Friday, 16 December 2011

New Favourite Weekend Breakfast - Eggs in Filo

New number one
I got stuck in the breakfast rut AGAIN, cereal is just a plain no no at the weekends, so boring and weekday-ish. I eventually remembered a few torn out recipes I had dribbled over reading the paper on the way to work. The one I really wanted to try was something to do with eggs in filo type pastry, fried into a tasty little breakfast friendly parcel. If you manage to fold the pastry up quick enough, what you get is a package of crispy filo, and inside a perfectly cooked egg, yolk all runny, and set white which has managed to ooze into every corner, filling the parcel out perfectly. You do have to work fast and a few imperfect efforts are forgivable, it all tastes good and that's the whole point. I revved mine up a bit, wandering slightly from the recipe adding fried chorizo (pancetta or sliced bacon would be just as good) and a good sprinkling of parsley.
Flipping fast...

Feeds two. Fry a handful of chopped chorizo or pancetta in a large frying pan until crispy, and set aside. Break an egg into a small glass and warm the oven. Heat a glug of olive oil in the bacon pan. Very quickly,  lay a sheet of filo pastry inside the pan (I accidentally found these awesome round sheets in Waitrose) and pour the egg in the middle. Now using fingers or a spatula, fold it up to make a little parcel, ensuring there are no holes for the egg to escape out of. Don't stress too much about it being perfect because once it's all fried up it will be great. Fry for a minute and then do the other side, you want it golden, put on a plate covered with kitchen roll and keep in the oven while you repeat the process three more times. When all ready, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with a blob of harissa. Any spicy sauce would be excellent with this, and a few slices of grilled streaky bacon don't taste too shabby on the side either.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Chorizo & Cod Stew - a kind of Surf & Turf if you like

And the food stylist award 2011 goes to...
It might look a bit of a mess from the photo, sorry, no food stylist of the year awards here! However, the combination of paprika spiked chorizo, with soft flakey cod, all wrapped up in a tomatoey stew is warming and comforting beyond belief, and a favourite of mine. There is nearly always a supply of chorizo in my fridge and a lonely fillet of cod was languishing in the freezer, so what to cook wasn't a hard decision.

Feeds two. Fry a finely chopped onion and clove of garlic in a splash of olive oil in a deep frying pan/normal saucepan. When softened add a handful of chopped chorizo and continue frying until you get the paprika oozing out and the chorizo crisps a little bit. Throw in a tin of chopped tomatoes, a couple of potatoes cut into small chunks, 150ml water, stir well and season, and simmer until the spuds are nearly cooked, about 10 minutes. Add two fillets of any white fish, chopped into bite size chunks, stir well and let it simmer for no longer than 10 minutes until the fish is cooked. Scatter with chopped parsley at the last minute and serve either on it's own or with some nice crusty bread. 

Get a napkin ready, because when you lick the plate the red sauce goes everywhere. What??!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Pheasant Ragu

A pan full of lush
A spare brace of pheasant? Yes please! A kind friend delivered the promised goods, and I promptly hung them up in the garage, vowing not to forget about them. A few days later I decided it was now or never, rolled my sleeves up and skinned and gutted them, ready for the pot. I sat at the garden table, constantly looking over my shoulder for naughty foxes (Surbiton foxes are alarmingly bold) and dealt with the pheasants with my usual, slightly clumsy method, head, wings and legs off, then off with it's pyjamas and yank, out come the sausages, or something like that. Anyway, I eventually got them oven ready and proceeded to scare small boys playing in the street as, with bloodied hands I threw a heavy bag of pheasant parts in the dustbin. Mwahaha. Mr Pheasant was destined for ragu, and Mrs Pheasant awaits her fate in the freezer.

Pheasant makes a lovely ragu, much lighter than beef but just as, if not more tasty. Like all these slow cook jobs, it's easy as pie and cheap. No complaints there.

Makes enough ragu for 4 fatties. Add a generous glug of olive oil to a large casserole dish and add a couple of chopped carrots, a chopped onion, two sticks chopped celery and a few cloves of garlic, you guessed it, chopped. Let this soften gently, don't burn it or let it colour too much. Add a whole skinned pheasant to the pan and let it brown all over. Add a couple of bay leaves, pour over 1/3 of a bottle of red wine, a tin of tomatoes and season. The bird wants to be mostly covered by liquid at this point so top up with water if needs be. Season well, bring to the boil and then let it simmer, covered for about an hour. At this point give it a stir, turn the pheasant over and give it at least another half hour, leaving the lid half off to allow it to reduce a bit. The meat is cooked when it the legs come away from the body with a gentle nudge. Turn the heat off, remove the pheasant and shred the meat, and put it back in the pot. When all the meat is back in, check for seasoning. When I did this it was lacking a bit of oomph so I grated in some of that awesome 100% cacau chocolate and a few sploshes of Worcester sauce. It worked a treat and was perfectly oomphy after that. If the ragu still looks a bit wet, give it a blast to reduce further, otherwise simply serve on top of pasta, not forgetting a good grating of Parmesan.

Just what you need on a chilly winter's evening, now I need to find something yummy for Mrs Pheasant...

Thursday, 1 December 2011

What to Cook for Sick People - Poulet au Pot

Food to fix you up
'Don't worry, we still need to eat...fix us with  your food please.' was the response I got when I queried whether or not two snivelling friends were still coming over for supper. I thought they might have changed their minds but Hannah and Tash wanted to come and eat, and probably share a few germs. Poulet au pot is one of those gentle, soothing dishes, for when  you really aren't feeling great. Spicy noodle soups are great for chasing a hangover away but when you are actually bug ridden and fragile for reasons not involving too much grog, a softer approach is sometimes needed. What you get with this recipe is soft juicy chicken, poached in a light fragrant broth flavoured by the poulet and the herbs, and equally flavoursome and comforting veg.

Feeds four (with left over chicken and stock): You do need a massive casserole dish for this, one big enough to take a whole chicken and then some. Put a whole chicken in the pot. Rub the insides with 1tbsp each of pounded peppercorns and juniper berries and stuff it with a few sprigs of parsley and thyme and a few slices of ginger. You could get fancy and tie up the herbs in a bouquet garnis but I didn't have any proper string and didn't want a Bridget Jones style blue soup moment. Cover with water, properly submerging the chook. Add two leeks, trimmed and halved length ways (keep the root intact). Put the lid on and bring to the boil. After about 20 minutes add to the stock two large peeled and quartered potatoes, a peeled and chopped (big chunks) swede and a big handful of baby turnips. Keep bubbling away for another 20 minutes and then add some carrots, halved and sliced length-ways. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix 3 very finely chopped shallots, 2 tbsp chopped tarragon, 2 tsp white wine vinegar and 3 tbsp olive oil and seasoning. Check it for tang. By now the chicken and veg should all be cooked. Pull out the chicken and joint it (should pretty much fall apart on the chopping board). Peel away all the gross pale limp skin, if it's not crispy and brown I'm not interested. Stick all the veg on a platter, add the chicken, ladle a healthy amount of broth into bowls and let the invalids* help themselves to the meat and veg. Dribble the vinaigrette over the top and HALLELUJA! You are healed, my child!

*By no means deny yourself this dish when not feeling poorly, it's just a good one to pull out when you are.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

What on Earth do you do with a Quince (apart from make jelly)?!

