Sunday, 26 April 2009

post-marathon munchies

If I never see another carb again, I will be a happy woman. Three days of constant eating before the run today left me grumpy and full. This evening I have finally cooked a carbohydrate free healthy supper. The last of the lovely spring greens and some salmon, oriental style.

Sesame salmon - no real need for a lot of explanation. Greased baking tray, salmon fillets, brush with honey, salt, pepper, cover with sesame seeds and a little sprinkle of chilli flakes. Bake in the oven at around 200 degrees for about 15-20 minutes.

oriental greens

1 head spring greens
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 inch grated fresh ginger
soy sauce
50 ml vegetable stock (I just make up half a cup full with a little Marigold bouillon)
tbsp sesame oil
salt and pepper

Warm the sesame oil in a wok, and fry the garlic and ginger for a few minutes.

Add the greens and a good slash of soy sauce, coat well before adding the stock, mix up again, then cover.

Steam for about five minutes.

There you have it. Fresh clean flavours ... and not a twirl of pasta in sight.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

≤ten IV

Following my lamb antics on Tuesday night I had a quick look at the joint (is it still a joint when you've taken the bone out?) on Wednesday morning before yoga, turned it over, and put it back in the marinade.

We had it with spring greens - which I've never had before but loved, and white haricot beans.

Firstly the lamb ... dead easy.

Take it out the fridge and leave it to rest while you heat up the oven to 210 degrees C. It could do with at least half an hour if you have the time

Once the lamb is back up to room temperature, pour the excess marinade off and then stick the meat in the oven. I had it spread out flat, with what would have been the skin side up. You can conserve the marinade and cook potatoes in it if you like

After 40 minutes, remove the lamb from the oven. Check to see how cooked it is, and before you pop it back in splash a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar over the top

After another 15 minutes or so, remove from the oven and leave to rest for at least 15 minutes

Rosemary beans

4 x 440ml cans of white haricots beans
8 springs of rosemary
3 handfuls fresh mint
300ml white wine
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (and a glug to finish)
splash balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

Chop the herbs finely, and add to a saucepan with the drained beans and the olive oil

Add the wine, and bring up to a simmer on the hob

Cover, and cook for around ten minutes

Season to taste, and stir in a glug of olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar

spring greens with mushrooms

three medium heads of spring greens, washed, stalked and roughly shredded
two big handfuls mushrooms sliced
large onion chopped
250ml chicken stock
dash of vegetable oil
salt and pepper

In a large pan, fry the onion and mushrooms in the oil for 5 minutes until soft

Add the spring greens, coat with the oil, then add the stock

Cover, and allow to steam for about 5 minutes

So, a lovely fresh spring supper for what ended up as seven of us.

Dessert was an amazing chocolate cake brought by wonderful Coz, who may even be making an appearance as a guest chef on May 20th. Watch this space.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

late night lamb antics

It's like this ... I accidentally bought a leg of lamb this evening. I'd intended to buy chops or steaks for ≤ten tomorrow night, but I'm a sucker for a good deal as we all know and I couldn't just leave it there. Getting on the train on the way home it dawned upon me that I didn't have a hope of getting it cooked for a reasonable hour of the night.

Cut to me 45 minutes later in the kitchen, leg of lamb in one hand, knife in the other, phone tucked between the ear and the shoulder and laptop balanced on the hob (which was off). Reader, I butterflied it. On the other end of the phone was my father, who I'd hoped would have some special insight being a butcher's son ... on the laptop was the following video clip - . If I'm honest neither shed a great amount of light on the task.

Butterfly-ing the lamb enables you to cook it quicker, you can even stick it on the bbq. The idea is you cut the bone out, and spread the meat out flat into what ends up as a kind of butterfly shape, slashing into the thick sides and turning the flaps out. I referred briefly to Nigella to see if she had any pearls for me, I can now reveal that at the time of writing How to Eat, Nigella Lawson had never attempted to butterfly a leg of lamb. My attempt was fair - neither a disaster nor a thing of great of beauty.

It's currently sitting in a marinade in the fridge made with about 200ml extra virgin olive oil, five cloves of garlic bashed, 2 handfuls of fresh rosemary finely chopped and the zest of a lemon.

