Monday, March 22, 2010

Happy Easter!

Check out my buns
This is the first time I have successfully cooked with yeast. Followed a recipe from Dan Lepard in the Guardian and it worked. Definite yay!
I'm off on holidays, walking in Andalucia, then settling down to some fine Iberico ham and a chilled manzanilla. Even bigger YAY!
Enjoy your easter.
Eat well!

Steamed spiced lamb

Celebrate! Spring is officially here now that the vernal equinox has passed and it feels like it too, with the temperature finally making it into double figures. After the winter we've had 12 degrees and overcast is positively balmy. The clocks will change imminently and everything will be brighter.

It is also Noruz, Persian New Year, another reason to celebrate, particularly for Iranians all over the world. In the Zoroastrian belief system, at the beginning of the cycle of life, the plant produced seeds; the bull produced all animals and from the human came the first male and female. The rest of the humanity was created from their union. This was called the first No Ruz, meaning new day, and it repeats every spring. I like the idea of formally celebrating the return of spring, particularly this year.

Celebrations should always include feasting and it was on this basis that I decided dinner Sunday should have a slightly Persian feel, with delicately spiced lamb, butterbean purée, fresh spinach with onions and yoghurt all offset with a crunchy sweet carrrot and dill salad. Had been thinking about slow roasting a half shoulder of lamb but I was curious to see what would happen if I steamed it for a couple of hours instead then blasted it in a hot oven for the last 20 minutes or so to crispy up the edges. I was brought up to understand you shouldn't play with your food and all that, but the need to know what would happen was too strong to resist.

Carrot sandwiches all round was the back up plan.

Total triumph. Adapting a recipe from the Moro cookbook. I marinated the meat for a couple of hours, then steamed it for 4 hours. The meat came out slightly shrunken - but that happens in the gas oven too - with a fair amount of spiced liquid in the pan - which doesn't happen cooked the other way. Some of it is juice from the meat and some is the marrow from the bones and all of it provided a wonderful bath to steam/braise the lamb, so the final result after a quick browning, was a most succulent joint, the intensely flavoured meat really did melt in the mouth.

Steamed spiced lamb

Half shoulder of lamb
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with salt to a paste
1 tbspn thyme leaves
1 tbspn chopped rosemary leaves
2 tbspns red wine vinegar
2 tbpsns lemon juice
1 small onion, finely grated
1 tspn hot smoked paprika
2 tbspn olive oil

Mix everything from the garlic down to the paprika and season with salt and pepper. Lightly score the flesh of the meat then rub the marinade in all over, very thoroughly. Lay the meat in the pan you will cook in then drizzle the oil over the top. Leave to marinate for a couple of hours.

Steam the meat, uncovered, for 4 hours at 100C. If you don't have a steam oven, slow roast it at Gas mark 1/120C/200F for the same amount of time.

Take the meat out of the oven and drain most of the liquid from the base of the pan, then put it into a conventional oven at Gas 7/450F/230C for 25 minutes.

Allow to rest for 15 minutes under foil, then carve and wonder at its succulent delight.

I really love the flavour of lamb and this was the lambiest lamb I think I've ever eaten. Spring is most definitely welcomed.

Friday, March 19, 2010

And there was lunch

Monday's lunch was a tub each of the extremely yellow thick soup of split pea and ham hock, heated in the microwave at work with apple cake that the man's mother gave us and a banana to round it all out. Took five minutes to pack Monday morning.

Tuesday was cheese sandwiches - love cheese sandwiches when they are made with good bread like this sesame baguette from Paul and filled with Pecorino and slick of chilli jam. Made Tuesday morning it took probably ten minutes by the time I'd sliced and buttered and wrapped, which is the outside time I think is reasonable to spend making lunch before work.

Wednesday there were lovely leftover steamed pork balls and stir fried peppers with a chilli sauce dribbled over the top and all served with the last of the basmati rice. Took two minutes to box up the night before - the man made the coffee next morning, yay! - and there was a lovely waft of spice when the box was opened at lunchtime.

I'm quite a fan of most cold pasta and this one was simply brilliant. Wednesday night I'd made leek and penne pasta bake that was gorgeous hot then I simply spooned the rest into tubs when it had cooled. Lunch done. Second day this week I stay in bed a few minutes more.

