Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Spinach with Yoghurt and Spices

With the unlikely scenario of a sunny weekend - not hot necessarily (obviously) but proper full on sun with attendant clear blue skies I really fancied something spicy for dinner Saturday night. My friend David was coming to join us and I was really looking forward to seeing him. He loves to eat so I wanted make something special. I'd had to cancel last time we were meeting when I was making ginger cheesecake so I figured I could do another of those very easily, dessert sorted. And it fitted the spiced theme.

For main course I settled on spiced roast chicken from Christine Manfield's book, Spice which I've made a few times and always enjoyed. You marinate the bird for a few hours before cooking so it's a good dinner party dish - you're half way there by lunch time and all you need to do later is put it into a hot oven. Sorted.

To accompany my pretty golden fowl - flesh tinted with the aromatic mix of saffron and turmeric roasted on a bed of matching golden sliced onions - I definitely planned steamed rice. For vegetables I decided salady things rather than addititonal hot things as a nod to the notion of sunshine. As I have done often in the last 20 odd years I turned to Charmaine Solomon's Complete Asian Cookbook - a book I have used as a reference continuously for all that time. It was, in fact, the very first cookbook I bought in London, having owned and loved a version in Sydney before that. Solomon is a Sri Lankan woman who moved to Australia in the late 1950's and in essence altered the way Australians ate. Her books are full of interesting stories and titbits to go with recipes that are always accurate in their measurements and balance of flavours and textures. They are a joy to use.

This spinach and yoghurt mix is very easy and quick and without doubt transcends the sum of its parts. If you don't finish it all in one meal it will eat well again next day, best though if brought back to room temperature as it is a little stiff straight from the fridge.

Spinach with Yoghurt & Spices

500g spinach
1 tbspn ghee or oil
1 tspn black mustard seeds
1 tspn cummin seeds
1 tspn ground cummin
1/2 tspn nigella or fenugreek seeds
1 cup yoghurt

Wash spinach well and remove tough stems. Pull the leaves into pieces and put into a saucepan with just the moisture on the leaves. Cover with a lid and steam over low heat till spinach wilts - just a couple of minutes. Drain, squeeze out as much water as you can, and chop finely.

Heat ghee or oil in a small pan and fry the mustard seeds till they start to pop. Add cummin seds, ground cummin and fenugreek or nigella seeds and continue to fry, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the seeds are fragrant, but do not allow to burn. Remove from heat, stir in chilli and salt and allow to cool. Mix the spices into the yoghurt then stir this mixture into the chopped spinach.

Serve at room temperature with rice and curries as an accompaniment.

Friday, September 26, 2008

And this week I wanted ... I bought... I made

Thinking this week I want spiced chicken, aubergine salad, hot rice and maybe spinach and yoghurt for dinner Saturday, with cheesecake to follow for David is coming to dinner and it worked a treat. Sunday I'm out most of the day so an easy roast on my return, lamb perhaps - didn't end up going out but did make spiced lamb complete with parsnip pudding. Monday we are out to see the incredible Heston Blumenthal at an evening arranged by Sherry Institute of Spain and I am SO excited. The man is hoping he's cooking dinner for us but I have my doubts he made a series of simple tapas matched with a series of sherries and it was better than fabulous. Tuesday pasta or perhaps vegetable curry we had a chickpea and chorizo stew finished with spinach that worked well with cold lamb in lunchboxes too. Wednesday is the weekly french class so this week may well be omelette in fact fried rice using the leftover rice from Saturday night that I froze and then defrosted, Thursday I'm out so shall leave my sweetheart some little treat truffled sheep's cheese and some bread from St John's and Friday, frittata or salad or given that temperatures have plunged sausage and mash and the other half of the cabbage fried in the butter from the pot roast the other day that I have saved for a treat.

Saturday we woke to fog enveloping Stockwell. It's not often I get to write that but as this is indeed the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, it's literal translation in town as well as in country amazed me a little. It didn't seem to put off visitors to Borough Market any - it was really busy first thing. There was quite a queue in Ginger Pig, with everyone buying, not just looking. There was a big chalkboard sign out the front saying whole shoulder of lamb £10, a definited bargain and, magically, also on my shopping list so I had one of those, but cut in half dinner Sunday, the second piece for the freezer to eat another day. I also bought a chicken that the butcher spatchcocked for me with enviable skill for spiced chicken Saturday night and a pile of oyster bacon half in the freezer half in the fried rice, £28 the lot.

