Thursday, September 04, 2014

Blackened Corn Salad

Picture this - a day in September, sunshine, blue skies, balmy breeze - where are you? I have all that and I'm still in London - and definitely surprised. Have decided to send it off with a bang, this glorious summer, in the hope it will come again to spread delight. The forecast is for summer at least till the end of the week so I am having barbecue daily - and that's not something you hear said much in Blighty. Tonight there will be an experiment - a vegetarian version of the usual meat fest. I'm planning skewers of halloumi, cherry tomatoes, half moons of courgette and a chunk of red onion. To go with there will be home grown cucumber with yoghurt and my new favourite blackened corn salad.

Have eaten the corn salad a few times over the summer. For the longest time I only ever ate corn on the cob boiled till tender then slathered in butter. Loved it. But all other corn requirements were met by tins or bags from the freezer. I had always assumed that to get the niblets off the core required some sort of special skill and that doing it myself would definitely result in disaster, or mush. No idea where that came from. Then recently I had some corn in my weekly veg bag and, as bbq was on the agenda, had a sudden urge to see what would happen if I cooked them first then cut the corn off. OMG it was so easy and so fabulous and I have been kicking myself - hard - for not trying it years ago. Better late than never, I guess.

Blackened Corn Salad

Serves 4 as a side dish

2 or 3 cobs of corn, fresh as you like
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of a lime
1 finely chopped chilli, deseeded first if you don't want it too spicy
2 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

While your bbq heats shuck the corn, discarding the leaves and all the silky threads then brush the bare cobs with a little bit of olive oil. Put the corn over the flames and let them blacken a bit then turn to blacken the next bit till it's cooked all around. This only takes a few minutes.

Take the corn back inside and stand the pointy bit into a salad bowl while holding the stalk end - you'll probably need an oven glove - and use a sharp knife to cut all the niblets off. While the corn is still warm add the rest of the olive oil, the lime juice, chilli and coriander and mix well. Taste and add seasoning if it needs it.

Gorgeous with zesty chicken and barbecued pork chops too.

Tomorrow it's Friday so there will be steak, medium rare, with sides of roasted onion & green bean salad and beetroot with walnuts and radish tops. Saturday always seems a better day to do a little faffing, so I'm planning to simmer some belly pork strips with ginger and garlic then skewer cubes of the meat to cook again over fire to serve Viet style with bun noodles, salad, crushed peanuts and that favourite sauce of a sauce loving people, nuoc cham.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tomato Jam

Yes really, jam! They are a fruit, really, though most often used in a savoury fashion that it's easy to forget they may have other possibilities. I love them raw and cooked at this time of year, and the lovely summer we're (still?) having has produced a juicy well flavoured crop, piled in abundance in all the shops and street markets round me. I had a few too many last week so made a big pot of this lovely jam, originally from a recipe by Jose Pizarro. I made and bottled a couple of kilos but you can make a small quantity for a single jar - which I did last year - and it still tastes just great. It's a bit like a marmalade rather than a very sweet jam.

Tomato Jam

Makes approximately 300ml

1kg ripe, well flavoured tomatoes
125g caster sugar
125g demerara sugar
1 small cinnamon stick
peel of 1/2 lemon
peel of 1/2 orange - tie the two lots of peel together with string to make it easy to remove

Use a sharp knife to make a cross in the skin on the base of each tomato.

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, add the tomatoes and simmer for 3 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the tomatoes from the pan and plunge them into iced water. Remove the stems and the skins - they will slip off really easily. Chop the tomatoes into 4 or 5 rough slices, making sure to catch the juice as you do.

Place the tomatoes and juice in a  saucepan and leave to reduce over a low heat for 20 - 30 minutes till most of the water has evaporated. Now add the sugars, cinnamon and peels and give everything a good stir. Don't break up the cinnamon.

Slowly cook the tomatoes for at about an hour - longer if you're making a bigger batch - stirring regularly. The end result should be a sticky, firm jam that is a shiny brown red colour.

When cooked remove the cinnamon stick and the citrus peel and pour into a warm sterilised jar.

Keeps well in the fridge.

This is gorgeous slathered on hot toast for breakfast, as a side with cheeses or cold roast pork or ham. And on twitter Joanne from suggested having with grilled cheese on toast - definitely on my list of weekend treats to try.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

My weekly veg bag

Have been getting a veg bag each week for a couple of months now and have settled well into using it as the starting point  for the week. This week I got a lovely shiny black aubergine, some courgettes, broad  beans - the man loves broad beans, a mix of little tomatoes, a big bag of chard and a bag of really tasty mixed salad leaves. The weather continues to be balmy - I am loving that - and we have cleaned up our baby Weber to make bbq treats.

