Thursday, December 31, 2009

I wanted ...I bought.... I made

World's biggest pork chop?

New Year already - hope yours was fabulous and 2010 is full of great food. The vast feasting that is xmas is over which is probably good but seems a shame nonetheless. I really like to eat!

Perhaps an occasional frugal dish in the next few weeks may be in order, lower in calories and perhaps a little lighter just to kind of show willing though it won't last. Far too greedy, me. More exercise perhaps.

Saturday we are back to Borough though if past years are anything to go by there won't be vast amounts there. We are out in the evening to see Fiona Shaw perform The Waste Land then home to cauliflower soup from the freezer so Sunday is the starting point. I have food chain in the morning so something easy for dinner, pasta perhaps lentils with smoked bacon and herbs topped with a poached egg, so very very good. Monday I have some meatballs in the freezer made up so I'm thinking nice with chickpeas and cucumber roast chicken, pork and sage stuffing, cauliflower cheese, gravy, the works! and great lunches all week from the leftovers, Tuesday I fancy beef stew with lots of mash and boiled veg, Wednesday Chinese - I've been missing it still am as we had chick pea soup and crusty bread, Thursday perhaps roasted pork chop and more lovely veg, Friday warm camembert and crusty bread rest of the soup with duck fat toast- don't want to be too good!

Borough Market bore a strong resemblance to the Marie Celeste Saturday morning. Only a few traders were there and most had very little to sell. At the Ginger Pig I bought the last chicken in the shop - and it was only 9am. The butchers all looked exhausted from the hectic pace of the season of consumption! I also bought some shin beef to make stew and bacon to go in it - spent £27.40

Booths was quiet too and I bought only potatoes and carrots for £2.30

A cottage tin loaf from Rhodes - who had a mountain of bread and no customers - £1.50

Apples from Chegworth - £1.30

Could have got a bargain at Gastronomica with 10 mozzarella for £10 but sadly could think of nothing to do with immediately !

There was no milk at Neals Yard so bought nothing there either!

Spent a mere £32.50 though will need more in the week...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Nut Roast

I made nut roast for our Sunday roast this week. I'm not sure I've ever consciously eaten one before though I have known of their existence for the longest time. In my mind they are a joyless attempt to create the pleasure it is to eat a proper roast - so you can't say I'm not honest about my prejudices!
Not sure why I feel so negatively about something I'd never tried though I'm not the only one if this thread on the Guardian's food blog is anything to go by. I think it's to do with the idea that if you don't eat meat, for whatever reason, you should be attempting to emulate the meat eating experience which for some reason infuriates me. It is too ridiculous and almost always wrong as well as disgusting. Textured vegetable protein anyone? Quorn sausages - a tasty construct made with mycoprotein, onion & a savoury flavouring - yummmm. Nut roast somehow slips effortlessly into this category. I guess I think it's good to eat vegetables, so there's no need to pretend they're bacon.

One of my favourite meals in the whole world is steak and salad but it’s not the only thing I want to eat. For me eating is a kind of never ending adventure and, probably because of that, I finally let nut roast into my life. The recipe came from one in the Guardian a few years ago and sounded promising – good nuts and lots of herbs and plenty of dairy in the form of both eggs and cheeses. All of which I can eat till the cows come home.

I had some cheddar in the fridge that needed using and also most of a blue castella that I bought in Waitrose the other day because there was a time when I really liked blue castella. Fortunately that time is now passed but it is still a mild and inoffensive blue and so would be fine to cook with. I assembled all the requisite ingredients and set to with the man at my side to grate and stir. (We make a fine team).

It took far longer to make than I was expecting but then that is common with me, even when I have previously made something. It looked interesting and smelt great all the way so I took that as a good sign, though the note at the end about making a vegan version replacing all dairy with mashed tofu I read with less pleasure.

About to go into the oven it was a big thing – solid and heavy but fragrant and attractively speckled. I was looking forward to it, but not with roast veg as they seemed far too dense to be a good accompaniment. Have to say, with sprouts it worked a treat and other boiled or steamed vegetables would be lovely, especially with a generous slick of gravy. But I must confess I used some leftover roast chicken gravy from the freezer rather than the suggested sherry one – but if it’s as good as the nut roast turned out to be, it’s definitely worth making.

It was good – it tasted a lot like a very fine stuffing, moist and textured with the crushed nuts and brown rice and rich with eggs and cheeses. Damned fine in lunchboxes too with nothing more than a pea shoot salad. Let me recommend this as an occasional roast dinner – or even a centrepiece for a veggie feast. My only caveat would be to be light handed with the dried herbs or lose them all together, they are a bit redolent of chicken stuffing of the 1970's, and simply use more fresh parsley.

Cheese, cashew and walnut roast
175g (6oz) onion, finely diced
175g (6oz) chopped mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium red pepper, finely diced
2-3 sticks celery, finely diced
1 tbsp mixed herbs250g (9oz) cooked brown rice (about 100g/3½oz before cooking)
110g (4oz) walnuts, finely chopped
110g (4oz) cashew pieces
5 medium eggs
175g (6oz) cottage cheese
340g (12oz) grated cheese (including cheddar, smoked cheddar and red Leicester)
50ml (2 fl oz) chopped fresh herbs (including parsley, rosemary and thyme)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

1. Sauté the onion and celery in olive oil until they begin to go transparent.
2. Add the mushrooms, garlic, red pepper, dried herbs, salt and pepper. Cook until mixture is soft, stirring regularly to avoid burning.
3. Combine the cooked ingredients with all the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
4. Line a 1kg (2lb) loaf tin with baking parchment. The simplest way to do this is to use two pieces that will cross over on the base of the tin - a narrow one for the length of the tin and a wide one for the width. Fill to, at most, 7cm (3 inches) deep. Fold over paper, to help prevent drying out. If the mixture is too deep, the outside may get rather leathery before the inside is properly set. Avoid using ordinary, old-fashioned greaseproof paper as it lacks the non-stick properties of silicone parchment and this is a very sticky mixture. If you have to use it, make sure it is generously buttered.
5. Bake at 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4) for 1-1½ hours until firm. A knife inserted will come out wet but relatively clean showing that the eggs have set. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for five to 10 minutes before turning out and serving. Garnish with roughly chopped parsley. Carve into generous slices. Can also be served cold.
Note: For a dairy-free version you can omit the cheese, and also the eggs if necessary. Instead add 250g of crumbled tofu to the mixture.

I shall include the sherry gravy as it would make a nice accompaniment if you like gravy with your roast!

A rich vegetarian gravy to accompany nut roast, freshly cooked local veggies and roast potatoes. You should be able to find yeast flakes available at your local health food store, but they can be left out if necessary.

Serves six to eight.

600ml (1 pint) stock
3 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
4 tbsp plain white flour
1 tsp dried marjoram
50ml (2 fl oz) sunflower oil
20g (¾ oz) butter
2 tbsp soy sauce/tamari
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
50ml (2 fl oz ) medium sherry
2 cloves crushed garlic
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Place the nutritional yeast flakes, dried marjoram and flour in a saucepan large enough to hold the total volume of liquid in the recipe (about 1litre). Turn the heat on and stir these dry ingredients briefly with a wooden spoon until they get hot and begin to give off a nutty, toasty smell.
2. Add the oil and butter and continue to cook, stirring regularly, for two minutes.
3. Whisk in the stock and bring to the boil. Lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes. If stock is not available, add water and season with additional vegetable stock powder/cubes after you have added the soy sauce or tamari (other wise it may be too salty). The water your carrots have been boiled in will make a good stock if you can get your timing right.
4. Add the soy/tamari, mustard, garlic and pepper and sherry. Cook for a further two minutes. Thin if necessary. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve hot.
Note: For a wheat-free version cornflour or arrowroot can be used as a substitute for white flour.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pot Roast Beef with onions, vinegar and cream

Rather startlingly winter has arrived. Snow is forecast tomorrow and there were a few tiny flakes Saturday while we waited for the bus. Snow!

Time for long slow cooked beef, transforming cheap collagen rich cuts of meat into toothsome joy, and warming the kitchen as it cooks. In prescient fashion I had already planned a pot roast, using chuck steak - a very cheap cut from the shoulder that really can't be cooked dry or fast but responds well to liquid and low flame and love.

I found a recipe from Anna del Conte's Classic Food of Northern Italy that uses barding and vinegar for tenderness and onions and cream for an extraordinary depth of flavour. I started Saturday and cooked the meat in the oven for about 2 hours then turned off the heat and left the pan in to continue cooking in its own stored heat. Left it in the fridge next day so could lift off the fat before reheating for an unctuously rich repast.

