Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Celariac Remoulade - For When Coleslaw won't cut it

This nobbly bobbly rather ugly root vegetable is transformed into an elegant and punchy side dish when finely shredded and mixed with some saucy ingredients. Do not judge the humble celariac by it's lumps and bumps but rather it's nutty sweet flavour and awesome crunch. This remoulade recipe is a French classic and the recipe might change slightly depending on your source but it's a wonderful crunchy tangy side dish which goes brilliantly with roast meat, especially game, as it contrasts so well with the rich flavours. Also amazing with ham and it wouldn't be too shabby with the Christmas turkey either. If i'm honest, I would only attempt this with the help of a food processer as you'll be there all day grating without one!

Feeds 6 as a side dish. Using a big sharp knife, cut off the outer rough layer of one whole celariac and cut into chunks which will fit down the chute of your food processor. Shred the pieces (rather than fine gratings you want little match sticks if possible) and immediately place in a bowl and mix with the juice of a lemon (otherwise you end up with manky brown celariac). Combine 3 tbsp mayonaise, 2tbsp creme fraiche and two tbsp Dijon mustard and add a big handful of chopped parsley. Mix well with the celariac and season. Leave it for half an hour to let the celariac mellow a little and serve.

Stick to one celariac for 6 people. I went over board and made far too much, and it doesn't keep very well, after a day or two, it turns into a nice mushy mess that you wouldn't give to your dog. Except we did give it to the dog and he wouldn't eat it.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Pigeon Wellie

Living up to expectations is something we all attempt at times, and I had a request to cook pigeon wellington for a little dinner party I put together for my old Dad. Having never cooked it before, even with beef, I turned to my friend Google who came up with lots of annoyingly different versions, so I came up with my own (although I am aware this is hardly break-through cooking as it is a very simple dish to make). One of Dad's favourite things in the world is the delectably controversial foie gras, so it made sense to use that to add both sweetness and depth, and a bit of moisture for those little weeny pigeon breasts. I made six but you  can very easily change the recipe to make as few or as many as you need.

Take a dry frying pan, get it hot and dry fry one finely sliced chestnut mushroom per person, sprinkling over a little salt. This will draw out the moisture to help avoid soggy welly syndrome. Put the mushrooms to the side, once they have dried out again, In the same frying pan, heat a splash of oil and flash fry two pigeon breasts per person and season as you go. Literally just seal the meat, but make sure the pan is hot enough to get a nice colour very quickly. Put the pan to the side and DO NOT WASH IT UP! You need those juices for your sauce later. You will need one roll of puff pastry for two wellingtons, and it's just a matter of construction now! Cut an un-rolled piece of pastry into two pieces. Put a single layer of mushrooms towards the bottom of the piece, in the middle, put two pigeon breasts on top and then place slices of foie gras pate on top. Brush egg wash around your little pile and fold the pastry over. Gently push the edges down and cut away any excess pastry, and brush the whole package with egg wash to make sure it goes golden brown. If you really want to test your creative skills, cut out a little pigeon shape from the pastry trimmings and place on top of each welly. When they are all ready, cook in a pre-heated oven at 180c for about 20 minutes (really it's as soon as the pastry is cooked as the pigeon wants as little cooking as possible). De-glaze the pigeon pan with a splash of red wine and make a nice little gravy (or jus if you have your fancy pants on). This is magic with celeriac remoulade which I will post later.

Don't be too shocked, as I was, when the wellingtons have almost doubled in size, the clue is in the name, puff pastry.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Slightly Greek Slow Roast Lamb

A carving-free zone, thank God. 
Carving meat has never been my strong point. I have been known to reduce a perfectly roasted chicken into undignified smithereens, a mess on the carving board that looked anything but appetising. I always feel a contradiction of emotions when the time comes to carve; pride that I have cooked dinner, but a teeny amount of disappointment in myself that although I have cooked it, I can't carve it properly, and even more shame that I don't really mind and kind of like hollering for The Boyfriend to come and do his job. It has always been that way though in my family, Mum would slave away only to call Dad to carve (and get clawed by the cat until he succumbed and gave him tit bits). The point of this little insight into my Sundays is to announce that I can't carve, and to give praise for the gift of the slow cooked joint, in this case lamb. After 5 or 6 hours, even I can take two forks or even two pairs of tongs and rip away to my heart's content, tearing the soft threads of meat and pulling the bone clean away with minimal effort. I cooked this yesterday and started out wanting to cook Klefitico ( I love a Greek theme) but I didn't want it to be all tomatoey, so, er, I left the tomatoes out and improvised.

Feeds 6. Pre-heat the oven to 180c. Take a large deep roasting tin and double line with long pieces of foil in both directions. Now line again with a long piece of baking parchment. Slice three onions thickly and take a whole bulb of garlic and cut in half horizontally. Put all this in the tin with a few bay leaves. Place a leg of lamb in the tin and rub with a mixture of seasoned olive oil and oregano (dried is fine). Pour a generous glass of white wine into the tin. Bring the baking parchment up over the lamb and then the foil, making a nice parcel that won't let the juice out. Put in the oven for about 5 hours. Then you...oh, that's it.

