Tuesday, 3 May 2011

pintade au chou AKA guinea fowl with cabbage

i had a quick skim of what little i have written here this year and i don't know why i always end up writing about the war. it's not something i think about on a daily basis (any more - i used to) and it has little to do with my day to day life.

i suppose it is the time of the year. mid-april, we left and that was that. a different life started.

it may be hard to believe but i never wanted to write about the war itself, only me in it. i have no idea how we ended up in such a mess, and anyone who claims otherwise is undoubtedly engaged in reductionism of some sort. it would take more than what’s ostensibly a food blog to begin to describe what i think happened.

also, unlike a lot of people who come from war zones, i have a huge amount of moral ambivalence about it. some would call it paralysis. i can’t categorically claim i know that one side was a lot more wrong or a lot more right than the other, as much as lots of people i know would want me to. i am not sure my attitude is correct, and i would prefer to feel clarity about some things, but i just don’t. it’s not that i don’t believe some things were absolutely evil. it’s more than i am not sure where this evil starts and begins (i get the middle bit) and where it merges into something else around the edges. when you factor in all that history, who knows where you end up.

i’ve also learnt not to expect ‘closure’ pitched by cheap psychology as a solution to pain that follows something like a war. that is not why war keeps creeping back into everything i write.

i admit i did think it would happen at first – i remember writing about it in my diary. (the diaries at the time: tightly written pages and pages of trying to fathom what was happening to me, and failing. incredibly boring to read afterwards, and not much fun to write at the time.) i thought i would put the war behind me, in a way people deal with something like a successful appendix surgery. they remember it being bad at the time but it’s a done deal, with little spill over into their present except as an occassional memory.

you soon realise that closure is possible only in films, where happy endings are made up and all the mess is tidied away. in real life, even when the war ended – for me definitely not with a bang but a whimper – everything was already so different, both here and there, that it made little difference.

it's now may so maybe that's enough for one year. i'll start again next march when the hayfever kicks in.

as for food, this is a slightly random recipe, for which no one will thank me as i don't think people regularly find themselves recipeless but with a spare guinea fowl. in my defence, the fowl was on sale in waitrose (where else?) and for less than a fiver, looked big enough to feed two. it was 1kg almost exactly.

so should you find yourself with a spare guinea fowl, or with another game bird or two (or even a small chicken), this is a good 'un. it's everything a recipe should be: short and one-pot. it comes from stephane reynauld's book ripailles on traditional french cuisine. i knew frenchies would come up with the goods - even hugh fearly-wearly's meat book didn't have much to say about this particular bird.

come to think of it, wtf is a guinea fowl??

for two

1 guinea fowl, sans giblets
1 green cabbage or savoy to you and me
250g smoked streaky bacon pieces
1 glass of white wine
6 sage leaves - don't think i had any but i can see why they'd work
3 carrots
3tbs duck fat or butter
200ml chicken stock

in a big heavy pot, melt the duck fat and brown the fowl (whole) until golden. add the bacon pieces, sage and the carrots which have been peeled and diced.

cut the cabbage into six pieces and wash well. add to the pot, pour in the wine and the stock, cover and let it cook for about 45 mins on low heat. stir regularly.

Sunday, 10 April 2011


do you want war first or food first? maybe do war and get it out of the way? ok? good.

just over twenty years ago, the war started. i say 'the' war because for me there is only one war that matters (not so for anyone older than about 65). and i say ‘started’, although wars don't really start like that, not in a clean, precise way that giving them a date would indicate (like first day at school, or christmas holidays).

the weird thing is, croatia had been on fire for a year and we, a couple of hundred miles down the road, behaved as if nothing was going on. i've said it before but it's true: we’d watch the fighting on telly like it was beirut or tel aviv or any of those places we associated with wars, tv reports of tanks on dusty roads and men with kalashnikovs and scarves around their heads.

we knew there’d be no trips to dubrovnik that year and that we wouldn’t be visiting zagreb any time soon. but those people fighting in slavonia or shelling dubrovnik? they had nothing to do with us. we saw refugees from croatia at university but they were ‘normal’ and in our ignorance (arrogance), it may have crossed our minds they had lost homes or suffered but we didn't treat them as if they had. we treated it as if they'd just chosen to move (as if you'd abandon zadar or sibenik in january, in the middle of the school year, to come to sarajevo!).

some of the people at uni had fought in croatia too. denis from prijedor, who smoked incessantly and exhibited a nice collection of nervous twitches and distant looks, told us stories about vukovar and watching his best mate getting blown up in a tank ahead. he was into guns’n’roses and he wrote ‘i don’t need your civil war’ on the inside cover of the notebook i took with me when i left home (to revise, thinking we'd be back in a week or two). i found his tall, spiky handwriting years later living in a miserable house in birkinhead with a bunch of fuckwits, and it choked me for days.