Then to Booths, another shop with a queue, for potatoes roasted Sunday, mashed Friday, butternut awaiting it's fate, cabbage with Sunday roast and Friday sausage and mash, carrots, spinach spiced Saturday and stewed Tuesday, aubergine salad Saturday, peppers fried rice, parsnips pudding, fennel and endive not used yet but still okay for the weekend for £8.50

Lizzie's back at Wild Beef looking well again which is good news, bought some eggs a couple poached to top our chickpea stew and the rest as omelette in the fried rice and some sausages Friday treat, £5.50

Very busy over that side so we beat a hasty retreat and bought some sliced napoli from Gastronomica lunch with rocket from the garden! - £2

Then to Neals Yard for bread, milk, yoghurt and cream - £11.90

More bread for toast from Flour Power but no brownie as I was making cheesecake and that is enough sweetness for one week - £1

That was all for this week - £56.90 - definitely a cheap week!

I also bought spring onions, cream cheese, gingernut biscuits, salt and butter and one extra potato

This time last year we were mostly eating stirfried cabbage and the year before that courgette pasta, one of my regular quick dinners.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Chicken Noodles with Holy Basil

I bought a chicken last week at Ginger Pig - a hefty thing costing about £14. I stuffed it with barley and bacon and roasted it to perfect golden perfection with potatoes and steamed carrots and peas and lashings of gravy for Sunday dinner. Just fabulous.

Lots left over and so we had cold chicken and stuffing and salads all week for our lunchboxes, undoubtedly the highlight of my working day. Friday night the carcass remained, with a few skerricks here and there of remaining flesh. I had a couple more chicken carcasses in the freezer from before so I defrosted those. I cleaned all the remaining chicken from my bird then put all the bones into a big pot with various bits of veg and made a couple of litres of fine stock, which now occupies the space vacated by the frozen carcasses.

I had quite a reasonable amount of shards and shreds of flesh, had been thinking of making chicken and tarragon soup but we went out for dinner instead. So Saturday night I defrosted some egg noodles and stir fried them with the remaining chicken, lots of chilli and a handful of the rest of the holy basil, also from last week. A frugal meal that was full of flavour and colour, and quick and easy to boot. Feeling smugly satisfied and decidely well fed!

Chilli Noodles with Holy Basil
1/2 tspn fennel seeds
50ml shaoxing rice wine
50ml fish sauce
50 ml oyster sauce
400g fresh egg noodles
2 banana shallots, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 red bird's-eye chillies, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely sliced into long thin strips
100g mangetout, finely sliced into long strips
1 cup holy basil leaves
1 cup cooked chicken, or raw thinly sliced
1 tbspn chilli oil
1 tbspn sambal oeleck - a chilli sauce available from any asian grocers
Mix the rice wine, fish sauce and oyster sauce in a little bowl.

Heat a wok till smoking then add the chili oil and fry the fennel seeds, chopped shallots, garlic and chilli until fragrant - a couple of minutes. Add the sambal oelek, red pepper and mangetout and toss with the mixed liquids. When it starts to bubble add the chicken and toss for a minute then add the noodles and half a cup of water. When it boils you turn the heat right down, cover with a lid and let it simmer for a couple of minutes till the noodles cook.

Toss through the basil leaves and voila!

Dinner is ready.

Friday, September 19, 2008

And this week... I bought + Want to be a tv star!?!

Friday night is chicken and tarragon soup to use the last of the week's chicken. No - the man and I went out to Ha Noi - a little Viet place we love and had crystal spring rolls and singapore noodles Saturday I'm thinking noodles and herbs and chilli with the last of the chicken and very fine it was too. Sunday roast pork had cauliflower cheese and roasted butternut to use up the veg from last week and cold in lunch boxes for a few days Monday barely risotto no risotto but a close to perfect meal of grilled lamb chops with buttered new potatoes and wilted spinach. Tuesday out. Wednesday french class so bean stew from the freezer actually sausages from the freezer with potato salad and green salad with the last of the lettuce. Thursday we're out and Friday I think sausage sandwiches zucchini fritatta perhaps. An easy week!