Friday was the second asian lunchbox for the week, this one vegetarian with steamed tofu with ginger and spring onions and bowl steamed aubergines over rice. Great flavours, delicate textures, man made the coffee. Perfect.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bowl Steamed Aubergines with Black Beans

This is a spectacularly fabulous way to cook aubergine from The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. A light frying precedes seasoning and steaming resulting in a decadently rich and silky bowl of food. The black beans add a definite umami hit, their creamy saltiness released by the initial frying of the topping. The preserved mustard rounds out the savouriness - if there is such a word! - and the chilli flakes add a dimension of heat. I tend to be light handed with the chilli flakes so that the topping is balanced against the delicacy of the aubergine.

Steaming the lot for 20 minutes melds the elements and creates a gloriously tantalizing texture. If you like aubergine, you will love this.

Bowl Steamed Aubergines

600g aubergines - long pale oriental ones or ordinary deep purple both work
125 ml groundnut oil
50g preserved mustard greens
1 tbspn black beans, rinsed
1/2 tspn chili flakes
1 spring onion, green part only, finely sliced

Cut off and discard the stems of the aubergines. Cut each one in half lengthwise, and then in half again lengthwise, then each long quarter into 1cm slices. Put the aubergine into a colander.
Sprinkle liberally with salt and leave to drain for 30-60 minutes.

Give the preserved mustard greens a thorough rinse under the cold tap, shake them dry and then fry them in a tablespoon of peanut oil with the black beans in a wok to lose their moisture. When they are fragrant add chilli flakes to taste.

Heat the remaining oil in a wok until it reaches 180C/350F. Add the aubergine slices, a few at a time, and fry until soft and tinged with gold. Drain on a plate covered with kitchen paper.

Lay the neatest slices of aubergine, skin side down, in a heatproof bowl, then add the rest of the aubergine on top of the tidy ones. Scatter the black bean/ mustard green mix over the top.

Steam for 20 minutes.

To serve you can turn it out onto a serving plate if it's one dish among many to display a glossy black jigsaw but for us it's simpler to serve straight from the bowl, simply scattered with spring onions.

This week we had it with a bowl of steamed tofu, last time I made steamed chicken with salted chillies and the first time there was ma po and every time it was great.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Split Pea & Ham Hock Soup

I love this particular soup because it so easy to make and always tastes fabulous. Decided to make some for the weekend as I had a hock in the freezer, had some celery and some yellow split peas and a bag of lovely multi coloured heritage carrots. Even the last of a bunch of parsley so I was all set. I wanted something already made when we got home Sunday night without the faff of cooking a roast or whatever.

Best laid plans! I am currently much taken with heritage carrots - they come in shades from translucent pale to almost black, with many tinges of orange through purple in between. Some are scarlet or golden but all of them are beautiful. And I am a sucker for beautiful food. They come in numerous varieties from a time before commercial farming for supermarkets and large scale agriculture. They also taste great, particularly when roasted.

So I started the soup, chopped all the bits, added them to my giant stockpan and set the flame to high till it all came to a simmer. What I hadn't realised was that the beautiful dark as midnight purple carrots, peeled and chopped, would not make a lovely contrast to the yellow split peas which was my plan. They would rather leach their colour as well as their sweetness into the liquid, turning the whole lot a rather interesting shade of mud. Not an appetising shade, either.

Fortunately the finished dish smelled gorgeous, and tasted as good as ever. If I eat with my eyes closed I will never know the difference!

Split Pea & Ham Soup
1 ham hock
500g yellow split peas
4 sticks celery, washed and roughly chopped
4 carrots - choose your colour carefully! - peeled and cut into thin rings
2 onions, peeled and quartered and stuck with a couple of cloves
Bouquet garni of bayleaves, celery leaves, parsley and thyme

Put everything into a really large pan and cover with at least 2 litres of water, more if the pan will hold it. Bring to a simmer over a high heat and skim the froth from the top as it forms.

Turn the heat down to allow the broth to simmer very gently and let it cook for a couple of hours, till the volume has reduced by about a quarter and the peas have collapsed. Take the pan off the heat.