we used to stand huddled in groups smoking cigarettes in echoey concrete hallways of the philological faculty in sarajevo, talking about how “croatia” - a prematurely-given synonym for the worst kind of civil war bloodshed imaginable - could never happen in bosnia. we'd say it with that strange excitement people get when they feel themselves to be a part of some disaster, something newsworthy. (for that feeling to be delicious and sublime, the disaster has to be proximate enough to be scary but distant enough to have little direct bearing on your life. like watching a car crash from behind the wheel of your own untouched vehicle). little did we know we’d end up being headlines for 3 years of every news bulletin on every channel. a

and now food. i know piperade looks like a plate of cat sick on some rocket leaves. or even human sick. but it's a breakfast of champions or, if you think eating vegetables for breakfast is weird, lunch. it's a good way of making something a bit more filling out of some eggs.

you can make it as easy or as complicated as you like. i've made it with peppers from jars and with the ones i've grilled myself. also with tinned and real tomatoes. having said that, it would of course work best with some great summer produce - that's when you'd really notice how amazingly simple and delicious it is.

it's not a quick recipe, i grant you - though using jars/tins will shorten it.

for four
2 tbs olive oil
2 red peppers
1 green pepper
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
400g peeled and chopped plum tomatoes - i usually don't bother peeling
a pinch of chilli flakes
a sprig of thyme
6 eggs

peppers first. you need to massage them with oil and then either grill them under the grill, whack them straight onto an open flame if you have a gas cooker (maybe skewered on metal skewers for ease of turning but be careful because they get very hot), or use a griddle pan. you want them all chargrilled and soft. when you think they're done, let them cool just a little and then put them in a plastic bag or in a bowl covered with clingfilm. they steam a little, making them easier to peel. discard the seeds and stalks, peel the skin and cut them into pieces.

peel and slice the onion thinly. stew gently in olive oil, then add the garlic and cook until they're soft but not coloured. be patient - i think the onion softening always takes longer than you think. now add the peppers and tomatoes, season with chilli flakes and thyme, and cook for about 15 minutes until the moisture has all but evaporated.

break the eggs into a bowl and whisk. add to the pan with peppers and tomatoes and stir over gentle heat until the eggs are scrambled. taste and season. serve immediately, maybe over some ham or with salad.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

haddock with romesco sauce

it officially being spring, we did some spring cleaning last week. what prompted this rare bout of proper (as opposed to superficial) tidying up was not the spring itself but the realisation that we might not be able to move into a bigger place any time soon. i think i am permitted to sound like a 37 year old that i am and moan just a little about property prices in our area. it's bloody expensive to live here. all we want is another room and a little bit of outside space - i shouldn't have to sell a kidney in order to get it.

so instead of looking at property websites and getting depressed, we thought that getting rid of a few things would be a cheaper way of having somewhere nice to live than quadrupling our mortgage. i am not going to go into the usual platitudes about how you accumulate loads of junk throughout your life (but it's true).

we embarked on a week-long exercise of transforming the flat. quite satisfying it was too, and not only because it involved buying new things. it was in fact largely to do with freecycling our old sofa, armchair and a few other things. most of it went to a nice young lad who’s just bought a house in walthamstow and ran out of cash to get stuff to put in it. seeing him carry sofa cushions down the road pleased me a great deal.

but the spring cleaning also made me realise how easy both rich and i find throwing things away. i have become wholly unsentimental about many of my possessions, which is odd for someone who is quite sentimental by nature. (i cried when they cut a tree down by our mountain cottage, for god’s sake – if that’s not sentimental, i don’t know what is.)

in my case this might be a remnant of leaving home aged eighteen with one bag. we left so much behind that the idea of getting attached to things seems plain odd.

when we first left, i didn’t really think about it beyond wishing i’d brought along more than five pairs of pants and wondering what bastard would steal my spaceman 3 records. those wardrobes full of skis and ice skates, winter shoes and barbeques, raincoats, gloves and wooly hats – they didn’t cross my mind for years, even when during the first winter in the UK in 1992 when i blankly failed to contemplate the absence of a winter coat. it’s only later when normal life re-started with a splutter that i suddenly remembered and got sad about all that was left behind. black skates, size 9, pigs’ skin. red ski boots, bought second hand in the sarajevo 'department store' by a seemingly reluctant mother, getting shabbier every season. elan skis, 180cm, grey, brand new, with barely a season under their wax. and the rest - most of which i can't even recall now.

looking back at it now, i have no idea how the absence of STUFF, the complete loss of..well...EVERYTHING didn't finish me off. i am sure a part of it was about youth. You don’t really plan for stuff when you’re young – you just go ahead and do it, naively and without fuss. part of it was obviously about not having any choice. getting blinkered about life outside what i had was probably quite sensible – i wasted little effort thinking about what i couldn’t have. it was no conscious decision, it just happened that way.

none of which has anything to do with the recipe! sorry, i am completely off piste at the moment. the recipe was, judging from the pink paper, a cutting from the FT i've been saving for ages. i don't normally do this as therein lies a road to madness (and mess - see above for throwing things away). the fact that i did made me finally cook it. somehow, having moved it from one notebook or cookery book for another, i couldn't bring myself to chuck it in a recycling bin.

the author is peter gordon, who now runs kopapa in covent garden. we were there on christmas eve, and very nice it was too, although everything was a bit too sweet for my taste.