Never turn down free fruit in the pub.
This has been an increasingly pressing question on my mind recently; a week ago I had a snifter with Dad after work in the local (he took great offence when I suggested it might be better to turn up at the office for said snifter a little later than the ten to five he usually pops up at) and he presented me with a bag of quinces. Which I found quite amusing. What was even more amusing was that I asked my friend Sophie who was also present if she'd like a quince. She rolled her eyes and said 'Don't even get me started on bloody QUINCES!!!' Apparently my Dad wasn't the only parent trying to offload the produce of this years glut. So anyway, I didn't fancy jelly and couldn't be bothered to make membranillo to go with my favourite cheese Manchego (but maybe I will have to be bothered as I just found THREE MORE QUINCES in my fruit bowl aaarrgghh!). I was a bit stuck, and then I had a brilliant moment, when I stared at the duck legs in the fridge, flicked open Clarissa-Two-Fat-Ladies' game book and there it was: duck with quince. It was meant to be. That was a long winded intro, apologies. Clarissa's recipe involves stuffing a whole Mallard with wedges of quince, so I adapted it a bit, a little apprehensive, as I had never, ever, cooked with quince, but where would be the fun in doing the same old thing every day? I was on holiday with the rentals in a heavenly cottage in Cornwall and was feeling brave.

A rather English affair.
Feeds four. Pre-heat the oven to 180c, or if using an Aga for the first time ever like I was, erm, do nothing. Peel two quinces, or is it two quince? Who cares. They are quite tough to peel, or maybe it was the holiday cottage peeler. Or maybe holiday wine. Get a baking tray big enough to hold 4 duck legs, cut the quince into quarters and cut the core out. Toss in a little olive oil with seasoning and lay the duck legs over the quince int he baking tray. Season the duck and rub with the tiniest smidgeon of olive oil. Roast for approx 1 hour, maybe a bit less, the quince is very clever and turns pink when cooked. It should be tender like a cooked potato and the duck wants to be crispy-skinned and nice and tender. Baste it every now and again to help keep it moist. Nothing worse than a tough duck. Except raw quince. Serve with whatever you like, I did roasted potato, onion and courgette slices. It was gert lush, even if I do say so myself.

I was genuinely worried about this supper but was happily pleased with the results. The duck was tender and stringy, and the quince was not too sweet, not too soggy, and had a very subtle bitterness that made me think of black olives. And there wasn't a runcible spoon in sight!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Pan Fried Chicken with a sort of Salsa Verde

Pan fried chicken? What else are you going to fry it in? I always get annoyed when I see that on a menu, what a load of poncey nonsense. Anyway, I was feeling a little poncey and 'Bashed out chicken breast with a made up green sauce' didn't sound very cool, so there you are. Breast is usually the last bit of a chicken I reach for, so often less flavoursome and dry compared to a juicy thigh, or whole leg, but then I remembered I quite like them bashed out, dredged in flour and fried. In a pan. OBVIOUSLY.

Feeds one. Finely chop any combination (equal-ish amounts of herbs) of the following: parsley, basil, coriander, a teaspoon of capers and a small clove of garlic. Mix in a glug of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and season. Bash a skinless chicken breast until mostly flattened and the same thickness throughout. Dust with some seasoned flour. Get a frying pan nice and hot with a splash of olive oil. Fry the chicken on each side for about 3 or  4 minutes until golden and cooked through. Serve with the sauce blobbed on top of the chicken, which could sit on some steamed spinach, with some sliced roasted courgettes and potatoes on the side. If you want them. Or you could pan fry them if you are feeling poncey.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Pork Chops with Broad Bean Mash & Garlic Butter

Petits pois and broad beans are the only veg I buy frozen, and they are so useful, never going brown and limp in the fridge, always ready for me, sometimes escaping from the bag which I haven't secured properly, but otherwise thoroughly reliable. Both lend themselves well to being mushed up once cooked. Hello?? Mushy peas!!! This is a speedy week night recipe to enliven the humble pork chop.
Get your chops round that

Feeds 2. Slice up a couple of potatoes and roast in the oven in a slick of olive oil. Cook two big handfuls of broad beans or peas or a combination of the two for about 4 minutes in salted boiling water then drain. Smash up a big clove of garlic in a pestle and mortar with a pinch of salt to make a paste, then stir in a tbsp soft butter. Get a frying pan nice and hot, rub a little olive oil on two pork chops and season them. Fry in the pan (you could grill them) so they are nicely coloured on each side (about 4 minutes each side if fairly thick) but not dry and over-cooked. Meanwhile, wizz up the peas/beans, a clove of garlic, juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper, a glug of extra virgin olive oil and a bit of chili if you fancy. Serve the pork on top of the mash, with the butter blobbed on top and the tatties on the side.

You probably shouldn't go out after this, you may get funny looks. Maybe because you look funny, but probably because you stink of garlic.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

'Mountain' Pheasant with Herbs & Potatoes (Who knew pheasies liked mountain climbing?)

How nice to have a young plump little pheasant to cook, rather than the poor birds I pull out of the freezer, a year after putting them in there, looking a little sorry for themselves thanks to my rather lacking skills in the plucking department. I was at a friend's house and we had wanted to cook dinner, drink wine and generally catch up together. Pheasant was on the menu, hurrah.

This is loosely based on a recipe I found ages ago for Mountain Pheasant, I have no idea what it has to do with mountains, but it's damn tasty. I would say use a nice plump youngen for it as you will roast it rather than casserole the pheasant, as I normally do. This is lovely and simple and is insanely tasty, as often the most simple things are.

Feeds two if using a smallish bird. Pre-heat the oven to 190. Spatchcock the pheasant by placing it breast side down with the tail towards you. Take some sturdy scissors and cut along one side of the back bone, then the other side so the backbone comes away. Turn the bird over and basically flatten by pushing down with your hands so it now has a bit of a 'run-over' appearance. That is spatchcocking. In a casserole/deep dish, mix up a glass of white wine, a couple of peeled potatoes, quartered, two onions, quartered, three cloves of chopped garlic, a lemon, quartered, and a small handful of each of the following: mint, thyme, sage and rosemary, and a big glug of olive oil. Season the bird and rub with a dribble of oil, lay over the veg and roast for about 45 minutes, until the pheasant is cooked and the rest is nicely cooked.

To serve, cut the bird in half using a nice big knife, and serve with all the veg, lemon and juices, and an amazing celariac salad that my friend Hannah wizzed up from her husband's posh French cookery book. Then drink all her Black Stump and wobble off home, happy and content.

Monday, 31 October 2011

(Not enough) Pumpkin & Serrano Ham Salad

There is some pumpkin in there...somewhere
This is the kind of salad I like, the protagonists, salty Serrano ham and sweet pumpkin marry so well together and the punch from the spices really pulls it all together. I ate something similar in an airport lounge the other day, and thought 'I could make that' so I did.

I was slightly hindered by the INSANE SEED TO FLESH RATIO of my little pumpkins (I bought fun-sized ones for my friend and I to carve), so I managed a few pathetic slivers and made a fuss of the seeds instead. This is such a tasty salad which makes a great starter, you could serve the pumpkin warm or cold, and beef it up with more root vegetables if you fancied it.

Feeds two. Remove the seeds and flesh from a medium sized pumpkin (do not be fooled by the super-cute mini ones) and separate the seeds from all the stringy flesh. On a baking tray, scatter the seeds on one side and the cubed pumpkin flesh on the other, drizzle with olive oil and toss with 2tsp crushed freshly toasted coriander seeds and a pinch of dried chilli flakes and salt. Roast for about 15/20 mins, until the seeds are dry and crunchy and the pumpkin cooked. Put all this in a bowl and add a small bag of rocket. Make a dressing with 2tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 2 tsp red wine vinegar and salt and pepper. Mix the salad well with the dressing and plop onto plates. Top with a few slices of Serrano ham and parmesan shavings. Then marvel at how pretty it looks. And then, how good it tastes.

