’s best to mix all the wet stuff first and then add the almond flour gradually. you want to get to the consistency where it’s still like wet batter but solid enough to spoon into the frying pan. finally, fry a small fritter first and check for seasoning. both the almonds and the courgettes and quite sweet and you might need to add some salt to help the feta cheese. (you can, of course, use normal flour if you want. same principles apply).

COURGETTE AND FETA FRITTERS
makes a lot of them.

2 large courgettes, grated or shredded in a blender
3 large eggs
a small handful of mint, finely chopped
100g of feta cheese, crumbled
about 1/2 cup of almond flour plus more
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
salt and pepper
olive oil for frying

whisk the eggs with the mint and add the crumbled cheese. next, add the grated, drained courgettes in. mix thoroughly and season. now, start adding the flour. half a cup is safe but you may well need more. keep adding until you think you have the right consistency. stir in the bicarbonate of soda.
heat some olive oil in a non-stick pan until medium hot and spoon the mixture into hot oil. don't overcrowd the pan - these will flatten as they cook. turn over after 2-3 minutes - you will see when the underside is getting golden brown. cook the other side. don't have the heat on too high as you want the inside the cook - you can of course eat courgettes raw but cooked is nicer.

eat with greek yoghurt, or tomato salad, or anything else you like.

duck breast with broccoli


for something that looks so good to eat, duck is not my favourite meat. (surely it’s not just me who looks at big fat birds lolling about riversides and thinks – dinner?). i like its feathery, plump-breasted friends of different shapes and sizes – i am quite partial to geese and all manner of small things like quails, pheasants and pigeons. i do love chinese crispy duck too but that takes us back to the deep frying thing: you could deep fry my (insert unattractive body part, in my case usually a foot) and it would be tasty. i guess duck to me is on a par with lamb – i like it but i would probably not order it in restaurants as i will always get more excited by pork or beef or even fish.

but sometimes, of an evening, you will find yourself with nothing to eat but a couple of frozen duck breasts. and sometimes, you just have to keep your husband happy.

we knew duck breast cooking would be like steak – get the heat up high, whack the meat on for a couple of minutes, and don’t procrastinate. but i was hoping there’d be something else to this dinner, basically something to offset the punch of the fatty meat.

so i did what i always do. i lean on the lounge doorway, standing on one leg, and leaf through cookery books while hoping the whole (ikea) bookshelf doesn’t collapse under their weight. or rather, i do, what my tutor at university once called citing milton, “a mouse hunt of an index”.

it’s amazing how different cookery book indices can be. some seem compiled by people who have clearly never cooked. others are specific to the point of obsession, breaking down foodstuffs into the smallest components you could think of. they’re my favourite. i like a bit of detail even if i myself am not very good at it. if there is no separate entry for red snapper and i have to search under fish, forget it. i want to see both. and “snapper, red”. there is a great pleasure to be derived from a good index and i don’t care how geeky that sounds.

i wasn’t doing very well with the duck though. i found one recipe which consisted of, more or less, telling you to fry it until it's cooked. eeer, thanks for that. and then – bingo. hidden in the giant tome that is locatelli’s taste of italy was a marvellous, tasty and quick recipe that had to be written down. and it really was lovely. i think it's the worcestershire sauce that makes it, as there is very little else to the whole thing.

DUCK BREAST WITH BROCCOLI
for two

2 duck breasts
1 head of broccoli separated into florets
1 tbs worcestershire sauce
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced
salt and pepper
olive oil

bring the duck breasts out of the fridge about an hour before you want to cook them. preheat the oven to 220C.

when you're ready to start, blanch the florets in boiling salted water for about a minute, just to soften the broccoli. drain and keep on one side.

season the duck. get an ovenproof saute pan medium hot, then put in the duck, skin-side down (no oil - the duck is fatty enough), and cook until the skin turns golden. turn over, cook for one minute and then turn down the heat. take the duck out and keep in a warm place.

drain the fat from the pan, add the worcestershire sauce and about 2tbs of olive oil and stir to emulsify. turn off the heat. if it doesn't look like there'll be enough, add a bit more worcestershire sauce and a bit more oil.

heat a saute pan, add more olive oil and put in garlic and chilli, and cook without colouring for a few minutes. add the broccoli and saute until soft, again without allowing to colour.