you can, of course, eat romesco sauce with other things. i have blogged about it before but this version is slightly different - and nicer, i think. i have replaced the hazelnuts with half almonds/half pine nuts for no other reason that because rich seems to suffer from some strange reaction to hazelnuts. i would make double the quantity of sauce - it would keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

for two romesco sauce
1 dried nora chilli, or similar, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes
25g blanched almonds and 25g pinenuts - dry fry the nuts together to enhance flavour 75g piquillo peppers from a jar
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1/4tsp finely grated lemon zest
a squeeze of lemon juice
7-8 mint leaves
25ml olive oil

2 haddock fillets
1/2 clove garlic thinly sliced
1/2tsp rosemary leaves very finely chopped
knob of butter
olive oil

i am sure the sauce would be nicer chopped coarsely by hand but quite frankly that's far too much of a palaver so i chucked it all in a food processor and whizzed it up. taste it though and add salt or more juice or mint if you think it needs it. this is best made a couple of hours in advance to let the flavours develop.

preheat the oven to 220C. lay the fillets on a plate skin side down and sprinkle with garlic and rosemary. season, then leave for ten minutes. when you're ready to cook, heat an oven-proof frying pan, add the butter and oil and once they are sizzling, fry the haddock flesh side down for 30 second. turn over, then place in a hot oven for 8-10 minutes, depending on how big your fillet is. to serve, put some buttered spinach or kale on a plate, place the haddock fillet on top, spoon over the sauce and the pan juices.

Monday, 28 March 2011

lukmira, or spring onions and creme fraiche

this strange concoction of creme fraiche and chopped up spring onions is one of the last thing i ate at home before leaving for what will be forever. it is not exactly a recipe – more of a suggestion to try something you wouldn’t ordinarily think of trying. the crème fraiche has to indeed be fresh and the best you can afford (don’t offend me with half-fat rubbish) and the spring onions should be squeaky and newly dug up.

once you've got that sorted, there is literally nothing to it: you chop up the onions and you mix them with creme fraiche. maybe some crumbled feta if you feel like it and a bit of salt if you don't.

as for leaving home...well, the war started in april, and i have relived that day a thousand times. part of it is a memory of a memory. that blossom on trees – do i really remember that or have i just repeated the image, the trope, in which blossom becomes a cheap symbol, a million times? probably the latter.

other parts i remember vividly, so vividly they still require a sharp intake of breath, twenty years later. the way that sunshine came in from both sides of the flat that morning, still slightly weak and wintry but no longer pallid. the dining room table. just that: the table, brown and wooden. the kitchen, always slightly cooler in the shady corner of the flat, pigeons nesting in corners outside windows. the telephone call (or was it calls?), telling us to get ready. the lists that i have subsequently been making of such trivial, irrelevant things. i suspected those lists to be a literary affectation stolen from writers like danilo kis or bruno shultz but later i realised that the obsessive list-making is a common strategy in the war against forgetting.

the truth is, i have forgotten.

the geography of sarajevo is slowly dissolving in my head. some streets and places are crystal clear but how they fit together, the actual map, has almost disappeared. whole neighbourhoods have been obliterated by amnesia. when i think of gorica (where anela, her sister and i got drunk on her grandmother’s balcony and then ate loads of jam sandwiches), the ‘1 may’ cinema and the bar ‘setaliste’, i can no longer work out how you’d walk between the three.

sarajevo is no longer a real place for me. i know my friends think otherwise, and for those who go back to see their families, it is as real as it ever has been, every building and every street. not for me. the nostalgia that i suffer from, chronically and incurably – the nostalgia that drives me to google photos of sarajevo and just look at them – is in reality a nostalgia for a moment in past. and it is a common malaise. as much as she would deny it, it is what makes my mother read blogs by sarajevans in diaspora, get really cross with them, swear she’d never do it again, and then lapse two weeks later, or post photos of old postcards depicting the city hundred years ago.

but both of us have little desire for sarajevo as it is now.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

roast broccoli with prawns

i think i like the anticipation of spring as much as i like the actual spring itself. if not more. april and may are probably my favourites, though june still has the pale green lucidity of early summer. by july, i know the end is near despite the reckless sunshine. by august, i've already smelt the end of summer in the parched grass and holiday photos, and started dreading september and the rains.

but as much as spring is my favourite time of the year, it’s also when i am at my maddest. i don’t mean hysterical mad. it’s more of a feeling of unease, or restlessness. nostalgia for something undefined. i don’t really know what it is, or what causes it. it feels as natural to me as the changing of seasons, following its innate rhythm that i almost have nothing to do with. and strangely, it’s not some intellectual or emotional exercise of taking stock of my life which is what you’d expect at the start of a new season. that’s starting to happen anyway, as a sobering byproduct of getting older. instead, it’s just an inchoate feeling, like an itch that needs scratching once a year. i assume it has something to do with the changing of seasons. it happens in the six or eight weeks where things are on the cusp and you notice the change – the light getting stronger or weaker, the leaves coming through or falling. it’s nothing like as strong in the autumn though there is no doubt that autumns make me maudlin too.