Tonight, Thursday, we are out. Going to the Cinema Museum to see Charlie Ward then on for dinner at Pizarro.

I have some really special smoked salmon in the fridge so Friday night treat will be that with a big green salad, some sourdough bread on the side and grapes and cheese after. Simple but brilliant and next to no cleaning up. Actually it was forecast to rain Saturday so we decided to bbq Friday night instead - made up the lamb skewers and some gorgeous salads, plenty of mess and plenty of pleasure.

Saturday I think lamb skewers on the barbie to go with aubergine and walnuts, courgette and broad beans with basil oil and a roasted sweet potato salad with pumpkin seeds - all easy to prep in advance and plenty to have leftovers Sunday night. So then of course it didn't rain Saturday - and we had plenty of salads leftover and sausages in the freezer - had to be bbq again!

We had a delightful walk up the river Sunday morning after underestimating just how busy the boats to Greenwich would be with tourists and finished up near Blackfriars and this incredibly brilliant recreation of a dazzle ship.

The smoked salmon on toast with salad and a fried egg was a thoroughly brilliant Sunday supper after a fine lunch with lots of garlic and chillies and dumplings and noodles at the Baozoi Inn.

Monday I'd like chilli salt crusted tofu with wilted greens We're starting on the 5:2 diet this week as we're both getting fat and need to do something about it. Breakfast will be vegetable juice and black coffee and lunch will be a mug of miso soup. The second day will be Thursday. Made kuku instead to use up the dill and the spinach with the last of the sweet potatoes and some cucumber.

I made a passionfruit buttermilk cake that I have been hankering after for a while but had been unable to get passionfruit. Was as gorgeous as I'd hoped.

Tuesday I'm thinking roasted red onion and green beans - have onions in the fruit bowl and beans growing in the garden - to go with barbecued sausages and potato salad - proper old school summer dinner! Was the broccoli soup with some homemade soda bread after crackers with rillette.

Wednesday I am out to lunch with friends so the simplest kind of dinner is to defrost a tub a broccoli, ginger and white bean soup from the freezer and serve with some nice bread with cheese and olives before, perhaps. The man had a whinge on, wanting steak on the barbecue so rump it is with the red onion salad and a green salad from the garden with cucumber and radish leaves - for some reason I fail miserably growing radish but the tops thrive...
The man was, of course, right!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Kuku -ye Sabzi

Kuku -ye Sabzi is a Persian dish I've been making on and off for a while. You start with leafy greens, fresh herbs and eggs. The first time I made it I was expecting a variation on a frittata or herby omelette. I was astounded to discover just how wrong I was!

The dish does require the use of 4 or 5 eggs but are there simply as a binding agent - they do a lovely job of holding everything together. The predominate flavour and texture comes from the use of  large quantities of fresh herbs finely chopped with spinach or chard, and generous amounts of spring onion. It has an incredibly bold flavour, the antithesis of the gentle egginess of an omelette.

It has much in its favour - quick, easy, cheap, healthy, good hot or cold, great next day for lunch or as a central dish for a picnic. The only downside is that it's not hugely attractive to look at... but you will seduced at the first mouthful!

Kuku -ye Sabzi

This is how I made it from memory of a piece I read in the Guardian years ago - and can no longer find - but vary it to suit - you can add turmeric or walnuts or even a little flour if you want it to set more

1 bunch spinach or other leafy green
1 large bunch dill
1 bunch coriander or parsley
1 bunch spring onions
4 -5 eggs
Salt and pepper
Olive oil to cook

Wash the spinach, discard any thick stalks then shred the leaves and put them into a large bowl.. Finely chop the dill and coriander, discarding the stalks and add it to the spinach. Slice the spring onions into thin rings, green and white parts, and add to the bowl. In a small bowl beat the eggs till lightly frothy and pour them over the chopped greens, season well and mix everything together well.

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a small frying pan over a lowish heat then carefully tip the mixture into the pan. Even it out with a spatula then cover with a lid. Leave to cook for 6 or 7 minutes, then gently lift the edges to check that the base is set.

To cook the top I like to tip the kuku out onto a plate by holding a plate over the pan and quickly flipping it upside down then slide the kuku back into the pan, uncooked side down, and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes. It works well so long as the base is set. But if that seems an adventure too far simply finish it off under the grill.

Onc cooked, slide it onto a plate and leave to cool a bit or entirely.