A Rather Un-Scary Halloween Pheasant Casserole

Real actual blood clots...
After deciding we were going to go out, get dressed up and go for it this Halloween, my friend Hannah and I decided to go for a three course feast and X-Factor from the comfort of my sofa. I wanted it to be Halloween themed, for fun, but apart from involving pumpkins my imagination failed me. I could have just cooked frighteningly horrid food but that would benefit no-one. I giggled childishly as I bought two little pumpkins for us to carve, in my head plotting a salad involving roasted pumpkin, Serrano ham and rocket. And coriander seeds, and chilli. Mmmm. I'll post that later. I cooked this accompanied by amazing 'blood clot' cocktails courtesy of Hannah (Prosecco, pomegranate juice, and seeds, lush).

One of last year's pheasants was screaming to be pulled out of its icy grave, and Hannah was a pheasant virgin, so that was an easy decision. I cooked a tasty Italian casserole based on a Jamie Oliver recipe, I like this one because two people can eat the breasts, then the two legs can be shredded of meat later for a delicious pasta sauce*.

So this feeds two, with enough meat left over to make pasta sauce for 2 as well. Pull the old bird out of the freezer (don't do as I did and not leave enough time for it to defrost, cue frantic dipping in hot water filled sink). Remove the breasts and legs from the pheasant, (actually that was quite frightening, I really need some better skills there) you won't need the carcass. Preheat the oven to 180c, and dust the meat in seasoned flour. Brown the meat in a casserole dish, in a little olive oil. Remove the pheasant and set aside, and soften a chopped carrot, 2 sticks of chopped celery, a chopped red onion and three chopped garlic cloves. When nicely softened add a bay leaf and a sprig of parsley, a glass of red wine, 150g of chestnuts (you can get those brilliant vacuum pack ones), three crushed juniper berries, and mix well. Return the pheasant, cover with a double layer of foil and stick the lid on. Put it in the oven for at least an hour and a half, until the meat is really tender (no-one likes a tough old bird). I went proper Italian and served the breasts with polenta.

Enjoy with plenty of tasty red, and don't knock your plate off your knees as you squeal at the performances and judging on X-Factor.

*To make the pasta sauce just take all the meat off the legs and stir a big blob of creme fraiche through, bubbling up with more wine if there's not enough liquid.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Paprika Pork - Piece of Piddle

Donkey dong never looked so good...
I've been moving about a bit recently and have been away from my kitchen. Away from my beloved routine of daydreaming about what to cook and how to use up whats in the fridge. Having just got back from a work trip to China, and still suffering flash-backs relating to the horrors* I saw on menus and people's plates, I'm playing it safe. I had free reign in my kitchen last night, and decided against anything too exciting and fancy, just in case it went wrong, and I cooked paprika pork, a super easy, (who knows, I may have forgotten how to use a knife properly during my culinary exeat) delicious and comforting bowl of gentle Spanish flavours.

I still find it hard to deal with a nice fillet of pork without giggling, come on it looks like a massive dong belonging to a giant donkey or something. But it is also delicious. I'm sure they eat donkey dong in certain more adventurous lands, but stick with pork fillet here and all will be well.

Feeds 2. Cut a 225g piece of pork fillet into little medallions, the thinner you slice the quicker it cooks and the further it goes, but you may prefer fewer, chunky pieces. Finely chop an onion (yes I know in the picture its not finely chopped, but like I said my knife skills need waking up) and slowly soften in a big deep frying pan in olive oil. Be patient, this is the longest bit, they must be soft and sweet, but not browned. Add the pork and cook for a minute each side, add two tsp paprika and mix it all up. Season and up the heat. Add a big glug of sherry (I use Fino) and let it all bubble for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile get some gnocchi on the go (takes three minutes, they are ready when they float to the surface). When you're happy the pork is cooked stir in two tbsp creme fraiche, and a small handful of chopped parsley. Check for seasoning and serve the pork on top of the gnocchi.

Don't scrimp on the sauce. It's the best bit. Sadly it's a bit awkward to lick the frying pan but I would if I could.

*I did eat some great food there but the sight of dishes such as 'bad duck stomach', 'crocodile innards soup' and the cruel and famous 'shark fin soup' did give me the willies.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Crispy Garlic & Sage Chicken Thighs (why didn't I think of that?)

As soon as I saw this recipe, my stomach groaned for it and my inner glutton said 'Get in my belly. NOW.' I needed something easy to cook for me and my sadly now ex-boyfriend who is also now a cripple due to a motorbike-accident-related mangled leg. I think you're supposed to be nice to cripples and it was his first night home, and he had been living off cheese sandwiches and puke hospital food for a few days so I thought one decent meal wouldn't be too much to ask. Life test us sometimes, and then it can test us some more, but at least we can have a nice supper. The following is a (very slight) adaptation of a recipe wizzed to my inbox from a blog of an brilliant food writer called Niamh Shields who is amazing.

Feeds two. Pre-heat the oven to 180c, dice (not too tiny) a couple of potatoes, mix with a splash of olive oil and salt and roast on a baking tray for 15 minutes. Meanwhile take grind four garlic cloves with a pinch of salt in a pestle and mortar (goes all gooey and smooth quite quickly). Take 4 chicken thighs (you may just want one each if they're really big ones) and loosen the skin and plop a teaspoon of the garlic paste in, patting the skin back down. Moisten the skin with a little olive oil and place on top of the potatoes (you should probably given them a shake around at this point, the potatoes, not the chicken), making sure the potatoes are tucked underneath the thighs, safely out of sight. Roast for another 30 minutes. Now roughly chop four sage leaves, sprinkle on top of the chicken and baste with the now plentiful juices, or rather delicious chicken fat that has now melted away from the skin to allow it to crisp to golden perfection. Roast for a further 5-10 minutes depending on how golden you like your chicken.

Simple and my god, so tasty. And better than a cheese sandwich apparently.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Sunday Night Ragu

Spag bol: beloved by most as a fail proof and inexpensive student/weekday staple/can't think of anything else to cook with mince dish. Yet say the word ragu and I instantly think of  something special made with slow cooked hunks of meat, beef, lamb, venison, whatever you have, gently simmered for as many hours as it takes to allow it to be shredded into soft sweet strands, all melty and delicious. I actually looked it up on Wikepdia and I think we have just bastardised and cheapened Ragu alla Bolognese into a reliable and easy weekday fodder.  I think of good old reliable bol as being the Primark to a decent ragu's Prada. Now we all love and need a bit of good old Primarni every now and again, but a proper slow ragu cooked with time and love, is really where the quality and taste is, a necessary treat. This may not make sense to boys reading this but never mind.