i think i had it before i left home. mind you, i then probably thought it all very poetic to get moody as the days got warmer. i’d read too many books and fancied myself a future ts eliott, or at least antun branko simic. you'd have thought it would get worse after the war (AW, like BC and AD. my parents still had to ask ‘which war’, ‘the other one’ usually being WWII and ‘this one’ being the 90’s one) but i am not sure it did.

so, cycling through barnsbury through a storm of pink and white blossom, behind kids on stolen bikes leaving the smell of skunk in their wake, i feel the way i feel every march: like i have a hayfever of the soul.

i should say something about this recipe, i guess. when people marvel at how i can be bothered to cook when rich is away travelling, little do they know that this is the kind of food i eat. you just bung it all in the oven and what comes out is so amazingly tasty that i have thought more than once how being a banking widow isn't all that bad.

for one greedy person or two normals

1 head of broccoli, sliced into thick wedges of just broken up into smallish florets
1 red pepper, cut into 4 - optional and i don't normally use it
around 1/4 cup or 4 tbs of olive oil
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes or more if you like
a good pinch of salt (think tv chefs, not home)
loads of ground black pepper
250g fresh or frozen prawns
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
a squeeze of lemon
a good pinch of sumac

preheat the oven to 220C. grind cumin, coriander and chilli in a pestle and mortar, add the salt and pepper, and mix with about half of the oil. put the broccoli in a roasting tin and cover with this mixture, rubbing it in with your hands. you're aiming to cover the florets or bits of broccoli as much as you can.

spread the broccoli on a roasting try and put in the oven for 10-15 minutes. check after this time - it should be nearly ready, soft in the middle and getting slightly crunchy around the edges. if it's not, leave it in for a bit longer.

in the meantime, put the prawns in a bowl and mix with olive oil and lemon zest. when the broccoli is almost done, take it out of the oven and add the prawns. cook for another 5 minutes or until the prawns are done.

once out of the oven, squeeze some lemon juice over it and eat while still really hot. i like to cover mine with sumac - for some reason, the acidic, sharp taste goes really well with the whole thing.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

red gurnard soup

on paper, i wasn't hugely convinced by this recipe. it's one of the cheffy ones that assumes you will have leftover fish bits AND some fish stock, which most people clearly don't. however, i am clearly the kind of person who does, even if the tub of stock had been hanging around the freezer for exactly a year. (you can, of course, use any veg or chicken stock but fish one really does give it a lot of extra flavour.) we'd eaten the fish fillets for dinner that day, and it just seemed a shame to throw away the ugly, triangular heads and the spiky spines, not least because they still had a fair bit of flesh attached to them.

i was also a bit baffled by the star anise, juniper berries and fennel seeds in a soup. it just seemed like an odd combination - though i have made and blogged about a vegetarian red pepper and fennel soup before. the addition of fish isn't such a huge leap, i guess.

the recipe is from hix's book on seasonal food. i have bastardised it quite a lot, by halving the volume of liquid but keeping the same quantity of vegetables. i also skipped the potato he adds to thicken it - there is just no need.

soup made, i remained unconvinced. it smelt okay, nice even - but it didn't make me want to eat it straight away. it went in the fridge as next day's starter. when we finally got round to eating it, it was a revelation, and i am not exaggerating (much). the spices, especially the fennel and the star anise, give it an almost oriental twist but it's a traditional, recogniseable fish soup through and through, not miles away from the bouillabaisse.

i expect lots of other fish would be amenable to this kind of treatment so i'd urge you to buy sustainably-caught fish from your fishmonger, fillet it yourself or get him to do it but give you the bones.


bones and heads from 2 filleted gurnards
olive oil
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 leek, trimmed, washed and roughly chopped
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and roughly chopped
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
10 black peppercorns
1 star anise
a small pinch of saffron
3 juniper berries
1 bay leaf
2-3 sprigs of thyme
a tin of chopped tomatoes plus some tomato puree
50ml red wine
1 litre of fish stock
salt and pepper

heat a large pan and gently fry the fish heads and bones, the vegetables, garlic, spices, juniper berries and herbs for ten minutes until soft. add the tomatoes and the tomato pure, red wine and fish stock. simmer gently for about 50 minutes.

fish out (ahem) most of the bones out of the soup and then liquidise the rest with a hand-held blender or in a food processor. some leftover bones are fine - the blades can usually cope with them if they're not huge. at this point the soup will resemble nothing more than a pool of sick. but don't be put off - get a sieve and push the thick soup through it into another pan - use the back of a ladle to help it along. you should end up with a brick-red, finely-fragranced soup.

at this point you can add other things if you wish - maybe a few prawns, or some gurnard fillets. i didn't, and i didn't think it needed it.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

blackberry and sloe gin jelly and a note about 'fasung'

i’ve not eaten much jelly in my life. i could be wrong, but i don’t remember mum ever making it, and i’ve certainly not eaten it in anyone else’s house. i suppose the obvious next question is whether you could buy jelly at all in yugo supermarkets but 1. there weren’t really any supermarkets as such and 2. you certainly didn’t buy THAT kind of thing in them. oh and 3, making stuff out of packets was sort of cheating.

what you did buy in supermarkets what my parents called ‘fasung’. i have no idea what the word ‘fasung’ means though it is evidently german. whereas turks gave us words for sleeping and eating (duvets and pillows are definitely turkish, as are many fruits and vegetables), the germans contributed with vocabulary of practical things: zips and sowing machines and screwdrivers. oh, and tights, with a word that makes no attempt to hide its origins: schtrample.

