Thursday, January 31, 2008

Stir Fry Pork, Cabbage and Tree Ears

Made a stir fry last night. What was interesting about the recipe from Mrs Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook, initially, was that it combined pork and cabbage and so ticked my boxes for a winter supper. As I started to prep it I realised that it contained no garlic or ginger, and the only onions were sliced scallions and there was no mention of scatterings of fresh coriander anywhere. The egg noodles were my idea rather than a requirement. All my strong held preconceived notions about absolute requirements for a dish to be chinese proved wrong.

Needed to soak things and marinate things to get the process started. When I announced that I was off to the kitchen to soak some tree ears the man laughed at me. Checked that I didn't really think trees had ears. But I had a packet of dried ones in the larder - so I knew better! Wood ears or tree ears are a kind of jelly fungus that is particularly popular in Szechuan cooking. Used for its texture it is a crucial element of this cuisine.

In the wild the wood ear fungus does strongly resemble an ear, as it forms folds and whorls while it grows on the trunks and bark of mostly dead trees. Like other jelly fungi, it tends to jiggle slightly when fresh or rehydrated, and has a slightly crunchy, slightly rubbery texture which is retained even after cooking. It is relatively tasteless but rather soaks up the liquid flavours of the other ingredients. The Shanghainese Hot and Sour Soup must include shredded wooden ear to have the right texture. Adding wood ear to braised meat dishes enhances the flavor. Using it in vegetarian dishes adds an extra shine to the dish, thickens the sauce and makes everything more flavorful. Magical.

Once the fungi are soaked this is a spectacularly quick dish to make. The only thing I would do differently next time is cut the pork much more finely. I was being lazy and didn't follow the guide to make each piece the size of a matchstick which would really have made this even better because it is about finding the perfect balance of texture to flavour.

Stir Fry Pork, Cabbage and Tree Ears

1/2 cup tree ears - buy them dried in chinese supermarkets
4 large dried black mushrooms, buy them at the same time as the tree ears
350g/3/4lb pork steak
2 scallions
3 tablespoons soy
4 teaspoons sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoon cornflour
1/2 small head of cabbage
7 tablespoons peanut oil
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
500g fresh egg noodles

Put the tree ears and the mushrooms into a small bowl, cover with boiling water and leave to soak for at least 20 minutes. Cut the pork into shreds the size of matchsticks - put the meat in the freezer first for 10 minutes to make it easier to slice and also ask your butcher to slice it thinly when you buy it. Put the meat shreds in a bowl.

Clean the scallions then slice both green and white parts into slivers approximating the pork slivers. Add them to the meat long with the soy and two teaspoons of the sesame oil and the cornflour. Mix well.

Peel off and discard the outer leaves of the cabbage then slice it into shreds as though about to make coleslaw.

Drain the tree ears and mushrooms. Rinse the tree ears very carefully under cold running water, picking them over to remove any impurities like little bits of wood still sticking to them. Slice them into shreds the same size as the other ingredients. Rinse the mushrooms, remove their tough stems and then shred them. Keep them separate from the tree ears. Rinse the noodles in a colander under a cold running tap to separate them.

Heat your wok or pan over a high flame for 15 seconds then add 2 tablespoons of peanut oil. When it is just at the point of smoking add the cabbage, stir fry for about 45 seconds, then add the salt and continue to stir fry for another minute. Remove it from the pan to a bowl.

Wipe out the wok then reheat over a high heat for a few seconds. Pour in the rest of the oil and, when the first few bubbles appear add the mushrooms. Stirfry for 30 seconds. Add the meat/scallion mix and a tablespoon of water and stir fry till the meat changes colour. Add the noodles and stir fry till all is hot - add a little more water if necessary. Then add the wood ears and stir fry for another 90 seconds.

Finally return the partially cooked cabbage shreds to the pan. Stir fry everything for about 3 minutes till the meat is cooked and the cabbage is still bright green. Turn off the heat, stir through the last of the sesame oil then serve immediately in large bowls.

Utterly amazing.