I went home for the weekend to stay with the rentals and had to leave on Sunday, before Mum's legendary roast beef (with the best Yorkshires known to man). Being the kind and generous soul she is, Mum actually cut off a chunk of the roasting joint and gave it to me to take home! How nice is that?! So I eventually got back to Surbiton, having left Salisbury, the train being diverted via Southampton Central (ggrrr), and proceeded to make beef ragu, and this is how you make it:

Feeds 3 (random I know but it was a random bit of beef, just add more tomatoes and wine if using more meat). Take a 400g piece of beef topside and slice in half lengthways so you have two thinner bits of meat. Brown in olive oil in a casserole and season. Remove and set aside and fry a chopped onion until starting to soften, then add 4 chopped cloves of garlic and a decent pinch of dried chilli. (I also threw in a spoonful of Colombian aji, a fiery hot pepper sauce that my friend Simon had just brought over with some amazing empanadas as a tasty and very welcome present). Add a tin of chopped tomatoes and a glass of red wine, return the meat to the pan with all the juices, and add water if the liquid doesn't quite cover the meat. Put the lid on and simmer for a couple of hours, poking it about every once in a while to make sure its not sticking and adding more water if it looks like it's drying out. It's done when you can shred the meat with two forks, do this on a chopping board and then return all the meat back into the sauce (if it doesn't seem like it wants to shred, try from a different angle as the 'grain' of the meat is directional). I made a little gremolata which I thoroughly recommend (a mixture of finely chopped lemon zest, garlic and parsley sprinkled over the top), which really sings on top of the deep savoury meaty richness. Plop a few big spoon fulls of ragu over some pasta and the world is suddenly a better place.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

End Of Summer (meat) Party

Want. Now.
Towards the end of the summer I was getting that old nagging feeling, a little whisper in my ear that said 'Hey, you haven't had a party for a while, surely your nice nearly finished garden needs trashing while you water the lawn with red wine...' It was decided, we were to have a bash, invite all our friends, and above all, cook delicious meat. The meat planning commenced, or rather I day dreamed about marinating, jerking and rubbing for a few days before consulting the Bularian Meat Man of Surbiton. This wasn't something I did without thought, he is a serious and busy man, I didn't want to waste his time, what I did want was some beautiful meat. To cut a long story short, I asked for some pork and chicken wings and got to work deciding on a jerk recipe for the wings and some sort of fennely garlicky rub for the pork. Not necessary. I went to pick up the meat and it was handed to me by a girl who's name he had just texted to me (all very cloak and dagger) and I was a bit perplexed when I found the pork to be slightly warm.  I could see it was vacuum packed in (what I thought) was its own juices and blood, and cut open the bag over the sink as soon as I got home to investigate. Nooooooooo!!! It became immediately clear that this most generous man had not only marinated the meat, but cooked it in his sous vide for 48 hours at low temperature. I felt such a fool. Unworthy of such meat bestowed unto me, I pulled myself together (no point in crying over spilt marinade) and rubbed it with garlic and fennel anyway, wrapped it tightly in clingfilm to keep the moisture in and stuffed them in the fridge. The meat was so tender I could have broken the flesh in half. I prayed I hadn't blown it and planned to just brown them on the barbie the next day, surely the two hunks of oink would be fine? They were, and it was a triumph, but I desperately tried to get them cooked and sliced up before the  meat man came and saw what I had done to his perfect pork. I have never seen so many people gorging on soft melty pork all at once, I just wish I had saved more for myself as by the time I got some I was so hammered I can barely remember it. But I know it was definitely good.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Kind of Korean...supposedly

As mentioned in previous posts, the Boyfriend just loves to help out with the shopping, returning home, a proud hunter-gatherer, clutching in his arms...packets from the supermarket with the magical red stickers on them. A few weeks ago it was steak, very expensive steak: 'But look how much it was, it must be really good!'. Which is fine, but the freezer was choca and we were going away for a few days so I had to spend half an hour playing tetris with the contents of the freezer to wedge the two massive fillet steaks in.

It turned out to be worth it, as it was one of the best steaks cooked at home ever. But there were two to deal woth and only one had been eaten. Steak twice in a row? Now I love meat, but I knew I would't appreciate two steak dinners on the trot, so I went Eastern. Stir fry type dishes are ace because you don't need that much meat and you can use up that half onion, slightly limp greens and bit of broccoli sulking in the fridge. I bastardised a recipe that inspired dinner, called Sizzling Korean Steak  or something like that, but really it was just a slightly fancy pants stir fry, nothing wrong with that, I might add.

Feeds 2: Slice up a really tasty piece of fillet steak (approx 300g) as thin as you can. In a bowl mix 2 tbsp of soy sauce, 1tbsp mirin, a tsp sugar, 1tsp sesame oil, 1tsp fish sauce, 2 chopped garlic cloves and as much chilli as you care for. Take whatever veg you have (I used broccoli, baby sweetcorn, onion and mange tout) fresh and perky or aged and slightly festering and slice into pleasing shapes. For anything like onion which takes a little bit of cooking, cook this first, in a wok with hot oil until just softening. You have to you use your initiative here, adding veg in order of how long it takes to cook, the beef will take 3 minutes so throw that in when you're nearly done mix well, and add some pre-cooked noodles, or just serve with rice. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and sliced spring onions and chow down, safe in the knowledge that you rescued your wilting veg from a destiny of mould and the compost bin.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

MY Spicy Meatballs (not Mama's)

You know you want it...
I once read in a 'foodie' magazine that one should never use wine when cooking, that one wouldn't be happy to drink. Balls to that. I have, on average, 4-5 half drunk, verging on vinagary bottles of red in the kitchen, plus a cheeky, definitely undrinkable white in the fridge (why it's still in the fridge 3 weeks after opening, I don't know). I would never throw wine out; it vexes me to pour the delicious freshly opened Rioja I'm glugging into the casserole, when a bottle past it's best will do fine. Like I said, I usually have a nice collection of said 'mature' wine, so this rarely happens.

So yes, there is red wine in this recipe. This one pot wonder of a dish is brilliant because, um, it's in one pot. It also involves minimal faffing, is great to cook in a massive batch for the freezer, and tastes lush.

Feeds four: Pre-heat the oven to 200c. In a large bowl combine 500g beef mince, 2tbsp chopped stoned black olives, 2tbsp grated Parmesan, 1tbsp chopped parsley, as much chopped fresh or dried chili as you desire/can handle, 1 egg and a smallish finely chopped onion and seasoning. Roll into same sized meatballs, big ones, little ones, you choose ( I like little ones because you get more, yessss), and place in a very lightly oiled deep baking tray or casserole dish. Bake for 20 minutes. Now add a very big glass of red wine, rolling the meatballs round a bit and bake for another 10 minutes. Stir in a tin of chopped tomatoes, mix well, combining the meat juices and wine with the tomatoes and bake for a further 10 minutes, or until the tops of the meatballs have browned and the sauce has thickened. Serve with whatever type of pasta you fancy and get stuck in.*

*Do remember this recipe is for 4, so don't feel you have to eat the lot, it can be very tricky resisting this urge, and The Little Dinner Lady takes no responsibility for weight gain caused by this recipe, or any other recipe for that matter. She has her own to worry about.

Monday, 29 August 2011

A Bit Gross, but Worth It: Pork Scratchings

I like to take the meaty theme of a barbie seriously. You cannot overdo it on the meat front as far as I am concerned, and when pondering what kind of nibbly pre-main-event morsels I could provide for our BBQ yesterday, the slabs of pork fat in my freezer were calling me. Oink. But let me explain, I didn't go out shopping for pig skin especially (although I might now), but the nice people at Farmer's Choice, where I get most of my meat from, had popped four packs of the stuff in my last order, a little porcine present for me. As soon as I saw them I knew they'd be turned into pork scratchings, but I needed an excuse and reason, and they didn't come out to play until yesterday.

Making them was a little guess work and common sense. I'm not ashamed to admit I was properly grossed out by the mass of (hairy in patches) pale, leathery skin, but the possibility of crunchy, salty, porky treats was enough to get me through it. I say possibility, because I wasn't 100% sure they were going to turn out right. But they did, they were a triumph and this is how I made them:

Dry off the pork skin with kitchen roll and lay flesh side down and sprinkle with salt. Leave for half an our, meanwhile pre-heating the oven to max temperature. Brush off the salt and dry again. Cut into pork scratching sized strips (not the highlight of my day, I used scissors, hard work). The boyfriend suggested cutting into strips, I was going to cook whole, hate to admit it, think he was right. Arrange all the little strips, skin side up, on a baking tray and put on top shelf in the oven. Put on the extractor fan and open the kitchen door as your house will smell distinctly porky otherwise. They're done when they look like, erm, pork scratchings, all blistered and brown, and some go pleasingly curly. I found some bits were ready before others so just took out the done ones and gave the others a further blast. Drain them on kitchen roll and save the curliest ones for yourself.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Slow Cooked Pork, Stavros Style

Not sure how chorizo is in a
'Greek' dish but there you go.
Pork, lemon, chorizo, sherry vinegar and fennel, what's not to like here? This is one of those get home from work, throw it together, and leave it to simmer away dishes, leaving you free to not do all those chores you simply don't have time for, rather watch Come Dine With Me or a re-run of the Inbetweeners. It's cheap and store cupboardy so a big thumbs up from me, which was upgraded to a very enthusiastic thumbs up from the Boyfriend when he was finally fed.