'fasung’ was for dull, bulky things: dishwasher salt, washing powder, jars of gherkins, possibly a tube of tommy mayonnaise, tins of sardines (‘eva’ ones with peppers were my favourite, in tins that sported a particularly fetching walrus in a stripey tee shirt), oil, sugar, macaroni. also raisins and little sachets of vanilla sugar, which made our pantry smell how i think all pantries should. that’s about it. you’d nip over to the deli counter and get some sliced ham and salami but the majority of fresh food you’d get from the market.

so why am i making jelly now? well, jelly is fun. it’s easy to make, you can make it in moulds shaped like pigs or rabbits, there is always a moment of terror as you turn it onto a plate and squeals of excitement both if it does and doesn’t work, AND – as a bonus - it wobbles rudely on a plate. what’s not to like? i should also say jelly can be made without the addition of sugar so it’s a pretty decent primal dessert for a special occasion.

i like jellies plain, or just with cream. i’m not entirely sure about the addition of fruit, but i am working on that one. trifle with jelly is, in my view, a complete abomination. (trifle should be: sponge soaked in sherry, raspberry jam, fresh raspberries, homemade custard, lightly whipped cream, cheesy decorations which include a christmas tree made out of candied angelica. end of.)

the basic jelly recipe that’s proved pretty failsafe for me is 500ml liquid and five of those gelatine leaves. a jelly freak, rather than an amateur like me, might consider the consistency too stiff. but having failed to deliver once (at a party, no less), i’d rather be safe than sorry. and anyway, it still wobbles, that’s the main thing.

some pointers – oil the mould very lightly. just wipe around it with an oiled kitchen towel before pouring the jelly in. if making jelly from fruit like berries or rhubarb, let the juice drain in a colander without squashing the fruit as apparently this makes for a cloudy jelly. i think life is too short to aim for this kind of perfection so i regularly squash. do add booze to your jelly – that’s what makes is good. i made a forced rhubarb and limoncello jelly the other day (second photo) but the best one i’ve ever done is blackcurrant and sloe gin bunny a la valentine warner on the first picture.


5 gelatine leaves
600g blackberries
400ml water
150ml sloe gin

soak the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water for about 10 minutes. the leaves need to be covered.

while that's happening, put the blackberries and water in a pan, and let simmer over a gentle heat until the fruit has totally collapsed. now place a sieve with a piece of muslin or an old cloth over a bowl, and tip the blackcurrant mix in. let in drain, until all the juice has been extracted - don't squash if you can help it. i can't and do. you're after the juice - you can throw the fruit pulp away though i'd keep it to stir into greek yoghurt.

now reheat the fruit juice gently, to just warm. take the gelatine leaves out of the water - squeeze them dry with your hands - and whisk into the juice. make sure it's all dissolved. add the sloe gin.

pour into a 700ml mould and put in the fridge - for a good few hours or overnight.

when you want to turn it out, dip the mould very briefly in hot water before doing it. emphasis on very - i did it for maybe 10 seconds and the warmth turned my jelly back to liquid.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

chicken with leeks and mustard

great meat and veg dish, this - simple, comforting but with a little kick of mustard at the end. you can add another veg to the mix - you can see celeriac on my photos - but i'd probably just do leeks next time.

for two

half a chicken, jointed - either in breast and leg, or into four pieces. you can also use 4 chicken thighs or whatever combination of chicken bits you fancy - as long as they're on the bone
salt and pepper
olive oil or butter for frying
200ml dry white wine
4 medium leeks, trimmed, cleaned and cut into 5cm lengths
2 cloves of garlic
leaves from 4 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
200ml chicken stock
1 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
a large handful of parsley, finely chopped

heat the oven to 200C. season the chicken well on both sides and, in a flameproof casserole with a lid, brown the pieces in olive oil in batches. 3 minutes on skin side and maybe a minute on the other. don't crowd the pan or they will boil. be patient.

take the chicken out when done, tip most of the fat out of it and add the wine. let it bubble for five minutes, then add everything else apart from mustard and parsley. let it cook for another five minutes.

put the chicken pieces back in, cover with a lid and put in the oven for 30 minutes. take the lid off and cook for another 30 or until the chicken is done - depends on how big your pieces are.

finally, stir in the mustard and parsley into the sauce, taking care to preserve the crispy skin. easier to do if you plate your chicken pieces, and then fix the sauce.

