Friday, 15 April 2011

Tastes of Tunisia (not certified authentic tastes)

Makes your kitchen smell real exotic
I was very excited to get a rare escape from my desk yesterday lunchtime, and join my Dad and two friends for lunch at a great Korean restaurant just over the road from my office (in case you're interested We stuffed our faces full of kum chee, noodley delights and BBQ'd pork a-plenty. On returning to work to find a tornado had hit my desk in my absence, I battled to stay awake, my very full tummy urging me to have a little snooze. That wasn't an option, so I fought on and somehow made it through to 6pm. My point is, that when I got home, I wasn't exactly ravenous, but wanted something light and healthy. Some would argue I could have just gone without dinner, or perhaps had a piece of toast. These people don't know me.

This Tunisian Fish Stew (not claiming it is authentic, but in my imagination this is what they eat in Tunisia) is a one pot wonder, is border-line crazily healthy and tasty, in equal measures, and is so easy, that a five year old could throw it together. Serves 2. With a bit left over for a small pre-bedtime bowl-full, for my boyfriend who can't quite manage the gap between supper and breakfast.

Slice two big handfuls (v. precise) of new potatoes into thick rounds and put in a saucepan. Add to this a teaspoon of harissa, half a teaspoon of ground cumin, a teaspoon of paprika, juice of half a lemon, two quartered tomatoes (I can never be bothered to do the whole blanching and peeling thing) and a litre of water. Give it all a good stir and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are nearly done. Take one big piece, or two small pieces of white fish and lay on top of the stew, add a big glug of extra virgin olive oil and cook for another 10 minutes. By now the fish should be cooked, gently break it up a bit and throw in any combination of chopped mint, parsley and coriander, best with all three, season and serve.

If the smell hasn't driven you wild for the last ten minutes, check your pulse.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Pesto Pork

Just make sure the pig is cooked through...
Pesto is one of those things that when bought from the shop is TOTALLY inferior to home made. Many things are the opposite, pastry is a good example. See, I'm not a food purist at all, but with something as simple to make as pesto, there are no excuses. It is also hugely versatile, everyone has had it in pasta, but it also makes a good salad dressing if used sparingly and is AWESOME blobbed on top of minestrone soup. That's only two ideas, but it's monday morning and I don't want to push myself too much.

A third idea is to slather it over a lovely juicy pork chop, transforming the humble slice of piggy into something really delicious. My pesto always comes out slightly differently, I don't measure what goes into it, there is no need, and it depends how much you have of everything. Just taste it as you go, as everyone has different tastes, and not everyone likes to ensure they are totally safe from the Twilight crew, as I do, with excessive garlic consumption.

To make pesto, you will need a wizzer of some description. Into this throw a bunch of basil, stalks removed, a small handfull of toasted pine nuts (just toast in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until they go light brown, super easy to burn them so be careful), a handful of grated parmesan, a couple of roughly chopped garlic cloves (go easy if you don't want to stink forever), salt, pepper, juice of half a lemon, and a massive glug of olive oil. Wizz it up so you have a lovely vivid green sauce and taste. Might need more salt, or a bit more lemon for some zing, tweak to your taste.

I like to serve it on a griddled T-bone pork steak with some sliced up roasted potatoes and something green on the side. I am yet to cook the T-bone steak without having to put it back in the pan to cook it some more, really hard to get right, it would be a tragedy to dry it out, but then bleeding pork isn't good either. You can use any pork chop but t-bones are super juicy and tasty, as long as you don't give yourself food poisoning by undercooking it, as I like to do.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Pud Tastes Better When it comes from a Ramekin

Well I think it does anyway, it's like a little personalised pot of sugary joy and no matter how full I am from previous courses, if it comes in a ramekin and is placed in front of me, I will eat it.

I rarely invent recipes entirely, rather modify other people's work to suit me better (the corner shop at the end of the road can seem sooo far away sometimes), be it financially or gastronomically. The nice thing about this pudding is that is looks quite pretty, and you can change the filling to suite the contents of your fridge, or fruit bowl.

