Saturday, 28 March 2009

my grocer

Just quickly. I've made peace with my grocer. I'd felt slighted after he sold me four plums which were so over-ripe I had to eat them virtually instantly. This morning I nipped out to get breakfast bits and ended up with some lovely free range eggs with bright yolks, a couple of punnets of sweet Esanta strawberries (I wouldn't usually bother with Spanish ones but these were really tasty) , some rhubarb which I've been coveting and a chat.

Raynsfords on Battersea High Street - all is forgiven.

wet puppets

Three days later I'm still smiling from dinner on Wednesday night. Again, the house was full and the food was plentiful - if not superbly assembled. Loretta and Mr L, the Bolt-Palmers, Sal, Dr Dan, Em joined She and me for chilli-miso salmon with stir fry vegetables and noodles.

I'm not sure the stir fry was anything to write home about, but it's worth mentioning the salmon. I had ten fillets, skin on, which I marinated for an hour or so before grilling.

Chilli-miso marinade

3tbsp miso paste
4 green chillis finely chopped
2tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce

This will make vast quantities. The miso paste is pretty pungent so don't overdo it. You want the fillets under a hot grill to sort of crisp up the top of them a bit.

The stir fry contained, amongst other things grated ginger. I only have two experiences of ginger - it's either absent from the fridge at the crucial moment or if I do have it, it's wrinkled and suspect looking. I'm sure there are people who are so wonderfully organised that they reach ginger nirvana and have just the right amount when they need it, but not I. IB gave me a marvellous tip for this which I will duly share.

Freeze it. Silly isn't it, but I wouldn't have thought of it. Just buy a big root, peel it - or not as you will - and freeze it. You can then grate it straight in. Bree Van de Kamp eat your heart out.

While I'm here, I may as well mention a few of the other things I freeze ...

All fresh herbs, and lemongrass, and chillis, which you can just chop frozen and use. Ailing strawberries for smoothies later. Stock of course, spare mash, chopped onion, and finally red cabbage. I make this according to a Nigella recipe and it freezes beautifully. If you're interested in pulling off the domestic goddess look having a stock of it standing by to match with salmon, lamb or sausage and mash for surprise visitors is a real boon.

Back to dinner. Luckily the quality of the company exceeded that of my cooking. My over-riding memory of the evening is She performing a kamikaze retelling of being splashed with water during a sex scene in a puppet show. You had to be there.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


As is always the way, it's only now I have just a few days left working in the West End that I've started to fully appreciate the location.

The quick visit I made to Chinatown yesterday to pick up supplies for tonight was undoubtedly the best thing about a bad evening (gents, if you're reading this - never give a girl a greetings card on a first date).  

Anyway, the reason I'm writing is that I went into SeeWoo supermarket on Lisle Street for the first time.  It was packed on a Tuesday night, but worth the shuffling about.  I didn't have time to have a proper look around, but what I did see looked brilliant - all manner of weird and wonderful asian foodstuffs.  I sometimes leave things like oyster sauce and fish sauce off my shopping list these days because of the expense, but here they are as cheap as chips.  I'm sure the same goes for most asian grocery stores.

Well worth a visit.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

credit where credit's due

The notion that we should all have our fifteen minutes of fame is not without merit, but when something is truly good you can't help but think that a little special treatment is deserved. I'm embarrassed to say that when She first cooked me the following dish I was more than skeptical. In the six (is it six?) intervening years it's become my absolute favourite.

Grandpa Luckham's Anchovy Pasta

As with everything, the quantities here are fluid. I'll just tell you how much I used on Saturday night for She, Jingles and me. Also, a quick comment on the anchovies - cooking them like this makes them a million miles away from the salty sting on top of a pizza, not a hint of fishy-ness I promise.

medium sized head of broccoli
five cloves garlic finely chopped
250g wholemeal pasta
tbsp olive oil
extra virgin olive oil
tin anchovies

Cut the head of broccoli into florets, then thinly slice each on lengthways - so you have little flat looking tree shapes - does that make sense?

Very gently fry the garlic in the olive oil, meanwhile chop the anchovies finely before adding to the pan, you just want to cook this slowly for a bit to get rid of any bitterness in the garlic.

I tend to stick the kettle on for the pasta, and get that going on the other hob in the meantime.