Made mash and sprouts to go with, and best of all had sandwiches with the leftovers in the week.

Beef Braised with Onions, Vinegar & Cream

450g small white onions or pickling onions, peeled but leave the root on so they don't collapse
75g smoked pancetta
needles from 2 rosemary sprigs, about 20cm long
1.5kg piece of boneless beef, chuck ideally or brisket or silverside, rolled and tied
60g unsalted butter
1 tbspn olive oil
150ml red wine vinegar - best you have
300ml single cream

Chop the pancetta and rosemary needles very finely using a stick blender or processor. Season with salt and pepper.

Make deep incisions in the meat along the grain and push into it some of the pancetta rosemary paste (called a battuto), pushing it well in with a chopstick or some such. When you have done one end, turn the meat over adn lard from the other end, so that the whole length of the piece will be larded. Pat the meat with salt and pepper all aover and with any leftovere battuto.

Heat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3.

Heat the butter and oil in a flameproof dish. When the butter foam begins to subsdie add the meat and brown on all sides. Add the onions and sauté for 5 minutes, then pour over the vinegar and boil briskly for a further 3 - 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the cream. When it is nearly boiling add it to the casserole with some salt and pepper. Cover the casserole dish tightly, sealing the top with a layer of foil before putting the lid on. Cook in the oven for 1 hour then turn the heat down to 150C/300f/Gas2 amd continue to cook for another 2 hours. Turn the heat off but leave the pan in the oven overnight, undisturbed.

Next morning put the pan in the fridge to solidfy the fat making it easy to remove before reheating. Keep it to roast potatoes...

This was a splendid dinner Sunday night, the meat meltingly tender and the sauce rich and unctuous ladled over mash potatoes. The rest of the meat was brilliant sliced into sandwiches and the rest of the onion sauce will make a rich base for a meat pie.

Friday, December 11, 2009

This Week I Wanted...I Bought...I Made

Hmmm. Starts to be a challenge now as Borough is so excrutiatingly busy on the Saturday before xmas that I know already I won't go. It is an oddity that when I most want to be shopping there it's simply too horrible. But, obviously, I want my xmas feast to be from there so some planning now is called for. I can get early things like morcilla and carrots and bits from Brindisa, order a shoulder of pork from Ginger Pig to collect Wednesday or Thursday as the centrepiece of our xmas feast, need carcasses for this week to make some stock and work out when/ how to acquire vegetables and cheeses because you cannot have xmas without cheeses.

And then there is also the week ahead. Home over the weekend seafood platter Saturday night with crusty bread to get us in the mood for xmas then lovely braised beef and winter veg Sunday we are out Monday Tuesday Wednesday so need something homey for Thursday! Thinking lamb might be nice for Sunday roast, back to fish theme for Saturday night unless we are out then too. Would like noodles Thursday night roasted one of gigantic pork chops with carrot and turnip mash and sprouts or pasta perhaps, sausages Friday night plan to make some cheese straws as a test and will follow with either omelette or simple pasta.

The good news is that Interflora sent me a Duchy Originals Christmas hamper Friday - a great way to get into this particular weekend. I like hampers - they always offer such promise and a well constructed one somehow gives more than the sum of its parts. Opened this one to find lots of favourites, like chocolate dipped ginger biscuits and cheese biscuits, always useful tea and jam and a bottle of elderflower cordial that will be a treat in the summer. I was less certain about the pickles but the man was delighted - lovely with cheeses! But we both fell squealing upon the packet of lemon sherberts - turns out they were a common childhood favourite for us both. Still learning things about my man... We are catching the train to Suffolk on the weekend and we shall sit sucking sherberts all the way!

Wasn't as bad as I was expecting first thing at Borough. At the Ginger Pig I ordered pork shoulder for xmas from Charlie who was so cold he was shivering, bought a piece of chuck steak to make an Italian supper but what caught my eye was a pile of the biggest pork chops I have ever seen, with a sign saying 4 for £10. Total bargain. The four I bought weighed 3.5 kilos. I have frozen them separately and plan to roast them one at a time for midweek suppers. Spent £33.20 including deposit for xmas.

Then to Brindisa where we had a nice time choosing lovely treats for friends and family.

Smoked salmon from the Irish stall, hummed and hahed about buying a side for xmas but think it may be too much food - £5

At Booths I bought potatoes and sprouts, a cucumber and an avocado and lots of little white onions - £3.80

Then to Shellseekers for sweet little prawns and a dressed crab - £11.80 - which I managed to leave behind on the counter. Didn't realise till I was home again and so went back to find an absolutely heaving market and the nice people at Shellseekers had put my stuff aside till my return

From Wild Beef I needed eggs but they also had 3 packs of coarse mince for £10 so spent £11.50
A chicken carcass from Wyndhams - their last - 75p

Bought brightly coloured organic carrots - £1.17

Apples from Chegworth - £1.65 then realised it would be a good idea to buy juice for xmas day so got 3 bottles for £7.50

At a small spanish stall out the back I bought a jar of onion relish and a tub of salted marcona almonds and the man was much taken with a tin of smoked sardines - £12.00

Chocolates from L'Artisan du Chocolat - £2

Bought a lovely piece of Pecorino from Gastronomica - £12 and was pleased to find they will be open over xmas and new year

At Neals Yard I bought milk and cream and a raisin and walnut loaf - £9.80

And then I had run out of money! Spent £112.17 - and it's not over yet...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

White Bean Soup with Garlic, Parsley and Chorizo

It's the time of year when I decide soup is a necessity, that it simply matches the season in the way that salad goes so well with the warmth of summer. There are many obvious flaws with this - not least the expectation of warmth in an English summer or these days lots of cold in an English winter. I tend to eat salad all year round, soup less frequently but certainly not specifically in the winter.

In the spirit of this latest random culinary decision the week before last the man was ill and asked for chicken noodle soup. I used fresh egg noodles and stock from the freezer, chicken thighs crisped with garlic and ginger before the flesh was stripped off, finished with wilted spinach and fresh coriander - perfect sicky boy comfort.
Last week I found a recipe for cauliflower soup finished with yoghurt that took my fancy which was not bad. But not good enough to make again.

This week I needed a good one and the Moro Cookbook offered Sopa de habicuelas. In English it is white beans, chorizo, garlic, parsley and that combination of pork and beans in every form seriously does it for me. Joy of joy it was better in real life than I thought it would be.
The cooked beans are blended to the consistency of double cream and that's the base. Actually soaked them overnight Saturday and cooked and blended them Sunday then left them in the fridge till I needed them Wednesday. Easy. Could freeze them at this point too, if you wanted.

But the fabulousness derives from the deep flavour and little bursts of texture that come from the fried garlic and parsley. The final triumph is the crisped chorizo and the drizzle of its rendered fat.

White Bean Soup with Garlic, Parsley and Chorizo

375g dried cannellini, planchada or other white beans, soaked overnight in cold water
Bouquet garni of celery leaves, parsley, rosemary, thyme and bay tied in string for easy retrieval
800ml bean liquor or, if not enough, made up with water
6 tbspns olive oil
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tspn hot paprika
6 tbspns finely chopped flat leaf parsley
200g chorizo, preferably cooking, preferably spicy, diced into 1 cm cubes

Drain the beans and put them into a large saucepan. Add the bouquet garni and cover with cold water by 2 cm. Bring to the boil, skim all the white foam, then simmer very gently for about an hour, but check after 40 minutes and if softening, add about a tablespoon of salt. Continue to simmer till the beans are tender.

Discard the bouquet garni and blend the beans in their liquor with an electric stick till the beans are smooth and have the consistency of double (heavy) cream. If too thick, add a little water till you have the consistency you want.

At this point the beans can be decanted to a bowl and refrigerated for a few days till you want soup.

In a large saucepan, heat 5 tablespoons of the olive oil over a lowish heat. When the oil is hot add the garlic and quickly fry for maybe 30 seconds till it just begins to colour. Add 4 tablespoons of the chopped parsley, reduce the heat and stir till the garlic is golden brown and the parsley translucent dark green and the whole lot is wonderfully fragrant.

Stir in the paprika and then add the bean purée. Bring to a gentle simmer and season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, in a small frying pan on a high flame, heat the remaining olive oil and fry the chorizo until just slightly crisp.
Ladle the soup into deep bowls, add the crispy chorizo and chopped parsley. Swirl the paprika oil from the chorizo pan on top for an amazing bowl of soup.