There's always room for a ramekin...
So this is a recipe for spiced strawberry and apple  meringue pots (similar fruit component to what went into the trendy pavlova), but you could put any fruit combo in, apple and blackberry, pear, rhubarb, it would all be great. For this filling I poached some chopped strawberries and apples (do peel the apples) in a bit of red wine, with about 2 tbsp sugar, a cinnamon stick, a star anise and some orange peel. You probably only want to just cover the fruit with the wine, otherwise it will be too wet when in the pot. Simmer until the apple has softened and taste it for sweetness and spice, adding more sugar if it needs it. Remove the spices and orange peel. That bit is done, now whisk two egg whites with 25g golden caster sugar until stiff. Then add another 25g sugar and fold. Fill four ramekins halfway with the poached fruit and place on top a layer of fresh sliced strawberries. Top with meringue mix, make it look pretty with a flamboyant flick of the wrist swirl, and bake for 10 minutes until golden on top. Serve immediately. Everything but the baking can be done in advance.

Dig in, be careful not to burn your mouth, and enjoy a bit of ramekin love.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Pimp my Roast

Nothing can beat an awesome roast chicken come Sunday, but sometimes it just feels a little repetative. It may seem crazy to slag off the holy grail of Sunday goodness, but the novelty can wear off when faced with the same old roasties and 2 veg. I'm constantly finding recipes for exciting vegetable dishes and forget to try them out. I had four lady friends (actually they ain't no ladies haha) coming round for Sunday lunch and wanted to add a bit of something different to the traditional roast chicken I had in the oven. The following two dishes, beans with preserved lemons and middle eastern potatoes are super simple and a delicious accompaniment to a good old roast chook. Quantities are roughly for five hungry people.

For the bean dish, boil/steam approx 400g green beans but leave with a bit of bite. Dran and refresh in cold water. Slice the skin of 1 preserved lemon finely (discard the flesh). Make a vinagrette by mixing the juice of one lemon, a decent glug of extra virgin olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard and salt and pepper. Dressings must be tasted and adapted to how you personally like it. Then just toss it all together and you're done.

For the Middle Eastern Potatoes mix 200g natural yoghurt with  2 crushed garlic cloves and set aside. Fry 700g cooked potatoes (new potatoes are good, cut the bigger ones in half) in 3 tbsp olive oil until nicely browned, add 3tsp gound cumin, 1tsp cayenne pepper, and stir it in well. Add 400g spinach and stir around until wilted. Then sprinkle over 1tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp chili flakes, and you're done. Either serve the yoghurt on the side so everyone can help themselves (tastes ace with the chicken too) or blob all over the potatoes in a serving dish.

Then make loads of mess on the table in the garden and wait for the fox to come and go nuts (because he's excited about the scraps of food left on the table, not because he's angry you made a mess...).

Monday, 4 April 2011

Ready Steady Chook

If there was ever a reason to grow a bay tree, this is it. There's something brilliantly self righteous about picking the leaves specifically for a dish you are about to cook,  rosemary is another plant everyone should have. Bay and rosemary are pretty much indestructable, unlike the fragrant but weedy floppy home-grown coriander, that bolts into pretty flowers, rendering it useless whenever you forget to water it. I love coriander so much, it just doesn't give me anything back. And parsley, don't get me started on parsley. So anyway, I like not having to buy bay leaves from the supermarket ok?

Spanish chicken with garlic and bay is one of those fail-proof recipes that require minimum ingredients, minimum effort, but goes all out on flavour. It doesn't sound life-changingly exciting, but it really is super delicious, easy and cheap. Score. You don't even have to chop anything. It's not lazy, it's authentic, I promise. Don't stress about quanities, this will feed four but is very easy to adapt for more or less. Just use common sense.

Chicken + garlic + bay + wine = this
Take a head of garlic and split up the cloves, no need to peel them (honest). Heat up some olive oil in a casserole dish, and cook on a medium heat until the cloves take on a little colour. Take the garlic out and set aside. Put your chicken in the pan, one leg each, or a couple of thighs, what ever you have, but bones in and skin on, (unless you are a 'gastronomic wimp' as good old Floyd used to say) and brown well, seasoning as you go, making sure the skin goes a bit lovely and golden. Throw the garlic back in, add about 5 bay leaves, pour a couple of glasses of white wine in and a good splash of water and give it a good stir. Cover, and let it bubble away for about 20 minutes until cooked. Serve with cous cous or rice (you need something to suck up all the gorgeous sauce) and don't scrimp on the garlic, squeeze the now sweet garlic puree out of it's skin and enjoy.