Feeds 6. Pre-heat the oven to 150C. Brown a kilo of cubed pork shoulder in a big casserole in some olive oil and set aside. Then fry a sliced onion and a few chopped garlic cloves until softened. Add 3tbsp sherry vinegar, bubble for two minutes and throw in a handful of chopped chorizo, cook until it oozes with its lovely paprika spiked oil. Bash up a tsp fennel seeds and throw them in, and return the pork and any juices to the casserole. Finally stir in a tin of tomatoes and a squirt of tomato puree and about a litre of water so it all looks a bit splashy and wet. The sauce will reduce right down in the oven, so give it a good stir and season, bring to a simmer, then pop the lid on and cook in the oven for a couple of hours, take the lid off for another 15/30 mins depending how thick its all got. Serve with a zingy gremolata made by combing chopped lemon zest, garlic and parsley. Ooh next time I might use half onion, half chopped fennel for extra crunch.

This is lovely in the summer with some green beans and rice, and comforting mashed potatoes in the winter. Hmmm looking outside right now its more like December than August, so mash it is.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Best Lamb Tagine. In the world. Ever. Amen.

What a fate this lamb neck had in store...
It's very easy to get carried away whilst cooking, to swerve from the recipe, add your own touches, either because you know better or you think you know better. Nearly all recipes 'need' more garlic, more chilli, more this, more that, but I've recently learned that sometimes the softly softly approach to flavour can also be fantastic.  Having recently purchased the new Moro cookbook (called Casa Moro), I am obsessively making and munching my way through the simple but beautiful recipes from Spain, very much including the Moorish influences there, and many dishes from Morrocco. It ain't all about Chorizo you know. I made this lamb tagine with peas and tomatoes and was blown away by it's simplicity and incredible flavour. I stuck to the recipe, not straying once in terms of quantities. It's always better to use lamb on the bone, but I had some lamb neck fillets which were fine.

Feeds four. In a big pan glugged with warming olive oil, combine 2 tsp freshly ground cumin seeds (don't be lazy and use ground cumin), 1 cinnamon stick, 1 tsp sweet paprika, 1/4 teaspoon hot paprika, 2 chopped red onions, 2 peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped, and season. cook for about 10 minutes and throw in the lamb. 3 shanks would be great, or chunks of neck on the bone, approx 750g (if you have a nice butcher nearby, which sadly I don't). Stir well and add 1 litre cold water and a pinch of saffron threads infused in 2 tbsp boiling water. Cover and simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours, add 600g fresh peas (enlist the use of a slave to help pod the buggers) and simmer uncovered, for a further 20-30 mins until the lamb is super soft and melty.

This tagine tastes so fresh and surprisingly delicate, the perfume of the cinnamon combines so perfectly with the sweet lamb and peas, my normal bucket of garlic would have completely drowned out these well balanced flavours. Just delicious. Am supposed to be avoiding carbs at the moment due to an ever expanding waistline, but to have abstained from a big spoonful of cous-cous would surely have been a massive insult to the food Gods, and I just couldn't risk that...

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Cardoman Caramel Oranges

Like a giant sweetie
Although I'm no pudding fiend, a little taste of something sweet at the end of a meal always goes down well. When there may not be room for a big old bowl of desert, there is always room for this dish which is less like a pudding and more like a jewelled twinkly offering pulled out from the fridge just before serving. It can be made in advance making it great for when you are entertaining, and just looks so damn pretty! It's based on Nigella's recipe, which I came across by accident, when dreaming of the orange cardoman pud the Boyfriend's mum makes. It turns out orange and cardoman are a very happy marriage.

Suitably bashed pods
Serves four. Remove the skin and pith from four sweet oranges, and slice into rounds approx half a cm thick. Arrange in a shallow bowl/dish so they all lie flat and in a single layer. Bash 6 cardoman pods and add to a saucepan with 400g caster sugar and 200ml water, bring to the boil, swirling (don't stir) to dissolve and let it simmer until the mixture turns a lovely amber colour. Cue a bit of impatience and 'is it amber yet??' and my friend Hannah asking 'Do you ever just want to stick your finger in the pan to see how much it will hurt?'. No Hannah. No. Once it has changed colour, quickly (but carefully) pour over the oranges and stick in the fridge until needed. The oranges become encased in the cardoman scented, now hard barley sugar-like caramel. Nigella serves it with Greek yoghurt but I like it on it's own.

Probably a good idea to keep people like Hannah out of the kitchen when you make this.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Never Too Much Meat - Steak Tartare

So much more than an un-cooked burger, I promise.
A thousand years ago, on holiday with friends in France, the four of us sat down in a little restaurant and had a look at the menu. When the garcon came to take our orders, my friend Jess confidently announced that she would like to order steak tartare, s'il vous plait. Risking patronising her, I asked her if she knew what it was, she nodded away, and we sat back to sip on our wine and nibble bread until the dishes were served. When a plate of what is essentially raw beef mince was presented to her, her face first paled, then her jaw dropped. She hadn't in fact known what it was, and it turned out she liked her meat cooked.

I however adore steak tartare, and so does my Dad so we made it on Saturday, as a starter for a BBQ. Just in case we didn't have a high enough meat content in the meal. This feeds four as a starter, do taste as you go because it's one of those dishes that doesn't require exact measurements. In a bowl, put 400g finely chopped fillet beef, a couple of finely chopped shallots, a tbsp each of chopped capers, cornichons, a tsp Dijon mustard, parsley and salt and pepper, and combine well. Make sure you taste for seasoning. Now assemble a little patty on each plate, using a mug as a cutter works quite well, and nestle in a raw quail's egg, who's shell you have delicately halved, not throwing any ruined ones in the bin.

Some people love it, some people can't get their heads round a plate of raw meat. I think its the business. However, on that day so many years ago in France, with Jess's poor little face in despair, the joke was on me, because I had ordered andouillette, without really knowing what it was either, and I nearly threw up all over the table. Bon appetite.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Russian Roulette with Pimentos de Padron and other Spanish Adventures

Salty and maybe spicy
The title makes it sound like I've just been holidaying in Spain, but I haven't. I saw the seasonal treat that is pimentos de padron for sale in Waitrose and decided that Friday night's feast with friends (it wasn't really a dinner party, we don't do formal) would take on a Spanish theme. These little peppers are awesome and best eaten in the traditional Spanish way, it's so simple there's not even a proper recipe. The really cool thing about them is that most of them contain no heat whatsoever, but about one in 10 or 15 will make a decent effort to blow your head of. Fun huh? I demolished a bowl of them in a tapas bar in Sitges once and five in a row were hot, seriously hot, but I like them so much I ploughed on, spluttering and crying and turning scarlet while The Boyfriend helpfully took photos.
Am I really in Surbiton?
All you do with these little delights is fry them in hot olive oil until they blister up on all sides and sprinkle liberally with salt. I would highly recommend Malden Sea Salt Flakes. Pick them up with your fingers and eat the whole thing, except the stalk.