I will report back soon.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

how to clean a wok

I vividly remember scrubbing my mother's wok 'clean' when I was little, and feeling slightly confused by the lack of congratulation when I showed her its gleaming surface ... woks (not the non-stick kind) need gentle treatment and love rather than abrasive soap and elbow grease.

What you are ultimately after is the delicious patina which builds up over time, adding flavour to cooking and preventing food from sticking. I think the aforementioned wok has now passed into my hands, and I'm doing my best to handle it with due care and attention to make up for my past transgression.

So, how to clean a wok ...
  • Always wash the wok by hand in plain hot water, never in the dishwasher or with soap
  • Use a soft sponge or cloth to remove any food, soaking the wok in hot water to get the stubborn bits if necessary
  • If you really have to, you can use a tablespoon of salt rubbed in with a damp cloth to gently scrub off anything which isn't shifting. This is a last resort mind
  • Rinse any salt off thoroughly, wipe with a paper towel then put the wok over a low heat to dry it out completely
  • Once dry, rub a little bit of light oil - sunflower, sesame or whatever - around the inside of your wok. Et voilà

Monday, 13 April 2009

the first meal on the terrace

Finally the Easter break obliged with just a little bit of sunshine, just enough for Jingles and I to have our late lunch on the terrace. We had chicken tricolore salad - chicken fillets grilled with a little bit of sweet chilli sauce and balsamic vinegar with avocado, cherry tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella and mixed leaves. I made some honey mustard dressing to go with it. The below was more than enough for two large salads.

Honey mustard dressing

juice of half a lemon
twice as much olive oil, more if you need it
teaspoon wholegrain mustard
teaspoon honey
salt and pepper

Put the lemon juice into a bowl and whisk in the oil gradually. Taste it, and if it tastes really overly lemony add some more oil. Then add the mustard, whisk in, then add the honey and whisk some more. Season to taste.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

avocado warning

As well as an excellent recipe for shoulder of lamb I came away from Easter lunch with the family with the following interesting fact.

Avocados are the most dangerous of all fruit.

Apparently it's the preparation which is so hazardous. Having halved and stoned the fruit there are those among us who tend to cup the it in the palm of a hand, using a knife the slice the flesh ... you can guess what happens next.

My own sad tale involves using a knife to get the stone out of a baby avocado on Friday night while weakened by running and yoga. I won't go into detail, luckily She is quite good at first aid.

The moral of the story - avocados - tasty but deadly. Don't be an idiot, get the stone out with a teaspoon and use a board to slice them.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

the Manchester method

Poaching eggs is much easier than you think. She is celebrating her birthday today, so this morning we've had Eggs Royale, which are like Eggs Benedict but with smoked salmon instead of ham. The combination of the elements - English muffins, smoked salmon, eggs and hollandaise sauce is of course very simple, it's the poaching of the eggs people have trouble with.

There are whirlpool theories which work brilliantly for some, but that method is completely beyond me. Instead I have Jones to thank for this, and by extension Mrs Jones - the originator of the Manchester method.

So here it is ...

Get a saucepan of water on a low simmer - so bubbles are coming up from the bottom, but it's not going crazy.

If you have some vinegar (I've ended up using some cheap white balsamic which turned out to be too acidic for dressings) then add a splash to the water.

This is the moment where you put your toast / muffins in ...

For each egg, crack it onto a saucer, or into a ramekin, or a plastic jug or something which gives you more control of it. Then slide the lip of your vessel just under the surface of the water, and gently slip your egg in. The chief things which make the whites explode everywhere are water boiling too vigorously and the force of the egg yolk sploshing into the water. Guard against these and you're there.

Cover, and make sure they don't start bubbling too much. While you wait stick the kettle on for your tea, and butter your toast. They need 3-4 minutes in total.

On the hollandaise ... we had it from a jar. One day I'll attempt to make it properly, but for the moment life is too short.

Friday, 10 April 2009

finger lickin' good

Once again Wednesday saw our little flat full of lovely people. I'm working at home for a couple of weeks so had a little more time than usual to slow cook something for ≤ten. I've been cooking slightly middle eastern and asian food a lot lately, so I turned back to Leon for a bit of new inspiration. As usual, Allegra McEveady didn't disappoint and we ended up with ribs, beans and rice.

