Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lamb Burgers

I'm a fan of most kinds of burgers and meatballs - I love the variety of flavours and textures and the little surprises that are often incorporated therein just to make them special. Mince has such potential - from a small mound it can be transformed into so many delights.

I bought some lamb mince a couple of weeks ago from Ginger Pig that went in to the freezer where it stayed till the end of last week. I was planning something middle easternish - had a hankering for spiced white bean paste and pittas and the sweet softness of beetroots. Lamb is so often the central dish so some little lamb balls seemed like a good idea. I wanted them to have variations in texture as well as flavour and so I added some soaked bulghur wheat to punctuate the smoothness of the meat and add a lovely nuttiness to the finished patties.

With fresh dill and thyme chopped through, and the sweetness of onions and garlic already cooked the final result was really good - perfect for a midweek supper.

Lamb Burgers
500g minced lamb
2 tablespoons bulgur wheat, soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes
1 onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons chopped dill
2 tablespoons chopped thyme
Oil for cooking

Put the lamb in to a bowl. Drain the bulgur wheat and add to the lamb. In a large frypan brown the onions and garlic in about a tablespoon of oliveoil on a gentle heat till fragrant. Drain on kitchen paper then add to the meat along with the herbs and tomato paste.

Form in to small burgers and cook in the same pan with a little more oil over a medium heat till cooked through - 15-20 minutes.

Serve with salads and bread and some hummus or spicy bean paste for a very tasty supper.

Monday, April 28, 2008

And This Week... I Bought


Perhaps because the Real Food Fare was on at Earls Court attracting masses of foodie tourists Borough was manageably quiet first thing and so easy peasy to negotiate. At Ginger Pig I bought a most enormous chicken, massive breasts and thighs, weighing a little over three kilos stuffed with barley, bacon and tarragon and roasted Sunday night and cold for lunch all week. We are talking a very serious bird. I also got some unsmoked bacon with pasta and chilli and garlic Wednesday night - £21.70

The classic car club have taken to parking a fabby car out the front of Ginger Pig every week to advertise themselves. This week was a lovely old mercedes convertible - perfect for pootling about on a sunny Saturday I'd have thought.

Next was Booths - they only had spanish asparagus so didn't get any there but did buy jersey royals potato salad for lunches and King Edwards, leeks, sweet potato, thyme and tarragon Sunday roast, cucumber, aubergine hunan style with rice and spiced cabbage Thursday night, sugar snaps, onions, garlic and carrots - £15.70

Eggs from Lizzie at Wild Beef - £1.50

Bought three bunches of asparagus from the Isle of Wight garlic stall for supper Saturday nigh with San Danielle ham and fried duck eggs and crusty bread - £5 - absolute bargain

Then duck eggs from Ted's Veg to go with the asparagus - £1.50

San daniel ham from Gastronomica - £4

Apples and juice from Chegworth - £1.80

Scotch egg from Ginger Pig - £3

Bread and milk from a rearranged Neals Yard - £7.20

More bread, plus an almond croissant and a brownie from Flour Power - £3.20 And they very kindly gave me one of their hessian bags to carry a mass of loaves I'd bought for food chain

Spent a total of £64.60 - not bad
This time two years ago we had one of my favourite things for the first time - spiced roast shoulder of lamb with parsnip and spring onion pudding - and we've had it many times since!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Cured Salmon

This is one of the simplest, most elegant dishes imaginable. You simply get a spanking fresh fillet of salmon - preferably from the centre section of the fish - and ask the fishmonger to skin it for you. Then cover it in a paste of herbs and salt, leave it overnight then wash off the cure, pat the fish dry and slice thin as you can.

You end up with a decadently fabulous plate of salmon, gently flavoured with ginger and herbs, the flesh almost ethereally rich. Presented simply with pickled ginger and Japanese soy for dipping it is definitely a contender for most fabulous starter ever.

Cured Salmon
200g salmon fillet, taken from the centre of the fish, skinned
1 large bunch coriander, chopped, stems and all
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon grated ginger
Chopped zest of a lemon

Mix everything together except the fish. Put the fish skin side down in to a non-reactive dish - enamel, china or glass. Cover with the cure mix and pat it into the flesh. Cover the dish with cling film and refrigerate for 12 - 18 hours. In this time a lot of liquid will come out of the fish.

Take the fish out of the dish, scrape off the herb mix, rinse quickly under the cold tap and pat dry with kitchen towel. Slice very very thinly and lay out on a flat plat.