put the duck into a roasting tray and put in the oven for two or three minutes - this should make it still pink and bloody so cook for longer if you don't like it.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

real food

the most interesting thing about the ‘garden’ i described in the last post has been observing the amount of compost we make. we are like one family composting machine, emptying the little caddy kindly donated by clare every few days. when the first flies appeared in the main composting bin in the garden, and the whole thing started to stink a bit, i was pretty pleased.

it is amazing how much waste it generates. apart from the obvious benefit of hopefully being able to use it next year, i also feel inordinately smug that we recycle so much, one way or another.

and - i am not a yoghurt-weaver but there is some satisfaction to be had from not giving money to companies like nestle or kelloggs which peddle all the packaged rubbish purported to be healthy. take cereal bars, a particular hobby horse of mine: it is only advertising and nothing else that has fooled millions of people into believing these are ‘healthy’. it ain’t gonna change any time soon – there is too much money to be made out of processing stuff. conversely, there is little you can do to profit from a carrot, or a strawberry (not to mention a turnip or a kohl rabi). a celebrity endorsement here or a cookery book there but it’s still not special k, is it?

it is funny that we in the west eat so much packaged food. it freaks me out a bit. michael pollan has written about this before, taking as his dictum that you should eat nothing your grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food. when i think back of what was eaten at my dad’s farm when we were little, very little seemed to come from the shop. come to think of it, i have no idea where the shop was.

perhaps i have rose-tinted spectacles about the whole thing - and i suspect my aunt, whose job it was to feed everyone, wouldn’t have objected to a bit of supermarket help. but you can’t help regretting the demise of ‘real’ food.

i remember bread – huge round ciabatta-style loaves made in a wood-burning stove every two days, with slices so big they didn’t fit into a child’s hand; cheese and ‘kajmak’ in glass jam jars (like clotted cream but sometimes salted to last longer) from their own milk; eggs from the chickens that ran around the garden and that we children would fight to feed corn and seeds every evening; honey from their own bees...not to mention the meat from the sheep, pigs and cows. (actually, that’s a lie – i don’t remember cows being eaten. i can see no reason why they wouldn’t have been but i just don’t.)

mum says everything has changed now, which she illustrates, with horror and dramatic emphasis, with the fact that they buy in ‘yellow’ cheese from a supermarket. the thought of that is pretty weird, i must confess. from a wood-burning stove, pigs killed with a knife under a walnut tree and hens running around the flower beds to plastic cheese and obesity – all in the course of one generation.

i guess i feel i am doing my own little bit by composting - though on an admittedly tiny scale.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

fish in curry sauce


this recipe, or a version thereof, came from a weird book i bought for rich when we first started going out (and when it wouldn't have crossed my mind that we would one day end up married). it must have been for his birthday, or the first christmas together. no idea why i bought it - must have been sufficiently impersonal for him not to think i am a bunny boiler, and inspired enough in that i recognised his love of chilli and thailand.

it's one of those coffee table jobs, all glossy pages, big double spreads of pictures and romantic introductions to different regions. i suspect the thai tourist office had as much to do with it as the recipe contributors.

i don't think i have ever cooked from it - partly because of all of the above, and partly because it is so large as to be unwieldy. it's twice the size or any other book i own. it sat on top of the fridge for years, when that was enough space to hold all my cookery books, and is now covered with a layer of oily grime.

the reason why i looked at it again is because we went to a thai supermarket in hackney. oh, the joy of weird and wonderful things in there! the pigs' trotters in plastic bags, nestling in the fridge like so many plastic chickens in tescos! the weird-looking fruit i've never seen (and some i have - i could smell that durian from a mile off),! the industrial-sized bags of frozen prawns, squid and fish! the fifty seven varieties of chilli sauce! i could have spent a fortune in there it was so amazing.

in the end, we were quite restrained but we came home with a tub of green curry paste, some morning glory (possibly my favourite veg ever), and some incredibly fragrant thai basil. so one night last week, when we had no time to make anything from scratch, we leafed through this monster of a cookery book and - lo and behold, there it was! fish in curry sauce. two minutes to prepare, 20 minutes cooking, some garnish - and you get the nicest meal you can imagine.

the recipe uses red snapper - we used sea bass as that was all we had. you might think it's a waste of bass and ordinarily you'd be right but on this occasion, the fish was a supermarket specimen and a little...well...fishy. you can use what you like, i imagine, as long as it's the whole thing, on the bone.

