Sunday, October 24, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

Spanish Food with José Pizarro

Friday night was utterly brilliant. Spent the evening with José Pizarro learning more about Spanish food and some of the finer points of how to make the most of this lovely produce.

There was an abundance of things to try including many things pig, the best of which is this meltingly fabulous Jamon Ibérico, the world's most highly prized ham. Made only from the Iberian pig - a blackhoofed, dark skinned breed descended from wild boars they forage freely in the grasses and the acorns in the dehesas of south west Spain. It's the acorns that are the secret!

I tossed that tortilla! I was really pleased this was on the menu - I love this rich egg and potato concoction but have never made one as good as the ones I've eaten at Brindisa. And I have certainly never successfully tipped a half cooked one out of the pan and flipped it over before returning it to the pan to finish cooking, certainly not without a lot of mess and a raggy finish. Instructed by the master I feel quite confident I can do it again next time I make one at home.

Held at La Cucina Caldesi we were joined by both Katie and her husband Giancarlo who were happy to be mucking in and learning a little too about the finer points of Spanish food and the difference to their own beloved Italian. Once the hot stock was added to the paella we were told to leave it absolutely untouched for 10 minutes to make a crust on the bottom as the rice absorbs the liquid - total antithesis to the constant stirring of risotto.

Steak cooked with piquillo peppers - I was interested to learn that the roughly chopped garlic goes in at the end to be an ingredient in its own right rather than flavouring the whole.

The dish I had most to do with was chorizo cooked in cider. Cider because it comes from a region of Spain with lots of apples, though it is apparently permissable to use any kind of alcohol, even beer or vodka at a stretch. You must rend a lot of the lovely spicy fat from the sausage at the very beginning and tip it away - or into a bowl for dipping crusty bread - before adding cider and stock and a sprig of fresh thyme and simmering for another ten minutes or so. Simple cooking showcasing great ingredients, one of the guiding principles of the whole evening.

I have never eaten a paella I enjoyed more than this one. It tasted as beautiful as it looks, truly extraordinary. And one I'm planning to make at home.

So a big thank you to José - warm and charming throughout it quickly became apparent that what he is first and foremost is a very serious chef. Every question was answered, every dish explained, every mouthful was gorgeous. I cooked a lot, I ate a lot, I learned a lot.I could not have asked for a better Friday.

Friday, October 15, 2010

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

The chill is increasing so might as well go with it, quite fancy pheasant for a change Saturday night - was very pleased with how well it turned out, braised it with celery and bacon and then finished the sauce with cream, a la Jane Grigson. Sunday we are out in the evening so I may make gammon for lunches in the week with a white bean salad and very good it was. Love all things pork and beans. Monday steamed tofu omelette garlic potatoes and salad because I liked it so much last week, Tuesday we are both out but Wednesday the man is home alone while I make autumn rolls and mai tai's so shall see if he fancies a hot pie plans changed so we met up with rellies for a very pleasant dinner at Canton Arms. Thursday I have a recipe from Kay Standish, one of my readers for chicken with yoghurt chickpeas and harissa that will use the last of my Total yoghurt supply and sounds very good and it was - spicy juicy creamy kind of excellent, Friday omelette perhaps.

We were a bit later this week arriving at Borough Market and so there was quite a crowd already - definitely makes it less fun. Ginger Pig only had a small queue (yay!) so didn't wait long to buy a nice piece of gammon and a tray of unsmoked bacon - £19.70

Then to Monmouth for coffee, a dark Costa Rican, £11.50

Potatoes, celery and fennel from Teds Veg - £4.70

Garlic from the organic stall that Tony Booth's daughter runs - £1.30

A steak & kidney pie for the man from Mrs Kings - £2.50

Eggs from Wild Beef - £1.50

Milk and cream from Neals Yard - £7.60

Toast loaf from Flour Power - £1.10

Then home again to buy pheasant from the local farmers market at Oval, as well as oat bread from the old post office bakery and some fennel salami from De Lieto's, and chick peas from Malinka on Brixton Rd - all of which were very busy Saturday morning which is good to see.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thai Chicken Biryani