Serve with separate bowls of pickled ginger - any asian supermarket will sell it - and some Japanese soy.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Barley and Beetroot Salad

Growing up in Australia barbecues were a quintessential thread in the fabric of life. The prospect still makes my heart sing. Fresh air, sunshine and a smoke tinged breeze. The meat is the centrpiece as it cooks but the true essence of bbq is all the accompaniments - salads and bread and bowls of prawns to shell and eat with a drink while you wait for the main event.

London is less conducive to barbecue - the weather can't be trusted for a start and living as we do in a flat in a terrace at the beginning of south London cheek by jowl to a vast number of neighbours disturbing them with our smoke seems unfair. But the same principals can be adapted to construct a different meal that is still slow and relaxed and deeply pleasurable. Whatever the weather.

So with this in mind I planned an absolute feast for Sunday supper to welcome my sister who is here for a few days working. More often than not our barbies at home start with some kind of seafood - a huge bowl of fresh prawns to be devoured as fast as they can be shelled. The better you are the more you get. I think my aunt is still faster than the speed of light but the rest of us are catching up. With this in mind I decided that some cured salmon thinly sliced would be a delicate intro to dinner. The fish is cured with coriander and ginger overnight then laid out with a small bowl of pickled ginger and another of Japanese soy for dipping. Beautiful to look at - and consumed in a flash.

The main event was beef I had roasted in the afternoon so that it was still a little warm when it was sliced. To go with this I made a massed rainbow of salads. Little charlottes dressed with Helmans for a perfect potato salad, red onions roasted then topped with steamed beans and a little balsamic vinegar to dress them, crisp bright winter salad with carrots, fennel and celery glistening with spiced oil and, most striking of all a barley and beetroot salad studded with toasted walnuts. The idea came from The Guardians Word of Mouth blog after I asked for ideas for barley salad.

Barley and Beetroot Salad
200g pearl barley
1 raw beetroot about the size of a cricket ball
Handful of baby spinach leaves
50g walnuts
3 tbspns walnut oil
1 tbspn sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper

Cook the barley in simmering salted water for 30-40 minutes till it is swollen and retains only the smallest resistance when you bite into it. Peel and grate the beetroot. Wash the spinach and tear the leaves in half. Toast the walnuts in a dry pan till fragrant - but watch closely they burn in a flash.

When the barley is cooked drain and rinse in a colander and allow to cool. Tip it into a large bowl with the other ingredients. Mix the oil and vinegar with the salt and pepper and toss the salad till it is all amalgamated.

It keeps perfectly in the fridge for a few days. It was possibly better the next day as the colour was still jewel bright and the flavour had deepened. The spinach leaves made it look very pretty but didn't add much by way of flavour - next time (and there will definitely be a next time) I think I would use herbs - some basil perhaps or dill. The only other improvement would be to eat it outside in the sun with hot bbqed sausages or steaks!

Our meal ended with cheese and some chocolates rather than the traditional pavlova - but it's too early for strawberries so that will have to wait.

Friday, April 18, 2008


No really. As I wend my way on this culinary journey through life sometimes it's smooth, often it's interesting, there is a rare spectacular highlight, occasionally it seems becalmed. The usual. It is both an enjoyable and interesting way to eat.

Things go wrong - a lot of what I cook is an experiment in the sense of it being for the first time perhaps or something I liked but thought could use a little tweaking. Occasionally I make something that I know of but have never eaten or seen, possibly not even know of in the case of something like jollof rice - and that adds a soupçon of tension when there is no clear idea of what the final outcome should be. But the sum total of all of this makes me a better cook, a better judge of what will work.

This week however all that was for ought. I wanted to make falafels. I have loved falafels since I left home and my student house was on the far side of a street of Lebanese restaurants and takeaways that were open till two or three in the morning. I don't recall who bought me my first one but it was definitely love. Apart from okra - which I still find offensively slimy - I had a great time sampling everything on offer - crisp filo ladies fingers stuffed with spinach, nubbly kebbe, the smoky wonders of baba ghanoush, crusted juicy shish. All of it foreign and all of it great. But my abiding passion was warm pitta bread slicked with hummus, three golden balls studded down the middle with a generous cover of tabouleh all rolled up together in a single sheet of greaseproof. Every mouthful amazing.

I left Sydney behind but not my passion for falafel. In the early days of London I found the Golden Hind in Soho and my falafel supply was assured. It has gone now but in the meantime I discovered the Lebanese paradise that is Edgware Road - most particularly Green Valley - and I was in middle eastern heaven. They sell not only hot falafels to eat immediately they also sell frozen ones for later pleasures. For years I have made my own hummus, the imam fainted, and pastries stuffed with cheese and spinach - occasionally whole middle eastern banquets with a lamb centrepiece and a dozen dishes in support.