FISH IN CURRY SAUCE

2 sea bass or red snappers
2 tbs green curry sauce
500 ml coconut milk
25 ml fish sauce
4-5 lime leaves
a small bunch of thai or ordinary basil
a handful of morning glory
olive oil

heat the oil in a lidded pan sufficiently large to accommodate both fish. fry the curry paste for a minute, then add the coconut milk and the fish sauce, and stir to mix. next, add the fish laying them side by side, bring to the boil and reduce the heat to simmer. put on the lid and cook for ten minutes.

turn the fish - good luck with that - and add the morning glory. cook for another ten minutes or a bit less.

if the sauce is still runny - and much will depend on the consistency of your coconut milk - take the fish out and keep warm, then reduce the sauce so it's thick.

add the torn basil and spoon over the fish. sprinkle with crushed or torn lime leaves and, if you really love chilli, some chopped up small red ones.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

sea bream with tomatoes and basil

it’s all gone a bit good life around here.

or as good life as you can get when you live in a one-bed ex-council flat in islington.

a few months ago, at the suggestion of lovely clare from downstairs, we applied for a grant from the council to build some raised beds and grow food. this admirable idea is all about improving shared spaces, getting neighbours together and, of course, planting some stuff to eat. not bad considering the last time we got together was to go to court to kick out a bunch of scratty junkies from the crack den downstairs.

so, we have our raised beds (i still feel guilty for not helping to build them but it was in the run up to the wedding), we bought some seeds and, after a few weeks, stuff started...you know...GROWING. like green stuff. lots of it.

people have gone for different things in their beds – there are lots of strawberries, vast quantities of salad, and one brave soul is growing aubergines. i’ve gone for the simple approach, not wishing to see stuff die on me in my first attempt at gardening – half a bed for carrots, spring onions and radishes - just to see what happens, half for a courgette (and one in a pot – blackfly permitting, i’m determined to eat those damn flowers this year and not pay £2 for a paltry little tray from the farmer’s market), leaving two beds free to indulge in my obsession for leafy green stuff. so we have spinach, lettuce, swiss chard, curly kale and purple sprouting broccoli. and why not – it’s good for you and it costs a fortune in shops. plus, considering the amount of effort involved in growing it, i don’t understand why anyone with a bit of space doesn’t do it.

we’ve had spinach whizzed into a soup, we’ve had a nicely dressed lettuce and radish salad, we’ve had some curly kale stirred through an amazing tomato sauce...i know all of this amounts to about four dinners but the pleasure i’ve had out of it is immense.

anyway, in honour of that curly kale, here is the recipe for something i called the best dinner i’ve ever eaten the other day. we’ve made it twice in the last month, and i’d happily eat it again. it’s a bastardisation of a gennaro contaldo recipe – we’ve added more chilli (just because one chilli is never enough), and used passata rather than water for that extra sweet tomato kick.

don't be tempted to skimp on the olive oil - you need LOTS of it to give it a silky mouthfeel. it makes all the difference.

SEA BREAM WITH TOMATOES AND BASIL
for two

two whole sea bream, cleaned
125ml olive oil
around 25 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 red chillies, deseeded and chopped
500ml passata
a big bunch of basil
salt and pepper

get the biggest frying pan you have and put it on medium heat. it needs to hold both fish, plus all the other stuff, unless you want to do this in two batches. which you don’t. a small frying pan will ensure your kitchen looks like the somme.

heat the oil with the garlic and chilli – don’t burn the garlic as it will taste rubbish. don’t burn the chilli either, or you won’t be able to breathe. trust me on this.

after a couple of minutes, add the fish and fry for a minute, then add the passata, the cherry tomatoes and half of your basil bunch, torn. season and leave to cook for around five minutes. turn the fish carefully and continue to cook for another five or ten minutes. check the fish is cooked – the flesh should be opaque. as it’s on the bone, it will take a little longer to cook.