Anyway, once the pasta is on, add the broccoli to the anchovies and garlic and coat well.

When your pasta is done, drain it, and return to the pan. Pour in the broccoli etc - making sure you get everything in there, add a glug of extra virgin olive oil and stir it all together.

I've said wholemeal pasta. We actually ate this with an accidently discovered thing called pulse pasta, which is basically pasta made with things like chickpea flour and red lentil flour, as well as wholemeal durum wheat. If I'm honest, it's all a bit jesus sandals for me, but the packet looked so similar to the regular pasta in Asda that it sneaked in the basket. As for the taste - it tastes the same.

But back to anchovy pasta, my favourite pasta dish. It's the only one I cook with any regularity ... and I have the Luckham's to thank for it. My only other tip is that if you are making it, you should definitely serve it to your nearest as well so you can share in the garlicky wonderfulness together. Vampires be damned.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

solving a butternut glut

Over-baking, over-buying and over-cooking - acceptable side effects of attempting to feed lots of people. I hasten to clarify that I mean over-baking/cooking in the 'excess' sense, rather than the 'burnt to a crisp' sense, though that does happen to the best of us.

Anyway, this evening I dealt with the butternut squash glut in the traditional manner for leftover vegetable items. Soup. In fact a very similar soup to the pumpkin one I've also noted down before ...

1 1/2 medium butternut squashes, peeled, cubed and roasted
half medium onion, chopped
pinch salt
small teaspoon black onion seeds
small teaspoon chilli flakes
teaspoon ground cumin
half tin of tomatoes
650ml vegetable stock
squeeze lemon juice

Brown the onion in a little oil with a pinch of salt

Add the squash and the spices, and cook for a couple of minutes

Stir in chopped tomatoes, simmer for 5 mins, stir in the stock and simmer for another 15

Blitz with a hand blender and add more water, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste

On the onion seeds ... I just threw these in because we have them, but you can manage without, Try it with black mustard seeds, popped in the oil before the onions, or ground coriander.


Poor She. Over the last few months without her consent, white carbohydrates and potatoes have gradually become strangers to our cupboards. White pasta and rice I can do without, but I sometimes feel I am a little harsh on the humble potato, overlooking it for its glitzier sweet cousin - which in any case is a cousin only in name, belonging to an entirely different family by birth.

Rebellion arrived in the form of a bag of new potatoes, presumably bought to feed the man. I plundered them this evening for an accompaniment to our sausages and peas, and smashed them, skins on.

So, a few thoughts on mash.

New potatoes smashed with their skins on like tonight, either with a knob of butter and a glug of milk, or extra virgin olive oil ... salt and pepper.

Stir spoonful of pesto in regular mash, or cream cheese.

Colcannon - mash with savoy cabbage or leeks, with butter and pepper

Mix and mash regular potatoes and sweet potatoes ... or just opt for the low GI sweet option.

Sweet potato and swede mash (to please She) is a great friend of sausages, lamb and salmon, and has a wonderful golden orange colour.

Use leftover ordinary mash to thicken soup or make fishcakes, even better use the sweet potato mash for magic meatballs.

Bubble and squeak (a mythical entity in the house I grew up in)

There are many many more, but these are the ones I return to.

Monday, 16 March 2009

post-beer chilli

Not that I would consider IB, She and myself precious or delicate in any way, but I was slightly shocked at the speed with which we inhaled the quick post-beer chilli we knocked up this evening.

Leaving the pub at a very respectable 8.45pm I was determined to get something quick on the table by half nine, though we hadn't actually made any plans for dinner. She has a new boyfriend, who has so far evaded my cookery. He narrowly avoided capture this evening - I'm not sure he understands the significance of food in our household but I'm sure that She will communicate that offers of dinner are a Good Sign.

The below chilli is neither sophisticated, an amazing culinary delight, or even traditional. What it is is easy. From fridge to plate in 30 minutes flat, and you cannot say fairer than that after one and a half pints.

simple chilli

500g lean beef mince
medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
tin chopped tomatoes
tin kidney beans, drained and rinsed
tsp ground cumin
tsp medium chilli powder (more to taste)
tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp tomato puree
oxo cube

Soften the onion in a little oil until translucent - adding a pinch of salt will stop it catching

Add the garlic and mince to the pan and brown gently

Add oregano, spices, crumbled oxo cube and tomato puree and stir in for a couple of mins

Add the tomatoes and kidney beans

Simmer for 15-20 minutes

Et voila.