Spicy mint sauce accompaniment

I know, I know biryani is quintessentially Indian, a magnificently spiced dish of rice and meat, or fish or vegetables, often the centrepiece of a feast. It is a generous offering, usually made in quantities that require sharing, what's not to love? This version though is distinctively thai, and just to muddy the cultural waters further is an adaptation of (Australian) David Thompson's recipe in Thai Street Food by Andrea Nguyen on her lovely site Viet World Kitchen, the yoghurt is Greek and my kitchen is in London. How fabulously multicultural can you get?

The thing is, the last time I made biryani, a lamb one, I was disappointed. It was 'nice' I decided and that, from me, is faint praise indeed! It lacked interest, had insufficient depth of flavour and spicing, a bit ordinary, really. I wanted so much more. When I came across this recipe I was delighted - though not authentic it really ticked my boxes, seemingly offering the complexity I'd missed last time. It coincided with the offer to try some yoghurt by Total - had to be tried.

It worked brilliantly, I'm pleased to say. I made a couple of small changes to the original but it is pretty much as I found it.

Thai Chicken Biryani

Serves 6-8 very well indeed

It is slow to make but not difficult, so don't be put off by the long list of instructions. It was a pleasant way to spend Sunday afternoon with great results.

Marinated chicken

3 tablespoons coarse chopped coriander stems
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup plain yoghurt, low-fat or full-fat
8 to 10 chicken thighs - I used 1 1/2 whole chickens cut into eighths

Spicy mint sauce

1 or 2 green Thai chiles
2 slices peeled fresh ginger, chopped
2 slices peeled galangal, chopped
2 teaspoons sugar
A pinch of salt
2 cups coarsely chopped mint leaves
2 generous cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves and stems
3 to 4 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 1/2 cups basmati rice
3 1/3 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons canola oil or chicken fat
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallot
3-inch piece cassia bark, or 1 1/2-inch stick cinnamon
3 Thai cardamom pods, or 1 green cardamom pod, crushed
2 bay leaves
1 large tomato, coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped cilantro leaves and stems
1 cup chopped thai basil leaves
2 pandan leaves, tied in a knot (optional)
1/4 cup plain yoghurt


1/4 to 1/3 cup Crispy Fried Shallots
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
1 small cucumber, seeded and sliced
1/3 cup Thai Sweet Chile Sauce (optional)

1. For the seasoning paste, use a mini food processor to grind the coriander stems, ginger, garlic, turmeric, salt, and sugar to a coarse texture. (Or use a mortar and pestle.) Transfer half of the paste to a bowl to marinate the chicken.

Set aside the remaining paste for the rice.

To the paste for the chicken, add the fish sauce and 1/4 cup yoghurt. Stir to blend well. Set aside.

2. Remove the skin from the chicken. (Save it for rendering instant schmaltz for the rice, if you like!) Add to the seasoning paste containing the yogurt. Stir to coat well. Set aside for 1 hour to marinate. Or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours, setting it out at room temperature to remove some of the chill.

3. Meanwhile, make the mint sauce. Use a mini food processor to grind the chiles, ginger, galangal, sugar, and salt to a fine texture. Add the coriander, mint, and vinegar. Grind to a fine texture. Add water by the tablespoon to create a spoonable texture. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

4. Rinse the rice in a mesh strainer and set aside to dry and drain. Put the stock in a pot and heat to a simmer. Meanwhile, heat the oil (or chicken fat) in a large wide pot over medium-high heat. Fry the shallot for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring, until golden. Add the remaining seasoning paste, cassia, cardamom, and bay leaf tied into a piece of muslin for easy retrieval.. Fry until aromatic, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomato, cilantro, and mint. Cook, stirring until the tomato breaks down. Add the chicken, and stir to combine. Cook, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes, until the chicken no longer looks raw. Lower the heat, if necessary.