When the contents have cooled - for me this was overnight - take the hock out. Strip all the meat from the bone, discarding the skin and the fat as you go. This is a wildly messy process, particularly if you've decided to do it in a hurry before you run out the door for work!

Stir the shredded meat back into the soup. Reheat and serve in deep bowls with crusty bread.

Funny thing was, by the time it was cooked, the carrots were a lovely bright orange. It's just the soup that's not! Perhaps all carrots are orange in their soul.

Watching Mad Men on the tele I left it a little longer than is perhaps wise, and we ended up with bowls of deeply comforting pottage closer to stew than soup, but lovely. A good end to the winter.

Friday, March 12, 2010

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

Leek and pasta bake

We are away for the weekend so I have already made ham and split pea soup to greet us upon our return. I bought some fabby thermos flasks recently so am planning soup for lunch Monday to give them a test run. Monday night I think pasta baked with leeks and cheese the man's mother gave us some thick slices of rare roast beef before we left Sunday so we had a collation with a little salami and some cheeses and bread, Tuesday steamed pork balls with stirfried peppers, Wednesday steamed tofu with aubergine made the pasta bake with lots of leeks, Thursday there is a tub with lamb & barley in the freezer that would be a treat steamed tofu and steamed aubergine, Friday I really fancy sausages, bit of salad, crusty bread. It means I will buy almost nothing at the market as I have pasta, cheese, pork, peppers, rice, and sausages already. Will be quick and cheap!

Decided on multi tasking for the morning, which meant I went to Borough and the man stayed in bed for a little bit longer. The market was quiet, and hard as it was, I did not go into the Ginger Pig and buy anything. Most strange. They were a bit busy so didn't even say hello.

Instead I started at Teds Veg - see what happens when I'm let loose! I bought leeks for pasta bake Wednesday night, carrots, onions untouched as yet but fine, lettuce salad with sausages Friday and aubergines steamed Thursday for £5.30

Bananas from the pound a bowl stand for lunches but they blackened quite quickly so not really a good buy - £1

Salami train snack Saturday from Gastronomica - £2.40

Eggs from Wild Beef - £1.50

Baguette from Rhodes - £1.20

Smoked salmon brunch Saturday from the Irish stall - £5

Coffee from Monmouth. As I waited to be served the guy next to me stepped back onto a pile of hessian sacks, tried to step away, his bag with beans caught the edge of the cup of coffee on the shelf in front of him, and oh, it was disaster. Coffee for miles and all over his jeans. He grinned ruefully at me and said 'Perfect start to the day' but it so was not. The people serving were so sweet - gave him paper towels to mop up the mess and refused to take payment for the replacement cappuchino they rustled up for him. I got me some dark roast costa rica - £10.50

At Neals Yard I bought milk and yoghurt - £4.70

And a cottage tin loaf from Flour Power - £1.10

Spent £32.70 - so cheap! - and home on the bus to find the man with coffee ready to go. Perfect.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Steamy Month

The steam oven was meant to go back to Miele this week. At dinner Saturday night Jaey and Marie were adamant we should keep it, it was obviously a good thing. 'But there's no proper space for it!' I cried. It has lived on the end of the kitchen table most of the month and on the bench where the dishes normally pile up when there were guests which is fine as a short term solution but not one you could live with. Can't afford to refit the kitchen so I had resigned myself to its return.

We played a game for a while, choosing places - 'a shelf above the clock?' 'but you'd hit your head when you stand up' 'top of the fridge?' ' too high to get food in and out' and then, suddenly, there was an answer. 'Make a shelf under the plate cupboard, it'll fit there.' 'Whatever, the chocolate puddings are ready!' Made them in teacups for a pretty presentation but sadly I thought they were a bit overcooked. And more of a disaster, when I warmed the lovingly made ultra decadent chocolate sauce, it split. I am still not great at making sweet things...

Next morning I snuck a look to see if it really would fit on a shelf under the crockery cupboard, and it could. Asked the man what he thought about keeping it. Didn't mind. Which meant that I now had my heart set...

