Sunday, 18 November 2012
and then two things happened.
first, someone at work said his wife had started a food blog. obviously, these days everyone who can scramble an egg has to have a blog but you never know, i thought. i'll have a little look - magnanimously wishing for a pleasant surprise, while secretly hoping it was rubbish. and rubbish it was, my friends, utterly rubbish. not just the writing - though that made me feel like fiodor dostoyevski on a particularly good day - but the food too. of course, i smiled politely and said he must eat well, and left it at that. (i am not sure i like the guy anyway.)
second, i've been having a hard time at work choosing between two different jobs that were sort of being offered to me. both had things about them i liked, both would involve working with some impressive people, and both would - sadly - probably mean i have even less time for this. in an insomnia- and headache-inducing frenzy of choosing, i resorted to reading a book called 'how to find fulfilling work' by a school of lifer roman krznaric (as iches go, that's a good one). one of the things he talks about is the need to get 'flow' from your job - flow being those activities when you forget yourself, and don't notice the time passing. it was pretty obvious to me straight away where i find flow: cooking and writing (and thinking about wording of EU directives on financial regulation, more of which below).
incidentally, i do wonder why i am so terrible at making decisions. my gut feeling is so badly honed that i usually can't find it at all, even if i wanted to listen to it. it's probably in part a curse of being reasonably good at lots of stuff, while not being exemplary or exceptional in anything. but there must be a large portion of southern european upbringing somewhere in there too. we delegate all responsibility to our parents, who are in turn largely happy not to let us grow up. i reckon if you get told to get a summer job if you want money for stuff, and you get kicked out to university or work aged 18, you probably become an adult a lot faster than we did, eating mum's cooking aged 40 and hoping she might iron our shirts too. i think i know which job i am going to choose, but i am still not 100 per cent certain.
anyway, those two things made me think that perhaps food and blogging about it is not a luxury, but a necessity - something that will give me pleasure, keep me sane, and stop me from thinking too much about those EU directives. which really is the third reason for this.
basically, rich told me off for being boring because i spend too much time thinking about work....it all came to a head on a weekday night, while we were ostensibly watching michael palin being nice in brazil (it should have been the title of the series). i was half-watching and half-reading that day's financial times, and then i uttered the sentence that clearly made rich snap. 'you know bank bail-in debt, right? i mean, who's going to buy this stuff?' to which the reply was: 'put the fucking newspaper down and watch the programme. there is more to life than financial markets'.
so there we go. best get myself a hobby. i thought i'd set myself a task of posting at least once every two weeks. that would make it 25ish posts a year, which is pretty good going. and it must be manageable. i'll just have to read less FT.
Wednesday, 6 June 2012
those brown things are buffalo burgers (courtsey of laverstock farm, rather than my own work - sourcing and grinding buffalo meat is a step too far, even for me). i defrosted them when i got in this afternoon - we usually have some buffalo or venison 100% burgers in the freezer as a quick lunch or a speedy dinner like this one.
the rest are roast sweet potato and cauliflower (olive oil, seasoning, chilli flakes, 220C for about 20-25 mins), and mixed green salad from the garden (no snails included - they floated to the surface when i washed the leaves, and made a desperate bid to escape. i chucked them outside the window, hoping they'd land in the grass. both landed in neighbour's garden. oops.)
that's it. it took about 5 minutes to prep - 2 to cut up the veggies and season them, 3 to make the salad dressing - plus a minute to put the burgers in a pan. you don't need to watch the burgers, you just need to flip them after 5 mins and go back to reading your newspapers.
why would you eat baked beans on toast??