I cooked this for a Saturday night supper with friends, and roasted some chopped skin-on potatoes which I then put in a massive dish with the lamb and poured all the juice and onion over. I made a yoghurty garlicky sauce to go with it. Or you could do proper roasties and have this on a Sunday. Either way, give the meat a good 15 minutes rest with some foil on top before you shred the meat to pieces and grin with satisfaction as you grab the bone and it comes away in your hand.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Slow Cooked Fennel - a very sexy side dish

Divine and effortless
There's nothing more refreshing and satisfying than the crunch of raw fennel, either in bold chunks or delicately shaved wisps, the clean aniseed flavour never fails to lift my spirits or provide a bit of pep to a dish, but this, oh this is something else! I had one of those 'Why has it taken me so long to try this?' moments last night as the pan of shiny, caramelised slices of fennel bubbled away in front of me. Excuse the melodrama but it was really good, the once crunchy punchy fennel had massively mellowed in flavour but still held it's shape with a much softer texture. I ate this with some hake marinated in bay and garlic, but I can't wait to eat this with a roast chook. It would also be amazing with lamb chop, oh and pork chops come to think of that, so basically anything. You could throw the fennel in to roast with the chicken instead of in a frying pan, but the pan does keep the moisture in and stops it browning too much.

Allow one fennel bulb per person. Cut each bulb length ways into 5 or 6 pieces so you have quite chunky cross sections, saving any green fronds. Take a frying pan that will fit the fennel in one layer and heat some olive oil until practically smoking. Lay the fennel in the pan and give it a good blast for about 5 minutes on each side until lightly golden.  Now turn the heat down to minimum and give it another 10 minutes on each side, gently caramelising further, but don't let it burn, we want brown not black. For each 2 bulbs, add one thinly sliced clove of garlic to the pan and let it cook for 1 minute. Add enough water to come half way up the fennel slices (not too much) and let it bubble away until the water has evaporated. Season and throw over the chopped fronds before serving. Now enjoy fennel's softer side.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Coq Au Vin Risotto

Pink risotto, what more could you ask for?
Yeah, you heard me. I love a risotto made with red wine rather than white, but normally I slather it in a sinful dollop of melty blue cheese sauce and feel guilty for, oh, about 5 minutes. This does what it says on the tin. I like coq au vin, I like red wine with my roast chicken and I like risotto. A happy French-Italian partnership. Perfecto! I nearly always make chicken and tarragon risotto with Sunday roast leftovers and it was nice to have a change. I used spring onions instead of normal ones for a slightly different taste and the green flecks looked pretty. And I like pretty.

Genius rice box
Feeds two. Melt a knob of butter and gently fry the white bits of 5 spring onions that have been finely chopped into rounds. Save the green bits. After they have started to soften, add a big finely chopped clove of garlic or two. After a further minute of cooking add approx 2 big hand-fulls of Aborio risotto rice (the packet always says 75g per person but as a greedy mare I don't think this is enough). With risotto I always end up with too much, but far worse things can happen in life. Stir well and make sure all the rice is coated in butter and glistening, and pour in a glass of red wine. You know the rest, let it absorb, stirring all the time, then add hot chicken stock (don't be lazy, make your own, it takes all of 3 seconds after a roast and you end up not wasting anything) ladle by ladle, making sure it is absorbed by the rice before adding more, until the rice is plump and cooked, but not too mushy. You will need about a litre in total, possibly less. About two ladles before it is done, add the finely chopped green parts of the spring onions you were dealing with before. In a separate little frying pan, fry a hand-full of diced pancetta until super crispy and add to the rice (it's crispier this way rather than frying it with the spring onions at the beginning). One ladle before it is finished add shredded leftover roast chicken and some mushrooms if you like (for real coq au vin you need them but they are on the very long list of dislikes belonging to The Boyfriend). Before serving stir in a hand-full of freshly grated Parmesan and top with some chopped parsley and more Parmesan.

Devour, curled up on the sofa and tease The Boyfriend that his has been thrown in the bin due to his lack of presence at dinner time. I would never be that wasteful, but I did make him panic for just the right amount of time which is until he nearly had a hungry nervous breakdown and nearly resorted to a Burger King at Waterloo.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Holiday Hangover Cure

I found this hard to believe but after over 24 hours travelling back from Australia this Monday, by the time I had managed to stay awake ALL day (with only about 5 little mini snoozes) I really wasn't in the mood for cooking. However, The Boyfriend and I had spent the last 2 weeks eating and drinking our way round Melbourne and Sydney, investigating every tray of plane food on offer (you get cool un-identifiable stuff on Malaysia Airways) we were in desperate need for something healthy, clean and soothing. Having noticably tighter jeans and vowing to get back to the gym, fish will be on our plates a lot more often and it started on Monday. This was super easy (although it felt like a complete mission when fully jet-lagged) and would make a perfect remedy to an over enthusiastic weekend of binge drinking as well as healing broken travellers.

Fish with garlicky spinach and butterbeans. Feeds 2. Pre-heat oven to 180c. Get a small baking tray and pop in 2 white fish fillets. Squeeze and sprinkle over the juice and zest of one lemon, some dried chilli flakes and a drizzle of olive oil and season. Bake for 20 minutes. Meanwhile gently soften a small sliced onion in a saucepan/deep frying pan. Once soft and slightly coloured add a couple of chopped garlic cloves. Add a tin of drained butterbeans (you could use any pulse here, lentils, chickpeas, it's all good) and warm through for 2 minutes. Finally add 200g washed spinach and let it wilt down before mixing through. Check for seasoning and plonk the spinachy bean mixture on a plate and top with the fish which will now be cooked and a bit crispy on the top. Give it a lick of extra virgin olive oil and realise you have no idea what day it is or what time it is. But it doesn't matter because you have nice supper.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Paella, the clever person's risotto

Paella Valenciana
Why clever you ask? Well, the Spaniards, as opposed to the Italians, in my opinion have the upper hand with their most famous rice dish as you don't have to stand there for 20 long minutes stirring and adding stock, ladle by ladle, patiently waiting until the moment it is cooked perfectly. Which can be easily missed, if like me, you can't cook risotto without adding wine, ladle by ladle to yourself. I would never cook risotto for a dinner party as it's just pointless as you really need to give it lots of attention, you can't just leave it. I always shout NOOO when on Come Dine With Me I see risotto on a menu, predictably the poor starving guests will be left alone while the 'chef just pops to the kitchen to START cooking his main course. Aargh! Risotto is amazing for a comforting supper when timing doesn't matter and The Boyfriend doesn't want to see you until dinner is ready anyway (hmmm that's every night), but Paella on the other hand is a genius dish. Dinner party friendly it can be started in advance, and those plump little grains of bomba rice actually don't like being stirred, preferring to cook all by themselves, leaving you free to fill up wine and forget to put the olives out for your guests.