Of course by Saturday morning things were a little different. The sun was shining even if the air was cold and Borough Market was remarkably easygoing. Started at Ginger Pig where John was sporting a new haircut in preparation for his holiday in southern Spain, lucky him. I bought a boned piece of pork shoulder Sunday roast and cold for lunches, a couple of chicken breasts in the freezer and, as sheer indulgence, some lamb chops to grill magnificent Monday night. We don't normally have them, even though I love them to bits, because they are a hefty price but I am so looking forward to eating them with buttered spinach and new potatoes that it is worth every penny. Spent £38

Then to Booths for potatoes and spinach, mangetout, carrots, spring onions, didn't buy tomatoes as they were a little soft for a very reasonable £4.20 total

Cheese from the new guy at Gastronomica - I needed parmesan and they were also selling sheeps cheese studded with truffles - £10 the pair

Olives from Taste of Turkey - £2.80

Coffee from Monmouth - £9

A pork pie for lunch - £5

Milk and yoghurt from Neals Yard but no bread as I'd taken half a loaf from St Johns from the freezer and that was enough for us to toast for the weekend - £6.90

So a quick and easy trip for us - and a total spend of £75.90

And the TV star opportunity? ITV are looking for contestants for a new show. Are you a talented cook who is looking for that big break? Are you fiercely proud of your county and want to see it go all the way? Do you want to learn from some of the country’s finest chefs?

ITV Productions is looking for contestants to take part in a brand new, day-time cookery series called Taste the Nation. If you have a passion for food and want to represent your county in a national cookery knock-out, then this is the show for you.

Check out the details here - http://www.itv.com/Lifestyle/Food/TastetheNation/default.html

Could be fun!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lemon Cheesecake

No bake!

No gelatine either.

I have to say that this is one of the nicest things I've made in a while. Certainly it tasted vastly better than I was expecting, possibly because it was so very simple. The photo does it no justice - in real life it is a palely creamy thing of beauty.

When I was in my early teens my mother first made ginger cheesecake. For me it was love at first bite. It was my automatic dessert of choice for birthdays and any other opportunity I had to determine any element of the menu. Mum always made it the night before. It may be false memory syndrome, but I seem to recall that she would make the base and then refrigerate that for a few hours to make it set before adding the filling. I'm sure I do remember one night the base fell out of the loose bottom pan when mum was halfway between bench and fridge and those buttered crumbs were everywhere. Then in no time at all they were back in the pan, only myself any the wiser.

Looking for a quick and easy dessert for food chain this month I recalled those lovely cheesecakes my mum makes and thought I'd have a go. On the principle that lemon sets cream, this is what I came up with. This version adds filling straight after crumb base and so takes no time at all.

Lemon Cheesecake
250g packet ginger biscuits
125g butter
400g philadelphia cream cheeese
2 lemons, preferably unwaxed
50g icing sugar
250ml double cream

Put the biscuits into a food processor and blitz to crumbs. Alternatively put them in a bag, fold over the end to prevent escapes, and bash ferociously with a rolling pin till you feel much better and, again, have crumbs.

At the same time, have the butter in a small pan over a low heat till it is completely melted. Mix butter and biscuit crumbs and press into the base of a loose bottomed 20cm/8inch pan. Check it is firmly locked.

Whip the cream till you have soft peaks.

In a separate bowl whip the cream cheese with the juice and zest of the lemons. It will be a bit lumpy to start but it soon smoothes out, just keep beating. Add the icing sugar and mix it in. Have a taste - you want sharp but not mouth puckeringly so.

With a spatula slowly incorporate about half the cream into the lemon cheese mix then add the rest of the whipped cream in one go and mix it to a lovely smooth cream. It will be fairly stiff rather than runny.

Cover with clingfilm, refrigerate till you want to serve it. Cut into generous slices.


From go to whoah this took me 20 minutes. And the final cheesecake really was utterly fabulous - tangy light little creamy cloud mouthfuls leavened with a tiny hint of lemon zest and a bit of ginger crunch to finish.

Definite keeper.

Monday, September 15, 2008

And this week I bought

I didn't get it together to make a plan on Friday so I had to wing it a little though I'd thought about it too. The man was a sickie boy so thought something spicy would be good. I found a recipe for a rather wonderful sounding chicken poached in spiced coconut milk salad, and that was the starting point.