30 minutes in the making - including chopping. Our plates were clean in 11 minutes. We didn't eat all of it, I hasten to add. This would probably do for five of you.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

a note on quantities etc

So much of cooking from scratch (apart from the alchemy of baking) relies on adding a little bit here and there according to taste. I'm convinced that recipes start as ideas which are much more fluid than their final published versions, and are in turn altered and augmented in the making - the death of the food writer of course.

Pounds, ounces, grams and kilos ... it really is all academic to me. Despite being part of the new metric generation an ounce of butter is still somehow easier to judge than 25g, conversely visualising a Ribena carton provides the most useful reference for judging liquid in units of 250ml. To be honest I'm appalling at estimating, so most of my cooking relies on handfuls, spoonfuls and ratios. This relaxed attitude to quantities is all very well in my own kitchen, but I am aware that the resulting muddle of grams and pints, of teaspoons and millilitres is probably a little confusing.

So, the things you need to know - teaspoons and tablespoons - I measure these with the metal spoons from the cutlery drawer, and use them slightly heaped. My pinches of salt are big, as are my handfuls of herbs. Temperatures - my oven has a fan, so the temperatures listed work for that I'm afraid - 150 is low, 190 medium and 220 high - I have no idea of the gas mark or Fahrenheit conversions (I can hardly even spell it for a start).

I will endeavour to stick to one system or the other within the limits of a particular recipe, but I can't seriously contemplate going fully modern. I don't think pastry was ever made without the reassurance of ounces.

the bread project - part deux

To say that I've cracked it would probably be a bit strong, but the loaf of bread I've just cut myself a slice from is arguably the perfect end to a near perfect day.

It was a slow start this morning, but eventually we rose and shone, donned running gear and burst out into the day. KW, She and I ran to Kew in around an hour and 40 minutes, the longest run so far. What with the sunshine and the company we couldn't really have asked for more, even the super awkward journey home on the bus and train didn't take the edge off. After a fruitless search for a disposable barbeque for dinner, and a little while relaxing at home, it was bread time.

I've been gathering tips this week - knead for longer, different wholemeal/plain flour ratio, quick yeast, single proving etc etc. Consequently, the credit of the below should be shared amongst my sister, father, uncle, and Yoni ... with a bit of freestyling from me.

Easy bread I promise

400g strong plain white flour
250g strong wholemeal flour
2 good tsp salt
tsp caster sugar
15ml vegetable oil
sachet of quick yeast (I used 7g Allinson Easy Bake Yeast)
450ml warm water - 1 part boiling, 2 parts cold

You'll need a 2lb loaf tin, a big bowl to mix in, a tea towel and crucially - and I really think this is crucial - a big dish to use as a bain-marie.

I'd decided that amongst the tips from everyone about how to get the bread rising, part of the problem was the temperature. The loaf which had risen beautifully last week after double proving sank on the way through the cold lounge into the kitchen, never to rise again. Without a warm spot to prove the loaf in, and a plastic bowl to mix in (earthenware remains chillier) this afternoon I plumped for a bain-marie - resting the mixing bowl in a pyrex dish filled with boiling water, and proving it in the same fashion.

From the beginning then.

In a large bowl placed in a dish of boiling water, mix flour, sugar salt and stir in yeast. Add the vegetable oil.

Add the warm water gradually into a well in the middle and mix to form a soft dough, the knead for 15 minutes on a warm floured surface. I actually moved the bain-marie to one side, and kneaded the dough on the warmed surface where it had been sat

Transfer the kneaded dough into a warmed, greased loaf tin, sat in the refreshed bain-marie, cover with the tea towel and prove for 30 minutes, or until double the size.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C - bear in mind this is me and my fan oven

Put the bread on the middle shelf - making sure the journey from bain-marie to oven is as short as possible - and bake for 25 mins. You can check it's ready by taking it out of the tin, and tapping on the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it's done.

Remove from the tin, and cool on a wire rack.

Or transfer directly to the bread board momentarily, cut the first steaming wodge and slather it with salted butter.

It's that easy. I'm off to eat more bread.

haphazard dinner

It was always ambitious - I somehow managed to end up with a whole weekend's worth of things to do in just one day, culminating with having 9 of us for supper.

