Friday, September 28, 2007

Stir Fried Cabbage

The title of this really does sum up the absolute simplicity of this dish but not its amazing deliciousness. I finally tracked down a copy of Mrs Chiang's Szechwan Cook Book and it really is a joy. It examines Chinese - and specifically Szechwan - food and home cooking in great detail. Written with intelligence and clarity it also gives very detailed and specific instructions for how to cook each dish. At the time the book was first published around 1976 it was aimed at a US domestic market that had little experience of Chinese food and almost none in how to cook it at home. The man thinks it's like Szechwan Delia and he's not wrong. It has clarity and directness and a real sense that each dish is something that an ordinary cook can attempt successfully - a very generous way to write.

My first dinner using the book was a very good twice cooked pork and this spicy cabbage dish that I really loved. It has heat and flavour, the ribbed texture of the cabbage leaves and a final almost creaminess from the long steaming and the potato flour thickening. Try it - it's wonderful.

Stir Fried Cabbage
1/2 Savoy or Chinese cabbage, cored and finely shredded
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 tbspn chilli bean paste (from Asian grocers)
1 tbspn potato flour mixed in to 1/4 cup cold water

Heat the oil in a large pan or wok till just smoking. Stir in the chilli paste and the cabbage and keep tossing them together for five minutes. Add 1/2 cup water, cover the pan and cook over a high heat for 15 minutes. Stir to mix the potato flour into the water then add to the cabbage. Stir through for a minute till the sauce goes clear. Serve.


Monday, September 24, 2007

And this week ... I bought

Seems autumn is here - though the sun came out eventually on the weeked the streets are strewn with fallen leaves and there is a rich gold everywhere you look in the park. The market was quiet first thing and vaguely gloomy in the half light but the stalls were bursting with good things. Started as ever at Ginger Pig - no Chris, no Karl, no John - most odd.

Bought a big piece of boned and rolled pork leg that we enjoyed roasted Sunday night and fed us for lunch through the week - £19.70

Then to the green market and the Isle of Wight stall for tomatoes -lunches - and a string of garlic, becauseI forgot to bring some back from France - £8.75

Eggs - still in the fridge but they'll be used next week - and skinny beef sausages - freezer - from Wild Beef - £5

Half dried olives - that must never be kept in the fridge but rather left at room temperature to slowly ooze oil - from the Turkish Table - £1.85

Apples - for lunches - from Chegworth from the first of this year's crop - £1.50

Saturday lunch was Exquisite parma ham and buffalo mozzarella from the parma stall - £8.70

Fish for a change - baby squids - crumbed and fried and dipped in garlic mayonnaise as an amouse bouche Saturday night and a thick tuna steak- grilled with roasted shallot salad for follow - from Furness - £13.70

Booths for a mass of stuff - cabbage - half with Sunday dinner and the rest stir fried with chilli bean sauce on Wednesday, cucumber - salads, peppers - stir fry Wednesday, sugarsnaps lunches, rocket- Saturday salad, potatoes - roasted Sunday, leeks - very tempted byt shiny little brussel sprouts but resisted - oranges - spiced oil, lemons, limes -salad dressing for Saturday night and then on noodles Monday - all for £9

Staggering a little under the mass of it headed to Neals Yard for milk, yoghurt and bread - £7.80

Then of course there was the need for a croissant for me and a brownie for the man - £2.50

£78.50 the lot and home on the bus

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Spaghetti with Artichokes and Parsley Sauce

According to an Aegean legend and praised in song by the poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, the first artichoke was a lovely young girl who lived on the island of Zinari. The god, Zeus was visiting his brother Poseidon one day when, as he emerged from the sea, he spied a beautiful young mortal woman. She did not seem frightened by the presence of a god, and Zeus seized the opportunity to seduce her. He was so pleased with the girl, who's name was Cynara, that he decided to make her a goddess, so that she could be nearer to his home on Olympia. Cynara agreed to the promotion, and Zeus anticipated the trysts to come, whenever his wife Hera was away. However, Cynara soon missed her mother and grew homesick. She snuck back to the world of mortals for a brief visit. After she returned, Zeus discovered this un-goddess-like behavior. Enraged, he hurled her back to earth and transformed her into the plant we know as the artichoke. The history of this plant wasn't all bad news!