Monday, January 28, 2008

And this week ... I bought

We were a miserable pair heading to Borough on Saturday, both of us with colds engendering snotty noses and hacking coughs, glum faces enough to make for a cheerless end to January. Had a vague plan to slow roast a shoulder of mutton but decided instead to make rendang with lots of chilli in the hope of healing ourselves. Ginger Pig now sell all cuts of mutton so bought some diced - and got sympathy from the young butcher for my ills. Also bought a chicken, a couple of pork chops and some pork steak - quite a meaty week really - Total came to £28.75

Then to Gianni at Gastronomica for a big hunk of Parmesan - £7
Nothing else from over that side - we really must have been unwell

Apple juice from Chegworth to cheer us - the man was seduced by the pretty pink of the one mixed with raspberry which struck me as odd, he doesn't like raspberry usually. Turns out he still doesn't which was good for me... - £1.50

Coffee from Monmouth - £8

Salami from the other Gastronomica, one that was studded with truffle and richly perfumed - £3

Booths for veg - cabbage, rocket, spring onions, clementines, bananas, garlic, celery, carrots, fennel - lots of cold hard things really - £8.50

Parsley from Tony because Booths had no flat leaf - £1

Smoked salmon from the Irish stall because it is so very good - £5

Milk and bread from Neals Yard - £8.40

Bread and an almond croissant from Flour Power - £3.20

Altogether it was £74.35 - and a lot of possibilities for dining in the week ahead

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Mussels with white wine and tarragon

Had a few disasters with mussels recently - not my fault! Mostly the problem has been buying shellfish past their best. Once I started cleaning them and threw away all the ones that had broken shells or refused to close due to being dead already there simply wasn't enough left to make a meal. I do find as well that by the time I've binned half of them as suspect the prospect of eating the other half is less than attractive.

On the other hand I really like them - as does the man. They are such a pleasurable meal - always quick to cook, lots of juices to soak up with crusty bread, wonderfully messy by the time you start extracting the flesh from the shells with your fingers because it's too slow to do with a fork, dribbles down your chin and up to your elbows. A proper Saturday night treat.

At Furness on Saturday they had a shining mussel mountain. Though I'd gone in with the intention of buying a couple of sea bass to grill the temptation was too great. It called to me with its siren song and I came out with a kilo of mussels and great hopes for a splendid supper.

I fancied them with chillis and black beans - I had some coriander and spring onions in the fridge left over from an earlier meal and could see this as a way to use them to advantage. As I unpacked the week's shop and put the pork chops into the freezer for later I spied a tub of fish stock left over from another, less succesful, supper. White wine, tarragon, fennel, butter previously used to poach some trout. I had celery in the fridge that would add some crunch and onions for a fresh sweetness. Dinner, though not served, was definitely a plan.

Mussels with White Wine and Tarragon
1 kilo mussels, cleaned of beards
200ml fish stock* - leftover from another dish should you be so lucky
2 sticks celery, finely sliced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 spring onions, sliced into 1cm lengths
1/2 large bunch coriander, finely chopped

*If you don't have any fish stock, you could always simply soften a couple of slices of fennel in a tablespoon of butter then add 300ml of white wine with a couple of sprigs of tarragon and simmer to reduce to 200ml. Strain out the aromatics and add a twist of black pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy based pan and gently fry the onion till it's transparent. Throw in the celery, increase the heat to full blast and stir for a minute. Tip in the stock and bring to the boil. Add the mussels and cover immediately. Allow to bubble away for a couple of minutes then shake the pan to encourage all the shells to open. After another minute take off the lid - most, if not all the mussels should be open. Quickly stir through the coriander and spring onions then serve in deep bowls with lots of crusty bread - and a spare bowl for the empty shells. Don't eat any that refuse to open.


Monday, January 21, 2008

And this week ... I bought

We were a little later this week arriving at the market and, to my dismay, it was busier by far than the last couple of weeks. The shopping was a little more complicated too because I had not list or plan for the week. So we were slower too. Oh well - slow food!

Went to Silfield with the intention of buying ham hocks but it was closed - power failure. So it was off to Ginger Pig for a piece of gammon - bought smoked accidentally but it cooked beautifully and made lovely lunch boxes with brwon rice salad. Also bought rump steak for Sunday supper with salad and crusty bread was so fabulous I might have to do it again this week! as I fancied a change from roasts and a couple of pork chops Thursday night with salad - altogether it was £28.70

Then to Furness Fish - thinking of buying a couple of sea bass for Saturday night but was tempted astray by some fresh looking mussels and bought a kilo of them instead Saturday night special with white wine and coriander- £4.50

Then to Chegworth for an apple juice to keep us going - £1.50

Eggs from Wild Beef - poached on top of a salad Friday night - £1.50

As we wandered past the chicken sellers across from Northfields the woman behind the counter was slicing a very interesting looking meat loaf that she told us was a mix of chicken and liver and herbs and apricot so we bought a slice to try for lunch - it was interesting but a little less than exciting or maybe I was thinking it would be like the sliced goose from Seldom Seen we had a few weeks before xmas and it wasn't as good as that - £3