what to eat

a friend asked recently about what we eat, thinking low carb would be a good way to lose weight before his wedding. both rich and i excitedly tried to explain how easy and straightforward it was, and how it is not like a diet at all and how you shouldn't think of it as such. it's a way of life, maaan.

the reality is probably not quite that simple. easy though it seems now, i remember clearly the horror of a plate piled high with veg and missing the obligatory starchy, carby bit. what do you mean you just eat a piece of fish with vegetables?? where is the rice, the pasta, the potato?? will you not go hungry?

well, no, you won't and that's because you will not be eating a piece of steamed fish with some steamed broccoli and nothing else, victoria beckham-style. your fish will probably be a large hunk of protein and it will probably be fried in butter, with a lovely crispy skin. and you will eat a LOT of vegetables. you will not go hungry, that's for sure.

but first things first. what should you eat?

it IS simple.

do eat: vegetables. non-starchy veg, so don’t just replace pasta with potatoes. potatoes are not really vegetables anyway - they're tubers. think leafy green, like spinach or cabbage, think aubergines, courgettes, peppers, think cauliflower and broccoli, fennel and chicory, not to mention tomatoes. okra, mushrooms,leeks, brussel sprouts. some paleo/primal people don’t eat any root veg so no beetroot or parsnip, or even carrot. i am personally not convinced by that, so we continue to eat them but in moderation. also think squash and pumpkin – again, not in huge quantities as they are pretty sweet. no peas, no sweetcorn. go beyond what you’d usually have or you’ll be bored to death pretty quickly. you have to overbuy vegetables - they will be the bulk of your shopping basket. we are surely our greengrocer’s best customers.

also eat: meat and fish. and i don’t mean chicken breasts either. i mean proper meat, including offal and stuff that has to be slow-roasted, and fish like sardines and herring. in, fact, the kind of stuff that is usually the cheapest - and the tastiest. i also mean - and this is not really optional: flesh from happy animals and sustainably-caught fish. eating as much animal and fish protein as you will do in this case means that you not only have to think about environmental sustainability but also your own health. a cow is not meant to eat grains which it needs antibiotics to digest. it’s meant to eat grass. the fact that you now have to pay extra to get meat from a cow that's eating what it's meant to eat is just bizarre. world gone mad, etc. so choose carefully and be prepared to spend more. if it’s too expensive, eat more offal or properly cheap cuts. a kilo of pigs’ cheeks will feed at least four very hungry people, and it should cost less than a tenner.

also eat: eat coconuts, in all shapes and forms, from milk to fresh stuff. eat butter and some diary, if you like, though i am not so keen on it these days. it's a pretty good guess our ancestors wouldn't have eaten dairy - having seen a programme this week about mongolians trying to catch a wild mare to milk shows you it wouldn't have been easy. but life without cheese would be dull so, though i don't drink milk i do eat cheese, use butter and eat greek yoghurt from time to time.

eat: fruit, in moderation. no fruit juice. no gorging yourself either. eat seasonal, that should take care of things. if you consider where we are geographically, fruit season is short and so exciting. make the most of it. PS bananas are not proper fruit.

don’t eat: anything that comes out of a packet. mainly beans, legumes, lentils and such like. when was the last time you grew a lentil? or a chickpea? the only things we keep in the cupboard are tins of tomatoes, tins of coconut milk and tinned fish. also loads of spices, vinegar and oil. and genuinely not much else - i've just had a look in the cupboard to check. tahini is useful to jazz up aubergines, also those roast peppers in jars, and olives, artichokes and such like. the equivalent of what they called 'zimnica' at home - i.e. vegetables you put away for the winter, preserved in some way, usually by pickling.

so there you have it. i've probably forgotten something but there are loads of sites that will tell you more. it is not that hard but it takes some getting used to. and you can either do this art de vany style, and basically eat pretty bland food which consists of a piece of meat plus some boiled veg, or you could cook like i do and transform those ingredients into something truly exciting.

Monday, 14 February 2011

grilled pineapple with chilli

i loved this so much that i want to make it again and again. in fact, if you're coming to ours for dinner any time soon and don't like pineapple, i wouldn't bother. it is very likely to i will be making this for dessert until everyone i know has tried it. if you're lucky, i'll give you a bit of coconut or vanilla ice cream to go with it.

the recipe is by rowley leigh, who writes a food column in the weekend FT. (i know, get me, etc.) he's my new chef crush, largely because he does simple food well, respects great ingredients, and writes in an unpretentious style. a bit like nigel slater used to, before he got repetitive and dull. i've never been to le cafe anglais, where he is the chef, but perhaps i ought to soon.

pineapple is quite sweet so this is an occasional treat rather than an everyday snack. the original recipe uses sugar, which makes sense as the idea is to coat the fruit in syrup. i skipped it, of course, and found that a mere dollop of raw honey was enough. add a pot of chocolate sauce - just melt over gentle heat in a bain marie around 100g of 85% chocolate with a bit of double cream - and it becomes a decent dinner party option.