I did make a vague attempt to get ahead of myself on Friday, by nipping into Asda after curry with the BR girls at Coz's. Curiously my after hours logic pointed me towards parsley, spring onions and Marigold bouillion powder. A valiant attempt, but a complete failure to purchase sufficient ingredients to enable me to actually prepare anything when I got home.

My 8am alarm dragged me from the sleep of the dead this morning, and I was up, nosing in cook books, dressed (in the loosest possible sense of the word) and out the door to the supermarket by 9. The reason for all the rushing - having invited my aunt, uncle, parents, sister, cousins and of course She for dinner at 7, I had also managed to book a hair appointment at 11am, and commit to rugby spectating in Oxford at 1.45pm.

The menu was composed based on the path of least resistance, both on the way to the shops, and indeed mid aisle.

We ended up with ...

chicken skewers with sweet chilli
lemony green beans
balsamic roasted tomatoes
and my favourite Leon 'open sesame slaw'

along with watermelon and baklava for desert

Before my haircut I quickly sorted the beans, started off the tabbouleh and marinated the chicken. Cut to 6.15pm - I flew back in the door after Oxford nearly an hour later than I'd planned, with 45 minutes until the family were due. While I skewered chicken, diced vegetables and prepared the toms She laid the table, before indulging in extreme benevolence and making the dressing for the coleslaw.

I love cooking for large groups of people, especially when the food ends up in great bowls, swapped up and down a long table. In spite of the great pleasure I take in it, there are those moments when you look at the clock, look at yourself in the mirror, remember how long it takes to shred half a cabbage ... or the potatoes aren't cooked ... or you haven't got any ginger, and it dawns on you you're about to be exposed as a charlatan - the confidence to serve interesting, tasty food at the right time, for the right number momentarily deserts you. Luckily at this very point She stepped in sensing a revolt - see above .

Suffice it to say it was lovely, we have leftovers, there was wine. As with any repeated act, the more you eat together, the more natural and relaxed you become - and that of course is where the magic happens.

On to the serious bit, the recipes. I'm not including the open-sesame slaw because it's not mine, but the others are adaptations and creations, so worth a mention. The quantities are rather large here, but you get the general idea.

sweet chilli chicken skewers

1.5kg chicken breast, cut into thick strips - I used mini fillets cut in half lengthways
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp light olive oil
juice of 1 lemon

sweet chilli sauce

bamboo skewers - you should soak these in water, they shrink back when they're cooking, making it easier to get the meat off them in the end

Whisk together the lemon juice and olive oil, and add the garlic

Marinate the chicken in the mixture overnight - though I left it 7 hours today and it was fine

Wiggle the strips onto the bamboo skewers, then suspend over a baking tray and put in the oven at 200 degrees C for 25 mins or until cooked and starting to brown. You could of course do these on a barbeque. Mmmm.

Serve with a good drizzle of sweet chilli sauce

lemony green beans

750g green beans
zest and juice of one lemon
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Blanche the beans in salted boiling water for 3 minutes, then remove from the heat and place immediately in a bowl of cold water / under the cold tap

Place in a large bowl, and stir in the lemon juice, zest, olive oil, and a seriously generous pinch of salt

I only use Maldon salt, and have done for a couple of years now. I'm not one for using branded, trendy or expensive things just for the sake of it, but it really does make a difference here. The salt brings out a greater depth of flavour, and tastes less, well - less processed than table salt.


350g bulgar wheat
650ml boiling water
3tbsp olive oil
juice of one lemon
good handful parsley, chopped
slightly less fresh mint, chopped
even less fresh coriander, chopped
1/2 cucumber, diced
2 sweet peppers - so red, orange or yellow ( I don't like the green ones)
5 spring onions chopped
1tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper

Put the bulgar wheat in a bowl and add the boiling water and salt, leave for 20 mins, covered

This is the point where I warn you - bulgar wheat smells. When you put water on it like this it stinks, or at least it does to me. In fact the first time I made tabbouleh, at the water pouring stage I thought 'oh God, this is going to be disgusting'. Trust me it isn't, it's lovely.

Stir through the olive oil, lemon juice, herbs and a really good grinding of black pepper, then leave in the fridge overnight, or in my case for the seven hours I was out today. At this point you could add sultanas if your housemate doesn't have an irrational dislike of them in savory dishes. Ahem.