Not all paellas are full of expensive seafood and I think this one, from Valencia (where I believe Paella is originally from) which is full of land-dwelling beasts instead, namely chickens and pigs, is better suited to being cooked and eaten in the UK when the sun isn't shining. It is an excellent dinner party dish, is a one pot wonder and you get lots of oohs and aahs when you plonk it on the table.

Feeds 6. Take a large pinch of saffron and make a little foil parcel for it, fully enclosing it.  Take your largest frying pan and dry toast the package for 2 minutes then set aside. Turn the heat up to max, sprinkle salt around the edge of the pan and add a splash of olive oil. Brown 6 chicken thighs and 6 pork spare ribs really well. This provides a lot of flavour so do it properly. Stir about a bit and add 2 grated tomatoes*, 1/2 tsp sweet smoked paprika and the saffron (not the foil, obviously). Cook for 5 minutes, evaporating most of the water from the tomatoes. Add 2 litres of chicken stock and bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Now add about 2 big handfulls of chopped runner beans and 500g bomba paella rice, and seasoning, making sure it is all evening spread. Cook on a high heat for 12 minutes, don't stir, have another glass of wine instead. The rice will sort of steam itself. So clever. Place a rosemary spring on top, turn to lowest setting and cover with foil for 5 minutes. Then turn the heat off, remove the foil and leave for another 5 minutes before serving.

It's nice to plonk the pan on the table and let people help themselves. No dodgy sangria required.

*Most genius cooking tip I ever read, if you grate a tomato, the flesh and juice gets pushed through and the skin, which you don't want anyway gets left behind, try it!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Tomatoes on Toast (a non-recipe really)

This is really assembly rather than cooking, and something I had seen/heard about but I never realised how blissfully simple and delicious it was. I have been known to eat this for breakfast 7 days straight while on holiday in sunnier places, where the tomatoes are always juicy, but it is almost as good on a slightly humid morning in Surbiton. For those clever sausages growing tomatoes right now, this would be a worthy use. What ever you do, don't use those crappy, pale, tasteless tomatoes you buy in the supermarket. Buy from the supermarket by all means but splash out on the more pricey ones, the ones that are actually properly red. And even more importantly, never use cold tomatoes!!!! If you keep them in the fridge, let them warm up before using.

All that is involved is the toasting of as much bread as you need, sour dough is brilliant for this, I would recommend something a bit interesting for this (the heavy dense but thinly sliced bread we buy on holiday in Portugal is perfect, but that doesn't really help). Rub each tasted slice with the cut side of a halved clove of garlic. Top with sliced tomato, drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil, and most importantly, sprinkle with salt. That's it.

Munch too many slices and marvel at how you ever managed to live without this in your life. And also possibly repel passers by with garlic breath. But don't worry about that too much.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Unofficial But Generic Thai-ish Curry

Trying very hard to be Thai and nearly making it
I won't win points on authenticity here, but when I wanted something delicious for dinner the other night, I reached towards lemon grass, chillie, lots of garlic and salty salty fish sauce for a taste sensation that did the job. This is a really easy curry but so fresh and delicious. A more authentic version would have you searching for galangal instead of ginger and pounding for hours in a pestle and mortar but it was a week night and I needed something tasty pronto. This is much much better than using ready made pastes (even though they can be pretty good).

Feeds 2 (with a tiny bit leftover but apparently not enough for proper seconds). Take two lemon grass stalks and discard the really woody outer layer. Chop into one inch pieces. Chop a couple of red chillies. Peel a biggish knob of ginger and chop roughly, also chop most of a small bunch of coriander, stalks and leaves (save the rest for later). Shove all these ingredients into a whizzer, topping with the zest of a lime. Whiz into a coarse paste (you might need to push it down with a spatula a couple of times and add a splash of groundnut oil if it's too dry). Add a decent splash of fish sauce, dark soy sauce and two small/one large tomatoes and whizz again until quite smooth. De-vein a couple of handfuls of raw prawns, any type, the bigger the better (this job is gross but better than eating prawn poo surely?). Fry the paste in a splash of groundnut oil, in a deep frying pan or wok, stirring constantly and dribble a little at the gorgeous aroma released. Add a tin of coconut milk, stir well and let it bubble away for about 10 minutes until reduced slightly. Prepare any veg you want to use, I used pak choy and broccoli and add them to the pan. When just about cooked, add the prawns, stir well, when they are pink they are done. no-one likes hard little curled up prawns so be careful not to over-do them. Make sure it tastes how you like it, is it salty and sour enough? Squeeze some lime juice over the curry, top with chopped coriander leaves and serve with rice. 