Another non-recipe Sapnish dish is Chorizo in Sherry. Oh Lordy it's good. Just chop up a load of chorizo, preferably the raw type, fry in a hot pan (don't add oil, the chorizo will release enough), when a bit crispy and charred lob in a big splash of sherry, let it bubble for a minute and tip into a bowl to be stabbed at by hungry folk with forks. It would be a crime not to soak up all that lovely paprika stained oil with some nice bread...

...or just do as The Boyfriend does and drink said chorizo juices.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Rioja Roast Chook

So when is this miserable weather going to brighten up and give us the summer we've been waiting for?? I know we need the rain, and it's great not having to water the garden (or the new window boxes at work which would definitely be dead by now had it not rained everyday) but is it too much to ask for a bit of sun IN JULY???

Rant over. On Sunday I actually turned the heating on I was so chilly, warming comfort food was in order, and not much soothes the soul with more success than Rioja Roast Chicken. I love red wine with roast chicken, there's something deeply savoury, grown-up and delicious about it, so to sit my chook on a nest of red wine (doesn't have to be Rioja) and chorizo as it steams itself to juicy heaven makes a lot of sense to me. Any left over sauce is awesome with pasta another day.

...and after
You will need a nice big casserole dish for this, one that the chicken can sit comfortably in (heaven forbid the dead bird is uncomfortable) with the lid on. Pre-heat the oven to 180. Fry a chopped onion and lots of garlic in olive oil until softened then add a big hand-full of chopped chorizo. This time I used raw chorizo sausages I normally put on the barbie, sliced up after browning them, but you can use the little weeny raw chorizo sausages, or normal cooked chorizo chopped up (I find cooking with the latter tricky, as it normally ends up gobbled before I get to use it). Fry until all that gorgeous paprika spiked orange oil oozes out, add a bay leaf, a tin of chopped tomatoes, some chopped dried or fresh chillis, a heaped tsp of paprika, a large glass of red wine, and one for the chef. Give it all a good stir and season, place the chicken on top, lid on, and into the oven with him. After an hour baste him with olive oil and return to the oven, minus the lid, so the skin browns and crisps, for about another hour. Carve up like a normal roast (the meat is so juicy and tender it might fall apart a bit, not a problem) and serve with the sauce plopped (yes, I do have a way with words) on top. Laaaarvely.

I would recommend that you allow someone else to do the washing up as your casserole with be seriously messed up...

Monday, 18 July 2011

Tartiflette is not a Tart

Very precise layering going on here...

Very occasionally I want a little break from cooking, it's probably more the washing up and mess that I have enough of, but sometimes it's very nice to be cooked for. The Boyfriend cooks for me about twice a year, not enough, considering when he does cook, it's always annoyingly fabulous. The destruction found in the kitchen after said event is enough for me to ban him completely, but the other day he said he wanted to cook dinner. Then he said he wanted to make Tartiflette. TARTIFLETTE!!!! Let me explain to those perhaps perplexed by my enthusiasm; tartiflette is one of those dishes, probably in my top 5, that cannot fail to warm you up, cheer you up, make you smile, and make anyone eating it groan in unnadulterated delicious pleasure, so much so that anyone nearby, not involved in eating it would wonder what the hell was going on. All hopes of a healthy remedy to an over-indulgent week were dashed, but who cared? It is July, it was cold and rainy, but nothing mattered because there was Reblochon cheese and pancetta in the fridge and that meant only one thing...

I want you now baby...
Feeds 6 normal people and 4 fattie bum bums. Pre-heat the oven to 180. Fry approx 275g smoked bacon (or use those brilliant packets of pancetta cubes) and one large thinly sliced onion in olive oil until soft and browned. Chop a small bunch of fresh thyme, reserving a bit for the garnish. Place the thyme, 284ml pot of double cream, 300ml milk and a crushed clove of garlic in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add a kilo of thinly sliced waxy potatoes to the pan, cover, and cook for about five minutes. Add the bacon and onions to the mixture and season with lots of pepper. Put half into a greased 1.5ltr oven proof dish, and slice up 250g Reblochon cheese. Layer half the cheese over the potatoes, pour the rest of the potatoes on top and then put the rest of the cheese on top. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and all that lovely cheese has gone golden brown. Artfully (!) sprinkle with the rest of the thyme.

This should probably be eaten with salad, because it equals out all that gorgeous cream and cheese, no?

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Hung Shoo Pork Fo Sho

A lovely slab of belly pork had been waiting patiently to be removed from my freezer and eaten. Last time I made roast pig's tum I ate so much that I rolled about in agony on the sofa all afternoon (watching Come Dine With Me, obviously, it was a Sunday), could smell salty crackling emerging from every pore and I was even dreaming about piggies for days. No more pork belly for me. For a while. Until I couldn't resist buying more, it's just so blimmin cheap!!!! But it sat in the freezer for ages, unloved and un-wanted, until I remembered I had this Chinese recipe from the very un-Oriental Delia. This is a fantastic recipe, like all my favourite meals and boys, simple but delicious.                 

Don't eat the skin, unless you want to, weirdo.
Feeds four to five pork lovers. Cut a piece of belly pork weighing approx 1kg (ish) into cubes approx 3cm squared. This is near impossible to complete in a precise manner as the meat often varies in thickness, but aim for lots of cubes, each with skin still attached (don't worry, you don't eat the skin, but it's important for flavour and the gelatinous dark delicious sauce). Use a big sharp knife, I know it sounds obvious but it's quite an exhausting job (if anyone helpful asks if you require any assistance, get them to do this bit). In a large casserole dish, lay all the pork, skin side down and sprinkle over approximately 8 tbsp dark soy sauce, 2 tbsp water, a tbsp finely chopped ginger and tuck a couple of star anise in with the meat. Cover, bring to a simmer, then lower the heat and cook gently for 45 minutes or so, then turn all the pieces of pork over, sprinkle with 6 tbsp of Chinese rice wine (pretty sure sherry would work if you don't have any) and a 2tsp of caster sugar. Cover and cook for another 45 minutes, giving the meat a nudge every now again to ensure it hasn't cemented itself to the bottom of your dish. Serve with some simple greens and rice, spooning the incredibly actually real Chinesey tasting sauce over it all.
No pork sweats whatsover with this one.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

A Very Sexy Salad

Nice fig plate...
Now we all know that salads aren't always lame, the likes of Hugh and Jamie are often whipping up leafy delights freshly picked from their kitchen gardens, all looking heavenly and virtuous. Sadly, the reality is that the only things that grow in my little garden (and next year I WILL change this) is a tiny strawberry plant that somehow planted itself and a bunch of herbs. And that's only if the devil slugs have stayed away. I'm not sure that this little rant is adequately relevant to this recipe, but my point is that even if you don't have a garden bursting with green goodness, you can always go to the shop, buy some asparagus and halloumi and make this sexy salad.

Serves 2 greedy people as a main, or 3/4 as a starter. Start by making some dressing by mixing the following in a cup/jam jar/whatever: juice of half a lemon, two tbsp extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, a bashed clove of garlic, a pinch of thyme leaves, half a tsp sugar and half a tsp English mustard powder.Slice one block of halloumi cheese into slices approx 1.5cm thick. Lay it on kitchen roll to get rid of any excess liquid. Steam or boil a decent bunch of asparagus until cooked but with a nice bite (snap off the ends to avoid woody bits). Get a frying pan nice and hot (the more non-stick the better) and dribble in a little olive oil. Lay the halloumi in the pan and fry until golden, then flip to do the other side, if the pan is hot enough this will happen fast, so work quickly. Sometimes the cheese leaks out a bit of water, just pour it out and carry on. As the halloumi cooks, take it out of the pan, pile on a serving plate, cover with the asparagus and drizzle over the dressing. 