Borough Market was remarkably busy first thing - queues everywhere. Not sure why - maybe people are cooking fab at home rather than putting it on the plastic pretending all is well. Who knows. At Ginger Pig I bought pork chops grilled Tuesday night with bali salad, chicken breasts poached in lime and coconut milk with a herb salad Saturday night as well as a whole chicken roasted Sunday stuffed with barley and cold for lunches then finally tarragon soup Friday night and a pile of smoked bacon for a cost of £27.70

Then to Booths for potatoes, bananas, cauliflower, cucumber, spring onions, mangetout as a change from sugarsnaps, baby spinach leaves, butternut and a lemon and a lime - £9.70

Onto Wild Beef where once again Lizzie was away due to a bad back so Richard was on his own, bought some eggs £1.50

Needed olive oil, went back to the Italian guys as the last lot was good to cook with - £15.90

Over to Neals Yard for milk, yoghurt and cheddar - £11.20

Bread and a chocolate brownie from Flour Power - £4

And that was all in our fairly truncated shop so we could get the man home in one piece - a perfectly even £70 for the week

But already I have bought more - cream cheese, cream, gingernut biscuits and icing sugar from waitrose, long beans, holy basil, coriander, fish sauce, tree ear fungi and a coconut from chinatown

This time last year we were mostly eating pork and veal terrine and before that zucchini tomato dahl.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Squash with Cep and Cream

A few months ago my second cousin Jaey and his lovely wife Marie gave us some seedlings that they had grown in their greenhouse from seed. Some lived, some didn't but part of the reason has been the generally appalling summer and the subsequent early onset autumn/winter. For example I have tomatoes, but they are green and, I suspect, unlikely to ever be red. I had early hopes for the cucumber plant but it died without bearing fruit. Most magnificent has been the bonbon squash vine curling round the back corner of our tiny garden, producing lots of huge buttercup yellow flowers. It is a pretty thing even if there had been no promise of food.

My inexperience as a gardener was also undoubtedly the cause of some of our general low yield. When the first squashes appeared on the vine I was very pleased and watered them religiously morning and night with a whole can of water each time, figuring they'd drink it up and swell into fine fruits. The next time I saw Jaey and Marie I told them of my devotion to be met by a quizzical glance. Seems that rather than make them swell lots of water makes them rot on the vine. Killed quite a few this way.


We did have one that managed to survive my excessive care and it grew and swelled and produced a smattering of stripes radiating out from the fat white button on its bottom just like a proper exotic vegetable. And it filled me with joy. I made elaborate plans for its consumption. I have had a recipe from Sally Clarke's Book for about 8 years that I had wanted to try and, finally, here was my chance. Admittedly it called for smaller squash than my lovely bonbon - gems the size of tennis balls rather than lawn bowling balls but I was sure I could compensate for the difference. I boiled them (I'd bought a second squash at the market so we could have one each) for 10 minutes rather than the 3-5 recommended then baked them for 40 minutes rather than the 25-30 suggested. Sadly it was not enough and the flesh was undercooked, which was a real shame. It was a beautiful deep orange colour and the filling, of cep and cream and rosemary was brilliant.

So I give you the recipe anyway - do it with tiny squash perhaps or test the flesh of a bigger beast before adding the soup. Or just make the soup - it was lovely, and very autumnal. We ate it with lots of hot buttered toast for a fine meal.

Roasted Gem Squash with Cep, Cream and Rosemary

6 gem squash, the size of tennis balls
100ml olive oil, plus a little extra for frying
3 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste with salt
2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
300ml double cream
500g fresh cep brushed clean or use other wild mushrooms, and slice thickly
1 tbspn chopped parsley

Scrub the squash thoroughly and cook in a big pan of boiling salted water for 3-5 minutes. You don't want them to crack or burst open. Drain them and allow to cool naturally. Use a large sharp knife to slice off the top quarter of each squash, keeping the tops to one side. Scoop out the seeds and fibre and bin them. Put the squash on a baking tray.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.

Mix the olive oil, a third of the garlic, salt and pepper and half the rosemary together and spoon into the cavities of the squash and replace their tops. Roast for 30-35 minutes until the flesh has softened.

Meanwhile, simmer the cream with half the remaining garlic and all the remaining rosemary in a small pan over a very low heat. Season to taste.

In a heavy-based frying pan heat a drizzle of olive oil and the remaining garlic until sizzling and add the sliced mushrooms. Toss over a high heat until golden, season and add the parsley off the heat.