This was the first day for the 2 element of 5:2 so I served it with some roasted sweet potato salad and sliced cucumber for a richly flavoured - but lightweight - supper. A dollop of yoghurt would not go astray if you like a creamy element.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Fish Fingers

Press play for a quick demo

I have loved fish fingers ever since I was a kid, my mum always had a packet or five in the freezer for a quick and easy tea - fish fingers, mountain of mash and lots of peas (also from the freezer). Squish the lot onto a fork for a seriously great mouthful. Sometimes mum would add lemon juice to the mash - a great trick for accompaniments to fishy dishes - but that was pretty much the only fussing about that happened. Then about the time I was around ten or eleven there was a few weeks until we moved from the way out west town of Bourke back to the balmy seaside of Wollongong and so there was a mission to empty the freezer and pantry and eat the lot before leaving. I have no recollection of anything else we ate in those few weeks but I swear we ate fish fingers daily for a month. Sometimes for lunch, more often for dinner it was fish fingers, mash and peas. Fish fingers, lemon mash and peas once or twice then back to the original. The freezer had turned into the black hole of the kitchen and it was somehow filled with one hundred times its actual volume with fish fingers and peas - and we were not leaving till every single finger and every single pea had been consumed. Somehow we made it through, boarded our flights out and left that house behind along with Cliffy our lovely galah, over which many tears were shed. My dad followed us a week later, driving the car back across the 500 miles and, softy that he can be, brought Cliffy along for company. Jubilation!

It was a very long time till I ate another fish finger, about the time I left home and had to fend for myself while a student. I soon revisited the comforting charms of fish fingers, mash and peas - great food ready in no time. It soon became apparent that fish fingers alone was even quicker, or else stuffed into a sandwich the melted butter adding extra delight, and far less washing up overall.

The last packet I bought, a few years ago, weren't great. More crumb than fish, and fish that had an awful lot of reforming inflicted upon it. I gave them up for a while then recently wanted them again. Went to Borough Friday and told Paul, who runs Sussex Fish, that I was planning to make fish fingers for dinner. Good on you madam, he said, had some a couple of weeks ago myself and it was brilliant. He picked up a lovely piece of cod fillet I'll give you that thick section there, be easy to cut that into nice fat fingers. And so it was.

Fish Fingers

400g piece of cod fillet, check there's no bones at all
2 tablespoons plain flour, seasoned with a bit of salt
1 egg, beaten
About 50g breadcrumbs, Panko work well
Oil for shallow frying

Cut the fish into 4 even pieces -these are your fingers. Dip each one first into the flour, coat it well and shake off any excess. Next dip the finger into the beaten egg and coat well. Finally dredge the fish through the breadcrumbs so that it's covered on all sides. Put each completed fish finger onto a clean plate, and when they're all done cover with cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes or so.

Heat the oil in a heavy based pan over a medium flame, when it's hot add the fish fingers and fry for a few minutes till the underside is golden. Flip them over carefully and fry the other side till they are crisp all over.

You can serve with mash and peas but, making the most of it being summer I tossed a green salad  and added a spritz of fresh lemon. Big hunk of bread in case sandwiches were needed...

Even better than I remember!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Chard Bacon & Mushroom Salad

Click to  make full screen and see how easily this salad goes together

Have developed a real passion for chard but I must admit I don't actually know how to pronounce  the word. Is it chard like a splinter of glass or chard like a bit burnt round the edges? What's even weirder  is which ever way I say it it sounds wrong, so I try the other version and - same problem.

What I am certain of is that it is a great veg shredded and cooked down with lashings of butter for a side dish, stirred into lentils and stews for lots of added minerals and the fibre that gives it its wonderful texture, stirred into noodle soups and stir fries or eaten raw in salads like this one. The lovely Gwynnie and the clean eating brigade like it juiced - and I concur, it's a great addiction in small quantities.

Chard is also a town in Somerset with its own museum, but remains unrelated to the leafy vegetable.

I had a bag of it from my veg delivery last week - another thing in its favour is it lives happily in the fridge for a week without turning to slime - and knew salad was the way to go as joy oh joy the sun was shining. Proper balmy days. I had some mushrooms too, as well as radish I bought mostly to add a kick to my morning juice. No beetroot but this is a template, you really can use what you have so long as there's something that can be sliced and cooked and added hot to wilt the leaves a little. The hot stuff I went at with enthusiasm, because bacon is great with mushrooms and with eggs and a poached egg makes it a more substantial meal. Add crusty bread and that's dinner.

Chard Mushroom & Bacon Salad

This is such an easy recipe to adapt, use chorizo instead of bacon or leave out the  bacon altogether and cook the mushrooms in oil, use different nuts and salad vegetables, turn the bread into garlic croutons, it all works.

For 2

200g chard leaves
1 tablespoon basil oil or olive oil
100g smoked bacon, cut into small cubes
150g mushrooms, wiped  clean and sliced
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Handful of radish, washed and quartered
Handful of walnuts, roughly broken into largish pieces
2 eggs
Bread and butter to serve

Tear the soft leaves from the thick stems of chard and wash thoroughly. Shred the leaves and put them into a large salad bowl then add the oil and a large pinch of salt and massage that into the leaves. Leave it for 20 minutes or so and the leaves will soften slightly.