At Booths there was a queue - unusual so early in the day - so I ducked around them and bought rocket, lettuce, cucumber, sugarsnaps, fennel, carrots all for various salads, grapes - lunches, leeks spiced with rice and an aubergine curry to use up last week's aubergine all for dinner Monday night and capsicums for rice salad for £8.50

Then more of the fabulous Irish smoked salmon Sunday lunch - £5

A hot sausage roll from Ginger Pig still warm and rapidly consumed when we got home from the market - £3

Milk and bread from Neals Yard - £6.70

Then was tempted into the new German deli across from Neals Yard by the promise of cheesecake - just had to try a slice - it was good but not as good as the slice I bought from the new deli on Brixton Road for a taste test (fest) £1.50

Finally bought a brownie for the man and a little cottage loaf toast from Flour Power - £3.50

Spent £67.40

This time last year we were mostly eating spaghetti bolognaise. All very frugal and comforting.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Pasta & White Bean Salad

I'm not necessarily a fan of pasta salad - there's something of the cheap and cheerless all day salad bar about it that I found repelling. They can be stodgy and gluey and generally nasty. Other times I think if they are well made, without overcooking the pasta and using fresh and interesting ingredients and decent olive oil to dress it, then they are 'a good thing', especially in the summer. Cool, simple, quick to make they are really good with barbecue's or as a substantial side dish that won't weigh you down too much.

Even though it is the middle of winter in this wet bleak January I'd been thinking about making pasta salad but a more wintery version. I wanted to hint at the joys of summer but bring warmth and comfort and a little sparkle to a mid week supper. The result was seriously good - warm, filling, slightly golden from the turmeric and with a delicate lightness from the herbs. So fabulous in fact it would even go well in the summer.

Pasta & White Bean Salad
400g tin of cannellini beans
200g little pasta shells
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 small red chilies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tspn ground turmeric
1 tspn nigella seeds
1 tspn brown mustard seeds
Small bunch of mint, finely chopped
Small bunch of coriander, finely chopped
Juice of half a lemon

Drain and rinse the beans. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water till just al dente, then drain and rinse.

While the pasta cooks, heat the oil in a small pan very gently then add the chilli, garlic and spices. Stir over a low heat for a minute or two till it smells deeply wonderful.

Mix the beans, pasta and warm spiced oil and allow to cool to room temperature. Stir through the chopped herbs and the lemon juice. Taste and add any salt or pepper or a little more lemon if needed.

And that's it - the whole thing takes only as long as the pasta takes to cook and you end up with a beautiful golden salad flecked with red and green that is a real joy to eat. A proper January treat.

Monday, January 14, 2008

And this week ... I bought

Cool and quiet again this week at Borough. In some ways it was like when the market had just started - lots of space to move around, stalls overflowing with good things to try, stallholders cheerful and chatting to each other to fill the time between customers. It's much brighter these days with a greater sense of permanence - in the early days, particularly in the winter, it was like shopping in the gloaming. The whole market was housed in the main hall and you wandered from trestle to trestle, light bulbs and fridges and the occasionl hot pan run off snaking extension leads creating pools of light and clouds of seductive smells, and nothing was established except that the food was amazing.

For a change our first stop was at Farmer Sharp's to buy a couple of lamb shanks - they had a mountain of them for a not entirely successful - ie not as good as the ones in Marrakech at xmas! - morroccan style spiced chick pea soup for dinner Monday and Tuesday - £4.20

Then Ginger Pig for a lovely piece of topside Sunday roast and cold for lunches and half a dozen chicken wings more ingredients for soup - £20.80

Fish was a theme again this week - I'd found a good recipe for red cooked fish that I wanted to try and Furness had sea bass at £3.50 each so bought one and made a fabulous red cooked fish Saturday night with stir fried broccoli and steamed rice for a very elegant supper indeed

Wandered over the other side to the Green Market where I sampled some truffle oil from the stall next to the french cheese stall - seriously good. I have some at the moment but may well buy some next time I have the need
Bought some pasta shells for pasta salad at the Gastronomica shop - £1.20

Just for a change bought an apple juice but no apples from Chegworth - £1.50

Fancied salami for lunch Saturday so went to the Gastronomica stall and got some napoli - my favourite - £2

Bought more ostrich sausages from Gamston Wood - they were lovely for dinner from the freezer last week, grilled with beetroot salad and carrot with chilli dressing and crusty hot bread they make a simple, quick supper - so thought they'd be a treat to have some more for the freezer £4.80