To serve you place the squash into individual soup bowls and spoon the cream into the cavities. Scoop the mushrooms on top and the 'lid' decoratively to one side.

Crusty bread or toast an absolute necessity to miss nothing.

I would make this again, despite the fact it didn't really work this time. Sally Clark normally has very good recipes so the fault probably lies with me. The filling was wonderful and I am still very taken with the idea of the sweet depths of roasted squash flesh wrapping round the earthy mushroom filling. Got to be worth one more go in what looks set to be a vey long autumn.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Brilliante Weblog Premio 2008 Award

I've been awarded this brilliante weblog award by Anne from Anne's Kitchen - which was a total surprise and a real pleasure! So thank you to Anne for bringing a smile to my face on an otherwise bleak Monday morning.
Here are the rules:
The winner can put the logo on his/her blog.
Link to the person you received your award from.
Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
Put links to those blogs on yours.
Leave a message on the blogs of the people you’ve nominated.
Seven is a good number - and a challenge.
Good Food Shops - it's such a good idea
Olives and Artichokes - great food and bilingual to boot!
Teeth Before Words - there's a great overlap of interests of food, gardens and randomness
Dos Hermanos - because they are so utterly certain in an uncertain world
The Left Over Queen - for organising the blogroll as well as great recipes
Rasa Malaysia - because I love Malay food
Just Hungry- great title, great blog

Pot Roast

I bought a lovely piece of silverside at the market on Saturday with the idea of making a dish from Anna del Conte's The Classic Food of Northern Italy that combines larding and pot-roasting to make for a gloriously moist, well flavoured joint. I had planned to make it earlier in the year when I was in Australia where it was winter and the weather was well bleak. I thought my parents would enjoy it as it would cheer them against the cold but I ended up making a daube instead. With the same kind of reasoning given the weather and all here in London I planned to make it this week for us.

Slow moist cooking methods are ideal for tenderising less expensive, tougher cuts of meat. Larding meat is probably a fairly old fashioned thing to do but it makes a lot of sense. Silverside is a very lean cut and a lot of the flavour in meat comes from the fat. So an economical way to moisten the meat and add flavour is to finely chop fatty parma ham – buy the end piece from your deli – or bacon. Then make deep cuts into either end of the joint and stuff the chopped meat deep inside using the end of a chopstick. Ideally, by the time you finish, the chopped meat fillings should meet up in the middle making threads of fat all the way through. Traditionally you would use a needle to thread long strips of fat all the way through but the chopstick poking method is probably easier.

Pot roasting uses whole boned rolled joints of meat, that are first browned all over in a large pot to caramelise the outside of the meat – this is a very important step, and quite exciting when the meat is hot and spitting. Easily done though with a bit of care. Then it is simply a matter of adding some vegetables and a little stock or other liquid, cover tightly with a lid and that’s it. Pop it in the oven on a low heat for a few hours. It requires very little attention during cooking so it’s ideal for a Sunday while you finish the weekend’s chores. Or if you’re more organised than me while you sit and relax with a glass of wine and the papers.

Fricando - Pot Roast Beef

200g/7oz fatty proscuitto or bacon
1.5kg piece of chuck or silverside of beef
60g unsalted butter
2 tbspn olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled, halved and studded with 4 cloves
2 tbspns flat leaf parsley leaves
1 medium carrot, cut into chiunks
the leaves of 2 stalks of celery
150 ml meat stock

Cut the prosciutto or bacon into large pieces, put them into a food processor and whizz for a couple of seconds till coarsely chopped. Take the beef and stand it on one end. With a sharp pointed knife make a deep incision in the roll of meat, along the grain, ie along the length of the meat. Take a lump of the minced fatty meat and push it into the incision. Push it down to the bottom of the cut using a chopstick. Make and fill 4 or 5 incisions and then turn the meat over and repeat the operation. If the incisions are deep enough you will be able to lard half the meat from one end and the other half from the other end.

Put a tablespoon of salt onto a boar and mix it with plenty of fresh pepper. Roll the meat in the seasoning mix and pat it hard into the meat along with any bits of leftover prosciutto.

Choose a heavy flameproof casserol in which the meat will fit fairly tightly. Heat the butter and oil and, when the foam of the butter begins to subside, lower the meat into the pan. Brown the meat on all sides on a lively heat, letting one side get lovely and brown before you turn the meat over. This step is important for the final flavour - done properly it will take about ten minutes.