Dig in and wait for the scream of horror when the boyfriend realises there is no meat content. You could man it up a bit with some fried chorizo or something but it's lovely as it is. 

Monday, 4 July 2011

Spaghetti Marinara for Mama

This is another holiday favourite, I don't know why, as it's just as good at home, it's probably got something to do with the price of seafood in the Algarve...

Using cutlery is advisable
I cooked this for my Mum's 60th birthday feast whilst on holiday, having already kicked off with home-made calamari (which I don't recommend making this for 7 in a still boiling hot kitchen, even at 8pm!) Very simple and easy, but timing is essential if you want to avoid over-cooked pasta and rubbery prawns. You can use any variety of sea dwelling creatures

This recipe is for 4, just to make life easy. Finely chop a couple of onions and garlic cloves and fry slowly in a big saucepan in olive oil until really soft and sweet. While this is happening cook your spaghetti. Make sure all the seafood you want to cook is prepared, squid cleaned and sliced into rings, clams/mussels rinsed (any remaining open, discard), and heads off prawns if you wish. Once the onions and garlic are lovely and soft, throw in a big glass of white wine and bring to a simmer. Add the seafood, season, give it a good stir and simmer with the lid on for a few minutes. Have a look, if the prawns are pink and the molluscs are wide open you're good to go. If not, just leave a minute longer. Stir in a big desert spoon of creme fraiche, a handful of chopped parsley, a pinch of chili flakes, mix well, then add the drained spag and mix really well.

Serve with wedges of lemon, and make sure you share the prawns out equally to avoid squabbles.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Piri Piri in Portugal

Apologies for lack of posts recently, have had a new kitchen put in which rendered the area useless and I don't think blogging about takeaways is really what you're after here.

Wild thyme
Also had a glorious week in Portugal, which meant BBQs everyday, and a quest to see how many marinades we could fit into a week of food. I love holiday food, always simple, generally meaty and sea-foody, and most days revolve around meal times. Just the way it should be. In the village that our villa was in, we were blessed with two bulging lemon trees, wild thyme on the roadsides and massive rosemary bushes, a great start. Annoyingly I discovered it was thyme after I made this (shut up, it looked quite different), but I knew for next time, and it was great with the pork the following evening!

Don't rub your eyes after touching this...
As an English person, lacking proper knowledge of Portuguese food, I presume that piri-piri relates to any sauce that is nice and hot, usually doused liberally over chicken, either before, during, or after grilling. They seem to have hundreds of version, some saucey, some just oil. You must not ever go to Portugal without dining on this delicacy, in the little restaurant we eat it at, they chop the chicken up into big chunks, a bit like with jerk chicken, no faffing about with bite size portions here. We used spatch-cocked chickens (backbone removed, then flattened out), by far the best way on a barbie I reckon.

For a rather finger-licking marinade for chicken on the bbq follow these instructions (measurements are not necessary, use lots of everything!): mince at least one head of garlic, mix with lemon juice, chopped rosemary or thyme, chili flakes/chopped fresh chili, salt, tomato ketchup, a splash of vinegar and a glug of olive oil. Mix well and smother as many chickens as you like with it, leave as long as possible in the fridge, turning once, and leave out of the fridge for an hour before cooking (to bring to room temperature). Double wrap in foil, bbq for approx 20 minutes, then remove the foil and keep cooking until the skin is crisp and juices run clear. Serve with a decent salad and plenty of cervezas...

...then be amazed at how much chicken everyone consumes.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Impossible Omelettes

It's how it tastes that counts right?
Does anyone else in the universe find omelettes tricky to make? Supposedly the simplest thing in the world, quick and easy, I always find myself in an eggy mess, while everyone everyone else seems to produce beautiful golden folded omelettes with just the right amount of ooze. As someone who cooks a fair bit I know I should have mastered the art. But I haven't, and I fear it may be too late. Maybe I haven't got the right frying pan. Or maybe I'm just an egg moron.

This morning I thought I might give it another go, I looked in the fridge, decided I had sufficiently interesting fillings and got to work. A few minutes later I had a right mess going on, it had stuck to the pan, no chance of folding it over, but as it hadn't quite burnt, I mushed it all together, cooked it through and it tasted great, and it reassured me that it's what it tastes like that counts. You could make this with anything, chorizo, spring onions, cheddar, peas, tomatoes, spinach, smoked salmon, anything that goes in the dreaded omelette I suppose.

For what is essentially interesting scrambled eggs, that feed one: fry a small chopped onion in butter in a small frying pan until softened. Add three beaten and seasoned eggs, let it sit and cook for about 30 seconds, add chopped feta and parsley, scramble until cooked, stick a fork in it and repeat after me: 'I never liked omelettes anyway'.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Hooray for Hummous

Keep some in your fridge at all times
Surely everyone loves hummus? My love affair began as a fifteen year old, gobbling it down with too hot to touch pitta after too much vodka from the bar we'd snuck into hours before. So stylish. Always there on a picnic, good with tortilla chips, bread-sticks and vegetable sticks for the virtuous. Shop bought is ok, but like pesto, home made is so quick and easy, tastes infinitely better, is good for your health and your pocket. I was a bit loathed to put up a recipe for something so simple, but mates do ask how I make it, so I guess this is a way of testing whether or not they read the blog!

This recipe is enough for pre dinner nibbles for 4-6. Drain most of the water from a tin of chickpeas, (or soak and boil the equivalent) and throw into a wizzer. Add a few cloves of roughly chopped garlic, a teaspoon of cumin seeds, juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper, a pinch of dried chilli flakes and a massive long glug of extra virgin olive oil. Give it a wizz, how long depends on how smooth you like it. If if looks a bit dry add more oil. Now taste it. If its a bit bland, season more and maybe a bit more lemon, this is real trial and error stuff, but it should not be bland, rather vibrant and fresh tasting. Put in a dish, drizzle on some more olive oil and garnish with parsley/coriander and serve with hot pitta bread.

Might not be the most authentic recipe, I know you're supposed to use tahini, but I think it's tastier without. Keep it simple and you can't go wrong.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Confessions of an Elderflower Perve

Every year, about half way through May I become an elderflower perve. Checking those plentiful bushes for the progress of their creamy blossoms, waiting for the right time to pick them for elderflower champagne. Elderflower is everywhere, and right now it's going bonkers. Although last year I spent so long lusting after the flowers, I never actually got round to doing it. I kept meaning to visit the brewing shop (which isn't open on a Sunday, which is the day I always remember to think about it) to buy a nice big brewing receptacle, but never made it, and hence the little white flowers withered and died, soon to be replaced by deep purple berries. Which I hate the taste of. Euurgh. This year, I still didn't manage to get to the brewing shop and resorted to brewing half the bubbles in a bucket and the other half in my big Le Creuset.

This is adapted from Hugh F-T's recipe for elderflower champagne, I made it for the first time a few years ago, it was great (except I would recommend leaving the fizz to brew a bit longer than he does, as it wasn't ready when I gave it the 8 days in the bottles that he suggests).

And now to wait...and wait...IS IT READY YET?
Go and snip off 25-30 elderflower heads (wooden 'I'm so country' trug optional), give each bloom a good shake as there will be a few bugs in there. Dissolve 2kg sugar in 4 litres of hot water in a very clean container (or two if you are me). Top up with another 2 litres of cold water. Add the zest and juice of 4 un-waxed lemons, 2 tbsp white wine vinegar, the flowers, and stir gently. Cover with muslin and leave for 2 days in a cool airy place. Add a little pinch of yeast and stir, leave for another 4 days. Now strain through muslin and decant into very clean bottles (swing-top ones are the best but fizzy drinks ones are OK, just not as pretty). Seal and leave for another 10 days (if when you taste it, it's super sweet, a bit yeasty and just not that great, it's not ready, leave a bit longer), and serve chilled.

