Saturday, 26 May 2012

bream with chorizo, broad beans and tomatoes

when we first moved to this flat, we didn't think we'd stay long. it was our first property - a one bed ex-council flat in a 1920's block - and we thought we'd do better in a couple of years.

somehow - 7 years later - we never moved, even after we could afford to do it.

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.

the point of all of this was to say that the fish in this recipe was from hatt's, and i can't tell you how much difference it makes compared to buying a sad, wet and slightly smelly shrink-wrapped fillet from a supermarket. rich did the filleting here (and the fish cooking but shhhhhh i like to pretend it's all me), and the recipe is - surprise, surprise - angela hartnett's. she makes it with potatoes, which i replaced with broad beans for something slightly starchy. it really did work - though i do think you need to get rid of the outer broad bean shell unless they are very very small, so it's not something you want to do if you are cooking for more than two.

for two

4 sea bream fillets, skin on and scored - you can kind of see it on the picture: just take a very sharp knife and make a few slits on each fillet but without slicing through the flesh. scoring the skin in this way helps it not curl up and go weird during cooking
olive oil
about 300g broad beans, unshelled - podded, boiled for 3 minutes, then released from the tough outer skins
100g chorizo sausage, diced into 1cm cubes
2 leeks, very finely sliced
250g cherry tomatoes, cut in half
a few fresh thyme sprigs
a small handful of parsley, chopped
a squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper

first, fry the chorizo in a little bit of oil until it releases its spicy oil - 2 or 3 minutes, i guess. add the leeks and cook over high heat for around 5 minutes, but don't allow them to brown. add the cherry tomatoes, the chopped herbs and season to taste.

heat some oil in a separate pan, then add the bream fillets, skin-side down, and pan fry for 3 minutes until they are golden. turn the fish over carefully and continue to cook for a minute, if that.

spoon the veggies onto plates and top with fish. squeeze a little lemon juice on top.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

communal garden

'salright, innit? you can't quite see my swiss chard though.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

chorizo omelette

it was hazel who made me think of making this. she asked a little while ago about a colleague who, though keen to lose weight, couldn't quite get his head around eating like this, or the fact that it's the spuds he ought to be avoiding and not bacon. he'd read a little bit about it but couldn't shake off his suspicion that a lot of people in the 'paleo' movement are basically nutters. i cant disagree with him - like anything unconventional, it attracts zealots of the wrong kind. i suggested he reads gary taubes: though spectacularly boring, it's proper science for disbelievers.

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

duck eggs, asparagus and brown shrimps

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.

for two

a bunch of asparagus, trimmed
4 duck eggs
100g or however much you fancy of brown shrimps
olive oil
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

slow-roast pork belly

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.


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

homemade 'granola'

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.