When I was first offered the oven trial I called my mother to ask for her baked custard recipe, thinking that as she always cooked it in a bain marie, it would probably steam well. She was much intrigued by the notion of a steam oven and, without much hesitation started listing things she'd try. One of which was a pork and veal terrine that she frequently makes. Though I've yet to try the custard, I did steam the terrine and it was a total success, and stayed beautifully moist the whole week.

I was surprised that the top browned lightly but, upon eating it, it is the colours of the cooked meat, and just look at that juicy bacon...

The steam oven means I finally get to try a whole series of chinese recipes that I've fancied. This chicken and chillies is just about to go in for a 10 minute steaming. That quantity of chillies looks severe but they are ones I made recently, preserving them in salt. They are hot but not outrageous, and they add a brilliant bite to this dish.

That very same meal, a repeat of an earlier dinner, I also made this bowl steamed aubergine, which was creamy and salty with black beans and decadently delicious. The aubergine is fried first then steamed with aromatics, and it's that cleverness in technique that characterises a lot of the asian use of steaming as a cooking method. It is intriguing.

This stew is a whole other story, really. I had read that steaming curries was a good thing to do so, given that it is still definitely winter in London whatever the calendar says, I decided I would test the theory with a lamb and barley stew. I don't (yet) know why, but it made this really intensely flavoured, all the richness of the meat was there, the juices were divine, it was a totally stand out meal.

One (more) of my favourites are these little rice covered pork balls. It's the first time I have ever used glutinous rice, which must always be steamed. Boil it and it becomes porridge. The insides of these balls are an interesting mix of meat, ginger, chopped water chestnuts for a surprising crunch which is then rolled in rice mixed with shitaki mushrooms and tiny pieces of diced ham. Fabulous mouthful.

I could not possibly have had the steam oven without making a steamed pudding. I sincerely wanted this ginger syrup version to be the nicest thing I made, but I lack the requisite sweet tooth to vote this my favourite. But it is very pretty! I will experiment more with sweets and find some things that respond to the method.

Steamed eggs, on the other hand, are definitely on my favourites list. I really wanted set whites, runny yolks and creamy underneaths. And that's what I got! These eggs had parma ham, a dollop of cream, a shave of Parmesan and a tiny sprig of thyme in the base. I made another version on the weekend with a spoonful of cooked leeks and smoked bacon, a dollop of cream and a little Parmesan for probably the nicest lunch I've had this year.

This extraordinary bowl of food is probably the most interesting thing I made this month. It is smoked trout and smoked bacon, half and half in a shallow bowl, then topped with blackbeans, chilli flakes and a spoonful of rendered pork fat, all of it steamed for about 15 minutes. It was a wildly fabulous thing to put in my mouth, such an astonishing combination of things I would not have dreamed to put together if I'd never read Fuchsia Dunlop.

This may look like a visit from outer space but is my very first steamed savoury pudding. It is full of leeks and bacon and cream and that casing is lovingly constructed with suet for silky joy. It is a Bristish classic and a good example of the utterly different way steam is used in western cooking.

We had it with roast, so didn't finish it all, but the pastry doesn't hold up eaten cold next day. So, the obvious solution the next time was to have a whole one as dinner for two! I am not miss greedy pants for nothing.

This burnished beauty is a pork hock that has been boned, simmered in a red stock then steamed with black beans and chillies to finish. Delicate and toothsome.

This steamed savoury custard is already part of my repertoire, having made it three times in the last month. It is such a delicate thing, eating it is like a tender caress. I cannot imagine ever getting enough.

Pork and steam are a marriage made in heaven. This incarnation is made by blanching the meat briefly then steaming it with black beans and chilli and shaoxing. With rice and stirfried peppers, a delight.

I loathed this. The man thought he'd died and gone to heaven. It is a luxury rice pudding, made with cream and orange zest and syrup. When I was a kid, I hated rice pudding with a passion. That was then and I thought that now being an adult and with tastes expanded exponentially since then, and loving rice particularly, that it would be different. Ha! It only took the first tiny spoonful to bring all that disgust flooding back, the awful smell, the horrible texture, the globs on my tongue, euuuuugh. If the man hadn't been there I swear I would have spat.

I made little pots each morning for the man to take to work to have with his lunch. He loved it.