This is an adaptation of a recipe from the wonderful River Cafe Pasta book. At Borough Market on Saturday Marie gave me a tub of particularly fine marinated artichoke hearts, which I love. To do them justice I decided to make spaghetti for dinner Tuesday night when David came round to join us. The resulting dish was beautiful - long strands of pasta specked with gradations of green. Eating it was wonderful - sleek mouthfuls sometimes parsley flavoured, sometimes tasting more of artichokes. It's very easy - and well worth it.

Spaghetti with Artichoke and Parsley Sauce
350g Spaghetti
6-8 marinated artichoke hearts
4 tbspns chopped flat leaf parsley - be generous in your estimation
3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
50g pine nuts, toasted gently till golden
125g Parmesan, freshly grated
100ml full fat milk
50g unsalted butter
Extra virgin olive oil - use good stuff as this is essentially a raw sauce
Salt and fresh ground pepper

In a food processor with a sharp blade or with a hand blender place the vaguely chopped artichoke hearts, toasted pine nuts, parsley and Parmesan. Add the milk and blend to a rough pulp, then slowly add 100 ml of olive oil to form a thick cream. Season.

Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water till al dente. Add the pesto sauce and the butter. Stir to combine, then serve with extra grated Parmesan and a crisp green salad.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Pork & Veal Terrine

I was looking for something a little different for lunchboxes this week when I remembered this lovely terrine that is a favourite of my mothers. Rich and moist, scented with sherry, pistachios and green peppercorns give it extraordinary bursts of flavour and texture in every mouthful.

The search for pepper was a driving force in the early exploraration of the world. This extraordinary spice was the basis of great fortunes, even considered legal tender in the middle ages. The first merchant ships were stuffed with peppercorns and guided by sailors with their pockets sewn closed to prevent them running off with any of this precious cargo destined for the dining tables of the rich. Easier to come by today it is still a precious thing to use for the zing it gives every time. Green peppercorns are the immature berries of the piper nigrum plant, picked early and usually brined. Used in this terrine they add a little crunch before a momentery burst of perfumed heat and then they are gone. It makes this special.

Pork & Veal Terrine

500g pork mince
500g veal mince
100g streaky bacon
2 tbspns breadcrumbs
1 tbspn green peppercorns
1/2 cup sherry
100g hulled pistachios
2 tbspn chopped fresh herbs, like thyme, rosemary and sage
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
Salt and pepper
Bay leaves to decorate

Line a loaf tin with the bacon. Mix the remaining ingredients, except the bay leaves. When it is well amalgamated pile it into the loaf tin, bring the edges of the bacon into the centre and then decorate the top with bay leaves.

Cover with aluminium foil and bake in a moderate oven - gas 4, 160C - for 90 minutes. Take the tin from the oven, drain the juice then pat the top dry with paper towel.

Cool in the tin, then remove, wrap in foil and refrigerate. Serve in thin slices - in our case with salad for lunches.

Rich and delicious.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Spicy Chicken with Spinach Stuffing

The damp squib that was this summer has left me wanting more light bright things - salads and spicy things, something that combines delicate with zingy. Proper shiny summer food. So I dug out some recipes from a cooking school I did in Bali and made a few random selections. The lovely Marie was coming to dinner Saturday night and so it was time to try a little harder.

The centrepiece of the meal was a chicken stuffed with spinach and spices, wrapped in banana leaves and then first steamed for half an hour then roasted. If you're thinking that sounds like a bit of a faff you're right. But you'd be wrong to think it was a bad idea. It is a wonderful dish - spiky and moist and roasted golden with lots of textures running alongside the flavours. Brilliant - worth every moment and the tricksy bit of getting the bird from steaming pan to roasting pan.

