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.