Beautiful to look at, smells great, tastes amazing. I really liked this soup!

Friday, December 04, 2009

This week I wanted...I bought...I made

I have some dal left and I found an interesting sounding recipe for meatballs so I'm thinking Indian feast Saturday night - the man declared he wanted spaghetti with chilli and garlic so simple it was Saturday. Sunday is food chain so something simple, soup perhaps went for the balls with dal and cucumber raita and very fine it was. Monday I am out but the man is not so he shall have a lovely pie, Tuesday Vicki is round so I am thinking roast chicken dinner with cauliflower cheese and leeks and deep orange sweet potatoes, lovely and easy post work, Wednesday I have a hair appointment so the rest of the soup actually cooked the beans on Sunday and puréed them so made bean and chorizo soup when I got in, Thursday we are out but not late and everywhere decent is booked solid - they really do mean it in October when they put up signs saying book now for xmas so we went home for the rest of the soup and Friday, omelette and salad and duck fat toast! perhaps.

Was bleak when we set out but didn't stay that way. The entire roof has gone from the old market - it just gapes.
Ginger Pig was nice and quiet, bought a chicken Tuesday dinner, some pork mince little packs in the freezer for noodles and things and lamb mince kofta Sudnay night with leftovers for lunchboxes, Charlie told me he likes lamb fat the most, know where he's coming from but I'm not sure I can divide my pleasure in fats into a ranking, love them all! Told him about rending the fat from chicken skin into crispy bits of delight, one he hadn't tried. But I am sure he will. Spent £27.80

At Booths the leeks were big thick things so bought yukon gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic, cucumber and clementines for £6.50

Had eggs already so bought porridge oats at Wild Beef - £2

From Ted's Veg I bought skinny leeks, a cauliflower and onions for £3.80

From the Gastronomica shop - yay! - bought burratta for breakfast on toast treat - £4

Even bigger yay! is that Chegworth are back with a small shop next to the Gastronomica shop. Didn't need apples but it is so nice to know they are back

A couple of pies from Mrs Elizabeth King, am trying a chicken and leek for a change - £5

From Neals Yard I bought milk and yoghurt for £5.80

And that was all! Spent £54.90 in a hurry as it was foodchain and lots to do.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Scallops Baked in their Shells

On Saturday I had such an adventure! The nice people at Miele (pronounced Mee-la, which is the first thing I learned on the day) invited me to the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham, and having never been to Birmingham I said yes. After a pleasant trip up on the train I met up with the others, Cara from gourmet chick - Kit from the cooking forum and Jan from what do I want to cook today and Lauren and Cherry who were our hosts for the day.

Starting point was obviously the Miele stand attached to a working kitchen with seating in front for an audience to watch chefs create masterpieces. It was where I was expecting to be sitting when Michelin starred chef Martin Blunos worked his magic for what my itinerary listed as a Miele experience. Which prospect obviously delighted me. But if I'd read the email with a little more attention I might have realised before that moment that I was actually going to be up there on the stage, with the chef, making the same dish as him. In front of the audience. Oh.

Asked to be back at the Miele Kitchen by about 12.15 we had a bit of a wander round the show, an achievement as the show was sold out and I swear all 24,000 of them were there at 11am! Some stalls were interesting and some struck me as odd - why would Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs have a stand with a display of fake Duracell here? With sharpened elbows I managed to sample a couple of cheeses but mostly the scrum was too dense to get close. Can't say it was fun.

Dragging my feet a little with fear at the idea of cooking before strangers I somehow ended up back at the kitchen on time. Brave as a brave thing, I donned my apron and checked out the array of ingredients laid out on the bench. Scallops. Mmmm - yum. Panic over, I decided I could do this, with or without an audience. Thane Prince set the ball rolling then Martin Blunos came out to much applause and told all of us we were to make scallops baked in the shell, the edges sealed with puff pastry. Which sounded so good, and which, weirdly, I had once intended to make a version of as the fish course for a dinner for my father's birthday but they never happened because the fishmonger kept his scallops on the half shell. No idea what he'd done with the other halves.

Professional chefs are extraordinarily quick with a knife. It's brilliant to watch and difficult to emulate. We tried though, and somehow ended up with matchsticks of leeks, carrots and celery, and our lovely scallops sliced neatly into 3, roe removed. Though if I'm honest my matchsticks were a wee bit fatter than his. We followed everything he did with the help of the Miele kitchen workers and finished up with a really pretty presentation of baked scallops.

Professional chefs, particularly by the time they are collecting Michelin stars, are not just quick but hugely knowledgeable not just about what to cook, but also how best to do it. The tiny, but probably crucial things I learned from Martin Blunos for this dish are that the scallops should be sliced thinly before being put back into the shells so that they will cook through in the same time it takes for the pastry seal to puff into a golden ruff. Before you put the sealed shells onto the baking tray make a halo of crushed foil for them to sit on so that the butter sauce does not leak out ruining both the scallops and the pastry. To make them impressive to serve, mountain salt or seaweed onto the plate first to make the sit proudly till they are open making it easy to dip the pastry into the lovely sauce, thereby providing maximum pleasure while eating.

Scallops Baked in their Shells

For each person you need

3 fat diver caught scallops, and both sides of the shell
100g butter puff pastry
1 small carrot
1 small leek
1 stick of celery
1/2 tspn coriander seeds
1/2 tspn black onion seeds
1/2 tspn cumin seeds
olive oil
1 tbspn noilly prat or dry white wine
100ml fish stock
1 egg yolk
50g butter

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Cut a 4cm piece from the end of the peeled carrot and slice it very finely into matchsticks. Do the same with 4cm pieces of leek and celery, and keep each pile separate.

Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom of three separate pans then add a scant half teaspoon of the seeds, a different one in each pan. Cook for a minute or two till fragrant, then add the carrot to the pan with coriander, the leek to the pan with black onion seeds and the celery to the pan with the cumin. Add a splash of wine and stock to each pan and cook gently till the vegetables are softened.

Take the orange roe from the edge of each scallop, removing and discarding the membrane that attaches it to the flesh at the same time. Put the roe into a blender with the egg yolk and blitz briefly till you have a smooth intensely coloured wash.

Flour a board and roll out the pastry into an oblong roughly 30cm by 12cm then cut inot three matching long strips, long enough to wrap around each scallop shell.

When the vegetables are softened add about a teaspoon of diced butter to each pan, then shake the pans to and fro to emulsify the liquids to make a sauce.

Make three 'donuts' with foil on a baking tray on which to rest the finished scallops.

Scrunch a tea towel onto the bench then place three half shells on it so that they sit flat. Spoon leeks into one, carrots into another and celery into the third. Make a little rosette of the scallop slices on top of each of the vegetables, then spoon over the corresponding butter sauce.

With a pastry brush make a generous ring of the egg roe wash around the outside edge of one of the empty scallop shells. Then - and this is as tricky as it gets - make a ring of the wash around the outside of the shell that is holding the leeks and scallops. Take one of the strips of pastry and, putting the two shells together, seal all the way round the shell. Put the finished shell onto one of the foil rings on the tray. Repeat this with the other two scallops.

Carefully put the tray into the oven and cook for 8-10 minutes, till the pastry is puffed and golden.

Serve on a bed of salt crystals.

Let your guests prise each scallop open, scoff the scallops, dipping bits of ripped pastry into the lovely liquor pooled in the shell.

Obviously the other thing Michelin chefs have is a brigade of helpers to do the washing up! It was lovely to have a succession of flavours to go with the scallops but to make it at home I think I would have a single shell atop a hillock of salt as a delicate fish course, just to tantalise.

Friday, November 27, 2009

I wanted...I bought...I made

I'm out for the day Saturday on a trip to Birmingham - a place I've never been - as a guest of Miele at the BBC Good Food Show. It will be a treat.

But not (entirely) for the man as he will have a list and the responsibility of shopping alone. Not sure what time I'll be back so something simple for supper Saturday night, quite tempted to continue the fish odyssey crumbed whiting fillets simply fried in butter with chips!! as I was very pleased with last week's fish pie. Sunday has to be roast, beef of olde Englande with butternut and potatoes and brussel sprouts perhaps as it's been a while. Monday I fancy a spanish soup of chick peas and spinach had a spanish soup but it was cauliflower and yoghurt and it was okay but not great, Tuesday dal and dill rice had the lamb chops from the freezer with potatoes from our garden (the entire crop...) and buttered spinach for the most utterly fabulous meal, Wednesday probably the rest of the soup from Monday which had improved a little with time!, Thursday I am hankering for the lamb chops that have been in the freezer for long enough had a seriously good dahl with smoked aubergine and some paratha from the freezer. Friday something simple, sausages perhaps or omelette and crusty bread need to go through chinatown after work so noodles it will be.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Chilli Salt Crusted Tofu with wilted greens and black bean sauce

Possibly the longest title of any recipe on my blog. So far.