Friday, 1 June 2012
we have been making a concerted effort to eat more fish though in all honestly, i have more of an issue with fish than i do with meat. in fact, i could never get my head around the fact that many 'vegetarians' continue to eat fish even when they eschew meat. it seems more legitimate to eat animals we have domesticated for the purpose, many of which - let's be honest about it - wouldn't stand a chance in the wild, than to empty the seas of fish which are just minding their own business and having nothing whatsoever to do with us. why not eat rabbits or squirrels instead, or wild deer or birds? there are plenty of them and their numbers presumably need controlling. plus those puffins on nature programmes always look quite tasty.
it's diving that's done this to me. once you've been down there, you can't really see dead fish on fishmongers' slabs without thinking of how beautiful the reefs are, or how amazing it is to get caught in the middle of schooling barracuda, or how privileged you are to be able to watch mackerel feeding on the surface or sharks hunting (i wish). This parallel underwater world - and i really can't avoid this sounding like a cliche but it is SO different that you can't but think of it as being wholly alien from our terrestrial existence - seems more precious because it is basically irreplaceable.
the point of all of this is to say i approach fish-buying with a heavy heart. we have pretty much stopped eating scallops unless they're cold water and MCS-certified ones (waitrose, in case you were wondering) and eat nothing more exciting that local mackerel, octopus, squid and the odd bit of salmon. gurnard too but it's so bony that you lose the will to live a little by the time you're done picking bones out of your mouth. there are only so many jokes about the heimlich maneuver you can make before your husband wants you dead.
monkfish was a bit of a departure from the usual, then. i actually had in mind a monkfish curry - a recipe from skye gyngell i've been circling around for months like an obese person circles mcdonalds. but then i realised we had some ham in the fridge and thought it might be nice to roast it wrapped, the way we have done with beef or even salmon. we toyed with the idea of filleting it but decided it's probably the same as the meat: it's better to roast it on the bone to preserve some juice. we were right (though of course i'd have to cook it off the bone to be sure). a meat thermometer is probably a useful tool for cooking this, as you can judge the cooking time much better with it. we didn't use one (though we have it and use it for meat all the time) so i think we got lucky.
PS san daniele ham is a close relative of parma ham.
ROAST MONKFISH ON THE BONE1 monkfish tail, bone in (ours was about 800g, including the bone)
150g or thereabouts of san daniele ham
a sprig of rosemary
preheat the oven to 200C. wash and dry the monkfish, and remove any membrane you can spot. oil it a little, then season lightly with salt and generously with black pepper. lay the ham flat - if you buy it from the deli, it will usually come perfectly packed, in a single layer of lightly overlapping thin slices. if it's from a supermarket, you'll have to take out those annoying plastic sheets they put between the slices. but you get the idea of what it should look like from the photo, hopefully. put the fish in the middle of the ham slices, so they face east-west and the fish north-south. (i don't know why i am struggling to find the words to explain that - i am in belgrade and i seem to have forgotten how to speak english in 3 days). if you have any rosemary, lay a sprig in the middle of the fish.
now wrap the ham around the fish - take a slice from the left, then one from the right, overlapping slightly, and continue until it's all used up. kind of like plaiting. it doesn't have to look perfect. i didn't need to secure it with toothpicks or anything - it stuck to the fish enough to be able to handle it without it all falling apart.
heat some oil in a ovenproof, heavy-bottomed frying pan. sear the fish for about a minute on each side, then put the whole thing in the oven for another 10-15 minutes. you will need to check it as it's pretty nasty when it's overcooked - i'd go as far as to say you're better off taking it out of the oven after 10 and cutting into it to see what it's like, than overcooking it. if it's still translucent, put it back for 5 mins or even less. if it looks done - sort of white and opaque, take it out. transfer it to a warm plate and leave it to rest - don't overrest though, cold fish is grim.
Saturday, 26 May 2012
i'm not sure what it's about, this reluctance to sell up and move on. it may partly be because we have been largely happy here. we did have a couple of years with a crack den on the ground floor. i was desperate to get out then. my reaction to the den evolved from misery to fear, and then from fear to anger - which i guess is why we went to court to get the guy evicted. during that period, the whole idea of keeping it real and not wanting to live a weird and isolated life of a posh tosser was out of the window completely - all i could think about was a nice row of georgian houses somewhere like hampstead. but when the crack den went, and a very nice woman with flower baskets and barbecues and a slightly loud family replaced it, we have done very little about moving. i do look at property websites practically every day but i do it in a way i look at facebook - as a habit, and without much conviction. we've even been to see a couple of places but beyond talking about it excitedly at dinner, we never follow up.