This is good for boys with man-flu and girls who somehow never get girl-flu but just want something delicious for supper.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Harira - Warming food for erm, July

Proper Summer food...(English summer)
Well last week was glorious and full of sunshine and barbies, but as I watch the men's beach volleyball in the rain (from the safety of my dry sofa) it's time for a reality check, and something hot and lovely for supper. Officially a soup from Morocco, harira is a divine slow cooked one pot wonder that is big on flavour, meat and pulsey goodness. It's cheap, using the thriftiest of cuts of lamb and bulked out with chickpeas and lentils, making it rather good for you (watch out for a bit of bum trumpet action later though). Make it in bulk so you have something gorgeous to call on from the freezer as you trudge home from work in the rain. In July. Again. This dish almost has me hoping for miserable weather as it's just that good. Thank you Moro cookbook, once again.

Soft and melty meat
You will need approx 350g lamb, use neck (fillet chopped up into large chunks or use neck chops) or shank. Put the meat into a large saucepan, cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Skim off the manky scum which appears. Throw in a finely chopped onion, 3 finely chopped celery sticks, a pinch of saffron, 1/2 a tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp turmeric and 1tsp ground ginger, a large bunch of coriander, chopped and 5 grates of fresh nutmeg. Give it a good season and simmer for 30 minutes. Now add 100g small green lentils and 120g cooked chickpeas (you can add more if you want to stretch the soup out a bit) and simmer for another 30 minutes. Remove the meat and shred it up, removing any nasty membrane/fat and taking everything of off the bones, if there are any. Return the meat to the pan with a decent squirt of tomato puree. Mix 3 tbsp flour with 50g water and add that along with the juice of a lemon (this gives the harira a wonderful tang). Taste for seasoning, it can take a fair bit of salt, and keep cooking until the lentils are really soft. Melt in a few knobs of butter, scatter over another bunch of chopped coriander and serve with a wedge of lemon. 

Dig in, eat way too much and laugh at The Boyfriend, who now can't move as he thought he needed cous cous with it. You don't.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Home-made Harissa (this changed my life a bit)

Fiery jar of North African genius

This stuff is amazing, make it now. One zillion times tastier than the stuff you buy in the shops, and if you have a trusty whizzer, it's easy as pie to make. This North African paste/condiment is amazing slathered onto almost anything. Works really well with eggs (The Boyfriend texted me to say it was ace with scrambled eggs) and was great when I rubbed half a jar over a chicken before roasting. Recipes seem to differ quite a lot but I used Moro's and see no need to change it. If it ain't broke...

Makes enough to fill one jam jar (to the brim). Roast one halved and de-seeded red bell pepper in the oven for about half an hour, turning every now and again. While doing this get the rest of the ingredients ready. Roughly grind 3 tsp each of caraway seeds and cumin seeds. Halve and de-seed 250g long red chillies (yeah I know that's LOADS, I used a couple of little hot red birds eye ones and about 8 of those fat, quite hot 5 inch ones that Waitrose sells). Chop them roughly and add to a whizzer along with half the ground spices. Skin your now roasted bell pepper and chop roughly, add to the whizzer with a pinch of salt and 4 garlic cloves. Get it nice and smooth. Now mix in 1 tbsp tomato puree, the rest of the ground spices, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, 2 tsp sweet smoked paprika and a very very generous glug of extra virgin olive oil. 

Keep it in the fridge for up to a month. It may not last that long. You may need to make a double batch. 

Monday, 9 July 2012

Fishcakes: not rocket science

Stodge-free zone
How many times have you ordered delicious sounding fish cakes whilst eating out somewhere, only to be faced with tasteless, potato-laden lumps of stodge, that have a nice habit of sticking to the roof of your mouth? Well I get that a lot. Mostly because even though I have never eaten a decent fish cake whilst dining out somewhere; it appears I am  on some sort of pilgrimage to find a good one. Oh the disappointment is terrible and soul destroying, as are the comments of disbelief from The Boyfriend: 'WHY did you order fish cakes again? You NEVER like them!' The thing is, it's not hard to make a delicious fish cake or ten, I would say that a rule of thumb is not to make them too wet, and as long as the mixture tastes good before it's made into little cakes, then you can't really go wrong (obviously you can't eat raw mixture, if using raw fish, then fry a little bit up to taste it).Anyway, this is how I make basic fish cakes, and I really like them.

Makes 4 decent fish cakes, enough for 2 people. Roast 2 seasoned salmon fillets in the oven at 170c for about 15 minutes. While this is happening take a fork and roughly mash some cooked potatoes in a bowl, you want approx one medium potato to your two pieces of salmon. Once the fish is cooked, let it cool a little and flake it into the bowl with the spuds (don't completely mush it, you want some texture). Make sure no bones or skin get in. Now add a small handful of chopped parsley, a teaspoon of chopped capers (optional, The Boyfriend hates them and he noticed when I snuck them in), juice of half a lemon, a tsp Tabasco (not essential but it is really) and a decent amount of salt and pepper. Combine gently and taste for seasoning. I made these at half ten the other night, knackered from a long day at work, so I simply shaped them into cakes and fried them in a non-stick pan in a splash of olive oil. If you are eating at a slightly more normal time, I would thoroughly recommend dipping in egg and then breadcrumbs for the ultimate crust. Fry until golden brown and heated all the way through.

These are delish, but if you can't be bothered you could always eat out, order the fish cakes and whinge about how crap they are.

Controversial Baking - Rosemary & Polenta Biscuits

Not for everyone, but I liked it!
It's very rare that I bake but these biscuits sounded interesting, a sort of Italian shortbread. Another recipe I found in the Metro. I made them yesterday morning, kind of by accident, it was so simple that before I knew it I'd made them before breakfast. Much to the Boyfriend's disapproval, prompting pathetic cries of 'I know a lovely bacon and egg sandwich recipe if you want one...'