Add the diced vegetables, toss well and season to taste if you need to - you shouldn't.

balsamic roast tomatoes

cherry tomatoes on the vine
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
pinch of salt
2 cloves garlic, bashed but not skinned

I'm not going to insult your intelligence here. Tomatoes and garlic , in a dish, drizzled with oil and vinegar and a pinch of salt, roasted in a moderate oven. It's absolutely worth using on the vine tomatoes because they look so pretty. Serve them straight from the dish.

I'm knackered. It's mad to write this now, but I'm still feeling warm and full of the contentment of an evening happily spent with my nearest, hopefully I'm transmitting a little bit of that to you.

Thursday, 12 March 2009


Nigella-ish flapjacks ... these need little explanation

425g rolled oats
250g unsalted butter
75g light muscavado sugar
150g golden syrup
40g mixed seeds
40g sultanas / raisins
sesame seeds to sprinkle

Melt the butter, sugar and syrup gently

Add the oats, seeds and sultanas, spread out, and sprinkle sesame seeds over the top.

Bake at 190 degrees C for 20 mins

Empty mixture into 23cm square tin

I actually turned these down in the end as the top was catching. Lovely. Flapjackery rhymes with snackery for a reason.

the first ≤ten

In tandem with writing this blog, I'm also embarking on another project, ≤ten. Every two weeks She and I are hosting dinner for ten or fewer people on a Wednesday night. I've been trying to start a supper club since I arrived in London, and uni people will remember 'whine and dine' - girls' dinners with good food and gossip on the menu. I finally feel settled enough to commit to cooking for a decent number of people with a degree of regularity.

It's simple, everyone is invited, whether that be friends, family, friends of friends, strangers, and especially waifs and strays. Cooking is such a pleasure, and having a houseful of people even more so. Hopefully as well as providing food an a small amount of wine, it's a chance to meet different people, and maybe start something interesting. At the very least it's an excuse to meet, eat and speak- my favourite things.

So last night was the inaugural attempt, a couple of late drop-outs left us at 8, still a hearty number. I made curry in honour of Coz, who deserves special treatment - cauliflower and sweet potato, and my favourite lentil and spinach. The cauliflower curry was in fact Leon Gobi, so I have Allegra McEveady to thank for that one. I might transcribe the recipe when I have more time, but for now the lentils.

I've spoken a little about the current trend for heartbreak. I cooked this dish the first time around to dry tears. The gulf between the friend in question and her ex was evident in the way they approached food. She's another cooker and a baker, and he never seemed to need soul food. To be fair, soul food becomes special by association as much as anything else. I was reading recently that during the recession sales figures show us returning to our old favourites - shepherd's pie, fish fingers etc - there is security to be found in repetition, retracing our steps through food, and cooking on auto-pilot. Allowing yourself to be comforted through food can give you warm reassurance.

I think we are scared of mixing our food with our emotions because of the disquieting associations the modern understanding of 'comfort eating' brings, but there is a time for food as a crutch, food to evoke memories and feelings, and food to seal a new moment.

So, back to lentil and spinach curry. The genesis of the recipe is the back of a lentil packet, though I can no longer remember where that ended and this began.

This managed eight of us easily ...

1 1/2 medium butternut squashes, peeled and cut into one inch cubes
360g baby spinach
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
400g green lentils washed and drained
6 cardamon pods, bashed
2 tsp black mustard seeds
tsp chilli flakes
4 tbsp medium curry powder
75g butter
salt and pepper
little water
little vegetable oil

Brown the onions in the oil in a heavy based pan (this needs to be big!) before adding the spices and garlic

Cook for a moment to combine the flavours and add the cubed squash, stirring for a couple of minutes

Add the lentils, coats with the spices before adding just enough water to cover them. It's the same principle as cous cous here - you can add more water later, but if you add too much they'll just turn to mush

Bring this to a simmer, then cover and leave for 20 minutes stirring occasionally. The lentils should be softening, so keep tasting until they just have a little bit of bite to them, then stir in the butter and fresh spinach

Season liberally with salt and black pepper

And that's it. Soul food. It's the butter that does it, and the final seasoning of course. The dish just slips from something and nothing to refining the lentils into a creamy velvety base for the spices and spinach.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

swap shop, and the start of the bread project

I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that I have it on good authority that the lamb/mint/cumin version of the magic meatballs works beautifully.  See the previous recipe, and substitute beef for lamb, and the other spices for a teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 tsp paprika, and either a teaspoon of dried mint, or a good handful of chopped fresh mint.