if your sauce is too runny at the end of the cooking time, take the fish out and reduce the sauce for a few minutes. we don’t bother normally. stir in the greens until wilted (or serve on the side as on the picture – this has been made more than once) and the rest of the basil, check for seasoning and serve.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

wedding, and hind's head



ooooh look, a blog post. my first since february. what’s brought this on, you ask? well, i have felt a little sorry that i have abandoned the blog less than a year after its inception. and i have realised, in the months i’ve not been writing, that the discipline of keeping a record of what i cook is a useful one. it seems a shame, cooking all these things and then letting them all disappear without trace.

as a greedy person, i rarely look back when it comes to food – i am only looking forward to the next meal. i am unlikely to sit around reminiscing about memorable dinners – the promise of meals to come is much more exciting. the flipside of this is that i forgot meals almost as soon as i have cooked them. then the next time all i have in the fridge is some chicken and it’s half seven on a tuesday night, i have to waste time looking for a suitable recipe.

it’s because of this that i thought i’d carry on cataloguing things i like. of course, the more time passes the more i repeat myself in the kitchen and the chances of me cooking something blog-worthy recede. but still...

anyway, a lot has happened over the past six months.

we got married, for one. which was ace. i recommend getting married – apart from the obvious benefit of doing so, it’s a way of spending a weekend with people you like, eating good food, drinking nice wine and just generally having fun. think party but one where no one minds you burn the main course or run out of ice. the amount of goodwill you get from people is touching. oh, and if you’re a girl, you also get to spend two hours having your hair and make up done so you look pretty good at the end of it.

weirdly, getting married didn’t feel like just a pointless ceremony which results in the proverbial ‘piece of paper’. i guess the fact that we decided to do it in the first place means that we didn’t think that but weddings are often about what families and others expect rather than fundamentally about how you feel. i think i knew from the start that this was it, or at least it never crossed my mind that it might not be so it’s not like i thought being married would change things.

i am sure others have written about this a lot more eloquently, but basically it boiled down to the fact that, for me, saying yes in front of friends and family genuinely felt like more of a commitment than getting a joint mortgage or writing a will where i leave lots of morose indie music to him (and books, don’t forget the books!). maybe it is because all relationships are so fragile – based on people’s feelings for each other which, as well all know, can change so easily and so irreversibly – that we try and formalise them in some way and make marriage a public acknowledgement of a private decision. of course, no amount of paperwork will make a marriage work and that’s not what being together is about. but i can see why this hugely prevalent – geographically and historically – social convention has managed to survive against all odds. in any case, there are lots of social conventions that make sense and are probably pretty useful - otherwise we might still be walking around in the nud or killing each other.

i also became an auntie, which was fun. actually, more than anything, it was quite overwhelming: never before have i had the feeling of being perfectly capable of ripping someone’s head off to protect someone. baby sasha is very small and very cute. i am looking forward to her growing up. unless she develops a taste for R&B or something, in which case all bets are off and she can forget about having an auntie in london.

my pesky back is slowly getting better – though when i say slowly, i mean slowly. i can just about sit down at work for a day but planes, trains and automobiles remain hell on earth. don’t ask me to go to the cinema either.

but back to the wedding! we are having our honeymoon in africa in september so we decided to spend a couple of days just wondering about the countryside around henley, doing things we wouldn’t normally do. this largely involved eating and drinking, as well as driving around looking at wildlife. red kites and wallabies (really) were pretty exciting but – oh, the naughty thrill of of having a lunchtime pie and a pint! the freedom and the illicitness of ordering yet another glass of wine on a sunday night and not caring! the possibility of eating steak three days in a row!

the highlight of the eating experience was going to bray. (i say eating, because we stayed in the monkey island hotel which was like being in a particularly glum episode of faulty towers. you know the place: lots of apricot walls and table cloths, broken shower heads and rusty taps, thin polyester sheets and soaps that you could strip paint with). and no, we didn’t go to the fat duck. god knows why – you’d think getting married would be a perfect excuse to blow loads of cash on a posh dinner. we faffed for ages, thinking it’s too much money and it would hurt after just having spent loads on the wedding. when it got to two weeks before, we suddenly concluded we must go. obviously, it was too late to get a table.