It is a bit of a fiddle to make the first time but it is also sensational. The black bean sauce makes enough for two meals and keeps well in the fridge for a week or two so the second time you make it - and you will want it again and again - it takes twenty minutes from go to whoah.

Or idea to plate perhaps.

Adapted from Christine Manfield's seminal Spice book, it is an extraordinary coming together of textures and tastes running the gamut from salty to sweet, crispy hot to creamy smooth. Just gorgeous in every mouthful.

The first time I cooked it I had some cold rice in the fridge so made egg fried rice with spring onions to go with, second time it was simple steamed basmati. Both worked a treat.

Chilli salt beancurd with steamed greens and blackbean sauce

for the salt crust
12 large dried chillies
12 black peppercorns
2 tspns sea salt crystals
2 tbspns uncooked basmati rice

for the blackbean sauce
2 tspns dried blackbeans
30ml vegetable oil
1/2 tspn sesame oil
5 cloves garlic. minced
2 tspns minced ginger
4 red birds eye chillies, finely sliced
25ml chinese rice wine - or sherry if you have none, though it's easy to buy in chinese food shops
25ml ginger juice, made by putting 6 tbspns minced ginger into a blender with a splash of water, blend for a minute, then press the pulp through a very fine sieve to extract the juice
75ml sweet soy - kecap manis
150ml water
1 tspn sea salt
50g garlic chives
500g pak choy or other chinese greens
1 tbspn peanut oil
800g firm beancurd, cut into 8 cubes
Oil for deep frying

To make the chilli salt crust, dry roast the dried chillies, peppercorns, salt and rice over a gentle heat until slightly coloured and aromatic. Put to one side till cool, then grind to a powder.

To make the black bean sauce, soak the black beans for 30 minutes. Heat the vegetable and sesame oils in a pan over a moderate heat and fry the garlic, ginger and chilli for a minute till fragrant then add the drained blackbenas, rice wine, ginger juice,sweet soy and water and bring to a boil, then simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the salt, then taste and adjust seasoning.

Heat the peanut oil in a pan and add the separated and washed chinese leaves. Cover with a lid and allow to wilt. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat enough vegetable oil in a pan to deep fry the tofu. Coat the beancurd cubes in the chilli salt, then fry a few at a time for 3 minutes or so until pale goled and crisp on the surface. They will float to the top when cooked. Remove carefully with a slotted spoon onto kitchen paper and cook the remainder.

Stir the garlic chives into the blackbean sauce.

Arrange steamed greens onto a plate, spoon over blackbean sauce then top with fried beancurd.

Add a dollop of chilli jam if you have some, for a lovely starter. Rice for a main course.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Billingsgate Fish Pie

A couple of weeks ago my birthday treat was a morning spent at Billingsgate Fish Market which I loved. It was organised in part to look at sustainable local fish, particularly for catering. A fascinating tour of the market was followed by a demonstration of knife skills by a block man, who skins, fillets and otherwise variously preps fish 12 hours a day with a thin flexible blade. Watching him was like theatre, the speed and accuracy with which he dealt with every kind of fish, including gutting and then butterflying a handful of tiny sliver sprats. I learned a vast amount, having always been aware of flat fish I was delighted to discover that the others are called round fish, obvious as that is once you know. Wild fish offer the best flavour and texture but farmed fish provide a huge market which would otherwise be depleting wild schools. Farmed fish have smaller heads, bigger shoulders and stockier bodies than their wild counterparts. They are also starved for 3 days before harvest to provide a cleaner fish.

Kevin Crowley, the block man, explained how simple it was to tell perfectly fresh fish. They are called stiff alive, which he demonstrated by holding a fish its head and the fish sagged not at all. The sagging fish are dead! Except for dover sole, which should not be stiff alive, as they are too tough to eat fresh out of the sea. It is best to eat them five days after catching, and you can tell they are ready if you hold them by the head the tail should curl back to touch your wrist. Who knew!

The last part of the morning was cooking demonstrations in the well laid out kitchen where the cookery school is based. Lovely cured mackerel on sushi rice - the demonstration showed how incredibly easy it is to simply peel the skin from the fillet once it has been cured which will save me time next time I make some. There was two kinds of fish with chips, whiting and coley, both in a featherlight crisp batter that was delightful. Tasting both I definitely preferred the whiting, it was delicate and lightly textured, a pleasure to eat.

They very generously handed out recipes for the dishes they made as well as one for fish pie. Though I have never been a fan of fish pie I figured that if ever there was a good recipe for it, then it would definitely be the one they hand out at Billingsgate. These people know and love fish. So Saturday night I decided I would make one, to test my theory, and to feed my friend David who came round to join us. Autumn is upon us and the need for comfort is assauged with lovely meals like this turned out to be.

Truth to tell I altered the recipe slightly - it includes mustard powder and I don't eat mustard - and I downsized it to be enough for 3, though it could have fed four without much trouble at all.

Billingsgate Fish Pie

1 whiting, about 500g, gutted but otherwise whole
900ml whole milk
1 bay leaf
90g butter
1 finely sliced leek
90g plain flour
¼ teaspoon ground chilli pepper
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and thickly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped dill
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

For the mashed potato topping
500g Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
25g butter
120-150ml milk
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons grated Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 190C/375F/G5.

Curl the fish into a pan – if like me you don’t have a fish kettle – and cover with milk. Add the bay leaf then gently bring the milk to the boil. Turn down the heat to just simmer and poach the fish for 5 minutes or so until cooked. Strain the milk into a jug and set aside. Take the flesh off the bones, it comes away very easily, and flake it into a casserole dish. Add the chopped eggs and herbs and a good grinding of pepper.

Cook the leek in the melted butter until soft. Stir in the flour, chilli pepper and grated nutmeg and cook for another minute. Gradually blend in enough of the reserved milk to make a smooth paste – about 500ml. Bring to the boil stirring continuously simmer for 2-3 minutes.
Pour the sauce over the fish and mix gently.

For the topping, put the potatoes into a pan of salted water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10-15 minutes till tender. Drain and allow the steam to rise for a minute or two so that the potatoes are dry. Mash with butter and some milk to the consistency of your normal mash. Season. Spoon the mash smoothly over the fish. Sprinkle with grated cheese.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the topping is golden brown and the pie hot and bubbling.

Eat with peas! My initial plan had been to serve it with wilted spinach and steamed carrots but the man said Peas! so Peas! it was. He was right - an utterly perfect accompaniment.

Friday, November 20, 2009

I wanted ... I bought... I made

So loved New York it was a wrench to return. But return we did.

At least there was fish pie Saturday night that tasted as good as that picture looks.

Have a few things on this week but Saturday night will be fish pie. I was given a copy of the Billingsgate recipe when I toured the market a few weeks ago and, all things being equal it should be a fine dish. Served with carrots and peas of course actually just peas. Sunday night we are out to see Simon Amstell live on stage so I'm thinking might slow cook a couple of ham hocks in chinese stock I have in the freezer and have those for lunches in the week with some cannelini bean salad. Depends what else we do, might make a light lunch, might not made a soup with the stock and added noodles and greens and crispy slices of hock. Monday I think tofu Tuesday plan was cancelled so we had pie and mash and lashings of ketchup for a proper Aussie supper. Tuesday I am out so the man can have pie which he loves we had tofu, greens and rice, Wednesday I have french class so may cook the beans from the freezer with added fresh pasta the man was out so I had steak and salad home alone. The theme emerging, intentionally, is using some things from the freezer... Thursday I think will be lamb chops with spinach and new potatoes or dal perhaps had the pasta and beans with lamb Friday night as a treat chicken noodle soup as the man is a little poorly with stock and noodles from the freezer...

They have taken the roof off the old market as part of the work extending Network Rail. It's quite shocking to see, like desecration. I am surprised the building wasn't listed.