the other part of not wanting to move is the strange microcosm of shops and services around us. when we first moved, i'd never heard of steve hatt's - in fact, i remember rich sending me a text message to tell me he'd found this amazing fish shop just round the corner. little did we know that half of north london went there to buy their fish. next door to hatt's is the greengrocer and next to them a butcher. it took a while but we now know all of them, and have little chats every weekend. i thought i'd made it when one of the fishmongers from hatt's said hello to me on the street and not in the shop - considering the volume of people they see, i was chuffed he remembered me.
it makes a difference, this sort of thing. we all want to be a part of something, and being a part of a community in the middle of a very urban london neighbourhood is quite unusual. don't get me wrong - even while writing this, part of me fears i've jinxed it and will be mugged tomorrow, and it's not all sweetness and neighbourly love - our car's been broken into at least twice since we came here.
but still, i enjoy it enough to carry on living here, even if we have outgrown this flat in many ways.
Thursday, 24 May 2012
Wednesday, 23 May 2012
well, a few weeks later, he has apparently lost some 10kg and has been eating chorizo omelettes and walnuts for breakfast. i hope he continues and actually does some exercise too - that's when the whole thing comes together.
this is mid-week breakfast. i was on a business trip yesterday and my dinner consisted of some chocolate-covered almonds (70% chocolate, natch) and some red wine, courtesy of BA delays. i know i shouldn't worry about skipping meals but i do. something substantial for breakfast was in order. so three eggs, a bit of chorizo, a double espresso and I'm ready to go. no recipe - it's an omelette, for god's sake.
Saturday, 19 May 2012
this was today's breakfast. well, actually, it was more like lunch - we got up late, went to the gym, queued at the fish shop, queued at the veg shop, said hello to the butcher, came home...and then we had breakfast. so it was 12.30 already, i think. not that i wouldn't eat this at 7.30 in the morning but still. and if it looks big, i should add that we also had 3 pieces of bacon each - but they were ruining my photo so i hid them. (incidentally, i have found nitrate-free bacon in a supermarket so we now tend to eat it a little bit more often than we used to.)
i was leafing through the first mark hix book the other day when i spotted this dish. it's not so much a recipe but just a simple idea to put things together that you wouldn't normally think of doing. and it's the asparagus season now so i am making sure we eat so much of it that we're sick of the sight of the stuff by the end of may.
you can buy potted shrimps in shops if you can't find these brown ones on their own - our fishmonger sells them in little plastic trays of maybe 100g each. if you do use potted, don't use extra butter. as it happens, i poured most of the butter away because rich has some bizarre dislike of it when it's melted in large quantities. there is a particular face he makes, accompanied by the 'urghh, it smells too buttery'. personally, i didn't know such a thing was possible but there you go. i actually think it's the milk solids in the butter he hates - milk on its own makes him gag too. maybe i should just start using more ghee for cooking.
DUCK EGGS, ASPARAGUS AND BROWN SHRIMPS
a bunch of asparagus, trimmed
4 duck eggs
100g or however much you fancy of brown shrimps
a knob of butter (25g or so)
boil the asparagus for about 4 minutes, depending on how thick it is. drain and set aside. melt the butter in a pan, add the brown shrimps and warm through. at the same time, fry the eggs until the white is set but the yolk is runny. add the asparagus to the shrimps to warm it through, then plate the eggs and spoon the asparagus and shrimp mixture on top.
Saturday, 5 May 2012
this was the pork belly to end all pork bellies. i am still struggling to understand why it was so much better than any other pork belly i've ever made (and i have tried a couple of times since) but there are a couple of factors that may have contributed to it.
first, the pork was a hefty piece of belly, with the ribs taken off. so it was quite thin and flat. second, it was scored in very thin rows, probably no more than a centimeter apart and quite deep. third, it was from islington farmers' market, so must have been from a happy pig. i have tried to replicate the same thing with belly on the bone and it just didn't work - i think the fat doesn't render as much. this, as you can see from the photo (including the fact that we ate almost all of it), was perfect in that regard - that layer of fat between the skin and the meat, which i normally don't much like, had all but disappeared, leaving only the super crispy crackling and the soft, juicy meat underneath.
i followed nigella's recipe (i like how she, delia and jamie don't need second names any more) but only in part. i had no time to marinade the meat and in fact, i can't remember what i rubbed it with - garlic, soy sauce and oil, perhaps? but the temperature and the timing was definitely hers, and it worked perfectly: low and slow but not too low, then whack the heat up to crisp it up. i experimented with lower and longer and it just didn't work.