Booths for veg - carrots soup and lunches, rocket salami sandwiches and lunches, cabbage Sunday roast, sweet potato still in the veg rack, swede Sunday roast, celery soup and lunches, peppers lunches, aubergine still in the fridge, bananas lunches, broccoli Saturday supper, parsley soup, spring onions red cooked fish on Saturday - lots of stuff - £11.20

The smoked salmon people were back - on toast on Sunday for lunch - with prices up a little but the quality still the same - yay!- £5

Scotch egg from Ginger Pig for brunch after the market- £3

Milk and a piece of stichelton from Neals Yard - I've been reading a little about this unpasteurised blue cheese that allegedly is at least as good as Colston Bassett stilton so really wanted to try it - it is really very very good indeed - £8.20

A little cottage loaf - toast! - and an almond croissant brunch Saturday - from Flour Power completed the shop - £3.20

All together a reasonable £68.60 for the week

This time last year we were mostly eating penne with zucchini and ricotta - most fine it was too. And roasted winter vegetables the year before - same as this year as they are just so good.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Pot Roast Guinea Fowl with Cabbage and Peas

Lots of people think they hate cabbage. And if their entire experience is of the boiled to sulfuric mush travesty that is served up, they have a point. ‘Cabbage’ then becomes a kind of generic term that is used disparagingly, with a little sneer of disdain, dismissing it out of hand. Myself, I love it.

In some ways cabbage is the perfect vegetable for January, especially good for the dieters and detoxers and those of us just trying to be a bit better than we are. It is fat and cholesterol free, very low in sodium, low in calories and a good source of vitamin C. Just reading about it makes you feel better. And it is versatile – steam it, braise it or stir-fry it. Use it in salads, soups and stews, or shred for coleslaws for a wonderful winter salad – carrots being abundant about now too. Positively inspirational.

I am not averse to the rock hard white balls of ordinary cabbage. Shredded and lightly steamed then buttered and seasoned it’s nice, and raw it does make very good coleslaw. I am a fan of sweetheart cabbage – just like it says on the tin it is heart-shaped and sweeter than bulk standard varieties.

But my favourite – both for flavour and for simple aesthetics – is definitely the Savoy. Crinkly, with waves of blue-green leaves, Savoy cabbage is a beautiful sight to spot in the market. It's delicate, slightly nutty flavour makes is a delight to spot in a meal. It is particularly good braised, slow cooked in a little liquid with peas and chunks of bacon, Savoy cabbage is the ideal dish to lift the January gloom.

This mellow-flavored cabbage is considered by more than just me to be one of the best of its category for cooking. A Savoy forms a loose, round head just like the usual kind, but the leaves are thinner, their color a gorgeous deep green outside and a paler green within. Their chief feature is a crinkled texture seemingly designed to hold butter or sauces more luxuriously. In fact, the Savoy has lent its name to this characteristic: A crinkled spinach, kale or lettuce leaf is one that is "savoyed." The origin of the name comes from the popularity of crinkle-leaf cabbage in the French Savoie.

It was not entirely for the cabbage that I made this dish last night. As a pot roast it meant it was a simple dinner - and very little to clean up afterwards. Guinea fowl is a well flavoured bird, also low in fat and usually smaller than chicken making it a good size for the two of us for a mid week supper.

This recipe is an adaptation of a very old one by Jeremy Lee I found in my jumble of ripped out recipes that I collect to 'try one day'. All things come to those who wait...

Roast Guinea Fowl with Cabbage and Peas

1 guinea fowl, trussed
2 small onions, peeled and finely chopped
200g piece unsmoked streaky bacon, cut into six
150g frozen peas
1 bayleaf
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 small Savoy cabbage
100g unsalted butter
50ml peanut oil
Sea salt, freshly-milled pepper and some sugar
Heat a large heavy based pot. Rub the bird all over with the peanut oil and liberally season with salt. Lay the bird in the pot, turning them every five minutes or so until are beautifully browned all over.

Reduce the heat, add the butter and, when it has melted, the chopped onion, garlic, bacon pieces, bayleaf and pepper. Cut the cabbage into four, through the root, and add to the pot. Seal the pot thoroughly with a piece of foil covered by the lid, and cook over the gentlest flame for half an hour, undisturbed. Meanwhile, cook the peas for a couple of minutes in slightly sweetened boiling water, then set aside to cool in the water - this way, they will not shrivel and die.