Heat the oven to gas 2/150C/300F. Throw the onion into the casserole with the caremalized meat together with the parsley, celery and carrot. Give the vegetables a good stir and then pour in the stock. Put the lid on and place the casserole into the oven. Cook for 3 to 31/2 hours, turning the meat every hour.

When the meat is tender - when the prongs of a fork can penetrate it easily, lift it out, cover it with foil and set it aside. Let the liquid in the pan rest for a couple of minutes and then skim as much fat as you can from the top. (Do not throw it away - it is mostly butter and will keep in the fridge to be used to braise potatoes or add depth to a meat sauce. Waste not!) Use a stick blender to process the remaining juices to a smooth liquid.

Serve thick slices of meat over mashed potatoes and steamed cabbage, generously drizzled with the gravy for one of the all time great comfort autumn suppers.
Cold, the meat is lovely in lunch boxes with herbed white beans and fresh baby tomatoes.

Friday, September 05, 2008

And this week I bought

Next week looks like this from the vantage point of Friday afternoon - Saturday is pizza out for lunch but we couldn't get in so went to the movies and ended up eating ribs at Bodeans mid afternoon then maybe steak and salad for dinner or perhaps fish or a tin of duck liver mousse scented with Armagnac from the cupboard on lots of hot buttered toast. Sunday roast - pork this week, so maybe lamb for a change with spinach and roasted garlic potatoes. Pot roast beef with mash and cabbage.

Monday - I have grown my first bonbon squash and I'm so pleased with myself! Will fill it with cream and girolle and roast it whole then finish with parmesan using a recipe I've had for about ten years from Sally Clarke. Knew I'd use it one day! Tuesday stirfry something and rice, maybe more tofu actually as I really enjoyed it this week actually burgers and potatoes baked in stock. Fried rice Wednesday night - wanted it this week and it just didn't happen spiced mutton and green peppers from the freezer with rice. Thursday bacon and cannellini bean casserole from the freezer finally got my fried rice!, Friday sausages and onion sandwiches or omelette and new potatoes and salad it will be omelette. WE shall see. Because I have bought a new food processor and I may need to play with that - a lot!

It was cold as we set out for Borough Market - it may be the first week of September but it seems autumn is seriously here. Which is okay in that I can make lots of comforting food... Started as ever at Ginger Pig and bought a lovely piece of silverside roast and some oyster bacon, both smoked and unsmoked as I've none in the freezer at all - £28.70 Also got some pork bones for free to make a noodle soup

Then to Booths for veg - potatoes - both waxy and main crop, lettuce, cucumber, carrots, a small squash, cep, bananas, green pepper and a savoy cabbage - £8.50
Eggs from Wild Beef - £1.50

Tagliatelle from the Gastronomica shop - £2

Coffee from Monmouth - £9

Smoked salmon from the irish stall - £5
Milk, yoghurt and cream from Neals Yard - £8.20

Rosemary loaf and a brownie from Flour Power - £4.50

Spent £67.40 altogether

Also bought chilies and ginger from Wing Yip in Brixton and barley and wheat from the Euro deli, butter and sugar at waitrose, sesame seeds, baklava, tinned tomatoes and haloumi from Green Valley - so a bit spent elsewhere this week as well.

This time last year we were mostly eating spinach stuffed spicy chicken and the year before one of my favourite things - guinea fowl and fennel.

Aubergine Purée

By Thursday I had a bunch of coriander unused in the fridge from the weekend and I simply did not want to throw it away. Hate waste. There was also an aubergine I'd bought with the idea of making a chinese salad dish and some sweet cherry tomatoes leftover from lunchboxes. So a Chinese type meal was still a possibility, but we'd had homestyle tofu Wednesday night and I'd been thinking fried rice for Thursday but didn't have enough left over. Had a hankering for dahl for a week or so now, and in the end that seemed like a good use for at least half the coriander. Most often with aubergine I make my favourite curry with chick peas but that seemed like a pulse too far.

Like I've done for the last twenty years or more I went to Charmaine Solomon's The Complete Asian Cookbook for inspiration and found this recipe for an aubergine and tomato stew, thickened through long cooking. When it first went into the pan it tasted decidedly iffy, actually pretty unpleasant. Not a fan of undercooked aubergine. But I put the lid on and hoped for the best - and that was what I was rewarded with.

