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.