but we went to hind’s head instead and i have to say, i wish we hadn’t. it’s ruined all other gastropubs for me, forever. anyone with gastropub pretentions (that’s you, the house on canonbury road, and a few others) should go and eat there to see how it’s done. unpretentious, most definitely still a pub, with real beer, lovely atmosphere, great service, modest prices and, of course, great food. that, and a subsequent trip to l’autre pied in marylebone, made me realise yet again the same thing i thought when we went to eat at pierre koffman’s pop up last year. i am basically not interested in poncey food that much. give me the hind’s head menu any day and you can keep your michelin stars, your foams and your microherbs carefully placed by tweezers.

it’s partly because there’s never enough food on the plate in those places. it makes me anxious that i won’t get enough. (this is also why i dislike tasting menus and sharing food – there are few words i dread more than: shall we order both and we can share). so, i guess that despite my interest in food and my willingness to spend ridiculous amounts of money on it (£7.50 takeaway lunches from manicomio, anyone?), food to me is not a fetish. it’s a way of sating hunger. chef are not rock stars, cooking is not astrophysics and food is not some weirdly sensual and orgasmic experience. it’s just nice stuff to eat. done well, it can be brilliant and that’s why i loved hind’s head.

rich’s crab on toast was a proper, thick slice of crusty bread with a lot of crab on top. i thought it was mixed with chervil but i might have made that up. my asparagus with ham and hollandaise consisted of a lot more than 2 spears and a bit of yellow air: a few slices of lovely ham topped with perfectly cooked asparagus and hollandaise so good it made me make my own for the first time (which tasted nothing like it, naturellement). i then had a proper stodgy pie with oxtail and kidneys and rich had a steak with bone marrow sauce – both were like someone extracted an essence of a happy cow. it was the kind of thing that makes me weep for vegetarians.

we even had dessert – which was nice but nothing special. weirdly, the only thing that wasn’t particularly nice was coffee. no idea why and perhaps it was just an accident.

so, my conclusion is – forget fat duck and go to hind’s head to see what you’re missing in all those poor eagle and anchor and hope clones scattered around london. okay, bray is one of those funny villages in the commuter belt where people talk about bond dealing while having a pint, but honestly, you’ll enjoy it.
ps the pictures are of a bluebell field around henley, and of some wild flowers i picked on the last day before coming home.

Friday, 26 February 2010

blood orange cake

this was a happy coincidence - i saw a recipe on elana's pantry website a few days ago (yes, i know it seems that half of what i cook comes from there). then last night, while putting the living room blinds down for the evening, i noticed three blood oranges sitting in a bowl on the windowsill.

i guess using fruit for decorative purposes is a bit mad but sometimes i do put things in the lounge because i like looking at them. they invariably go off because the room is too warm. these were heading that way - they were beginning to look a bit shrivelled - which seemed a shame. blood oranges are delicious and their season is pretty short. fortunately, i remembered the cake recipe, and the whole thing was put together while waiting for the dinner to cook.

this is really an unsweetened version of those flourless orange cakes you can see in places like starbucks. it's the same principle: you boil the orange whole and then whizz it up in a blender, skin and all. i cut down the sweetness for this one - the original recipe uses about 3/4 of a cup of agave nectar and i just added a tiny squirt of honey. it is probably an acquired taste and it would not be sweet enough for most people. use agave by all means if you want. you can obviously use normal oranges - though i'd use two and not three as they are bigger.

BLOOD ORANGE CAKE

3 blood oranges or two normal ones
2 cups almond flour
a squirt of honey (or 3/4 cup of agave nectar if you want a sweet cake)
a teaspoon of baking soda
4 eggs
40g dark chocolate

preheat the oven to 190C.

boil the oranges whole for about 1 1/2 hours or until tender. cool them a little, then whizz them in a food processor whole (minus the water in which they boiled but plus skin, pips, etc). if the mixture is really hot, let it cool down a little or you will scramble the eggs. next, add all the other ingredients and blend until thoroughly combined. if it looks really wet and sloppy, add a little bit more flour.