The only thing I would change is that I would wear gloves to grate the turmeric - my nails are still bright yellow - not attractive.

Ayam Betutu - Roast Chicken in Banana Leaf

1 whole chicken, weighing 1.2 - 1.5 kg
200g spinach leaves, washed and wilted in a hot pan
Salt and pepper

50g Shallots, peeled and sliced
25g garlic, peeled and chopped
50g turmeric, peeled and grated
50g galangal root, peeled and grated
25g brazil nuts, finely chopped
5 birds eye chilli, finely chopped
2 large red chilli seeded and sliced
4 stalks lemon grass, bruised and finely sliced
25g palm sugar
2 salam or myrtle leaves
Salt and pepper
2 tbspn oil
Banana leaves for wrapping - chinese grocers sell them frozen

Season the inside and outside of the chicken.

Combine all the marinade ingredients except spinach and myrtle leaves and mix thoroughly. Put a quarter of this marinade aside. Mix the rest of the marinade with the spinach.

Stuff the chicken with three quarters of the marinade and then gently separate the skin from the breast. Push the remaining spinach marinade between the skin and the meat then close the chicken with skewers.

Rub the outside of the bird with the marinade put aside before the spinach was added.

Wrap the chicken in several layers of banana leaves and fasten with skewers.

Place an upturned bowl in a large pan bring and add water to come three quarters of the way up the edge of the bowl. Put the banana leaf wrapped chicken on a plate and rest the plate on top of the bowl. Bring the water to the boil , reduce to a simmer then cover and steam for 35 minutes.

Carefully take the chicken from the pan, transfer it to a roasting pan and open the top of the banana leaves. Roast in a moderate oven - 160C, gas 4 - till chicken is golden.

Rest for 10 minutes after the bird is taken from the oven before serving with turmeric rice and bali salad.

Monday, September 03, 2007

And this week ... I bought

It was blissfully quiet at Borough early Saturday - my favourite way to shop. Started as ever at Ginger Pig where I bought a chicken - stuffed with spinach and spices for dinner Saturday with bali salad and rice, then cold for supper Sunday, some minced pork and streaky bacon - for terrine for lunches -but sadly they had no minced veal - a bit of a disaster as I wanted to make a terrine - £14.90 for what I could get
Hulled pistachio - terrine - from the nuts and dried fruit stall - £1.89

Then over to the Green Market for eggs - in the fridge - from Wild Beef - £1.25

Cheese from Gastronomica - weekend nibbles and afters for dinner Tuesday- £7.60

Tomatoes and garlic - lunches and dinners - from Isle of Wight - £4.70
Had a nice chat with Vaheed at Borough Olives, back running the stall now that Marie has moved on. It still seems odd to see him back but he's cheerful as ever which adds a little joy to the morning shop
Added a bag of chocolates - all champagne truffles - Saturday dinner - £2

Coffee from Monmouth - £8.50 - and delighted to see they will have some New Guinea beans in again this month

Then we saw the lovely Marie working for the day at the Olive Company so had a long chat with her - always a delight - she gave me a tub of articoke hearts - for a pasta sauce with parsley -though we didn't buy a thing!

Pork pie - weekend snack - from the son of Mrs Elizabeth King - £4.90

Booths for lots of veg - butternut -still there, bananas - lunches, cucumber - lunches and dinners, cabbage - bali salad, peppers, fennel - salad Friday night, sugarsnaps - lunches, spring onions - noodles Monday night, rocket and lettuce - salad for weekend and Tuesday night with pasta - £8

Spinach -spiced chicken stuffing - from Tony - £1.50
Milk and yoghurt - breakfast - from Neals Yard - £8.60

Croissants - plain and almond - from Flour Power - brunch - £3

Not bad for £66.84 - and my man was with me and carried the bags. Joy.

This time last year we were mostlyy eating pasta with girolles and guinea fowl with fennel.