Makes 6 pudding sized biscuits. In a bowl, mix 150g plain flour, 30g fine polenta and 60g caster sugar with a pinch of salt. Add 3 sprigs finely chopped rosemary and 90ml olive oil (not extra virgin) and mix well. You will have a crumbly dry-ish mixture. Scoop the mixture out onto a baking paper lined baking tray and pat down into a round flat shape approx 1/2cm thick. Or use a loose-bottomed cake tin. Put in the fridge for an hour then bake for 40 mins (until very lightly coloured) at 150c. Remove and leave on the tray for 5 minutes then cool properly on a cooling rack. I cut it into wedges and served with berries and vanilla ice cream to a mixed response. Sister really wasn't sure. The Boyfriend didn't even try it, I liked it in a curious way, and my friend Hannah and sister's boyfriend wolfed it down. Out of politeness or genuine enthusiasm I will never know...

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Putting 'Possibly the Best Chicken Recipe' to the test: Tarragon Chicken

Oooh lala!
Having woken from my second snooze on the 15 minute train journey home, I opened my Metro to the foody bit (the only bit I like after 'Guilty Pleasures') and was faced with a recipe claiming to be 'possibly the best chicken recipe in the world'. Wow, what a claim. Call me fickle but I was sold. I also liked the fancy French name: Poulet A L'Estragon. The fact that I cook tarragon chicken all the time didn't matter. This was different. French. Posher. And more importantly it was simple, looked delicious and I had chicken legs, tarragon, creme fraiche and white wine at home. No post-work trip to the supermarket for me. Smug. I changed the method a bit just for ease.

Feeds 4. Pre-heat the oven to 180c. In a big oven proof proof casserole dish, brown 4 chicken legs really well in some olive oil, get them nice and golden. Throw in a very large glass of white wine, and treat yourself to a slurp, Floyd stylee. Add 5 sprigs of tarragon. Stir well to mix the wine with the juices and move to the oven for half an hour, uncovered. Now remove the chicken to a plate and keep warm (I find that if you cover with foil the skin can lose it's crispness, so just put it in the oven which is now turned off). Get the pan on the hob and bubble up the juices, stir in 3tbsp creme fraiche and stir to melt it all in, along with another 5 sprigs of tarragon. Serve the chicken with the sauce on top. If entertaining, you can make it pretty by getting a big shallow platter, throw in some boiled new potatoes, arrange the chicken legs on top and pour the sauce over everything. It drips down over the potatoes, covering them in delicious creamy winey goodness.

Enjoy with friends, plenty of wine, and make the most of the final few weeks of not having neighbours. A little Edith Piath might have suited the dinner, but instead we had Cyprus Hill and Aphex Twin. Tres bien.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Tortilla - A delicious way to use up eggs and spuds

Who doesn't have eggs and potatoes rolling around their fridge most of the time? Spanish Tortilla makes a great lunch/tapa/something Spanish to bring to a Eurovision party. WHAT? Don't judge me. And it's cheap, which is always good. You can also use up any bits and pieces you have hiding in the fridge, chorizo, apsparagus, courgette, peppers, feta cheese, I could go on...

Feeds 8 as a nibbly type thing and 4 as a decent lunch with some salad. Peel and slice (£1 coin thickness) 3 large potatoes and 3 white onions. Take a large non-stick frying pan and gently fry them, in a very generous glug of olive oil for as long as it takes for the onions to soften and the potato to lose it's crunch, but not soft and broken up. If you're adding any extra veg (I added a handful of slice asparagus spears) do it near the end of this cooking period. In a large bowl, beat 5 eggs and season really well. Now add the contents of the frying pan to the eggs using a slotted spoon to avoid excess oil going in. Combine well, but gently. Get the frying pan back on the heat and pour it all back in, wiggling the pan a bit for the first minute to distribute evenly. let this cook for about 7 minutes, being careful not to burn the base (keep sniffing, you'll smell it if it burns!). When it is starting to firm up nicely, you need to cook the top. You can either be brave and cover the pan with a large plate/chopping board, flip it over and very carefully slide back into the pan, or you can be a wuss like I normally am and stick it under the grill for 5 minutes. I am scarred by previous attempts using a very non-non-stick pan. Potatoes, eggs and onions everywhere. Waaaah. 

The only rule is that you should have hot sauce with this, it's just soooo good. Um, that's my rule, not Spain's, just so you know. Other than that, cut into wedges, or if you want to be fancy pants traditional, little diamond shapes. 

Friday, 1 June 2012

Spring Lamb Stew (Stews aren't just for winter)

AND you get 3 of your five a day...
Don't be put off by the word stew in the title. This is the most heavenly light concoction imaginable, yes it's a stew and yes there is red meat but this is super light and flavoursome, with a sort of herby broth that the lamb sits in, with it's pea and asparagus friends bringing the humble stew out of it's heavy comfort zone and into one of refreshment and delicate flavour. The lamb provides so much flavour and the freshness of the lemon zest and tarragon really let it sing.

Feeds four. In a casserole dish, brown 500g of diced lamb in a splash of olive oil (neck is good for this). Remove and set aside. Now gently fry a large sliced onion and a couple of peeled and diced carrots until slightly softened. Add a glass of white wine (one for the stew, one for chef) and let it reduce down to half. Tie together five sprigs of thyme, a small handful of parsley stalks (you use the leaves later) and two bay leaves and add to pan. I didn't have any string so just bunged it all in. Return the meat and any juices to the pan, season really well and add enough water to nearly cover the meat. Cover and simmer gently for about an hour. At this point check the meat, it needs to be really soft and tender, if not it needs longer, and if it's drying out a bit just add more water. When the meat is 10 minutes off being perfect throw in a big handful of peas, frozen or fresh. 5 minutes later add a big bunch of asparagus, woody ends snapped off and cut diagonally into little pieces. Stir well and give it a final 5 minutes. Chop up the parsley leaves from earlier,  a handful of fresh tarragon, two fat garlic cloves and zest of one lemon. Add half of this to the pan, stir well, serve up, and sprinkle the rest over the bowls to serve. Great with cous cous (none of the lovely juices are wasted) but potatoes, gnocchi, anything would be good.