for four +

2 red chillies, deseeded and sliced into thin rounds
2 tsp raw honey
1 vanilla pod, cut in half lengthways and black seeds scraped out
1/2 cinnamon stick
4 star anis
10 cloves
1 pineapple

prepare the pineapple and cut into thick slices. heat a cast iron griddle pan and then grill the slices, turning them to create the criss-cross pattern. you can see on the first photo that i got to the criss but not the cross bit when i took it. if your pan is hot enough - and it should be - this should take less then ten minutes. when done, arrange the slices on a large platter.

in the meantime, make the syrup. in a small saucepan, combine the chillies, with all the other ingredients and 250ml of water. add both the vanilla seeds and the now empty pod (it's still fragrant). bring to a simmer and cook gently for 15 minutes.

when the syrup is ready, macerate the pineapple slices in it for a little while (if you can. if not, not to worry). if your fruit has gone cold, just reheat the whole thing in the oven for a few minutes.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

butternut squash and aubergine subji

this recipe caught my eye in one of the observer food monthly supplements - i have changed it only very slightly. it was in fact 'best reader's recipe' and came from one maya glaser from london, who is in possession of a punjabi mother-in-law.

it is a simple vegetable curry, which made me fall in love with 'normal' curries once more. i think the thai and south indian curries with milder spicing and coconut milk stole my heart for a while but i have made this several times in the last few months.you could of course add cooked chicken or raw prawns to the finished dish if you don't like a fully vegetarian version. i don't think it needs it, much like the thai curry i have blogged about before. you can also vary the vegetables - sweet potato instead of squash would be nice, as would the addition of spinach to wilt into the curry right at the end. i put some curly kale, which is a bit too cabbagey for it but okay in small quantities.

i'd suggest doubling the quantities so you have an extra dinner in the fridge or freezer. like all curries, it gets better once it's been standing around for a while. also, do try and use fresh spices - i know it's nerdy but it does make a difference. i don't suggest you make your own garam masala but grinding the cumin and cardamom does make a difference.

for 2-3

for the base:
1-2 medium-sized onions
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1tsp cumin seeds
2 green chillies, deeseded and chopped
olive oil
salt and pepper
2tsp garam masala
2tsp tumeric
1/2tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tin chopped tomatoes
a handful of fresh coriander, chopped

1 large aubergine, cut into big chunks
1 smallish butternut squash, cut into big chunks - i don't bother peeling them but you can if you don't like the skin
optional: handful of spinach, some button mushrooms, or whatever you fancy

fry the onion, garlic, ginger, cumin seeds and chillies with a pinch of salt in olive oil until soft.

stir in the garam masala, tumeric and cardamom, followed by the chopped tomatoes, and half the coriander. simmer for ten minutes before adding the aubergine and squash, and mushrooms if using. leave to simmer, covered with a lid, for about 45 mins to an hour - or until vegetables are soft. you do need to check about about half an hour as it might start catching - in which case, add a bit of water. if using spinach, throw it in at the last minute and allow it to wilt.

Friday, 7 January 2011

chorizo and goat's cheese-stuffed squid

having slagged off the 'more is more' principle in the last post of 2010, i confess this recipe is not miles away from doing the same thing. not so much in terms of quantity of ingredients - there are only three of them, effectively - but in failing to stop at one good thing. why have only goat's cheese when you can have chorizo as well??? why have just chorizo and cheese when you can mix them up and put them inside a squid???

but you can't go wrong with these ingredients, can you?

for four

8 baby squid, cleaned
150g goat's cheese
200g chorizo
350ml white wine (or just use water)
a small knob of butter
some chopped parsley

put the chorizo in a small pan with the wine and bring to the boil. simmer for about ten minutes. drain and put in a food processor with the cheese, and blend.

use a small spoon or a piping bag if you have one to stuff the mixture inside baby squid. close the top with some toothpicks - i used wooden skewers because i couldn't find anything else.

heat some oil in a frying pan and fry the squid over medium heat until cooked and nicely browned. when almost done, put in the knob of butter and parsley to finish off the cooking. that's it.

nice eaten with some salad. possibly tomato salad in the summer.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

slow roast chocolate and chilli pork

i made this for a party we had a while back, when it was seemingly quite a success. soft, juicy meat falling off the bone – you could practically eat it with a spoon – was piled onto floury baps and devoured pretty damn fast, from what i can remember.

i did make a few changes this time, the main one being that i cooked the meat uncovered as i wanted to get crackling. i must admit i was anticipating defeat – it’s hard to get crackling even when you whack the oven up high straight away, let alone when you leave the joint in the oven overnight.

for that is the secret of this pig’s success: it’s one of those slow roasts that requires practically no attention yet tastes absolutely amazing. the trick is to get a fatty piece of meat – i usually go for pork or lamb shoulder – on the bone, add some herbs and spices, and then cook in on very low temperature. i mean low: this cooked for some 15 hours at 100 degrees C. you turn the heat up to 230 for the last half an hour or so to finish off the crackling. but the majority of cooking is long and slow.

you could of course skip all the elaborate flavouring and go for something simple instead (maybe fennel seeds and bay) but i’d urge you to try the chilli/chocolate thing just once. you can’t taste the chocolate as such but, as with the christmas pudding from the last post, it definitely adds some background depth. i used the poncey 100 per cent cacao but you can just use the normal cocoa powder (with no sugar added, obviously).