A seriously interesting month of cooking. I loved the extra scope the steam oven gave me and was surprised at just how much use I made of my new toy. I used it pretty much every day, steaming vegetables which made them taste perfectly of themselves, reheating things so they never dry out or catch on the bottom of the pan as well as making all these lovely things here.

I had thought I'd do some fish dishes, but no. Someh0w there simply wasn't time.

Lucky it's not going any time soon!

Steamed Savoury Eggs

This is fast becoming a regular weeknight supper and it is fabulous. Simplicity itself, it requires nothing much more than fresh eggs and a well flavoured stock, with a little sesame oil and chopped spring onion for garnish. It's a Chinese staple, a dish of comfort, that is exquisitely delicate in texture with a flavour that matches. You can make many variations, adding shrimp or pork, I'm sure crab would be brilliant, but this most basic version is simply a joy.

Steamed Savoury Eggs
4 eggs
300 ml pork or chicken stock
1 tbspn lard or vegetable oil
1 spring onion, finely sliced
1 tspn sesame oil

Whisk the eggs in a heatproof dish till light and foamy.

Warm two thirds of the stock to boiling point. Take it off the heat and add the rest of the stock to cool it down a bit, then whisk it into the eggs with the oil or lard.

Steam in the bowl for 10 minutes.

Garnish with the spring onion and a drizzle of sesame oil.

We've had this a few times in the last month with some cabbage steamed with a little spicy paste and boiled rice. It makes for a lovely pale bowl of food that has all the flavour and texture you need for a quite delightful dinner. And it's great cold next day for lunch.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

We did lunch!

Mondays lunch was an amalgamation of leftover steamed pork balls topped with a particularly fine sauce made with chilli paste, shaoxing, soy and sesame and the last of the pasta salad that was leftover at foodchain Sunday afternoon that I brought home with me. I find that the moment when everything is cooked in the kitchen at Tooting and it has all been packaged up and sent out to the myriad recipients I feel enormous relief that it's all done and on its way but I'm not hungry at all. An hour after I get home I'm starving! So tend to bring my share of any leftovers back with me.

Lunch Tuesday and Wednesday was leftover roast chicken, butternut,salad made with steamed potatoes, cold sprouts which are surprisingly nice all finished with a dollop of really lovely chickeny gravy. Gorgeous.

Thursday lunch for me was the last of the roast chicken and vegetables. For the man it was steamed chilli chicken, steamed aubergine stir fried carrot and ginger - that went an interesting colour as I used purple carrots! He was the lucky recipient of the last of the rhubarb fool as a small sweet treat.

Pale and interesting for Friday lunch, had just enough steamed savoury egg custard, spicy cabbage and rice left to make one lunch box, most fine too the man proclaimed. Me, I made the sacrifice of buying a hot chorizo roll from Whitecross Street.

Friday, March 05, 2010

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

Pork & Veal Terrine with Pistachios and Green Peppercorns, steamed for 90 minutes

I have a tub of braised oxtail in the freezer, cooked long and slow in red wine and herbs, waiting till Jaey and Marie come round for supper. I described my oxtail lasagne topped with truffle cheese to them, ages ago, and they have wanted to try it ever since. So their time has come, Saturday night we'll be feasting on that with steamed chocolate pudding to follow. Fabulous it was and we had steamed eggs on top of the remnants of leek and bacon filling for an exquisite lunch. Perhaps salad to start in a vague attempt at balance. Sunday I'm hoping for leftovers and possibly steamed eggs en cocotte for lunch - steamed the leftovers, finding it's a great way to reheat things, but we moseyed out to The Bear for lunch. We are out Monday and Tuesday so I will make a pork and veal terrine for lunches with a bean salad. Wednesday night is the last night of the steamer - I will seriously miss it - so might be a greatest hits dinner, cabbage, aubergine and chicken with rice, Ha! can't let it go, so the steamer is staying, it really is love and so dinner was the last giant pork chop roasted with steamed vegetables, Thursday broccoli pasta steamed savoury eggs, spiced cabbage and rice, and Friday out again.