Eat while watching the rain come down and lament our interesting weather. At least you can eat like it's summer.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Chapatis Don't Have to Be Round To Taste Good

Not good Indian wife standard but never mind.
Last night I had a hot date at my friend Sophie's house. When I go to her house, we talk, lots, drink, lots, and eventually eat. Lots. It starts off with her cooking and eventually I somehow find myself prodding and poking whatever she's cooking. Thankfully she is incredibly laid back and doesn't mind, (I can't stand it when people interfere with my cooking) and a good time is had by all. Last night she made vegetable curry, I think she was worried about the lack of meat, but as I can't remember my last vegetarian supper, I was happy to go without meat. Just this once. When she announced proudly that she was making chapatis I was very impressed, and even more impressed with the results. They were very simple and quick to make, and I would never ever buy them now I know how to make them. This is how she did it...

Makes about 7 chapatis (depending on how big/small you make them). In a bowl, mix 200g flour with a glug of vegetable oil and enough water to bind it together as a dough. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes. If it's sticking to your hands add more flour, if breaking up, add a splash of water, just use your common sense. When ready to cook, break off a little ball, roll out into a round shape (or completely not round if you can't manage it) and about 2mm thick. Dry fry (that's DRY FRY Sophie!) in a non-stick frying pan and marvel as it blisters and puffs up almost instantly. Flip over and do the other side. If you get black burnt spots very quickly, then turn the heat down, alternatively, if nothing happens after 30 seconds you need to turn it up. Proceed to stuff your face with vegetable curry scooped up in your lovely chapatis.

A friend from the Punjab once told me that a good Indian wife must be able to make perfectly round chapatis. We would make rubbish Indian wives in that case, but we had a lovely dinner, which is more important.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Zesty chicken thighs to make your BBQ swoon

Gas is for cissies
Oh, ok, so we skipped spring and went straight to summer. I have no problem with this at all, except for that moment of panic when I forgot what clothes I normally wear in hot weather (it's been sooo long!). I will ignore the fact that the rain is returning next week and pretend this is it for the next couple of months. Divine. I would put money on the fact that I'm not the only sun-lover planning BBQ based treats for what is set to be a magic weekend of sun. Therefore it was only right to share one of my favourite recipes for chicken on the barbie. I hope you like it as much as I do. Boneless chicken thighs are pretty much made for a charcoal grill. Don't be talking to me about gas ones, where is the fun in flicking a switch when you can play with coal, fire lighters and paraffin to your heart's content? However trying to pry the liquid paraffin from The Boyfriend's hands (for the sake of safety, for us, and surrounding trees) can be challenging. I served this with barbecued asparagus and some steamed courgette ribbons tossed with a bit of crumbled feta and a simple dressing of lemon juice and olive oil.

As this is a marinade it's all a bit loose in quantities, but the following recipe is enough for about 12 boneless chicken thighs. Add the following to a dish big enough to fit your chicken thighs in one layer: 6 chopped garlic cloves, either a load of dried chilli flakes or chopped red chillis, the grated zest and juice of four limes, a tbsp of  freshly crushed coriander seeds, a tbsp paprika (any type but smoked really), lots of salt and pepper and a decent glug of olive oil to loosen it up. Mix well, add the chook, coat it really well in the marinade for at least a couple of hours, and then cook on the barbie. The skin gets beautifully crispy and the dark thigh meat stays gorgeously moist, shun those chicken breasts immediately. When cooking, make sure you keep turning the meat though, otherwise you end up with crunchy carbon which is just gross. Of course you could do this with bone-in thighs or drummers or whole legs, but they are super easy to eat boneless.

And when you have a pair of tongs in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, easy to eat is preferable.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Pea Falafels (Hen Food)

Get 'em while they're hot
What do you feed 14 hungry girls on a hen do (this isn't a joke, it was an actual conundrum that the maid of honour, Becki, and I had to solve)? We needed a bunch of canapes to accompany prosecco and drinking games before a big clucky night out in Brighton and these pea falafels hit the spot. I actually lugged my whizzer to Brighton specially, I was that dedicated to the canape. These are great as they are easy, healthy, very cheap and people seem to blimmin love them. And they are bright green which is always fun.

Quantities can be whatever you want, to make about 25 falafels I think I used 500g peas, just to give you an idea. Boil your frozen peas for 2 minutes and drain. Gently fry a chopped onion with some chopped garlic  in olive oil until soft but don't brown it too much. Put the peas in a whizzer along with the onions and garlic, a heaped teaspoon of toasted cumin seeds (just dry fry them in the onion pan, before the onions), an egg, a chopped fresh red chillie (gives pretty red flecks) a small bunch of roughly chopped coriander, and lots of seasoning. As my whizzer is a little one, I had to do it in two batches which was fine. You will have a wet-ish lurid green mush. Put this mush into  a bowl, add a heaped tbsp toasted sesame seeds and a big handful of breadcrumbs and mix well. If it still seems too wet simply add more bread crumbs. Now get a large non-stick frying pan hot with a splash of olive oil and place golf ball sized balls of the mush in the pan. Very gently (and it helps if you have a glamorous assistant here, thanks Eavan) squash them with the back of a spoon of spatula so they are little patties. Fry on each side until browned, and set aside on kitchen roll. When you want to eat them, simply warm on a baking tray in the oven and serve with a dip of a tbsp of harissa swirled in natural yoghurt.