feel free to play with the herbs and spices used – i used thyme because i had some in the fridge and i also chucked in some sage leaves in the roasting tin.

also, feel free to baste if you can remember. i did do it every now and again as i was at home that morning but i never too convinced it makes that much difference. i guess hot fat might help crisp up the crackling.

final word of advice, when you turn the heat up at the end, watch the skin so it doesn’t burn. i have ruined a piece of crackling in this way before, and there is nothing sadder than trying to eat a cremated bit of black pork skin, when you could be greasing your fingers and your chin and cracking your teeth with some lovely crackling instead.

for more than a dozen

3 ancho or other dried Mexican chilies, stemmed and seeded
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
12 cloves
5 in piece of cinnamon bark or stick
1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
6 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp salt
6 tbsp grated 100% cacao or just proper cocoa powder
olive oil
fresh thyme - a few sprigs
fresh sage - a few leaves (optional)

toast all the spices in a dry frying pan until fragrant. make sure they don't burn so watch them all the time. crush them using a pestle and mortar, then add the garlic and the chilli - size of mortar permitting. i put the spices in another bowl and crushed garlic, salt and thyme leaves separately. either way, mix it all together with the chocolate and enough olive oil to form a paste.

if you have time, rub the paste on the underside of the meat (i.e. not the skin) and leave in the fridge overnight for the flavours to penetrate the meat. if you haven't got time, it's not a big deal - it tastes pretty good anyway.

preheat the oven to 100 C. rub some of the paste taken from underneath the pork onto the skin itself, and rub a little more salt to ensure you get a decent crackling.

now put the pork in the oven, uncovered, skin down to start with, and leave to roast for, say, 3 hours. after that, take the roasting tin out of the oven, turn the pork over so it's now facing skin up, baste the skin with the fat from the tin, and leave to cook for another few hours. i would say 8-9 is probably a minimum and twice that long is fine. i cooked mine from 8 in the evening till 12 noon the next day.

in the last 30-45 minutes, turn the heat up to 230 C to crisp up the crackling.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

chocolate christmas pudding

this is a note to self for next year, more than anything else. a christmas pudding to end all christmas puddings - chocolatey, fruity, boozy and with none of the bad stuff in it. it IS sweet so let's not pretend this is low in carbohydrates and will help you lose weight. but it has no sugar added and consists chiefly of fruit and nuts, with a bit of booze and a surprise ingredient: 100 per cent cacao.

the recipe comes from willie harcourt-cooze, the king of chocolate and an erstwhile star of a tv programme about the trials and tribulations of growing and processing cacao on his estate. his 100er is stocked by waitrose but you can of course substitute 90 or 85 per cent if you can't find it. interestingly, you can't really taste the chocolate much - it's more of a subtle background flavour. in fact, i'd say you can probably smell it more than it being a distinct taste.

i should add that i halved this recipe and baked two small puddings - one of those was just enough for four people. the large pudding, as below, would feed more than a dozen. probably 15, in fact.


250g dried unsulphured apricots
200g pitted prunes
145g whole almonds, roughly chopped
145 ground almonds
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground allspice
1tsp nutmeg
750ml prune juice
90g 100 per cent cacao grated or chopped
300g sultanas
300g raisins
200g apples, peeled, cored and grated
zest of 3 large oranges, grated
4 large eggs
180ml sherry
50ml brandy
splash of olive oil

chop the apricots and prunes (or whizz in a food processor, as i did), place in a large bowl and add the ground almonds, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. set aside.

bring the prune juice to the boil in a saucepan over medium heat. lower the hear until reduced by about two thirds. remove from the heat and stir in the cacao until melted and smooth. leave to cool for 10 minutes or so.

stir all the remaining ingredients except the olive oil into the prune juice and chocolate mixture, then tip into the bowl with apricots. cover the bowl and leave in a cool place for a day or two, stirring occasionally. having said 'the cool place', i confess to hating the expression: it basically assumes you have a pantry. i don't. stick it in the fridge.

when ready to cook, lightly grease a 1.8l pudding bowl or two 900ml ones. fill almost to the top with the prepared mixture, then lightly oil the top of the pudding with the olive oil and cover with a double layer of greaseproof paper. tie the paper firmly in place with a length of string, allowing a little extra to make a handle.

place the pudding bowl in a large pan. add enough water to reach about halfway up the sides of the bowl, then place over low heat, cover the pan and simmer gently or 2 1/2 or 3 hours. i did my mini puddings for 2 hours. make sure you keep the water topped up as you don't want the puddings to boil dry.

when finished, allow the puddings to cool. when they are cold, take off the paper and replace it with a fresh piece, tied firmly with string. now you can keep the puddings in that same cool and dry place - i.e. the fridge - for six months.

reheat to serve by steaming again for 2 hours. turn the pudding onto a plate, light a ladle-full of brandy and pour over the pudding to set it alight. switch the light off, for maximum effect, and lots of aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhs. yum.