Inside it was fairly quiet. I bought a couple of ham hocks for Sunday lunch and in lunchboxes for the week with herbed bean salad and raw carrot and celery from Silfield, they have gone up from £2.95 to £3.50, which is a fairly serious hike but they are still good value.

As I was intent on fish pie for supper I needed nothing from Ginger Pig, so it was one of those rare Saturdays when I walked past my favourite stall

Around the corner to Booths where I was delighted to see they had yukon gold potatoes meaning I could have perfect mash atop my fish pie, also bought new potatoes still in the fridge, tangerines lunch boxes and a box of carnoroli rice in the cupboard- £5.25 the lot

Decided to get some chorizo for the freezer as I used the last of what we had a couple of weeks ago and I find they really come in handy for starting point inspiration sometimes. Also bought a pack of morcilla, with the same idea in mind so spent £11.20

Heading for Seldom Seen I was waylaid by the sight of a new fish stall selling fish from the coast of Devon, it all looked lovely and fresh so I bought a whole whiting for my pie for a mere £2.50 - definite sustainable bargain!

Then to Seldom Seen for a slice of their lovely three bird roast the worlds most decadent sandwich filling- £3.50 - only one more week till they disappear again for another year. They have beautiful geese, some as three bird roasts but they are huge things, to feed a dozen or more and I simply cannot think of an excuse to buy one - sadly.

At Wild Beef I bought eggs and also some more pork sausages for the freezer as the last lot were very tasty and simply plain, making a delightful supper with nothing more than salad and some crusty bread - £5.50

Then chocolates from L'Artisan du Chocolat - still a bargain £2

Olives from the Turkish stall, where the stallholders are delighted with their new position as it is more sheltered and warmer than their previous place which has now been taken by the parma ham and mozzarella stall, glad it works for some stalls at least - £3.90 for a pot of Kuru Sele

At a very quiet Ted's Veg the young woman serving said last week had been the worst day trading they'd had in five years and things are generally down to such an extent that they are seriously thinking of finding a new market, and leave Borough for good. I'd be sad to see them go , they always have a good spread of veg. I bought a couple of Bramley apples for streusel cake, some leeks and onions for £2.90

Gastronomica have finally moved into their new shop and though we needed nothing from them this week it was beautifully laid out and definitely tempting.

Bought some multi coloured carrots had a different colour every day raw in lunches, not convinced each has their own flavour but they were really tasty, so shall be my carrot source for now from the organics stall that set up after Total Organics stopped selling produce as I am hoping for more flavour than the ones I currently get from Booths as I do love them raw in lunch boxes - 90p

Pies Monday supper with mash and peas from a cheerful Ian at Mrs Elizabeth King's, one steak and one steak and kidney - £5

At Neals Yard I bought milk, bread and a hunk of Keen's cheddar - £10.70

And lastly a cottage tin loaf from Flour Power - £1.10

Spent a not unreasonable £61.75 and also bought spinach, parsley, dill, peas, a steak, rocket, tomatoes, tofu and noodles

Friday, October 30, 2009

I wanted...I bought...I made

Saturday we are out in the afternoon for some culture at the V&A with David so dinner will be quick I think (or late!) skinny beef sausages with green salad and crusty bread, serious yum, Sunday we are out to lunch with Vicki and a different David as well as the same David from Saturday so dinner may well be a cold collation lunch was at St John so bought bread to go with parma ham and mozzarella, wow. Monday might do cheesey peas risotto with wild mushrooms and some cooked ham from the freezer as well as hock stock so an intensely flavoured supper that made for a fine lunch, Tuesday we are out to see Michael Clark, Wednesday is my birthday which I'm spending at Billingsgate Fish Market learning more about fish, particularly sustainable fishing, so dinner will be steaks at home as I do love a good steak and I particularly like t-bone steak with a very small salad. Thursday there may be a little left over so it will be lovely with noodles I had a sea bass from Billinsgate so baked it whole with chilli and ginger and we ate it with basmati and spinach sesame salad after fireworks in the park. Friday something simple, probably eggy, more than likely omelette - but then I do love omelette. And eggs. And noodles - will have the last of the steak with noodle salad.

Cold, wet, nasty. Welcome to autumn. The market was quietish early on, so that at least was an upside. Started at Ginger Pig where it turns out Nathan is on his way to Oz for three weeks, to visit family and go to his brother's wedding. He will probably pass Charlie at the airport on his way back. Got the stamp of approval for my choice of t-bone for birthday treat and it was indeed but as I had a lovely wild sea bass from Billingsgate I decided to only cook one steak and share and put the other in the freezer for another very special evening, which with a jar of polish horseradish came to £32.90. Yum.

At Booths needed salad so bought rocket and cucumber as well as garlic, tangerines and sugar snaps for £4.50

At Wild Beef I bought a pack of their fabulous skinny beef sausages Saturday supper, eggs and a packet of oatmeal breakfast raw in the week and porridge on cold Sundays - £7.50

From L'Artisan du Chocolat I bought 3 packs of chocolates as the office treat for my birthday as I shan't have time to cook - £6

Bought nothing but did discover finally where the turkish olive stall is now located across from the chocolate stall so that is very good news, though Chegworth seem to have disappeared, which is very sad

A serious chunk of Parmesan from Gastronomica which remains as a stall not a shop - £6.50
Mozzarella and parma ham Sunday night from the Italian stall - £10.70

A steak pie for the man's lunch from Elizabeth King - £2.50

Milk and pasta from Neals Yard - £6.70

So spent a fairly hefty £77.30 but it's a week for treats. Also bought bread from St John, spinach, noodles, tofu, coriander, spring onions.

New York next week - lucky us! - so no blog ...

Zigni - Ethiopian Spiced Beef

One of the many things I enjoy about Food Chain is trying new foods and new recipes, a curiosity that is shared by all the volunteers who last more than one shift. It's interesting to taste new dishes and combinations, to find dishes I've never heard of or eaten. One of the sites I frequent for inspiration is which is a rich source of African recipes and information. I spent a delighted hour or more reading the first time I found it and I have visited many times since and learned a lot in the process. It's where the spice mix came from for this deeply aromatic and hot beef stew, a completely different kind of hot to Asian or Indian cuisine, quite complex and warming.

Berberé (pronounced 'ber-beray') is an Ethiopian spice mixture that is the flavoring foundation of Ethiopian cuisine, a basic ingredient in Dabo Kolo, Doro Wat, and many other dishes. It's traditionally made from a cupboard-full of herbs and spices, fresh-ground, pan-roasted and then packed into jars for storage. Among Ethiopian cooks there are many variations of which spices and what amounts but basic berberé is made by combining roughly equal amounts of allspice, cardamom, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, black pepper, and salt with a much larger amount of hot red (cayenne) pepper. The combination of fenugreek and red pepper is essential to berberé; while one or two of the other ingredients may be left out, the fenugreek and red pepper are must-haves. Milder berberé can be made by substituting paprika for some or most of the red pepper. Berberé is sometimes made as a dry spice mix, and is sometimes made with oil or water to form a paste

I made this one mixing ready ground spices then cooking it gently till aromatic. These quantities makes more than you need for this recipe but it keeps well in an airtight jar.


500g stewing beef, in cubes
3 tbspns vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can tomatoes, with liquid
salt, pepper
fresh coriander chopped

Berberé pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon salt
5 tablespoons ground cayenne or chilli pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

For the berberé, combine the spices and roast in a dry skillet on low to moderate heat, stirring constantly, for about 5-10 minutes, or until roasted. Don't let them burn. Keep in a tight jar.
For the stew, fry the meat on high heat until brown, then add the onion, and eventually the garlic and 2 tbsp Berbere, which are NOT to become burnt.

Add the tomatoes with their liquid and boil slowly until the meat is tender and the stew has thickened, about an hour.

Garnish with coriander and serve hot on rice.

This made plenty for four servings with rice and spicy plantains but, like all stews, is better next day.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I wanted...I bought...I made

Need a simple thing for Saturday supper, sausage and mash perhaps went to Brixton Market Friday night looking for african ingredients and bought some cheap peppers that I roasted and mixed with borlotti beans so we had them with chorizo and rocket, with peas and ketchup, after a lot of the day sorting Food Chain. Sunday needs an easy finish therefore, so roast methinks had some lamb burgers leftover from food chain so that was easier still!. Monday need some noodles for a change roast beef with dauphinois potatoes and peas, Tuesday I fancy risotto had rice but with ma po tofu, Wednesday might have the rest of the catalan balls with some mash after class fabulous penne with porcini and leeks, Thursday I am hankering for pork chops or maybe lentils made a very spiced ethiopian beef stew with spicy plantain as the plantain on Sunday was a big hit at Tooting but mine was nowhere near as good as the one Emilia made, the beef though was really good. Friday, omelette I think.