Sit back and watch 14 hens ruin their freshly manicured nails.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Seafood Stew (with a side of garlic breath)

This will make you happy but smelly
Due to the tiny proportions of my kitchen at home, I always grab the chance to cook in other, more normal sized ones. I love cooking in my parents' kitchen, all that space makes a little cook very excited. I went over to my friend Sophie's house a while ago and was luxuriating in all the space her kitchen had to offer, it was a perfect partnership, she poured the wine, I cooked and we both chatted. I cooked this seafood stew, mainly because I wanted to eat it, but also because the boyfriend isn't a fan of the tentacles and bi-valves of the ocean. Sad but true. So when he's not about I nearly always cook some kind of seafood and aubergines and courgettes. Got to get my fix when I can.

Feeds 2. In a deep frying pan or small casserole dish, gently fry a couple of chopped garlic cloves with a diced fennel bulb in a splash of olive oil (fennel + seafood = happiness) until softened, then add the chopped stalks of a bunch of basil along with a teaspoon of crushed fennel seeds and either chopped fresh, or dried chili. Stir and cook gently for a further 2 mins or so. Add a small glass of white wine and a tin of chopped tomatoes, stir and cook for a few minutes. Now add your seafood, I used some squid cut into rings, some monk fish and couple of prawns (also use mussels, any firm-ish white fish, scallops, anything really). Just plop it on top of the stew, season, cover and leave to cook for as long as it takes for your goodies to cook (no more than ten minutes, more like five). While that's happening, toast a couple of slices of ciabatta for each person, and rub with the cut-side of a halved garlic clove. Serve the stew with the garlic ciabatta, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, chopped basil and a massive blob of garlic mayo (pulverise a couple of peeled cloves of garlic with a pinch of salt in a pestle and mortar, and add a little lemon zest, stir in a few tbsp of mayo, lovely).

You will smell  of garlic but you will also be very happy. Eat with a girlfriend then return home to The Boyfriend who avoids you all night, not only because you stink of garlic but because you've been scoffing things with tentacles.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Emergency Broad Bean Dip

Excellent green mush
God bless the freezer. Where would we be without it? There would be no little parcels of bolognese to save us when we stagger home far too late on a school night. No Tupperware boxes of delight waiting for us when we just can't be arsed to cook. And no-where for me to store the copious red-stickered packets of meat that were so barginous the Boyfriend just couldn't resist (20p off, you only saved 20p!!!). The freezer also creates a home for frozen peas and broad beans. I've never been a fan of any other frozen veg, I think they taste funny and it's hardly difficult to hack up a few bits of broccoli is it? Anywaaay it is these frozen peas and beans which I so often turn to, when I am in need of a quick pre-dinner nibble. I overdosed on home made hummus last year and now am overdosing on this, broad bean and pea dip.

Feeds as many as you like, quantities are very vague. Taste as you go, there are no real rules. This is a rebellious canape.

Boil a couple of handfuls of broad beans and peas, or one or the other, for a few minutes. Drain, and put in the wizzer with a handful of grated Parmesan (feta also works well), juice of a lemon, some mint (basil also works), a clove or two of garlic, some chillie, a very big glug of extra virgin olive oil, and season. Wizz up, it should be a smoothish bright green paste, perfect for dipping. You can also smear it on bruschetta or stir it into pasta. Clever. We had it the other day as part of an Italian type spread. Laaarvely.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Curry goat, definitely NOT goat curry

I'm not sure how many people squeal with delight when they see their on line meat people have started supplying goat, but I was definitely one of them. Because it meant I could cook curry goat. Exciting times. You can use lamb or mutton but it won't be the same, still nice though. You've got to love Caribbean flavours, scotch bonnet heat, but also immense fragrance from cinnamon, cardamon, cloves and tang from tomatoes and the all important HP sauce (authentic according to Hugh F-W who I know isn't exactly Mr Reggae Reggae sauce but I threw it in anyway (this is based on his recipe). You need time and love to make this, time to let it marinade for 24 hours (you are allowed to peek at the pretty bowl of explosive flavour every now and again but do let it marinade properly). You need love to grind the spices, time consuming but oh so worth it. This is worth doing in large batches, not really extra work and like all curries it's great re-heated. You end up making more spice mix than needed but keep and use another time, would be an awesome rub for the barbie.

Good things come to those who wait
Feeds 5-6. Before you get meaty, make the Jamaican curry blend by dry roasting 12 cardamon pods, 1tbsp coriander seeds, 1tbsp black peppercorns, 1tbsp fenugreek seeds and a cinnamon stick, then pulverise in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder (that's the hard bit). Mix with 1tbsp each of ground ginger and turmeric. 

Cut 2kg goat into big chunks, bone allowing, and remove any big fatty bits (goat is reaaaally fatty). Take a big bowl, put in 2 big tbsp of the spice mix, 3 large chopped tomatoes, 3 chopped garlic cloves, 2 chopped onions and 1 or 2 scotch bonnet chillies, a tablespoon of thyme leaves, a big squirt of HP sauce and the chopped stalks of a biggish bunch of coriander (save leaves for later). Mix well and combine with the goat. Really rub it in to the meat, using gloves, if like me, you wear contact lenses, as it ain't fun when you come to take them out...Leave to marinade in the fridge, ideally overnight but at least 6 hours.