I'll confess to being a little obsessed with the latest Leon cookbook. Their fondness for food that tastes good and is good for you fits in with my own. I like a bit of hearty comfort food as much as anyone else, but eating until you're uncomfortably full saps your energy and just makes you want to sleep. I want to feed people things that make them feel good.

On to the food, this managed seven of us comfortably.

Leon 'Love Me Tender' Ribs

2kg pork ribs
6 heaped tbsp tomato puree
1 heaped tsp chipolte chilli powder or ordinary chilli powder (I used ordinary)
8 tbsp honey
12 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp Chinese five spice

Put all the ingredients, except the salt into a bowl and add the ribs, moving them around until they are coated. Leave to marinate overnight.

Next day, season the ribs well with sea salt and put them in a smallish shallow roasting tray (or two!) and add water until it comes half way up the ribs, taking care not to pour it directly over the meat.

Cover with a lid or foil and cook in the oven at 120 degrees C / 250 degrees F / gas mark 9 for around 5 hours. Check on the every couple of hours or so, turning them over. You shouldn't need any more water, but if you do just add a little bit at a time. You can do this bit up to a couple of days in advance and keep the ribs in the fridge until you want to cook them fully.

Take the ribs out the oven while you heat it right up to 240 degrees C / 475 degrees F / gas mark 9. Cook for 15 minutes-ish, give a couple of rolls around in the sauce and sprinkle on the sea salt.

Leon's 'Hippy Farm Beans'

Olive oil
1 large aubergine cut into rough chunks
ground cumin
1 1/2 onions, roughly chopped
5 big cloves garlic roughly chopped
4 firey chillies, more if you like, roughly chopped
500g cherry tomatoes
2 tins chopped tomatoes
3 tins of beans - I used kidney beans, pinto beans and borlotti
apparently the 'secret twist' is Linghams Garlic and Chilli Sauce which you can get from Tesco and Waitrose ... I used sweet chilli sauce
300g fresh baby spinach washed

Heat plenty of oil in a pan and fry the aubergines and peppers for 15 minutes until golden crisp and lovely. Season with salt and cumin, then take them out, cover and put to one side.

Get the pan good and hot again. Fry the onion in a bit more olive oil for a few minutes (brown it), then the garlic and chillies. Few more minutes, hot. Then add the cherry tomatoes. Few minutes. Then add the tinned tomatoes and the aubergines and peppers.

Bring to the boil and add the drained beans. Now add a good glug of the sauce. Low heat, simmer covered for half an hour, uncover for a further hour; stir regularly. Turn off the heat and stir in the spinach well until wilted.

We had this with fresh baby avocados, creme fraiche (because we didn't have any sour cream), lime wedges and brown rice. Tex mex magic.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

butternut squash and sage risotto

Just to guard against any possible allegations of impropriety, I want to let you know that I ruined this risotto last night. Risotto is dead easy, it just requires a bit of focus, and a certain stubbornness ... neither of which I had at the time.

Anyway, I'll tell you how it should be done in a minute.

Once you've got the basics down, you can make risotto with whatever you like. I've put a few ideas at the bottom of the post but first of all, a couple of tips.

Rice - I tend to use Carnaroli, it's a large grain with a nutty white centre. Arborio is good too, a bit starchier, and apparently the thing for classic risotto Milanese, Vialone is a shorter, rounder grain, good for more soupy risotto and with seafood. It's worth buying good rice, the whole dish rests on it.

Still on the rice, don't rinse it. I don't seriously imagine you would, but wet rice grains repel the fat, which is not what you want. Also, at that crucial end point, don't wait for the rice to be 'perfect' - by the time you get it to the table it will be overdone. That's what I did last night. Take it off the heat when there's still a little bit too much bite to it.

Go for a heavy based pan for even heat distribution.

Heat the stock while you're adding it.