But I have never made falafel.

Tuesday night I soaked 500g of chick peas - the last of the ones I brought back from Marrakech at christmas. I had bought onions and spring onions, coriander and parsley and I have a never ending supply of garlic and spices in the kitchen. I had a recipe from Middle Eastern Food - a book from which I have happily cooked for ten years or more. Wednesday night I came home, drained the chick peas and, though the recipe suggested you could grind them in a pestle and mortar I went for the less strenuous option of my stick blender. So very very slow. It is the first time it really has not been up to the job - after about 15 minutes the shaft felt very hot. Rather than risk having it burn out I turned it off, finished making the spiced butter bean mash and declared dinner was now going to be zucchini frittata and falafels would be supper Thursday.

The frittata was good.

After supper I went back to my now cooled stick blender and added the garlic and chopped herbs and spices to the bowl and finally arrived at a fairly coarse, mealy, green flecked mass. No salt went in as the recipe didn't include it and I assumed that was because salt prevents whole pulses tenderising if added when they are raw. The mix smelt good. Into the fridge overnight.

Thursday I came home a bit later than usual and started immediately to make my balls. A heaped serving spoon shaped in to a good sized falafel like the ones I always buy. The mix made 14 which seemed about right. I made a beetroot salad to go with butter bean paste and sliced some fresh cucumber. Next up was cooking. Suddenly struck me that I have never deep fried anything. Lots of shallow frying, sautéeing, whatever, but not actually six inches of oil in a pan heated straight to dangerous.

All was well, the first few balls sizzled enticingly as they hit the oil and were soon floating about quite happily picking up colour. When they reached a deep gold I tonged one out and split it open to check it was cooked. The center was decidedly cool. Kept cooking. The outsides had gone from browning to blackening to pretty much burnt by the time they were hot all the way through.

So I binned that lot and split the rest of the balls in half and kept the oil temperature high. This lot cooked through before they were black but still they were wrong. In part because they had no salt - they were a bland mealy centre in a very stiff crust. Inedible is a polite description. Cold you could easily use them for cricket practise. By now it was approaching 9.30pm on the third day of making falafels and I was defeated.

I warmed through my pitta breads till they puffed their creamy cheeks and we split them and stuffed them to bursting with spicy bean paste, beetroot and cucumber. And it was fabulous. I had gone as far as putting a couple of falafels on to plates in case the rest of the meal transformed them but they remained uneaten. Then binned.

Such a disappointment.
From now on I shall buy mine ready made from lebanese shops and never again assume that, just because I know something well I understand the complexity of its construction.


Violets from Flowers in the Kitchen tagged me in her blog this week and, like a daisy chain, it's my turn now to tag some more.

Basically it works like this - I've copied this part from Violets who copied it from Farida who tagged her earlier and more besides no doubt! (hope you don't mind to everyone who supplied the rules) Each tagged blogger has to describe himself/herself in 6 words, and then tag 5 or more other bloggers. This is to show support to our foodie colleagues, to introduce them to others, to encourage each other and just to make friends. So, please take a moment and visit each of these blogs I am tagging. They are ones I like.

Describe myself? Six words. Hmmm. Once you get past the obvious ones like fabulous and charming and brilliantly witty then I guess there is

1. Curious

2. Gourmet
3. Hungry

4. Greedy (!)

5. Enquiring

6. Connoisseur

Blogs I like

Stone Soup - a wonderful evocation of eating and cooking in Australia

Bread Water Salt Oil - for the passion and intelligence of her postings

The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook - lots of interesting asian stories and recipes

The Elegant Sufficiency - a broad sweep of loving food and discussing it

Tupperware Man - because leftovers need tupperware
Enjoy browsing.

Monday, April 14, 2008

And this week...I bought

Ever so slightly milder this weekend seemed to create an upsurge in the number of people at Borough first thing, milling crowds blocking the way with unnaturally large pushchairs causing havoc in much the same way this week's stuck truck did going the wrong way down Stoney Street.