5. Add the rice and pandan leaves, stirring to combine well. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes, until the rice turns opaque. Add the hot stock (expect sizzling) and 1/4 cup yoghurt.Lower the heat slightly, cook for 3 to 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and there is a glossy layer of orange-yellow liquid at the top. The stock will bubble up through little craters dotting the surface.

Cover, lower the heat to low, and cook for 25 to 30 minutes. Lift the lid to make sure the rice is cooked. Turn off the heat and let the rice rest for 10 minutes. Use a spatula or large spoon to gently fluff the rice and turn the chicken. There will be delicious browned bits at the bottom. Let the rice sit for another 10 minutes before serving.

Transfer to a platter or shallow bowl, sprinkle with the crisp shallots and coriander.

Serve with a plate of cucumbers slices and the sauces.

I served it in the middle of the table, straight from the pan - but it was with friends! The final dish was better even than I was expecting with fabulous spicing, a delicate hint of creaminess from the yoghurt, good chicken and particularly tasty rice. So good I didn't get round to taking a photo.

Leftovers cold for lunches worked a treat.

Friday, October 08, 2010

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

Pork pie and papers - perfect Sunday

This week the nice people at Total are sending me a selection of their lovely yoghurts and I'm quite thrilled by it. I love yoghurt and it's a rare week when I don't eat any. So some of the weeks plan is yoghurt driven. But not Saturday I think - it will be something simple, possibly mussels as we haven't had them for a while simply steamed with black beans and thai basil they were a treat. Sunday I want to make a thai biriani followed by an interesting baked ginger yoghurt tart that was good but ultimately would have been better as tiny tartlettes I suspect, Monday perhpas some viet pork parcels went as far as defrosting pork and picking up some raw prawns but didn't actually fancy it when the time came, so we had omelette and duck fat fried potatoes with a (small) green salad instead, Tuesday we are out, Wednesday pasta bake but then I still had the pork and the prawns from Monday so started the parcels only to discover the prawns had a definite 'smell' so ended up making a wonderfully slippery stirfry with cellophane noodles and pork with a little ginger and garlic, Thursday tofu marinated in spiced yoghurt overnight then baked, a quick dinner after the early session of Krapps Last Tape and Friday omelette and salad I am beyond excited to be going to a cooking class with José Pizarro at Katie Caldesi's cookery school.

I am a winner! And the prize is an ostrich egg as well as a bottle of bubbly. Do love new and exciting! Thank you James Ramsden.

Had been expecting sun Saturday so was dismayed to find overcast gloom when I woke. Pfffft - should know not to believe the weatherman. Approach to Borough there was the most ENORMOUS crane in the bit of the market they've knocked down and, bizarrely, a turnstile at the entrance of the building site that was (and will be again) the Wheatsheaf. Apparently on Sunday they lifted the first piece of railway bridge into place. Would have been something to see.

Meanwhile, onto the shopping. Had nothing on the list for Ginger Pig so headed first to Teds Veg for salady things, in case the sun does make an appearance. Bought a cucumber, lettuce and a couple of tomatoes - £2.90

Then to the Turkish Olive Company for some kuru sel - not the ultra dried ones, but the fairly well wrinkled ones - £3

From Lizzie I bought eggs - £1.50

At Shellseekers I bought a kilo of perfectly fresh mussels, washed and cooked not a single one needed to be discarded - £5.70

A pork pie from Ian's son at Mrs Kings - £5

Smoked salmon for luscious breakfast treat - £5

Milk from Neals Yard - £3.30

As we passed Tony's asked the man if I should get a savoy cabbage for 50p to make summer rolls. 'No' he said 'you can't eat it raw' Thought he was joking then realised he meant it. Had to ask - 'what's coleslaw?' Made us laugh. Bought a loaf of bread for toast from Flour Power - £1.10

Then home a mere £27.50 spent. Went to Brixton later and bought lots of herbs and noodles and tofu and ginger and bean sprouts and salami.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Spiced Roast Lamb

Who knew heaven was Lebanese?