SLOW ROAST PORK BELLY
1.75 kg pork belly
marinade - see above but feel free to experiment, or just don't use anything
ideally, you will have left the pork in the fridge overnight, uncovered, to dry it out. i usually forget. however, do take it out of the fridge a couple of hours before you start cooking to allow it to come to room temperature.
preheat the oven to 150C. find a roasting tin that the pork fits snugly in and line with foil. smear your marinade on the meat side (you might have marinaded beforehand), then plonk the pork in the tin and rub the skin all over with salt. now roast the pork uncovered for 3.5 hours. whack the heat up to 250C for another half an hour to crisp up the skin.
Wednesday, 2 May 2012
nuts - whatever you've got and this was whole almonds, pistachios, macadamias and brazils - soaked in salted water overnight, then dried in the oven at the lowest setting all day. i spread them over a baking tray lined with kitchen paper, in a single layer, and left them all day in a 50C oven. couldn't tell you how long for - maybe 9-10 hours (i went to work and just left it - nothing much can go wrong at that temperature). i then added some dessicated coconut and put it back in for another half an hour to dry a bit more.
separately, i whizzed up in a food processor 3 small dried figs with about a tablespoon of vanilla extract and the same of ground cinnamon. i added the cooled nuts and pulsed until it was all gravely.
that's it. i had it with some blackberries and yoghurt this morning and it was really quite nice. (almost too sweet - i'd skip the figs next time, i think - makes you realise how your palate changes over time.) it would be good with coconut milk, as a 'cereal', though that's a bit too pretend for me. i like it more as an addition to fruit, to add crunch and protein.
PS do you like my serbian splash guard behind the cooker? i do.
Sunday, 29 April 2012
Friday, 27 April 2012
not the most exciting of dinners but 'salright when you want a proper stew. i never think of buying braising steak - i guess i am not that excited by that kind of food, stuff you can eat with a spoon.
which is funny, because things you eat with a spoon have a long and noble history where i come from, and is in fact one reason (the other being the ubiquity of meat) that i think my husband would fit in well pretty much anywere from about dubrovnik to belgrade.
my mum was always worried about us - and everyone else - not eating enough stuff with a spoon. ii can hear her saying it now: 'you can't eat dry food every day!', when describing someone particularly inept at cooking, usually in the context of how badly they feed their children. 'dry food' was a loose term, encompassing foodstuffs like sandwiches, crisps, even shopbought 'pita' or filo pastry pie, or meat kebabs in soft naan-like bread, a bosnian speciality. (i'm not sure what was wrong with any of these - i can only guess that it's the lack of vegetables as adding veg does tend to give you a more sloppy or juicy end product.) as far as she was concerned, none of this was proper food and she attributed all manner of evils to it, chiefly and predominantly constipation.
even when she didn't make proper lunch, which wasn't very often, we'd rarely make do with sandwiches or bread. dad would make omelettes with feta cheese, or polenta with creme fraiche. or there'd be pita in the freezer, made with greens and cheese, but in that case it was obligatory to have soup before it (to up the wet quotient, presumably).
it's making me smile as i write this though obviously i now totally agree with my mum, and balk at people who don't do spoons. and, since we were kids, the category of 'dry food' has expanded, as has the number of people who eat it instead of a proper meal. which is ironic, considering that the horror of eating just bread and nothing else must have come from post-war poverty in yugoslavia.
anyway, the opposite of dry food wasn't necessarily a stew but anything that's cooked on the stove, often slowly, often involving a vegetable of some sort stuffed with minced veal or pork. but stews too - kapama or bosanski lonac both involve chucking loads of meat and veg into an eathenware pot and cooking it slowly.
which is kind of what this is, except for the browing of meat. i made loads of this - practically double the quantity below - thinking i could freeze half and we'd have enough for two dinners. fat chance, with two greedy buggers like us. there was just about enough of it left over for rich to have some on monday night when i was out with julie (having a massive steak).