Lots on this week so started at Wyndhams as we wandered past - needed some more stock in the freezer - 4 carcasses (carci?) £2

Ginger Pig was next as meat was on the top of the list. I bought some minced lamb meant for burgers but currently in the freezer, a big piece of gammon - must have been one humungous pig glazed for lunch Sunday then lunchboxes in the week, a chicken jointed to make cinnamon chicken Monday night and some chippolatas Saturday supper for a grand total of £43

Then to Booths for potatoes salad, cucumber stuffed into pitta with butter bean paste and beetroot Thursday night, cabbage, carrots coleslaw, zucchinis, purple sprouting broccoli veg to go with chicken Monday, aubergine pasta Friday night, fennel and pea salad, garlic, lemons, limes, beetroot and lettuce lots of salads with lunch Sunday - £12.70

Some lovely looking prawns as an amuse bouche Sunday on slices of cucumber with a drop of pepper oil but sadly the flavour did not match their lovely appearance - from Shellseekers - £3 for a dozen

Pale orkney salmon fillet cured with coriander for a perfect amuse bouche on Sunday from Furness that they kindly skinned for me - £6.40

Eggs frittata Wednesday night from Lizzie at Wild Beef - £1.50

Baby plum tomatoes from Isle of Wight - might still be a bit early for them they have oddly tough skins fresh so will roast the rest but I do so love them £3.50

Two buffalo mozzarella balls for pasta Friday from Gastronomica - £4

Then decided salami and mozzarella would make a fine lunch so headed to the other Gastromonica stall for milano and another cheese - £4.20

Bought a ciabatta from the Flour Station for a change - £2.20

Apples from Chegworth - £1.20

Bread, pasta, milk, yoghurt and cream from Neals Yard - £13.80

Scotch egg from Ginger Pig - £3

Lastly a chocolate brownie from Flour Power - and a loyalty card for when you buy ten you get one free yay!- £2

A quite considerable £102.50 - it will be a fine week!

This time last year we were mostly in France and so I mostly wasn't blogging but we did have spaghetti with nutmeg and Parmesan the night we got back.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Mussels with chilli and black bean sauce

The very first time I ever ate black beans I was about eleven years old. My mother was experimenting. Having bought a jar of black beans from I know not where she was making beef and black bean stir fry - one of our favourite dishes at the Chinese restaurant near to home. We loved going there for dinner as everything seemed more exotic than suburban Australia outside -in part because some tables had a lazy susan in the centre. Surely the height of sophistication?The waiters would pack this centre circle with lots of steaming bowls of food and we would turn it round one way and back again, endlessly chasing the last tasty morsels. Prawn crackers, sweet and sour pork, ham and chicken rolls, chow mein - all of these I first ate at what I think was called Dion's - though more likely the Happy Dragon or some such.

So one Sunday my mother decided to experiment and make her own version of beef and black bean. She has a highly tuned palate and has always been happy to turn her hand to any dish without necessarily needing to check a recipe for guidance. So there was garlic and ginger and thin slices of steak and, rare for her, a moment of uncertainty when it came to the star ingredient. Figuring perhaps that fortune favours the brave she tipped in the whole jar and briskly mixed them through. What resulted was so incredibly salty and pungent - the very definition of mouth puckering! Undeterred - as ever - she bought another jar and made a few enquiries about the best way to use them. The next beef and black bean was fab.

I've cooked with them on and off over the years - there's usually a half used pack in the fridge. I love their deep earthy complex taste that works so well with other strong flavours, the pungent smell that promises much and delivers in spades. Made by fermenting soybeans in garlic, salt and a host of other spices they add an utterly distinct taste that cannot be replicated any other way. Though some recipes suggest they need to be soaked for anything up to an hour I find a quick rinse under the cold tap is really all that is needed before mashing them lightly and adding to a hot pan. Saturday night we were having mussels - in that I had bought them but not with any particular plan. Decided to go with spicy - and this was the fabulous result.

Mussels with Chilli and Black Bean Sauce
1kg mussels, scrubbed and picked over for dead ones with open shells
2 tablespoons peanut or other vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon of nuoc cham (chilli sauce) or 1 birdseye chilli finely chopped
1 tablespoon fermented black beans, rinsed and crushed lightly
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
100ml dry white wine
Handful of thai basil leaves

Once the mussels are clean heat the oil in a large, lidded heavy based pan. When it's hot add garlic, chilli ginger and black beans and stir for a minute or two till the mix is fragrant the tip in the wine. Bring to the boil and simmer to reduce the liquid by about a third.
With the heat on full add the mussels and put the lid onto the pot. Cook for five or six minutes, shaking the pan occasionally but keeping the lid on. After five minutes check the shells have opened - I can cheat in this as my pan has a glass lid! When the shells have opened quickly stir through the thai basil.

Serve in deep bowls with some crusty bread and an empty bowl for the used shells.

Thinking about it this would probably also be really good over some softened rice noodles though the use of fingers and shells would still be a requirement.