If you make this early enough in the season, you'll be able to make another batch, I've finally got hold of some citric acid (the boss must have been a bit surprised opening up a packet of white powder that arrived at my desk when I was away) so I can make cordial as well now. Best go and perve on some more elderflower...

Monday, 16 May 2011

Chicken Paprika - Check you actually have paprika first...

Don't forget the paprika. Or the chicken. 
You know when you have your mind set on a certain dish to cook for supper, and nothing else will do? Well all the way home on the train yesterday I was thinking about this dish, all content as I had all the ingredients and wouldn't have to rely on trusty M&S (the only shop open on a Sunday night when all the other shops have shut). There was a small problem, the chicken thighs were still in the freezer, so I did have to swing by M&S which was very stressful with my big weekend bag and narrow aisles but somehow I coped. Finally got home, and discovered  I had run out of paprika. I used a bit of smoked paprika, its sweet and smokey cousin, instead for a nice extra smokey flavour and it all worked out.

This feeds two. Pre-heat oven to 180. Brown seasoned chicken thighs (two small ones per person or one big one) in olive oil and set aside. Fry a chopped onion and a few chopped garlic cloves in the same oil and add a couple of chopped raw chorizo sausages (normal cooked could be used) and fry until all the lovely red oil comes out of the chorizo and the onions are softened. Add a chopped chilli, a few bay leaves, a teaspoon of smoked paprika (or normal), a tin of chopped tomatoes, a big splash of red wine, season and stir well. Pop the chicken back in the pan, add a chopped green pepper and put the whole lot in the oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes. By now the skin on the chicken will be all extra cripsy and golden. Serve with a blob of sour cream/creme fraiche and rice. 

The Rioja was open, Lady Gaga was on the telly and all was ok. Until the Boyfriend came home after a day on the lash at the Rubgy 7s and sprayed me with the hose through the kitchen window. Twice.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Scotch Eggs are Not Scottish

Runny yolks courtesy of Blumethal
According to Heston, that is, and who am I to argue? Apparently they were invented by Fortnum & Mason in the 19th century, especially for posh picnics. I like Fortnum & Mason and I also like Scotch Eggs. The butcher local to my parents sells home made ones and if you're lucky they're still hot when you get your greedy mitts on them. Last time I was home, I found myself alone in the kitchen and found...a Scotch egg in the fridge with my name on it. At least it should have had my name on it because I gobbled it down before even getting a plate and a dollop of mustard. I thought it was about time I had a go at making them, especially as Mum had told me they are very messy. Sounded like a challenge.

This recipe is adapted from the one Heston Blumenthal did for Waitrose, no dry ice in sight, but mercifully straighforward instructions. You can mess about with the sausage meat as much as you like, but what I did nick from him was his method for cooking the eggs, essential if you want runny yolks, and it worked perfectly, much to my surprise.

Makes 8. Pre-heat oven to 190. Place 8 eggs in a pan of cold water, put on a high heat and as soon as the water starts simmering set a timer for 1 minute 45 seconds. Seriously. Quickly fill a bowl with iced water and when the time is up remove the eggs and put them in the iced water. In a bowl mix the meat from 6 large (i.e. not chipolatas) decent sausages and mix with a big pinch of thyme, a tsp or two of mustard (any I reckon) a pinch of cayenne pepper, seasoning and a packet of chives, chopped, and a tiny splash of water. Roll into 8 balls and chill for 20 minutes.

Very gently, peel the eggs, this is not easy as they are soft boiled and very fragile, you will need patience and delicate fingers! Roll the eggs gently, this will crack the shell all over and help. Don't panic if you damage the eggs a bit, they will be covered up, no-one will know. Take 3 bowls and into them put a few tbsp plain flour, two beaten eggs with a splash of milk, and approx 150g breadcrumbs. Take a sausage ball, flatten between your hands, and with the meat covering the palm of one hand, place an egg in the middle and gentlly wrap the meat around, be gentle. When all the eggs have a meaty blanket heat some veg or groundnut oil (enough to cover 2 eggs) in a saucepan and heat until a cube of bread browns fairly quickly in it. Dip each meaty egg into the flour, then eggy milk, then the breadcrumbs, making sure the whole surface is covered. Very carefully plop them into the oil, only two at a time and deep fry until golden, two or three minutes. It's a good idea to give them a nudge every now and again to stop potential sticking. Drain on some kitchen roll. When they're all done give them 10 minutes in the oven and then serve immediately. Nice with a salad to counteract the richness.

The moment of truth is when you slice one open, and then, halleluja, the orange yolk oozes out all over the place and all is well in the world.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Beanz Meanz ummm not Heinz

On a normal week day, breakfast, if I manage it (those extra seconds in bed count you know), is a bowl of revolting bran flakes forced down, before I bolt out the door. Because it's healthy, and if I don't eat breakfast before I leave the house, the siren-like lure of the saturated-fat-laden mozzerella and tomato croissants at Pret become the only possible option. Never mind the little pots of healthy porridge and fruit compote, they are not contenders as far as I am concerned. Come the weekend, however, I often longingly pore over exciting and delicious morning recipes, the sophisticated brunch ideas far superior to the usual routine of bacon sarnies or soft boiled eggs. I was in a weekend breakfast rut and needed to get out of it.

It was quite simple, I just had to make one of the recipes I had stored away. So I did.

For a twist on beans on toast (for two) fry a sliced onion in olive oil until softened a bit. Add a chopped tomato (I had a really exciting green and red striped one, all that was left in Waitrose after the apocalyptic style grocery panic that a bank holiday causes), and a drained tin of cannelini beans and stir around the pan for three minutes. You don't want it to go to mush, just soften the tomato and heat the beans through. Add a tsp of red wine vinegar and season well. Toast two slices of bread (fancy pants sourdough would be nice, but normal, as I used was fine) and rub each piece of toast all over with a halved clove of garlic. Top with the beans, some chopped parsley and a nice dribble of extra virgin olive oil.

The vegetarian factor didn't impress the Boyfriend but his protests dimished significantly once he had my beans on toast in his gob.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Badass Seabass

Excessive meat consumption antidote
 After three barbies and one dodgy kebab too many, during this gloriously debauched bank holiday weekend, my stomach was moaning for something healthy and light, in other words, a fish dish. This recipe for seabass with onions, potato and lemon is heavenly quick and easy, and before I made it I never realised how lush the combo of lemons and potatoes are!

Feeds two: Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees. Slice as many potatoes as you fancy (I, gasp, use any tatties I have lying around, at the moment big new potatoes are delicious) and cut them into thin-ish rounds. Tip into a baking tray, pour over a glug of olive oil and mix really well with your hands. Season liberally. Put in the oven for about 6 minutes, until they are starting to go golden around the edges. Meanwhile slice an onion. Mix this onion in with the potatoes, coating the slices in oil. Back in the oven for another 6 minutes until they have started roasting and softening. Take the tray back out, lay a few sprigs of dill down on top of the onions and potatoes, in two lines, and place a fillet of seabass on top of each pile of dill. Squeeze a lemon over the whole tray, especially over the fish. Season the fish and dribble some more olive oil over it. Back in the oven for another 7 ish minutes, until the fish skin has gone nice and crispy. Plate up and serve with something green.

Then go and ruin all your good gastronomic behaviour by getting a chicken burger at two in the morning on your way home from a bar.