BEEF AND BUTTERNUT SQUASH STEW
600g beef braising steak, cut into big chunks, around 3cmx3cm
1 butternut squash, cut into chunks about the same size as beef
2 small red onions, cut in half
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3-4 thyme sprigs
2 tbs tomato pure
400 ml chicken stock
splash of worcestershire sauce
2 tbs chopped parsley
salt and pepper
first, dry the meat with some kitchen towel and season with salt and pepper. heat the oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan with a lid until smoking. brown the meat in batches - don't overcrowd the pan or the meat will boil. when done, remove and set aside.
next, brown the butternut squash in the same way and set aside.
add the onions, garlic and thyme to the pan and cook on gentle heat for about ten minutes. make sure the pan is not very hot from cooking the beef and the squash or you will burn the garlic and it will taste acrid and ruin your stew. i'm speaking from personal experience here. add the tomato pure and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
add the meat and the stock, cover and cook for a couple of hours on very low heat. after that, add the squash and continue to cook until the meat and the squash are tender. i probably cooked mine for another 2 hours - which seems excessive but it was only then the meat got tender.
before serving, add a splash of worcestershire sauce and sprinkle with chopped parsley. check the seasoning too, always a good idea.
Saturday, 21 April 2012
my first encounter with angela hartnett was on the day i got my citizenship. we went to her restaurant at the conaught for a posh lunch, and ended up drinking and eating some three hundred quid's worth of stuff, which at the time (and for a lunchtime service) was a lot of money. still is, in fact. R and G paid for me, which i will never forget. the food was pretty amazing - i had lamb, which included both the slow cooked neck and a best end - and it's hard to go wrong with that. we had pedro ximenez with desserts, and i have been trying to buy a bottle ever since.
going to islington town hall to become british was a weird occasion, not altogether devoid of poignancy and meaning as i'd fully expected it to be. citizenship ceremonies - any kind of ceremony, to be more accurate - and cynicism tend not to go together particularly well. being a fully paid up cynic, i expected to feel nothing, partly justifying my lack of any kind of...i don't know... moment by the fact that it took nine long years to get there, and several refusals that i still think were unjustified and unforgivable. (the story of the appeal hearing in birmingham is worthy of a post alone).
before i went, my parents told me to at least honour the occasion by wearing a suit, rather than going casual as i'd planned to do. i reckon my mum had one eye on the photographs - as i should have done too but what the hell do you know about that sort of thing when you're young(ish). nothing in my life so far had exactly been permanent, so the idea of worrying about what i might look like in photos 20 years later never really crossed my mind. anyway, i wore a suit, to keep them happy.
i also thought at least as much about what i was no longer going to be, which is not an easy one to untangle. i left the country with an old yugoslav passport, at a time when the country itself officially no longer existed. (it made for an interesting conversation at budapest airport.) if someone gave me one of those passports now, i'd gladly accept it but the chances of that happening are zero. we were and are an accident of history. i then took out a bosnian passport, issued by a woman whose daughter was one of my best friends but who had a dim view of all serbs after her boyfriend and her dad - both of whom i knew, of course - died in the war. her dad - this woman's husband - was an MP who got shot at point blank by a serb during the siege. (i read it in the times while in liverpool, and thought my heart might break.) by the time i was applying for the british passport, we'd sold the flat in sarajevo and i no longer had an address there. my parents were in serbia, with serbian passports. stateless, i actually felt pretty free - a citizen of the world.
of course, i took the passport but i did so so knowingly and willingly. now think everyone should attend a ceremony, even if the thought of singing 'god save the queen' with loads of eastern europeans and west africans makes you cringe slightly. it focuses the mind a lot more than signing a bit of paper would.
but back to angela. i'd made this recipe once already but i cheated by not frying up the chicken first and not using any herbs (i didn't have any). oh, and i forgot the lemon zest. my advice would be - don't skip the herbs and the lemon. for a dish with not many ingredients, the flavour from those is pretty crucial. otherwise you just have some roast chicken.
not sure about the browning bit though. it takes time, your kitchen ends up covered in a film of oil and for what? the skin is no crispier than i get in the oven, at a slightly higher temperature of 200C. so, not sure i'd bother next time.