Monday, April 07, 2008

And this week...I bought

Friday was lovely in London, sunny, gentle breeze, nudging 19 celsius. The very definition of a perfect spring day. Saturday started dull and went down hill. By Sunday we had snow. Misjudged it slightly and didn't wear a jumper under my coat Saturday to go to Borough - very cold by the end of the shopping.

Took the trolley again but started this week at Ginger Pig for a boned rolled shoulder of lamb - a quite serious piece of meat spiced and roasted for dinner Sunday and then into lunches for a few days- £19.50

Then to Booths for potatoes, courgettes, peppers, Sunday supper rocket Saturday lunch, rhubarb masses of it cooked down for breakfasts with extra in the freezer, bananas bread and butter pudding but it was a little too sweet, cucumber, tomatoes, parsley, tarragon herbed beans was the intention but that might have to be this weekend and basil in pasta sauce Wednesday night - £14.50

Mussels fabulous with black beans Saturday night from Furness - £4.50

Then to Wild Beef where I gave Lizzie back a load of empty boxes and bought some eggs bread and butter pudding - £1.50

Dolmades pre dinner snack Sunday from Taste of Turkey - £2

Coffee daily wake up from Monmouth - £9

Parma ham and buffalo mozzarella Saturday lunch from the Italian stall - £13.70

Scotch egg for breakfast - £3

Baguette meant for dinner Saturday but we still had some ciabatta so this ended up in the bin, sadly, as there is no way back for stale baguette from the marché stall - £1

Pasta, bread, yoghurt, cream and milk from Neals Yard - £14.90

Bread, an almond croissant and a chocolate brownie from Flour Power - £5.20

A grand total of £88.80

This time two years ago we were also eating rhubarb.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Stir Fry Egg Noodles with Chicken and Thai Basil

I am a seriously big fan of stir fry noodles - I suspect it would be impossible for me to ever tire of their myriad forms, flavours and textures. They are a bowl of endless slithering surprises, cheering to eat any time. Midweek they make a fine quick supper.

Saturday night we had big thick rump steaks chargrilled with nothing more complicated than green salad and crusty bread. Being the greedy feaster that I am I had bought a very thick slice of meat as I find it cooks best in a grill pan when the outside caremalises on the highest possible heat and the center stays rare. But this method means we had more steak than we could actually consume in one meal. Sunday night I decided on salad - noodles with strips of rare grilled beef mixed with cucumber and spring onions and a big handful each of coriander and thai basil simply dressed with a sesame/soy mix. Loved it. It did mean though that I had half a bunch each of coriander and thai basil in the fridge and it seemed a shame to waste them.

Thai basil is such an interesting and distinctive herb. It is of the basil family but not really as we know it in Europe. It has lush, deep green leaves that appear to be almost polished, purplish flower buds and stems with lovely anise overtones to its sweet basil scent. In many asian dishes it is added by the handful in whole leaves, to green and red curries and spicy stir-fries dishes. It is different to holy basil, which has smaller slightly hairy leaves though I have been known to use one in place of the other. You just end up with a different flavour.

I had a chicken breast in the freezer from a couple of weeks ago as well as a pack of egg noodles so all put together with a few other bits from the fridge from this week's shop we had a quite splendid repast Wednesday night.

Stir Fry Egg Noodles with Chicken and Thai Basil

1 chicken breast, about 250g in weight
1 tspn sesame oil
!/2 tspn salt
1 tspn shaoxing rice wine
2 tspns light soy
4 tbspns peanut oil
400g fresh egg noodles
1 tbspn ginger, finely chopped
2 juicy cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tspn chopped chilli, preserved if you have any
1 small green pepper, sliced into thin slivers
3 spring onions, green and white parts sliced into thin slivers
1 tbspsn light soy
I cup thai basil leaves
1 cup coriander leaves, chopped

Slice the chicken into thin strips then leave to marinate in the next four ingredients.

Rinse and drain the noodles in cold water. Heat your wok then add 2 tablespoons of the oil. When the oil is hot add the noodles and stir fry till hot and fragrant. Take them out of the wok and put into a bowl. Return the wok to the heat and add the rest of the oil. When it is hot add the chicken and its marinade. Stir fry over a hight flame for a few minutes till the chicken changes colour and is cooked. Add the ginger, garlic and chilli along with the pepper strips and spring onions. Continue to stir fry for a couple of minutes till everything is hot and fragrant.
Return the noodles to the pan with the soy sauce and toss to mix well. When everything is bright and smelling wonderful toss in the herbs, incorporate quickly and then serve in big bowls.

So fast. So fabulous.