Still really cold in London but possibly one or two degrees warmer than the absolute depths. Grey too with a whippy wind coming, unexpected, round corners. Seems to keep the tourist numbers at Borough Market down early on, so there is an upside. At the Ginger Pig I bought both pork and veal mince, streaky unsmoked for our lunch terrine and smoked oyster bacon top up the freezer supply for £13.80. Nathan, who served me, asked if I was having a quiet week, buying so little but when I told him about the oxtail lasagne his face lit up and he declared that sounded so good he'd order it in a restaurant. And he wouldn't be disappointed!

At Booths I bought potatoes steamed Wednesday night and mixed with Helmans for lunch boxes Thursday, blood oranges, chicory and fennel a very good salad with black olives and walnuts as a starter Saturday night for £3.50

£1.50 for eggs from Wild Beef

At Ted's Veg I bought savoy cabbage fast becoming one of my favourite steamed vegetables, parsley and celery for bean salad and for soup made Thursday night for £3.20

From the Italian oil stall I bought a large tin of olive oil for a fairly bargain £15.95

Black olives from Taste of Turkey - £3

Truffle cheese, which the guy serving told me a little drier than the last lot as he gave me a try. Told him it was good and I wanted it mostly for a sauce which got me the very tiniest eye widening in shock before he agreed that would be great and, after sampling a few bought a very fine aged pecorino from Gastronomica - £17

Apples and pears for lunches from Chegworth, I am so glad they are back with a permanent stall, albeit a small one! £1.20

At Neals Yard I bought milk and cream - still have some yoghurt from last week that is just in date (and I like it sour!) - £8.70

One small loaf from Flour Power - £1.10 - rounded out the shop

Spent £68.95 which is a lot but the oil will last months

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Lamb, Root Veg & Barley Stew

Last week I made this spectacularly well flavoured stew, the very essence of winter antidote. It wasn't actually meant to be. I wanted some lamb chops but then, on arrival at the Ginger Pig, they had lamb neck chops that simply beckoned from behind the counter. They were also possibly the very cheapest meat in the shop, frugal is good. It was seriously cold at the time and the possibility of tender meat nestled in a myriad of root veg was simply too too tempting. What can I say - it's been an age since I ate barley in anything.

Still have the miele steamer. Have read here and there that steaming produces more flavourful meat as well as tastier vegetables, which I was willing to believe even if I don't know exactly how that comes about but it definitely enhances fresh produce's own natural flavours. I was surprised at just how intense the flavour was, how richly it all came together. Proper feasting!

There is a bit of oil used in this recipe but I have to say my consumption of oils has plummeted recently, back to almost nothing. After sealing the meat on top of the hob I steamed this stew for a couple of hours. Next day the resultant meal was easily one of the nicest things I have made all winter, more intensely flavoured than slow cooked stews but at the same time retaining a delicacy of taste. Even after a couple of hours cooking then being left overnight before reheating next day the vegetables didn't collapse into a mush and yet the meat could not have been more tender. A definite winner.

Lamb, Root Vegetable and Barley Stew
6 lamb neck chops
2 tbspns plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 tbspn oil
100g smoked bacon, roughly chopped
1 large swede, peeled and cut into 2cm dice
4 celery stalks, washed and chopped into 2cm lengths
3 carrots, heritage if you can find some just for their lovely purple hue
1 large onion, peeled, quartered and stuck with 4 cloves
100g pearl barley
Bouquet garni of parsley, rosemary, thyme and bay
750ml lamb stock or water

Dredge the lamb chops in the seasoned flour to coat well. Heat the oil in a large pan and add the bacon and lamb chops. Cook over a medium heat, stirring, till the meat is crusted with rich brown spots.

Add all the rest of the ingredients, topping up with water if necessary so that the liquid covers everything and bring the lot to a simmer.

At this point, if you have a steam oven, set it at 100C and put the uncovered pan in to cook for 2 hours. If you don't have a steam oven, cover the pan, reduce the heat to ultra low, and cook for 2 hours on the hob.

Remove the pan from whatever source of heat you cooked with, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Reheat to serve next day with some waxy potatoes.

I could not have wished for a nicer meal. Revisited the pleasure the following night and have a final serving in a tub in the freezer. Oh joy!