pour into a greased and lined 9in cake tin and cook for 45-50 minutes. test with a skewer and if it's wet, cook a bit more. leave to cool in the tin but, while still hot, break the chocolate into pieces and plonk on top of the cake. the heat will melt it in 3-4 minutes and you will be able to spread a thin layer of chocolate all over the whole cake.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

roast chicken with prosciutto and celeriac

roast chicken on a cold february weekday is better than therapy. not only does everyone love a roast chicken but having one on a tuesday rather than for sunday lunch feels extra naughty (we did in fact crack open a bottle of wine to go with it - seemed a shame not to).

it's a jamie oliver recipe and came about less by design than by a lucky dip in the ever-multiplying cookery books. a plain roasted chicken, maybe with some lemon, will always be my favourite but this makes a pretty nice change.

ps - i won the battle for the skin and therefore the stuffing - it was a trade-off for giving him both legs. not a contest, if you ask me (though i know he always sneakily eats bits of skin while carving).

ROAST CHICKEN

1 1.8kg organic chicken
1 large lemon
8 slices of prosciutto, thinly sliced
1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 handfuls of fresh thyme, finely chopped
115g of butter, softened
1/2 head of celeriac, chopped into large chunks

preheat the oven to 220C and put your roasting tin inside it to heat up at the same time.

work the prosciutto, garlic, thyme and the zest of the lemon (save the lemon for later) into the softened butter. take balls of the mixture and push them carefully under the chicken skin on the breast. make sure you don't break the skin or it will all be ruined. now cut the lemon in half and stick it inside the chicken.

put the chicken in the roasting tin and cook for 25 minutes. after this time, take it out and chuck the celeriac in. roast for another 45 minutes. that should be it but do pierce the chicken with a skewer to ensure juices run clear. leave to rest for ten minutes before tucking in.

almond butter chocolate cups



i've said it before, and i will say again - i do love elana's pantry (www.elanaspantry.com). she comes up with all sorts of crazy things you can make when you're craving something other than veg. and i adore almond butter - i keep buying it to keep in my desk at work, thinking i will just spread a bit on a piece of fruit, or eat a little after lunch. it goes without saying that i invariably end up eating the whole jar with a spoon and feeling sick afterwards.

these little things were genius - like a reese's peanut butter cups which i used to love - but minus the nasty bits. you can sweeten them if you like - elana does and i didn't, and you can use different chocolate. i guess 85% stuff is a bit hardcore but don't make it with less than 75%, i'd say.

i can't tell you how much of what you need because it was all a bit of a guess (i was in the middle of cooking dinner when i thought i'd give this a go). you can look for the original on elana's website, or jump in and hope for the best.

ALMOND BUTTER CHOCOLATE CUPS

about 1/2 jar of almond butter
about 75g chocolate
some vanilla essence (or extract - can never remember which is which but you want the good stuff)

you will also need silicone moulds, which i oiled lightly, and a pastry brush. it will be extremely messy without either of those things.

all you need to do is stir about 1/2tsp of vanilla essence into the nut butter and sweeten with honey if you like.

melt the chocolate in a double boiler, gently, and when it is completely melted, paint the sides of a silicone mould with it. stick it in the fridge or on a cold window sill and leave it to harden. i found i had to repeat this process several times as the effect of gravity was that the chocolate slid off the sides of the mould. it became obvious after the first one that there was no way the whole thing would come out - hence the repainting and leaving it to set process. it doesn't take long so don't worry about it.

next, spoon about a teaspoon of the nut butter inside the hardened chocolate cup. leave it to set a little, then paint the top with the chocolate. this is much easier - you can just drop a bit of melted chocolate on and swirl it around.

stick them in the fridge for a little while, so the whole thing hardens. unmould carefully, proceed to eat several, and forget to take a picture. finally take a photo of the last, misshapen cup once you have eaten all the other ones.

doh.