Raining. Not pouring but wet, drizzly, vaguely muggy was the downside of Saturday morning first thing at Borough, but it kept the crowds away, so yay! for that. At the Ginger Pig I bought a serious piece of topside to roast Monday night and lunches for a few days - £14.70

Ran across the road to Monmouth for coffee my daily start - £10

At Booths, I bought potatoes, red onions for the roast, sugarsnap peas lunches and garlic for £4

From Wild Beef I bought eggs Friday omelette £1.50

At Teds Veg I bought leeks lovely pasta Wednesday and rocket Saturday supper - £3.85

Smoked salmon brunch from the Isle of Mull - £5

Milk and apples from Neals Yard - £4.70

And that was it for Borough - a mere £43.75 but also bought tofu and noodles, peppers to roast, bread from St John as it is some of the nicest bread I've ever eaten and it's for sale round the corner from work as well as butter and biscuits and roasted almonds

Cauliflower & Pasta Cheese Bake

Thursday night I had lots of cheese in the fridge and half a cauliflower, amongst other things, but they were the things that I wanted to use up. Cauliflower cheese was the obvious solution but I don't feel it's actually a main dish in its own right, not quite substantial enough or something. I toyed with the idea of crusty bread and salad as accompaniment but it still felt a bit wrong. Then I decided that some penne, about the same amount in bulk as the cauliflower, might give it sufficient oomph to be a proper mid week dinner. Not entirely certain, I cooked the penne, then the florets and finally the cheese sauce in sequence in the same pan - less washing up - and then baked it in a pyrex casserole. Served with chicory salad, I could not have wished for a finer supper.

Cauliflower & Pasta Cheese Bake
150g penne
1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into floret
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 tspn ground cumin
25g unsalted butter
1 tbspn plain flour
600ml whole milk
1/2 tspn fresh ground nutmeg
150g grated Caerphilly - or other hard cheese

Cook the penne in lots of boiling salted water till just al dente. Drain and rinse.

Cook the cauliflower in lots of boiling salted water till just tender - you don't want mush! - about 10 minutes. Drain and mix with the pasta.

Melt the butter in the pan over a gentle heat and add the cumin, garlic and onion. Stir occasionally and continue cooking till the onion is translucent - about 15 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and stir to make a paste. Cook for a few minutes till it takes on a biscuity colour.

Gradually add the milk, stirring all the time, till you have the consistency of double cream. Grate in the nutmeg, increase the heat and stir in all but a tablespoon of the cheese till it melts. Check the seasoning.

Put the pasta and cauliflower into a casserole and pour the cheese sauce over. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and the reserved grated cheese. Bake in a moderate oven, Gas4, for 25 minutes till golden and bubbling.

Let it sit for a couple of minutes before serving in big bowls.

Sometimes simple is good.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tarka Dal

Food chain weekends are a total change in routine. The kitchen we use is based in Tooting, south east London, home to a large Indian community and a fabulous high street and market selling largely Indian and Pakistani foodstuffs and a string of restaurants doing the same. It's a real treat once our kitchen is sorted on a Saturday to try out some of the myriad of delights on offer. Often I go to Lahore and buy a few of their bhaji and samosa and kebab and the man and I sit in the garden of the community centre in the sun and have ourselves a fine picnic. When the weather is less welcoming we try out one of the multitude of restaurants.
And so it was a few months ago that we found ourselves in a small but busy restaurant on Tooting High Street. I ordered a few random things, including tarka dal. All the food that arrived was good - fresh and spicy and hot. But it only took one mouthful of the dal to fall in love. Rich and complex and much more textured than the dal I normally make, it wowoed me with it's fabulousness. Besotted, instantly.

So then I was on a mission to find a recipe so I could have some whenever I wanted. Miss Greedy Pants that I am. I tried a couple of versions for nothing but disappointment. Then, browsing an Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine, which I can buy round the corner for 75pence, I came across a reader request for tarka dal eaten somewhere in Melbourne. Quick perusal of the recipe and it sounded plausible. Had to give it a go.

Bought a packet of the required dried chana dal, which looks for all the world like yellow split peas but they are in fact much more closely related to the chick pea. Chana dal is younger, smaller, split, sweeter and has a much lower glycemic index than chick peas but otherwise similar. It is not another version of yellow split peas. This is crucial information - only I didn't know it at the time!

When I normally make dal I use red split peas and they cook down to a lovely porridgey sludge in about 30-40 minutes without soaking. When I cook with chickpeas I soak them and then cook them for an hour or so till they are tender, but still resolutely whole. With this dish, and the instructions given, I was expecting the former but was quite distressed to find it was much closer to the latter. I had no other plan for supper Thusday night and nothing much to rustle up in an emergency. So when the chana dal was softened but still whole like crushed gravel after more than an hour I let it simmer away for another half hour. Nothing much changed except we'd gone beyond hunger to that place where it seems easier to wait till breakfast.

Stuck a lid on the pan and let it cool down overnight and fridged it next morning. Did a little investigating on the web next day to discover the above, previously unknown, information. Most versions of cooking tarka dal process the chana once they are tender but still whole, about 40 minutes in. Then they add the additional elements before serving. My way worked out okay too - the residual heat had collapsed the chana down more in the night and heating it through next day before adding the cream was enough to make a really brilliant supper.
And only one day late.

Tarka Dal

400 gm chana split lentils
60 ml vegetable oil
1½ tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cm piece ginger (10gm), finely grated
10 curry leaves, fresh if you can find them
2 onions, finely chopped
2 vine-ripened tomatoes, finely chopped
35 gm (¼ cup) raw cashews, finely ground
1½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp each garam masala and ground chilli
½ tsp ground coriander
45 gm ghee
125 ml pouring cream
3 long green chillies, halved lengthways (optional)
To serve coarsely chopped coriander

Rinse lentils in cold water till it rins clear then soak them for 30 minutes. Drain.

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add half the mustard seeds and half the cumin seeds and stir for a minute until they start to pop.
Add garlic, ginger, curry leaves and half the onion, stir occasionally until soft (7-10 minutes).

Add tomato, cashews, turmeric, garam marsala, ground chilli, coriander and 125ml water and stir occasionally until thick (3-5 minutes).

Add lentils and enough water to cover (about 1.6 litres), bring to the boil, reduce heat to low and stir occasionally for 40-45 minutes. When the lentils are tender to bite into, process briefly with an electric blender stick.

Heat ghee in a frying pan over medium-high heat, add remaining spices and stir occasionally until fragrant. Add remaining onion, stir occasionally until golden (15-20 minutes).

Stir onion mixture through lentils, add cream and chilli if using, bring to the boil, season to taste and serve immediately scattered with coriander.

My way was to add the extra onions and spices and let it all cool down together, and then it had all softened sufficiently to be fabulous next day. This recipe made a lot - we had it with paratha one night then as spiced accompaniment to roast lamb and cold in lunchboxes with the rest of the lamb.

Seriously recommend it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I wanted... I bought... I made

We are out Saturday afternoon to see Endgame a bleak, funny desolate production, so may need something cheering in the evening. If the tarka dal turns out to be good tonight (Friday) then I think it will be good cold with roast spiced lamb that turned out beautifully, roasted it with onions and carrots and had a side dish of roasted cauliflower and some baba ganoush, which will make for tasty lunchboxes for a day or two. Sunday is meant to be sunny and a walk in Cookham Wood is planned with lunch at a pub called the Jolly Farmer, which, if it comes to pass, will be a most delightful Sunday with something simple for dinner in case we're too exhausted for complicated - didn't quite make the walk to Cookham but still had a simple supper of duck fat toast topped with rocket, piquillo peppers and fried eggs. Monday we are at the theatre again for Enron, Tuesday I am delighted to have my friends Adrienne and Harold over for dinner, as they are here for a short while from Mauritius. Planning paella with pork and spinach and a plate of tasty cheese to follow - actually had a big platter of Italian cured meats and olives followed by pasta with buffalo mozzarella and finished with cheese and chocolates for one version of a perfect week night supper. Wednesday is french, so hopefully there will be the last of the rice from Tuesday to finish - had the wurst I bought last week with salad and bread which I really liked but the man, though generally a sausage lover, is less convinced by wurst. Thursday might need to have pasta bake to use the last of the basil from our summer plants had pasta and cauliflower bake to be frugal and use the half cauliflower and the rest of the caerphilly served with bitter leaf chicory salad, just lovely and Friday the german sausages we didn't eat this week - had them already so its omelette and salad for simplicity.