About ten years ago I was taken by a friend to Green Valley, a Lebanese supermarket just off Edgware Road, and I thought I'd died and woken up in a better place. It is a truly extraordinary shop - huge and packed to the gills with the most exquisite collection of food I'd seen in a long time. Seriously gives Harrods a run for its money, and in my opinion is better because this shop is used by thousands of people to do their weekly shop rather than mostly gawping tourists who will buy something in a jar, mostly for the attached label. I have returned a thousand times though that web of streets Marble Arch is not really on my way to or from anywhere that I go frequently. Or even rarely.

The huge plate glass window at the front display pastries in great circular mountains, glistening palely, tempting me in. It was from here that the man first tried baklava - a new delight to add to his list of fine things. At the front of the shop there are serried ranks of vegetables, common things like fresh tomatoes through to more exotic fare like fresh dates and okra as well as enormous bunches of dill, coriander and parsley. It smells good. They sell seemingly every herb and spice known and have barrels of olives of various flavours and hues next to sacks of dried pulses if your need is greater than the packaged varieties on nearby shelves. Keep going and you will find a bakery making flat breads and a food counter selling dozens of different kinds of prepared food, salads and little sausages and mini pide. They have huge swords of meat - one lamb, one chicken, rotating slowly that makes probably the nicest kebabs in London. Rich, juicy and garlicky they are certainly the best I've eaten. They have a full butchers counter, a dizzying array of dairy, great varieties of halloumi and yoghurt, handmade falafel fresh or frozen, tahini in jars large and small.

When I go in I shop! It invariably takes a while, even if I know what I want I still must check every aisle, every package, every possibility. Though I know the things I will definitely buy - halloumi, green lentils, falafel that cooks from frozen, a tray of baklava, shiny fat kalomata, a pack or two of flat bread, tahini if I'm running low there are also new treats every time. Spices I've not seen before, fresh pine nuts, a twisted sheeps cheese and most recently a tube of harissa paste.

I've eaten harissa when out and have seen many references to it on food blogs and other places, but I'd never actually used it myself. Not sure why - certainly a big of fan of chilli hot, and serious spicing across many cuisines, but somehow it just hadn't come up. Owning a tube obviously meant I had to try it. Pierced the top to find a thick terracotta paste, smelt lovely, tiny taste was hot and good. Given that I'd bought it at Green Valley I decided to pair it with lamb on its first outing as they are brilliant at all things sheep. With autumn definitely in the air lately slow cooking a shoulder was hugely tempting. I mixed the harissa with lots of other spices and some herbs from the garden, lightened it with a little olive oil and lemon and left it to marinate for the day.

Spiced Roast Lamb

The paste cooks down to a sort of brick coloured crust full of intense flavour, good both hot and cold
Serves 4

1/2 shoulder of lamb
1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tbspn fresh dill, roughly chopped
1 tbspn flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 tbspn hot smoked paprika
1 tspn ground cumin
1 tspn ground coriander
1 tbspn harissa paste
1/2 tspn ground ginger
Large pinch of ground cinnamon
1/2 tspn ground turmeric
1 tspn crushed black pepper
1/2 tbspn salt
3 tbspns olive oil
2tbspns lemon juice

Put all the ingredients from the chopped onion down to the salt into the bowl of a stick blender and blend till you have a rough paste. Add the oil and lemon, stir it in to loosen, then blend again to be fairly smooth.

Piece the flesh of the lamb all over with a sharp knife. Put it into the pan in which you intend to roast it. Rub half the marinade on the underside of the meat (not the skin side) and turn the meat over to be skin side up. Rub the remaining marinade into the skin. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but overnight would be better.