Monday, 15 February 2010

venison burgers


i used to rather like februaries. they were the coldest, nastiest of months which is probably one reason why i was quite partial to them. the other must have been the imminence of spring – march in sarajevo used to bring the kind of early spring that still makes me slightly demented, if that’s the right word. it is probably the equivalent of april in the UK, it being the cruellest month, etcetera. (in april, you’d get blossoms and the city would probably be at its prettiest, and then by the end of may, it was summer.)

i am not so keen on februaries now. there is nothing much to recommend them – they are a bit cold and a bit wet and a part of that indeterminate season that lasts from about october to about may, where months, marginally more or less wet and/or cold, merge into one.

plus, february has to be the worst month when it comes to food. gone is the excitement of stodge – you’ve had three months of comfort food by now. the sight of a butternut squash or a jerusalem artichoke fills me with despair. and it’s still a long way to spring despite the first daffodils at the farmers’ market (and our kitchen). you have to wait until at least the middle of march for things to start looking up.

so...i am running out of ideas for dinners. the venison thing was a fluke – we just happened to buy some at the marylebone farmers’ market the previous sunday and i’d bunged it in the freezer. i didn’t buy it for a reason, i just like having mince in the freezer as a back-up for when there is nothing else to eat – you can usually find enough things in the cupboard to throw something together.

mixed with some pork mince for fat and a few juniper berries, these burgers were brilliant. super quick and easy to make and only take a few minutes to fry. we ate them with roasted red peppers and some battered aubergines.

VENISON BURGERS

500g venison mince
250g pork mince
1 tsp juniper berries, crushed
2tsp white peppercorns, crushed (or just use normal black pepper)
½ red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2tbs or more finely chopped parsley
lots of salt and pepper

just mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. you will have to use your hands to squish the whole thing together. i am sure i read somewhere that the more time you spend doing this, the better the final product is but i see no logical reason why this would be the case. as long as everything is thoroughly combined, you can stop. some suggest you take a small ball and fry it to check to seasoning but i didn’t bother.

still using your meaty hands, form golf-ball sized balls of meat, then flatten them with your hand to make burgers. you can make them as little or as big as you want but adjust your cooking time accordingly. i made five big ones. now, you can put the meat in the fridge at this point to allow flavours to develop a little – it also helps them firm up so they fry easier.

fry for 4-5 minutes each side, depending on size, until cooked through.

Friday, 5 February 2010

new year - paprika and fried shallot pork tenderloins


back is still giving me gyp but i am learning to live with the pain, in a way that one learns to deal with irritations - like sharing room with a stranger or having an ingrowing toenail. on the plus side, it makes all other aches and pains seem trivial. i have breezed through a nasty cold, the kind i’ve not seen for decades. it felt minor and, somehow unexpectedly, terminal. in a weirdly self-obsessed way, i have enjoyed monitoring its progress, feeling a little better each day, and knowing it will peter out soon.

anyway, despite my less-than-stoic approach to pain, i have cooked a little more. i guess another reason for my laziness in the kitchen is the winter. i love food but my heart sinks at the sight of the fridge full of cabbages and celeriac. it has felt like a long winter too - properly cold, with lots of snow.

incidentally, as soon as the snow starts falling, i seem to become a self-appointed expert on the stuff. much to my own annoyance, i can’t seem to stop myself from making slightly pompous and entirely unhelpful remarks about the various aspects of it. like – the sky is a bit yellow, that usually means it’s going to snow properly. or – no, that’s not real snow, the flakes are tiny and i am sure it will stop soon. it’s as if eighteen years of sarajevo winters have somehow made me into an expert. i have to remember to bite my tongue a bit more often, or i'll become a parody of myself.

anyway, nothing much to say about this dish except it was the first in ages i've felt like noting down. it's an amalgamation of two recipes which somehow worked quite well together - the slightly spicy pork, redolent of chorizo, tasted better with the addition of shallots and thyme. i'd say you should definitely fry the shallots in butter rather than oil, as that is what makes them so sweet.

PAPRIKA AND FRIED SHALLOT PORK TENDERLOINS
for two

2 pork tenderloins, about 200g each
1 heaped tsp sweet paprika
4 banana shallots
1 tbsp chopped thyme
20g butter
seasoning
olive oil

preheat the oven to 200C. rub the paprika all over the pork, then oil lightly and season with salt and pepper. leave to stand for a little while. chop the shallots and fry them in hot butter until they are crispy and brown. drain on kitchen paper, then mix with the chopped thyme and a little sea salt..

now heat a little oil in an ovenproof frying pan and brown the tenderloins on all sides. stick the pan in the oven for 12-15 minutes - do check after a while as you really don't want to overcook it. once it's done, leave to rest for a few minutes, then serve with the shallot mix on the side.