Definitely getting cooler stood waiting for the bus to market, nippy little breeze prompting buttoning of jackets and wondering when scarves and gloves will reappear. Borough was fairly civilised numbers wise first thing Saturday so it was easy to get about. At Ginger Pig Charlie was off that night to Sydney where the sun is shining and the temperature's rising. Lucky thing! Bought a lovely leg of lamb for dinner and lunch boxes - £14.70 - and wished him bon voyage.

Had a crisis of confidence about paella Tuesday so decided to do baked pasta with salad instead but the rocket at Booths was on its last legs so bought chicory, potatoes and red onions for £3.30

Eggs from Wild Beef for £1.50

Cauliflower and a small bunch of rocket from Teds Veg £1.70

Chocolates from L'Artisan - £2

Olives from the Fresh Olive Company, where the woman ahead of me had bought a large tub of her favourites, then, seeing me buy the melange of big green ones, tried one and had a tub of those too! - Mine cost £3.50

Parma ham and mozzarella from the Italian stall who are now over in the green market and apparently have a different site each time they set up - £11

Truffle cheese from Gastronomica, who still have no shop - £9

Milk and pasta from Neals Yard - £6.90

Bread and a chocolate brownie from Flour Power - £3.20

That's all this week from the market - a reasonable £53.50 but there is more to buy, bread from St John, ham and salami and tinned tomatoes and rocket if I can find it in the local shop as ours in the garden has packed up for the winter.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Catalan Meatballs

I can't say I really know what makes these balls Catalan, though it's possibly something to do with the spiced complexity of the sauce. The balls themselves are a mix of beef and pork, with serious quantities of garlic and parsley bound together with beaten eggs. So far so fabulous. Roll them in flour and fry them off in some oil and you have a plate of golden crusted juicy morsels. Mushrooms, tomatoes, fat green olives and lardon simmer in red wine with nutmeg and cinnamon and hot smoked paprika, then the balls go back in. An hour later you have a stunningly good autumn supper, the lovely balls afloat in a richly textured sauce made thick and glossy. It is the spicing that is the joy and the mystery though, and seriously the reason you should make this lovely dish.

This recipe comes from a website but I know not which. I copied it and omitted to add the URL and searching for it again on google got me nowhere. Which is unfortunate as there's probably other recipes there and, if this one is anything to go by, they'd be wonderful.

Catalan Meatballs

250 g beef mince
500 g pork mince
6 cloves garlic
2 shallots, chopped
8 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
2 eggs
2 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
6 tablespoon flour
4 tablespoon olive oil (to fry)

150 g salt pork belly, diced
2 tbspns olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbspn plain flour
200g field mushrooms, sliced
500 ml full bodied red wine
400g tin tomatoes
1/2 tbspn hot smoked paprika
200 g pitted green olives, halved
1/2 tspn freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tspn ground cinnamon

Crush the garlic cloves lightly, then chop with the parsley. Place in large mixing bowl with the meats and shallots. Beat the eggs lightly and add to the bowl; mix well, using your hands, and shape into oval balls, the size of a small egg. Roll these in flour, shaking off any excess.

Heat the oil in a large pan. Brown meatballs on all sides over moderately high heat, turning frequently. You might need to do them in batches if your pan isn't big enough to take them all in a single layer.

While they are cooking, cut the pork belly (or bacon) into small dice. Chop the onion finely.

When the meatballs are browned, (don't overdo this, they have yet to be cooked through), remove them from the oil and drain on kitchen towels.

Add the diced pork belly or bacon to the oil left after frying, and brown lightly all over. Sprinkle in a little more flour to absorb some of the fat, add the onion and mushrooms and cook until lightly browned, 15 or 20 minutes. Stir in wine, and continue stirring as the sauce comes to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes then season with pepper and a little salt, stir in the tomato, the spices and olives. Finally add the meatballs - the liquid should half cover them, but add water or a little more wine if necessary.

Simmer gently 45 minutes, turning the meatballs after the first 20 minutes cooking.

This made enough for 6 servings. We had it in deep bowls with rice Monday night, again for a quick supper Wednesday and there's one in the freezer for another time. Bliss.

Friday, October 09, 2009

I wanted...I bought...I had

Because he is Mr Spratt to my Mrs, I shall ask the man to choose dinner Saturday night. He thinks in a different way to me - his hankerings tend towards things I would not necessarily have thought of. Last week, for example, I was thinking lamb chops and he was thinking fish and pilau rice and so we had scallops with the rice. And he was right. It was delightful. We had mussels with chilli and coriander and black beans with some cheese to finish - lovely! Sunday we are out, might make noodle salad for supper - could not have eaten a thing after such a magnificent lunch but I had marinated some chicken pieces so I cooked them for lunchboxes. Monday I would like to try some catalan meatballs, Tuesday I am out at least for a while so meat pies, seriously yum might be the ready meal of choice, Wednesday will be pasta some more of the balls but served over mash, Thursday some dal which didn't work out so went to bed hungry! and Friday may well be sausages will be the dal resurrected.
We were a wee bit late setting off this week and arrived to find Borough Market busier than usual. Can only imagine what hell it is by noon. At the Ginger Pig I bought some chicken pieces roasted with honey and soy and eaten for lunches for a couple of days with cold rice, radishes and cucumber and some beef mince half into catalan balls and half into freezer- £12.70

Then I ran across the road to Monmouth for coffee as they no longer have a stall inside the market, despite the fact that they have been there since the very beginning, so the queues are longer and slower. Bought some dark roasted Colombian - £10
Couldn't resist some smoked salmon for breakfast- £5

Lardon for balls sauce from Brindisa in a little tub - £2.75

At Booths I wanted cucumber lunches, fresh mushrooms meatball sauce and was then tempted by dried wild mushrooms pantry, a bright bunch of radishes lunches, another of parsley meatballs and some shallots meant for meatballs but I forgot them so they await their fate in the vegetable rack - £11.80

Mussels from shellseekers for the man's desired Saturday supper - £4.50

Eggs into meatballs from a busy Lizzie at Wild Beef - £1.50

Olives for the meatball sauce from Fresh Olive company, thinking of the lovely Marie that I haven't seen for a while now that she's a country lass - £3.50

Perfect cheeses our contribution to lunch Sunday from Gastronomica, who are still running a little stall instead of their shop due to some ongoing fit out problem, a sizeable hunk of truffle cheese and a robiola, firmer than usual as the milk strikes in Italy means they were being made over 21 days rather than 7 - £19 for both

Had a lovely chat with Ian at Mrs Elizabeth King's pie stall about the way his business has grown over the last decade. He was telling me they only bake Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as pies tend to be a weekend treat and they have constructed their business accordingly. I said it must smell wonderful when the ovens are going full blast and he laughed and said he went to the dentist straight from the bakery one day and, as he was lying on the dentist's chair she examined his teeth and he could hear her sniffing appreciatively behind her mask. Loved the idea! Bought a pork pie Saturday lunch and a couple of pies to have hot Tuesday night- £10

Then to Neals Yard, where they were selling huge hunks of caerphilly for £5 so had to have one, obviously, have nibbled on it and am thinking it will make a lovely cheese sauce as well as milk, cream and apples, since there is still no sign of Chegworth or indeed the Turkish olives, spent £12.90

So a big spend this week - £93.65 - and also bought oil to make spiced oil, oranges, onions, coriander, egg noodles and channa dal, so not a cheap week at all.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Spinach Sesame Salad

Sssssssssssso good this sibilant salad. Loving last week's baked tofu we fancied it again this week (some times it's hard to be original) and I was sure this kind of japanesey spinach dish would work a treat with it. I've eaten it a few times at various restaurants and was always taken with it so I googled for it and came up with a few differing versions that all had in common cooking the spinach in boiling water for a minute, then soaking the leaves in cold water till they were cool enough to handle. I NEVER cook spinach like that to the point that I was convinced the leaves would simply disintegrate after 20 seconds. Or at the very least turn to a slimy mush. Amazing how wrong you can be.