CHICKEN WITH CHORIZO, PEPPERS AND SAGE
1 chicken, jointed into 4 or 6
3 red peppers, chopped roughly
100g chorizo, chopped roughly - i used cooking chorizo but normal stuff will do. just don't try and use already sliced stuff as it will come to nothing when cooked. you need chunks of the stuff. 100g was around 2 sausages
2 garlic cloves
2 tbs chopped sage
1 tsp chopped thyme
salt and pepper
season the chicken pieces and fry in hot oil until brown - 4-5 minutes for both sides, or thereabouts. remove them from the pan and set aside. next, add a bit more olive oil and cook the chorizo for 2-3 minutes, then add the peppers, garlic, sage and thyme, and cook for another two minutes. preheat the oven to 180C.
put the chorizo mixture in the bottom of a roasting dish and place the chicken pieces on top. zest the lemon and sprinkle all over chicken, then squeeze the juice of one half over it. bake in the oven for 45 minutes, turning the chicken half way through cooking.
Sunday, 15 April 2012
i wrote a whole post about this - before deleting it by mistake. although i know what it was about, the thought of repeating it makes me feel nauseaus.
of course, now it's gone, it seems like the wittiest, the most amazing blog post i've ever done. in reality, it was just a rant against yolam ottolenghi, whose bastardised recipe this is.
SWISS CHARD OMELETTE
for four, with salad, as a light lunch
a bunch of swiss chard, leaves and stalks - maybe 300g or thereabouts, washed and cut into ribbons
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
herbs - whatever you can find of the soft variety - parsley and chives work well but basil, coriander, etc would too - finely chopped
a knob of butter
2 heaped tbs creme fraiche - don't go for the very posh variety which is almost like clotted cream. it needs to be runny. rachel's organic does the job perfectly.
first, make the omelettes. whisk the eggs with the finely chopped herbs and season. now melt the butter in a large(ish) frying pan and when foaming, pout in half of the egg mixture so it's almost like a thin pancake. cook until set. try not to overcook it or it ends up too dry. repeat with the other half of the egg.
next, do the chard - heat a little bit of olive oil in a pan with a lid, then gently fry the garlic until soft, add the chard leaves and stalks, cover and cook on gentle heat until it's done and no longer watery.
now do the assembly. preheat the oven to 180C. lay out both omelettes on a baking sheet, spread half of each with the swiss chard mixture, and put a big dollop of creme fraiche on top. fold over and bake in the oven for only about ten minutes, until it's all heated through.
Monday, 19 March 2012
this isn't a recipe so much as an idea. if you have any leftover cooking chorizo (and who doesn't, daaaaarling), it's perfect for making roast vegetables a bit more interesting.
clearly, you can't see any of that on the photo because rich put the fish on top of everything before i had time to take a photograph. i suppose i could have moved it but let's face it, that's not the kind of blogging i do.
you just have to take my word for it. it was nice, i promise. nice in a way that won't win me any michelin stars but it is the kind of food i like best.
truth is, i bought the bream and the chorizo to make an angela hartnett recipe - before realising it required lots of other ingredients i didn't have. instead of admitting defeat, and wanting to go to the gym, i thought i'd bung it all in the oven to see what happened.
as midweek suppers go, it was pretty special.1 small butternut squash, cut into chunks
3 cooking chorizo sausages, cut into chunks about the same size as the squash
5 small or 3 large red onions, quartered
2 sprigs of thyme
2-3 sage leaves
salt and pepper
some chopped parsley and basil - optional
Sunday, 18 March 2012
so. almost a year. quite a long time, by any standards.