After half an hour, unseal the pot and add the drained peas with a little of their cooking water. Reseal the pot, cook for a further 15 minutes, then check that the bird is cooked through. Remove the fowl from the pot and let sit, covered with foil, for 20 minutes before serving. The vegetables and bacon should be beautifully cooked by now and be of a melting disposition; if they are not, simmer for a few minutes more.

Carve the guinea fowl, distribute between two deep bowls, then add the bacon-and-vegetable stew. A wonderful dinner, made rich with the use of butter. Mop up the last of it with bread - if that's allowed on your diet!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

And this week ... I bought

Happy new year! And may your year be filled with an abundance of good things to eat as life swirls around you.
After a break away from the frenzy that is London at xmas it was a real pleasure to go to Borough on Saturday. The traders were generally cheerful and relaxed and the hoards had stayed away - at least early on in the day -making for perfect conditions to shop. (Not something I've ever experienced in Tesco's)

Started at Wyndhams - who now sell meat as well as poultry - what I was wanting was a guinea fowl pot roasted ofr supper on Wednesday, they are a little cheaper than chicken with a lovely rich flavour and I fancied a mid-week pot roast. Frugality and flavour. - £5.50

Then to Ginger Pig which was blissfully quiet - not like the mania pre christmas according to John, who was looking much happier with the new year. I must be a bit out of practice because I bought some diced beef for an aromatic stew for dinner Saturday night with rice and green peppers strifried with black beans then bought a piece of rolled shoulder of pork to roast Sunday and have cold for lunches in the week. John held up a lovely piece and I asked him for half of it, which he duly cut for me. - £12 the lot.

But the piece of pork I bought was too small to accomplish so much. As I continued my shopping I worried away at how to have enough for lunches as well as eating well over the weekend. Maybe cook the pork and the spiced vegetables but only for lunches and have the guinea fowl Sunday, but then that was the same as cooking two complete meals at the same time, and what of the left over fowl? One of the added benefits of pot roast in the week was possible lunch cold next day. I wondered about buying a piece of gammon for lunches, but Ginger Pig had none unsmoked and Silfield Farm was expensive at £12.95 a kilo ready cut into largish pieces (£20ish) and still I'd be cooking more than one meal in the midst of a busy weekend. There was a small leg of lamb in the freezer as well - my lovely man suggested having that Sunday night, cook the pork as well to have cold and still have the guinea fowl mid week - by this time it was hurting my head working out the possible permutations. Then I was struck by the obvious - buy more pork. One meal to cook and plenty leftover for my lucnhboxes. And so we had to go back, explain the situation to a highly amused John, and buy the other piece. £8 - a bargain for lunches, no?

Bought a pork pie from the son of Mrs Elizabeth King - who was unperturbed at the quietness of the market as their pie sales remain fairly consistent - 'you're not a faddy eater if you enjoy a good pork pie' - a sentiment that cannot be argued with in the end it went into the freezer as we had plenty of snacks and it would be a terrible thing to waste it - £4.90

As a stab at ultra healthy lifestyles we bought a juice from total organics with aloe vera, melon, apple and pear - not great... £4

No cheese this week - not sure why no reason really, and no Wild Beef but they are just having a well earned rest.

Needed coffee from Monmouth - £8.50 for dark roast Columbian beans

Parma ham and mozzarella for the delight of a pre theatre/post market lunch - then off to see the extraordinary Ian McKellan as King Lear - £8.90
Apples from Chegworth lunches and tried their apple and beetroot juice which was very good and bright pink but didn't buy any this week - £1.20

Booths for veg - brussel sprouts and carrots Sunday roast and carrots in lunches late in the week, cabbage pot roast with guinea fowl and parsnips and turnips roasted Sunday with the butternut I had at home and chilli and ginger to go with hot roast Sunday and cold for lunches for a couple of days, beetroots to make a salad to have with ostrich sausages from the freezer Friday night, clementines lunches, onions and sugarsnap peas lunches, we had butternut at home from before xmas and no potatoes for a week or two while we try and lose a little weight as seems to be de riguer for January. At the till we discovered that Roxie had left - she was always a delight, with a smile and a bit of chat - but I can see how it would be mighty cold in the winter selling veg, it can be bloody freezing just buying them! We spent £5.20
Went to Neals Yard for milk and bread and eggs because I had none - £6.20

And lastly an almond croissant for my man because although he agrees it is a good idea to go on a diet he is on a different one to me... £2.20

£66.60 - but not the devil's work...

This time last year we were mostly eating spicy black eyed beans and millet with broccoli - still sounds healthy now! For a little indulgence it was tagliatelle with porcini and sage.