Heat the oven to Gas 4/350F/175C. Take the plastic off the tray and cook the meat for about 90 minutes, basting occasionally. If the top appears to be starting to catch cover with a sheet of foil to finish cooking.

Initially I planned to make aubergine and yoghurt and hummus to go with this, but the man pleaded for roast potatoes, so we had them instead with sweet potato roasted till caremalised, I put parsnips in with the meat and they came out 'curried' and just gorgeous.

Friday, October 01, 2010

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

So we are out Saturday night being cultured at the Tate then dinner with David J and Vicki T. Sunday we are off to the Cotswolds to meet Teddy Gleeson - first born child of the lovely Marie and Jon - which will be a splendid way to spend the day. Sunday night I think we will have the rest of last week's pork and paprika from the freezer with penne and a dollop of sour cream had the last of the mozzarella on toast as we had a most splendid roast for lunch. Monday I fancy roast lamb, spiced, with aubergine salad, hummus and carrot salad the lamb was a triumph but went with trad veg - roast potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips and cabbage and made chickpea, fennel and carrot salad for lunchboxes. Tuesday omelette and salad, Wednesday I think we might go to the movies best laid plans... we had the pork with penne and sour cream, Thursday will try again for dahl! had the chicken noodles mneant for Friday, really tasty Friday chicken noodles with chicken, noodles and saffron sauce all from the freezer will have cheese on toast with a little salad from the window box - the man is delighted.

Sunshine! Great start to Saturday as Friday had been thoroughly miserable with belting rain and enough wind to make being out simply dire. At Ginger Pig Charlie was happy to cut a shoulder of lamb in two - one for this week, roasted Monday with leftovers for lunch one for the freezer - and gave me nice pile of smoked bacon offcuts also for the freezer as they are endlessly useful - £15

Coffee from Monmouth after waiting a few minutes, watching a man sample six or seven different beans made into filter coffee by one of the extremely well informed staff who described each one with the kind of detail usually found describing fine wines as she poured very hot coffee from one small cup into another and back again to cool it. Great piece of theatre - and then he bought 150g! I bought half a kilo of dark roast Columbian - £11.50

At Wild Beef Lizzie was cheerful depsite having dropped a box of eggs, and most amused to have had a conversation with Glenys - the market manager - the previous week who wondered how Borough could be returned to its former brilliance. This from the woman who managed to drive out Booths... Too late methinks, too late. Eggs were £1.50

Potatoes and onions from Ted's Veg - am absolutely besotted with their Marfona potatoes which roast beautifully and also make perfect mash, and last week I fried some with garlic and duck fat and they were gorgeous! £2

Chocolates from L'Artisan, 2 bags because 1 is not enough - £4 plus the nice young woman running the stall gave us a free sample, which was a seriously fabulous bit of breakfast

Queued for a while to get ham and mozzarella but it was slow, so left the man there to get the cheese while I went a few stalls down to buy jamon from the Spanish stall, sampled their chorizo and it was spicy and good, so bought one, a bargain at £4 on special offer Spent £9.50 altogether and the mozzarella was £4.60 makes for a very special brunch

On the hunt for more cheese Gianni was happy to pass out slices of tomme - which was creamy and delightful - so we had some of that, a couple of scamorza and he threw in half a soft cheese made with sheep, goat and cow's milk unusually for us we haven't gobbled the lot but treat for Friday is the smoked mozzarella on toast, a most perfect thing when melted for another bargain £10

Over to Neals Yard for milk and yoghurt - and the man decided apples too as they were handing out slices on the cobbles - £6.60

Then a cottage tin from Flour Power - a bargain at £1.10 for it makes the best toast

Then home on the bus in the sun - £65.80 spent.

Later, when it had clouded over, I caught another bus to Brixton for rice, red lentils and butter beans, but forgot the garlic. Pooh!