In a dry pan fry the bacon over a gentle heat till the fat rends and turns crisply gold. Add the sliced mushrooms and stir to coat in the bacon fat then cover with a lid and cook for 5 minutes or so until the mushrooms have softened and given up some of their juice. Tip the hot bacon and mushrooms into the chard, keeping back as much of the liquid as possible and put the pan back on the heat. Deglaze with the balsamic vinegar and tip the hot mixture over the salad. Toss well then add the raw radish and walnuts and toss again.

Heat a small pan of water and poach the eggs till the whites are set and the yolk still runny.

Divide the salad between two bowls, top each with a poached egg and have crusty bread on the side.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Veg Bag Week

I've had a good food week this week, in part because the spring veg has arrived for the bags from Local Greens. One of my reasons for signing up with this scheme is wanting to eat more vegetables generally, and also have them as the starting point for more meals and the random collection each week is quite inspiring and occasionally overwhelming. There was a seductive selection this week - and as I now volunteer with them occasionally to help pack the hundreds of bags they send out each week I am gifted the bonus of some extras from the leftovers. Thursday was mountain of veg day, and also night out at the theatre day so nothing got used except lettuce and tomatoes for crusty rolls.

Friday was better - I've been wanting fish for a week or two so bought a couple of decent cod steaks from Paul on the Sussex Fish stall and simply fried them in olive oil, then finished them with thin slivers of new season garlic and chopped parsley in the last of the hot oil. For the accompaniment I roasted a couple of pointy peppers till blackened, peeled them and added them to cooked farro, and dressed it all with sliced red onions caramelised in basil oil. Perfect summer food.

Saturday we were out all day, gorgeous lunch at A Wong and a (de)light(ful) supper at Terroirs so the only food at home was made by the man strawberry and banana smoothies with coffee and toast first thing.

Sunday breakfast was more of the same and decadent as it seems we had lunch out again, roast at The Canton, which was uncharacteristically quiet for a Sunday which is lovely for us as punters but worrying for the owners if their numbers are dwindling. I had been dreaming of clove and honey glazed ham with creamy potato salad for days as I love the new potatoes served this way so that was Sunday supper with the rest of the barley salad from Friday and lots of lovely leftovers for a few lunches. There was one small disaster too - I had a pretty little purple kohlrabi and I fancied it as a slaw just grated with carrot and dressed with vinaigrette. For some reason I decided to make the dressing with eau de vie from a bottle I bought from one of the Armagnac producers in France. Tasted like you think it would - and no, it really does not work with coleslaw. Live and learn.

Monday I still had mushrooms and kale and I fancied a big robust salad, with walnuts and things. There was a hunk of sourdough left from the weekend that I could see as cheesy crouton, and still plenty of onions and garlic to fry off for flavour. Though it is a bit of a surprise to eat raw kale - it is quite metallic in flavour and a long way from delicate in texture - I have grown to like it very much. The trick I think is to discard the hard stems and then *massage* the torn leaves with olive oil and a little salt and leave to soften for an hour or so before adding the rest of the elements. I cooked lots of sliced onions and garlic in olive oil, then added sliced chestnut mushrooms to cook down and tipped the lot while hot into the bowl of *relaxed* kale. Tossed in a handful of walnuts, some sliced tomato then deglazed the pan with a splash of balsamic and mixed to combine everything before dividing between two big bowls.

The man poached a couple of eggs till just perfectly runny and added them to the top with a crunch of crouton. Seriously great dinner. More mess than I was anticipating but a total pleasure to eat.

Far simpler and much less mess was dinner Tuesday night - just the soothing stirring of rice and stock  for mushroom risotto made rich with butter and Parmesan and finished with celery leaves and parsley. For reasons I don't understand I always sleep well after a big bowl of risotto. Plenty left for lunches for a day or two.

Wednesday was time to use up the last bits from the bag - there was still a few new potatoes, a couple of onions and half a head of new season garlic, a paper bag full of broad beans. For a sunny day a warm potato and allium frittata with a side of broad beans doused in basil oil and a crunch of salt was a delight, and easier than pie.

I bought very little extra fruit and veg - apples, celery and more peppers for morning juice, strawberries and bananas for weekend smoothies and that was all. I used everything I had - the last of the kale and a couple of tomatoes went into the juicer mid week for extra healthy start mid week.

Don't know if the change to more emphasis on vegetables is significant or just that it's easier in summer to go for the delight of light when the sun shines, but I guess time will tell. Either way, it's a pleasurable way to eat.