Last tip, be attentive, watch the pot, stir it rhythmically, keep tasting. I love making risotto, but I do need to resign myself to half an hour stood at the hob without distraction. Maybe other people can be trusted to keep half an eye on it, but I'm a bit all of nothing I suppose.

butternut squash and sage risotto

320g carnaroli rice
1 litre hot chicken stock - by all means use vegetable stock for a vegetarian version
medium onion, finely chopped
40g butter
125ml white wine
medium butternut squash, roasted and diced
handful chopped fresh sage
a lemon
salt and pepper

This should do four of you

Get your two pans on the hob, one full of stock gently simmering or just below a simmer, and the other a thick based saucepan ready for your risotto.

Melt the butter in the risotto pan, and gently cook the chopped onion until soft. Add the rice, and coat well in the fat until transparent.

Add the glass of wine and stir into the rice, gently but continuously until it's all absorbed.

Add the stock to the rice gradually, ladle by ladle, waiting for each one to be absorbed before adding another, stirring gently. Keep doing this for about 15 minutes, tasting, stirring ... thinking, adding stock until the rice is ready. You want it to have a good bit of bite to it still at the end. Also, the consistency should be slightly soupy. I'm not talking swimming, but if you can put it in a fancy mould and pile it up then it's too dry.

Once the rice is there, stir in the chopped squash and sage. Taste it. Add a generous grating of parmesan ... taste it again. Add salt and pepper if you need to, and a squeeze of lemon.

The sage was from the terrace. I'd been meaning to cook with it, but not quite managing to. Apart from the dreadful rice, the taste was really very good - the sage and lemon cutting though the starchiness, bringing lightness to the dish.

The more I cook with lemons and limes, the more I become obsessed with that little citrus lift, that little extra freshness and complexity they give to cous cous, risotto and things ... the difference a bit of zest makes to a crumble or to steamed beans. It works perfectly here.

If you don't fancy sage, or squash, you could try these ...

A pure lemony risotto with zest and juice to serve with chicken
Peas and lots of fresh mint
If you've made it with chicken stock, chances are you've got a pot of all the little picky bits off the chicken carcass - throw them in
Dried wild mushrooms - porchini and the like - conserve the water you used to rehydrate them and use it half / half with the stock
Pheasant. I've only done this once, and it was great. I used pheasant stock and flesh, but do watch out for shot (I didn't)
Spinach - another of my favourites. Baby spinach particularly is such a versatile thing, you can stir it in right at the end here

That really is just a starter for ten. I'm sure there are a whole host of seafoody, tomatoey type things too.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009


I've never attempted rhubarb fool before ... I'm not even sure I knew what it was until I decided to make one. I have since discovered that it is customarily made with stewed rhubarb and brown sugar mixed with either custard or double cream. Precocious as I am I decided to use half fat crème fraîche instead, insubordination sanctioned by a tip from my mother. I also added some ginger, which combines with rhubarb particularly well, orange zest would have been another fine partner.

The below makes buckets, enough for ten normal people as a sweetener after dinner ... or seven normal people and Freddie, who practically licked the bowl on Sunday.

Rhubarb fool

6 stout stems of rhubarb
3 tbsp demerara sugar
small handful crystallized ginger, finely chopped
75ml water
1 1/2 pints crème fraîche

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C

Chop the rhubarb roughly - I only halved it - sprinkle with the brown sugar and ginger and bake in the oven for40 minutes, or until the rhubarb is soft.
Leave to cool, separating the rhubarb from any remaining syrup.

One the rhubarb is cool, blitz it with a hand blender. You can sweeten it a little more here if you'd like, but it should still be on the tart side.

With the crème fraîche in a large bowl, swirl in the rhubarb puree. Try not to mix it up too well, I think it looks prettier sort of raspberry ripple-like.

Just before you serve it, take the leftover syrup and reduce in a little saucepan right down until it really is a dark red syrup. You can then cool it a little, and drizzle artfully over the fool.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

gardening in the face of adversity

You wouldn't think that squirrels were interested in runner beans, or indeed tomatoes, but I can tell you categorically that they most certainly are. Not, you understand, as a foodstuff - but more as a symbol of their resistance to our dictatorial claiming of their space. I won't dwell on this, I will say simply that I have a terrace which I seek to grow vegetables on and my neighbourhood squirrels systematically vandalise anything I plant which is not wrapped in protective chicken wire.