The bad news is that as I suspected, I cannot make bread.  I've had an inkling that this was the case, and even swapping the above recipe for tips from my successful breadmaking sister has done little for my skills.  Despite extensive kneading, double proving, and a lot of faith, I created a half and half loaf which could easily stand in for a breeze block without anyone being the wiser.

Rather than being beaten, I have resolved to commence the Bread Project.  To make a loaf every Sunday, trying different yeasts and recipes, until I have something resembling baked goods more closely than building materials.  So pity She, who will doubtless be dwarfed next to mountain of rubbery loaves for the next little while.  I promise I'll let you know when a breakthrough occurs.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

dinner at the Heartbreak Hotel

There's been rather too much heartbreak of late for my liking. Seemingly with Christmas and New Year safely tucked away for a few months Spring is being pre-empted with breakups and let downs. While That Boy is intent on reducing me to fury, others are faring little better. Our perpetually ajar door has been pushed wider on its hinges as I cook away my frustration and some of my favourites join us to eat away their sorrows.

I'm not sure that quinoa is sufficiently push-the-boat-out decadent for the day you move out of the flat you once shared, but stirring and toasting the grains and the diversion of making something new took our minds off things at least for a while.

The following supper scores highly in the virtue stakes - turkey is a natural source of seratonin, the feel good hormone and quinoa contains nearly twice as much protein as other grains, not to mention calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin E, several of the B vitamins ... and a whole host of other things which I'm sure are very good for you.

Moroccan turkey with quinoa

225g quinoa
30ml vegetable oil
tsp black mustard seeds
2 shallots finely chopped
medium carrot diced
small green chilli finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
450 ml vegetable stock

430g turkey breast diced (only such a bizarre amount because that's how big the pack was)
1/3 pint of natural yoghurt
3 tsp moroccan spice mix*

Coat the turkey well with the moroccan spices and set to one side

Toast the quinoa for a few minutes in a thick bottomed pan, remove and set to one side

Warm the oil in the pan, and add the mustard seeds, cook until you start to hear them popping, then add shallots, carrot, chilli and cumin and fry gently for 2 minutes

Return the quinoa to the same pan, coat well with the oil then add the hot stock, bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 mins stirring occasionally an and adding more liquid if need be

Meanwhile, add a little oil to a high-sided frying pan, and brown the spiced turkey. add the yogurt, and simmer gently until your quinoa is done

The quinoa should have absorbed all the liquid. If you're waiting for it to become completely soft, you'll be there a while. The grain should still have a bit of bite to it - just on the other side of a crunch if you know what I mean. With plenty of green vegetables, this is probably enough for four if some of your party are lovesick, three otherwise.

*Moroccan spice mix ... a great staple to have in a spice jar just in case
1tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp turmeric

The quantities here should be scaled up and down as you need them - I try and make a big batch, then store it in an old jar.

Toast the cumin and coriander in a dry frying pan to release the flavours, then grind well in a pestle and mortar. Mix with the turmeric and paprika ... voila.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

heavy on the wine

... fittingly this is an accurate description of both the casserole recipe I'm about to note down, and yesterday evening's activities.

Save boiled eggs and toast very little has been conjured from the kitchen these last few days with Lubu's birthday on Thursday and a trip to Galapagos last night. Consequently I'm taking the opportunity to write up a little bit of my paper journal, starting with the below.

As I'm feeling slightly jaded (jade green), I almost wish I was cooking this again instead of just noting it down. She loves swede, so I duly oblige from time to time and veer between mash of various kinds and something a little more hearty.