Normally I simply warm oil in the bottom of a big pan, wash the leaves thoroughly then wilt them in the hot pan with a lid, resulting in lovely velvety little mountain of leaves, needing nothing more than a grind of pepper or perhaps nutmeg. Cooking them in a big pan of water actually made them a little more substantial in texture with none of the silkiness that comes from steaming them. Which was a perfect vehicle, once squeezed and chopped, for the sesame sauce, a fairly substantial thing in its own right. The Japanese certainly know a thing or two about cooking.

Spinach Sesame Salad

500g fresh spinach, washed and destalked
4 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp sake
2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce

Bring plenty of water in a large pot to the boil over a high heat. Add the spinach to the boiling water for about one minute. Drain into a colander and soak the spinach in the colander in cold water until cool. Drain and squeeze the spinach to remove the excess liquid. Cut spinach into thick ribbons and set aside.

Heat a small frypan over a gentle heat and add the sesame seeds. Stir them often to stop them burning and cook till just golden. Tip the toasted seeds into a blender or food processor, allow them to cool and then grind until smooth. Add sugar and mix well. Add soy sauce and sake and mix until combined. Dress the boiled spinach with the paste and serve.

We had it with some tofu I had pressed for longer and then marinated all day which cooked into a slightly crisper topping with creamy insides and basmati rice for a very satisfying and elegant supper for a Monday night.

Friday, October 02, 2009

I wanted...I bought ...I made

We have some lamb chops in the freezer and I think they might be the perfect Saturday night special with new potatoes and wilted spinach and one night they will be but not yet! We had scallops and bacon threaded onto rosemary sticks and chargrilled with pilau rice for serious wow. Sunday I would like a roast, probably that lovely pork leg I've been dreaming of slow roasted with fennel and chilli and served up with crisp potatoes and brussel sprouts. Monday has to be vegetarian really, baked tofu, sesame spinach and rice, light and elegant after a meaty weekend, might do some noodles again as they were lovely last week, and easy peasy. Tuesday we're out to see Annie Get Your Gun, Wednesday is french so quick pasta after quick noodles in fact, Thursday out again but much to my disappointment couldn't get a table at the Anchor & Hope so home for spinach omelette and duck fat toast and Friday sausage sarnies I think beef burgers and carrot and fennel salad for easy and yummy and because I forgot to buy any sausages....

Borough was very busy with tourists first thing - they must be finding it a bit odd with half the market boarded off. It still feels like there's bits missing though Maria's cafe is back, facing the opposite direction to the way it used to. Started at Ginger Pig where the wind was howling straight into the shop now the layout was changed in the summer - could be a long old winter for my favourite butchers. I had the absolute intention of having that pork leg on the bone to be roasted slowly - ended up with a serious piece of meat cut for me and scored for crackling - and it was perfect roasted on Sunday and then cold all week in lunchboxes with veg or in crusty bread, everything I'd been dreaming of really - £17.40 - and service with a smile, as ever

Then to Booths for some potatoes, though there were no yukon gold this week so bought some King Edwards, as well as the first brussel sprouts for this winter and a big old swede so Sunday dinner was sorted! for £3

From Shellseekers I bought diver caught scallops on the half shell for a change in the Saturday night special - £8.40

From Wild Beef I bought eggs for spinach omelette Thursday night- £1.50

Then searched for the new gastronomica shop, intent on having salami sandwich for lunch, but it was not yet up and running so had a lovely chat to Ian at Mrs Elizabeth King stand and bought two of his fabulous pies , steak for me and steak & kidney for the man for a hot pie lunch to match the weather - £5

Then to Neals Yard for milk, including a pint of full fat to make porridge Sunday as the wind was really shivery what woosses we are but in the end we had hot bacon sandwiches to use the rest of the bacon from Saturday night, and some apples for lunchboxes as there is still no Chegworth to be found - £5.90

That was all this week - had already bought a loaf of bread Friday from the superlative bakery at St John - so spent £41.20 - not bad at all. But I went to Brixton Sunday and spent another £20 on rice, noodles, tofu, spinach, ginger, chillies, black beans and other bits that needed replenishing

Baked Marinated Tofu

Lots of people turn their nose up at tofu which seems a particularly irrational response to this lovely silky stuff that gives you an almost blank canvas on which to paint flavour. It is a delightful texture in your mouth and with little distinct flavour of its own, it soaks up others witht the gusto of a sponge. It's givesthe cook an interesting opportunity to create something new. I have been using it for a while, mostly in chinese dishes, and quickly learned how to prepare it without it breaking up into little nibbets. (Best way is slide cubes of tofu into a bowl of hot salted water and leave for 20 minutes or so and it firms up a treat.) My favourite tofu dish is probably ma po, which I make frequently and never tire of. Reeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaally love it to the point it that it would be a contender for last meal.

On Saturday I was in Brixton and popped into the chinese shop on Electric Avenue for some noodles and couldn't resist a block of tofu, planning without even thinking about it to have me some ma po in the week. But then I did get to thinking, and started to wonder about baking it in squares, instructions for which are easy to find with a google search. Given its propensity to soak up flavour it seemed like a good idea. And the man, being the adventurous type who will try anything once, seemed intrigued.

Though not as good as ma po it was decidedly fab and will be on the menu again.

Baked Marinated Tofu

400g block of firm tofu - it must be firm not silken
1/3 cup light soy sauce
3/4 cup water
2 tbspns finely chopped ginger
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tspn chilli flakes
2 tbspn sesame oil
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1 tbspn sesame seeds

Cut the block of tofu into 8 squares. Lay 3 or 4 sheets of kitchen paper on the bench. Put the tofu on top then cover with 3 or 4 more sheets of kitchen paper. Put a heavy chopping board on top and leave for half an hour or so to sqeeze out some moisture.

Mix all the marinade ingredients, except the spring onions and sesame seeds, in a largish bowl and add the tofu. Spoon the liquid over then leave to steep for at least an hour, turning the pieces occasionally so they are all well flavoured.

Pre heat the oven to Gas 4/375F/190C. Lightly oil a flat baking sheet then carefully add the pieces of tofu. Bake for 30 minutes, basting occasionally. Sprinkle the sesame seeds across the top and cook for another 15 minutes.

Serve with steamed rice, sprinkled with spring onions and the rest of the marinade, strained into a little bowl on the side.

Very very good.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Stirfry Vegetable Noodles

I had a leek left from dinner Sunday, half a head of celery, plenty of carrots, some sugarsnaps, serious quantities of ginger and garlic, a chilli bush in the garden that is laden with fat fruits a good 6cm long and a packet of fresh egg noodles. Had to be stirfry.

A couple of years ago I used to make lots of them - they are quick, tasty and almost infinitely variable. I love them but I realised over time that if you just stand back and throw whatever you have into the wok, often as not it will be okay rather than good. Great, obviously, requires decidedly more attention and planning but then it's unlikely to be a quick midweek dinner. What I gradually learned was to find a balance, particularly in the elements of the sauce, and a good dinner was liable to be mine. Being very fond of all of them, I tended to use a mix of oyster, soy and fish sauces which produced a fairly indistinct result, and sometimes, when I was being particularly abandoned, one that was mouth puckeringly salty. Unsuprisingly. When I followed recipes the results were nearly always better so I started to pare back the randomness with which I added stuff and started to think about simpler combinations. Much better results in the same amount of time.

Stirfry Vegetable Noodles
2 eggs, beaten
3 tbspns peanut oil
1 tbspn finely chopped fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 or 2 chillies, chopped, deseeded if you like less heat
1 leek, sliced into rings about 30mm thick
1 carrot, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
2 ribs celery, cut to match the carrots
Handful of sugarsnap peas, halved lengthways
250g pack fresh egg noodles, rinsed in a colander under cold water
2 tbspns fish sauce
1 tbspn rice wine vinegar
2 tspns sugar
1 tspn salt
Chopped coriander if you have some

Heat a wok, add one tablespoon of the oil and, when it is smoking, add the beaten eggs. Swirl them around till set then tip the omelette back into the bowl the eggs were in.

Add the rest of the oil to the wok and add the garlic, ginger and chillies and stirfry for 30 seconds till fragrant. Add the sliced vegetables and stirfry for a couple of minutes till they are bright and still very crisp.

Add the rinsed noodles, the fish sauce, vinegar, sugar and salt and mix thoroughly with the vegetables. Cover with a lid and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes till the noodles are hot.

Raise the heat again to high, add the egg back to the pan and toss through the noodles.

Serve in deep bowls, topped with coriander if you have some.

The fish sauce, rice vinegar and sugar make for a clear salty sour sweet combinatin that works perfectly with the heat from the chillies and ginger for a really satisfying bowl of food.