However, buoyed by the success of some tentative herbs - you can see rosemary, thyme, sage and mint on the right - and a trip to my father's allotment this morning, I have today planted (and protected) a pot of garlic and spring onions, and a big planter of potatoes. It's not so much the frugality of it, rather the satisfaction at being able to just nip outside, pick what you need and carry on cooking.

Cross you fingers for me, I'll let you know how they get on.

chicken stock

A quick note.

I have a pot of chicken stock on the go, and it occurred to me it might be useful to let you know what went into it. People who write cookery columns keep telling me I can fresh chicken carcasses from my butcher, which I'm sure is an excellent theory. However, I'm not sure the man in the van selling vacuum packed meat on Battersea High Street would be too impressed with me asking for them, neither am I quite virtuous enough to join the half hour long queue outside the posh butcher on Northcote Road for this purpose ... what I'm saying is I always end up using the carcass from a roast chicken. This way, you're never going to get the clear French consomme you want to be really swish, but stock it is never the less. Secondly, stock has three great friends - carrots, celery and onion. There are a whole host of other close acquaintances which will get you pretty far, but those three are a good place to start.

On my hob at the moment is a pan containing the following:

chicken carcass - skin off, visible fatty bits off
roughly chopped large carrot
two echalion shallots in lieu of a chopped onion
no celery - we haven't got any
two peeled and bashed cloves of garlic
five peppercorns
decent pinch of salt
two small bay leaves
handful of fresh parsley
small handful fresh thyme

All this is covered with boiling water, and I'm just going to let it simmer, covered for an hour, then have a look at it, then probably leave it for another half an hour. Strain it, leave it to rest, skim off any fat, then freeze it in batches of about 250ml.

It smells pretty good so far, the bay leaves are from S&J's trees on their terrace, the parsley from my father, and the thyme is original Battersea produce from outside my own back door - more on growing your own to follow.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

red cabbage and lanterns

My first day off work since Christmas started exceedingly well. Having listened to Radio 4 from 9am I didn't get out of bed until midday. Sadly it all went downhill from there and I've been inappropriately industrious ever since. Included on the long list of things organised, posted and created are both lanterns and red cabbage. The lanterns are probably of little interest, but the red cabbage I will discuss.

I make no claim to it, it's Nigella's recipe but it's pretty special which is why I've recorded it here. I've tweaked it a little bit according to what I had in the cupboard, but it remains largely as she suggested. I always do the whole cabbage as suggested below, as I've said previously it freezes perfectly.

Nigella's red cabbage

whole red cabbage shredded*
3 banana shallots, finely sliced
2 eating apples
250ml red wine
150ml orange juice
150ml water
3tbsp light muscovado sugar
1tbsp light olive oil
1tbsp Maldon salt (1/2 tbsp normal salt)
1/4 tsp mixed spice

*If you are very lucky, you have a food processor with a clever attachment for shredding, if you are moderately lucky you have some kind of slicing plane like what they demo in shops. If you are me you have a sharpish knife, patience, and purple hands. Try to cut out the really stalky bit in the middle and away you go.

Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan, add the finely sliced shallots and the salt, then stir round until soft but not coloured

Add the cabbage and coat with the oil, cook gently

Peel, quarter and then slice the apples - I didn't actually peel them today, and it was fine, but it doesn't look so good. Add to the pan with all the other ingredients, stir well

Bring back up to a simmer, then turn to the lowest possible heat, cover and cook for about 1 1/2 hours

I actually made this at home, then took a bucket of it round to Jingles for supper. We had it with salmon and half and half mash, but I left She a lamb steak for hers back at the ranch.

On the lanterns, I've been stockpiling jam jars to decorate the terrace with lanterns when She has a birthday barbecue in a couple of weeks. I'm so chuffed with them I can't help myself but tell you how to make them. Take a length of garden wire (£1 or so from the supermarket or wherever), wrap it round or underneath the screw part of a clean jam jar, and make a handle over the top. I'll be hanging them from 'S' hooks on a criss-cross chain canopy outside, but for the moment they are lighted and twinkling on the coffee table.