Lazy chicken casserole

2 chicken thighs
2 drumsticks
4 carrots chopped
2 sticks celery chopped
onion chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1/2 medium swede
4 - 5 small potatoes
2 bay leaves
a few peppercorns
pinch mixed herbs
500ml vegetable stock
pinch salt
1/3 bottle of white wine - I know this is too much (see above) but it had to go in to be tidy

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C

Brown the chicken in a heavy based casserole dish in a little oil, remove from the pan and set to one side

Soften the onion in the same pan, then add the celery and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes

Add the other vegetables, coat with the fat/oil and return the chicken to the pan, add the wine and cook for 5 minutes

Throw everything else in

Bring to a simmer on the hob, then transfer to your hot oven for about 2 hours, checking regularly and adding more liquid if required

This did us twice, on account of us being frugal and going easy on the chicken. I imagine if you were feeding boys you'd want more meat, but the above is just a skeleton to hang your casserole on, if you will. You could add chopped tomatoes instead of wine ... or indeed go for red wine rather than white - although using less would probably be a good idea.

However you make it, be prepared for that wonderful smell which will seeps under doors and into all the rooms of the house, an almost smug odour of immense satisfaction. If you can't feel slightly pleased with yourself on a Sunday afternoon when there's a casserole bubbling away in the oven, when can you.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

important learnings ...

1. the time it takes me in the shower in the morning is exactly equivalent to the time it takes to hard-boil eggs for egg mayonnaise sandwiches for lunch

2. as well as refreshing the parts other meatballs do not reach ... sweet potato meatballs have the power to inspire She to spontaneously fill the dishwasher

pottering lentils

I'm a great potterer, whether on a Sunday afternoon, or on a quiet night in the kitchen when She is elsewhere. It's a good opportunity to take time over cooking something which you wouldn't usually lavish attention on, like something lovely to go with meat or fish. Standard pottering fayre for me includes red cabbage, and the lentils below, which are loosely based on a Jamie Oliver recipe I think.

6oz puy lentils, rinsed
good handful of pancetta
small chopped onion
3/4 pint stock
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp chopped rosemary

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
splash balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C

Warm the oil in a casserole dish, add the pancetta and onion and fry for three minutes or so

Add the rosemary, fry for a couple of minutes then ad the lentils and coat with oil

Boil the kettle for the stock - if you're using Marigold .. which I tend to ... use half the amount of powder suggested, the pancetta is salty enough to carry it

Add the stock and bring to the boil, then transfer to the oven

Bake for 30 minutes, stir after 15

Drain the lentils, stir in a splash of balsamic vinegar and a glug of extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin is often over used - I had a particularly pretentious ex who once fried me eggs in it - but here you need it I think.

Lovely with lamb. Even lovelier sneakily eaten straight from the pan in the kitchen while She isn't looking.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

destiny's child salmon stir-fry

Only so named because the friend who joined us for dinner needed a dose of Destiny's Child (Independent Woman), and perhaps because making it came after She and I had done our first proper training run for the marathon ... an endeavour which is gradually becoming a symbol of our friendship, and cheesily, our independence.

Healthy hearty food for three was in order. I hadn't intended there to be so many ingredients, but I was pottering, chatting and cooking so in it all went.

Salmon and vegetable stir fry

3 fillets of salmon
1/3 head of broccoli
red onion, halved and sliced
3 medium carrots sliced
3 big mild chillis sliced
3 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
150ml teriyaki sauce
3 handfuls spinach
1 tsp chinese five spice
2 heaped tsp cornflour
cold water

Marinate the salmon in the teriyaki sauce, a teaspoon of the ginger and the chilli for as long as you can

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C, then when it's hot, take the salmon out the marinade (keep the marinate to the side), and bake in the top of the oven

Fry the onion in a tablespoon of vegetable oil, add the sliced chillis, honey and five spice and soften for a moment, then add the salmon marinade, carrot slices and cook for a few minutes.

Mix the cornflour with a little cold water*, add the mix to the pan, simmer in and then add the broccoli. As the broccoli cooks, add more water to the stir-fry as needed so it doesn't become too gloopy

Add the pepper and cook for two minutes, then add cooked noodles, and stir in the fresh spinach to wilt.

We served this with the salmon fillets balanced on the top. Though I didn't have it, a squeeze of lemon would have made this perfect.

*we all have things in our kitchens which evoke memories or feelings. My mother mixes cornflour and water in a little pyrex tea cup ... my vessel of choice is a small glass - it's as close as I can get to hers, and we had a similar one at home growing up. It makes me smile to feel that little link between us as I copy her, mixing the white powder with a teaspoon chinking against the glass.

the tao of food

written 7th January

I wonder if eating together strengthens the bonds between us because it's such a basic human function. Food and eating can be so sensual, an act which focuses the eyes on the mouth and tounge echoes the sexual. As long as we're not on ceremony then eating together- like having sex - can be a very democratic act.

veggie chilli double quick

I'd planned to cook the wonderful anchovy pasta (more on that in another post) for Lady Mac and Lubu, but the anti salty fish lobby won out, and we settled for veggie chilli.