Aubergine Purée

1 large eggplant

300 tomatoes - large or small but must be ripe and sweet

2 tbspns ghee or oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 tbspn grated ginger

1/2 tspn ground turmeric

1/2 tspn chilli powder

2 tspns salt

1 tspn garam masala

Dice the aubergine and tomatoes to about the same size - 2 cm ish. It is not necessary to peel either. Heat ghee in a heavy based saucepan and gently fry onion and ginger until they are soft and stqrt to brown. Add turmeric, chilli powder, salt and garam masala and mix thoroughly. Add the diced vegetables, stir well and add about half a cup of hot water to moisten. Cover the pan, reduce heat to low, cook until the vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally to prevent the bits sticking and burning. After about 20 minutes half skew the lid to let the steam escape and continue stirring and cooking till the liquid evaporates and the purée is thick and dry enough to scoop up with naan bread. Serve hot or cold.

Dinner was a really well matched mix of cold steamed rice, warm coriander dahl and hot aubergine. Both the dahl and the aubergine made really generous quantities - enough for the man for lunch Friday and to have as a side dish in the evening. I have some celery, spring onions and cucumber to use up so it will be spicy corn fritters and cucumber raita with the last of the coriander. Looking forward to it.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Potatoes In A White Sauce

Though I promised myself that I would not take food from London to the French house or vice versa it was never likely that I would be able to entirely resist transporting Asian ingredients like kecap manis to France - in order to make ostrich sauce to go with grilled duck which worked a treat not just with duck but also with barbecued toulouse sausages as well. The return journey back to London is seldom made without bringing at least one thing, more often than not duck related. This last trip we had a couple of very enjoyable nights perfecting the technique for cooking magret on the barbecue till the skin was utterly crisp, all fat rendered, and the flesh was rare and flavoursome. Served with tomatoes and fat spring onions also cooked over coal we felt we'd made serious inroads into that particular delight.

The local supermarket sells local duck breast individually sealed in packs of three so I had two to bring back, along with walnuts, a twisted string of local garlic and a pot of friton - the duck equivalent of pork scratchings which, warmed through make a lovely topping for salads. Barbecue in London this week was not a possibility - cold wet winds etc - so I pan fried one of the breasts instead. Most often I cook potatoes in duck fat with a little/lot of garlic till crispy to go with it and a little salad to mop up the juices.

This time though I had found a recipe in Jeanne Strang's sublime Goose Fat & Garlic that she recommended to go with magret or other grilled meat and I was intrigued. It involved frying off the potato briefly then cooking them in stock scented with a bouquet garni till tender and finishing with an egg yolk beaten with vinegar to thicken the juices. The vinegar adds a slight acidity that cuts through the fat really well.

Bouquet garni add subtle and sublime depths to many dishes. Though all cuisines use bundles of herbs to flavour soups and stews the term comes from the French as they moved away from using the more expensive spices that had been common in the Middle Ages. Originally the bouquet would have included a rasher of bacon - for the fat and the flavour, no doubt, as well as thyme, parsley and bay. There is no hard and fast rule for what must be included - just what you have to hand that will work well with the other ingredients. For this I used a sprig each of rosemary, thyme, parsley and tarragon with a bay leaf for luck.

Potatoes in a White Sauce
500g waxy potatoes, quartered
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon duck fat or olive oil
1 tablespoon plain flour
Bouquet garni
350ml fresh chicken or vegetable stock
1 egg yolk
1/2 tbspn white wine vinegar

Melt the duck fat in a medium pan and fry the potatoes till just tinged with brown. Stir them occasionally to be sure they don't stick. Add the onion and keep stirring and frying for a few minutes till the onion becomes translucent. Sprinkle over the flour, mix in thoroughly for a minute then slowly add enough stock to cover. Bring to a simmer then cover and reduce the heat to very low.

Cook for about twenty minutes till the potatoes are tender. Remove the bouquet garni and throw it away. Whisk the egg yolk with the vinegar and stir into the hot potatoes to thicken the juices. Season and serve.

Be sure to use waxy potatoes for this - floury ones will collapse to sludge which would be a real shame. We had some of the sauce left after serving this so it's in the freezer for next week when I fancy it with grilled chicken and mashed potatoes. Aleady my thoughts turn to autumnal dishes...