There are few things which it's possible to make directly from the cupboard, with no fresh ingredients - okay, so you do need onion for this - but this is nearly there.

Veggie chilli

onion finely chopped
2 sticks celery
2 cloves garlic
carton of passata / tin of tomatoes
tin of kidney beans
100g (?) red lentils
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chilli powder

Fry the onions and garlic in a little oil with a pinch of salt until soft

Add the spices, then the chopped celery ... soften for a while longer

Add the passata / tomatoes and drained rinsed kidney beans. Bring up to a simmer then add the lentils.

When the chilli at regular intervals, adding more water when necessary, and salt an pepper to taste.

When the lentils have softened, the chilli is ready. This made masses - probably enough for five of you, or four very hungry people.

As with the meatballs from the previous day, I think this is better with chopped tomatoes but if it's passata you have (as I did) then passata it is.

something fishy

The above is misleading. Fish should never smell fishy, and there was a worrying waft from the pack I opened one evening for dinner. I always feel guilty wasting food, even when there's no choice. I suppose it's partly because we can't afford it, but partly because it seems so excessive just spending money and throwing it away s if you have no regard for it.

Anyway, the solution to the problem was meatballs.

Leftover mashed potato with sweet and normal potatoes (about one and a half tubers in total)
500g beef mince
large onion finely chopped
1 egg
salt and pepper
plain flour
carton of passata or tin chopped tomatoes
olive oil

Combine the mash, mince, onion, egg and seasoning in a bowl and mix well

Sprinkle a layer of plain flour onto a plate, and take walnut sized balls of the mixture and roll in the flour

Heat the oil in a high sided frying pan,and brown the meatballs for a few minutes

Add the passata or tomatoes to the meatballs and simmer for 15-20 minutes

We ate these with plenty of parmesan cheese, and wholemeal pasta. I prefer using chopped tomatoes for the sauce, it gives a fresher feeling ... you can also use pure sweet potato mash for an altogether sweeter meatball - I've often thought this would be lovely with lamb mince, mint and cumin. One to keep by for the spring perhaps.

pumpkin soup two ways

To stave off seasonal sluggishness, and use up a stray pumpkin from S&J, 5th January saw me staring at a large pile of roast pumpkin, contemplating soup ... which is an entirely pleasant thing to contemplate.

We ended up with the below, pumpkin soup two ways.

#1 - Pumpkin and Ginger Soup

large onion chopped
1lb roast pumpkin
3tbsp fresh grated ginger
2 pints stock
juice of half a lime
salt and pepper

Soften the onion in a little vegetable oil for around 5 minutes, you can add a pinch of salt to stop it catching.

Add the ginger, the peeled and chopped pumpkin and the thyme, heat for a minute, then add the stock.

Simmer for 10 minutes, then take off the heat and blend

Season to taste, and add in the squeeze of lime

#2 - Spicy Pumpkin Soup

1lb roast pumpkin
large onion chopped
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground coriander seed
pinch dried chilli
2 cloves chopped garlic
tin chopped tomatoes
1 pint stock
salt and pepper

Soften the onion in a little vegetable oil for a few minutes with a pinch of salt, then add the spices then the garlic.

Add the pumpkin, and fry for a minute, before adding the chopped tomatoes then the stock. Bring to the boil, and simmer for 10 minutes, then blitz with the blender. I think I may actually have just mushed this up to get that really rustic texture, but blending would be acceptable.

For preference I'd go for the first one ... but each to his own.

the very beginning ...

Well, strictly speaking, it isn't the beginning.  The beginning was on new year's day, roasting a massive leg of lamb with rosemary and anchovies.  The blog is a new development, but the writing about food has been going on since then.  After a straw poll (of questionable sample size), I'll be writing up some past recipes and notes in the coming days.

As for tonight, waiting at home are two outdoor reared pork steaks, and some sweet potato and swede mash ... further inspiration has deserted me for the moment, but I'm sure once I'm standing hungry in front of the cooker with it all before me something is bound to happen.