Time to cook. Brown the meat in a big casserole, in batches, knocking off extra marinade bits.Set aside. Now throw in the remaining chopped onion and tomato left over in the bowl and cook for a bit until softened. The smell should be making you behave very oddly by now. Add the meat, juices, a pinch of salt and enough water to cover the meat. Bring to the boil and then put in the oven, at 130c (you can cook gently on the hob if you like). Give it 2.5 to 3 hours. Serve with plain rice (I love rice and peas but I would find it a bit rich with this) and sprinkle with lots of coriander.

Throw the bones in a bowl in the middle of the table as you go, with a carnivorous flourish and marvel at how melty and full of flavour  Billy Goat Gruff can be.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Chicken Avgolemono (looks like rice pudding, tastes like heaven)

Definitely not rice pudding.
This meal is so good for so many reasons. I shall proceed to list a few: it is terrifically thrifty, using the stock and left over chicken from Sunday's roast, and that dried up end of loaf (which I was sure I would find something useful to do with, a week after the rest of the bread was demolished). This makes me happy. I am far from tight fisted but I do like a bit of old fashioned prudence. Another great reason to love this, is that it looks like rice pudding, like it might be a bit stodgy and heavy. Surprise! It's beautifully light and scented with a heavenly mixture of lemon, parsley and a hint of garlic. It is also incredibly simple, cheap and easy, and I have a funny feeling it might make an excellent hangover cure. I had heard about this dish from the mother of The Boyfriend and weirdly the same day found a recipe for it in a magazine and then stupidly waited two years before cooking it. Don't worry about measurements too much, it will turn out slightly different each time, no problem there, it will always taste great. I used the leftover chicken from a smallish roast chicken devoured by The Boyfriend and I, and the stock from said chicken. Waste not, want not.

Feeds two. Bring approximately 1.5-2 litres of home made chicken stock (don't bother with a stock cube, the stock is the base of the soup and it needs to be the proper stuff) to the boil and add a couple of good handfuls of rice (all depends on how hungry you are, as much or as little as you like). Let that simmer away while you fry two stale slices of ciabatta, cubed,  in a splash of extra virgin olive oil. When golden, rub one side of each crouton with a cut clove of garlic, get the garlicky goodness right in there, a bit faffy but worth it. When the rice is just about cooked, add some cooked shredded chicken and stir in, warming it through. Remove from the heat. In a cup, mix a beaten egg or two with the juice of a lemon and trickle this into the soup, stirring gently, until combined. Season really well, plop the soup into two bowls, garnish with the croutons (you will probably have eaten half by now) and some chopped flat leaf parsley. 

Cook it now, you can thank me later.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Beef Shin with Ginger & Soy

Every now and again I get one of those recipe chain email thingys asking me to cut and paste the instructions and then send a recipe to the person at the top and then forward to 20 friends. 20?! I definitely have 20 friends but not 20 who would oblige with the email, thus dooming me to a life of bad luck and bad food or something. Anyway, I got one the other day and probably forwarded to about 10 friends with no faith that I'd get anything back, but I did. It seems my sister's friends are all very good at this kind of thing, and I got this awesome recipe from my sister's friend Daisy. It was good for two reasons, one is it involved slow cooked beef shin, and the other was that it required lots of ginger (I still have some in the fridge from my Dad's Saturday market ginger binge, he gave me an actual bag full). I changed her recipe slightly, not to improve it but to suit me and the fridge contents and it was divine. Thanks weird email chain.

Feeds 4-6. Pre-heat the oven to 130c. Take approx 1.5kg beef shin chopped into large chunks (this is off the bone, if on the bone allow for extra weight), season, then in some hot groundnut oil, brown in a big casserole, do this in batches if needed. Set the meat aside and now gently fry 6 chopped cloves of garlic and 2 thumb sized bits of ginger, chopped, adding more oil if you need to. Stir about until softened but don't burn the garlic. Add 3tbsp of tart fruit jam or jelly such as redcurrant, plum or crab apple and 150ml soy sauce. Return the meat to the pan and add enough apple juice (I used dry cider) to just cover the meat. Add 2 tbsp cider vinegar and a couple of hot red chillies, chopped up, or whole. Stir well, cover and cook in the oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until the meat is really soft. This is so delicious served up simple on some steamed rice, with a healthy serving of wilted greens on the side.

What on earth am I going to do with the rest of this bloody ginger??!!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Friday Night Rabbit Rave

Run rabbit, run rabbit, run run run...
Having made arrangements to hook up with my friend Sophie in the nearest watering hole to both our offices on Friday night, I was forced to change plans and request that she came over for supper instead, as I had some rabbit I had to cook that night. Rock and roll is basically my middle name. Binning un-cooked slightly off rabbit on Saturday just didn't enter the equation, we would still drink to celebrate Friday, but we would also dine on Flopsy Rabbit. There were no complaints from her, perfect. This fairly rustic recipe for what is essentially a tomatoey rabbit casserole is a favourite of mine; many rabbit recipes involve tomatoes, but instead of going down the typical addition of black olives, here there are crushed coriander seeds, adding a teeny bit of exoticism while still keeping it simple and warming.

Feeds 3-ish (four if you include a hammered boyfriend coming home, having one bite before tipping it all over the table in an attempt to fill his belly). Take one quartered rabbit, sprinkle in seasoned flour and brown on all sides in hot olive oil in a casserole dish. Once browned, set the rabbit aside and in the same pot, gently fry a sliced onion, adding more oil if you need to, 4 fat cloves chopped garlic and a chopped chilli. Once softened a bit, add a small handful of chopped Serrano ham (all I had this time was pancetta which was fine), a few springs of thyme and oregano, a tbsp smoked paprika, a tin of chopped tomatoes and 1/2 a tbsp crushed coriander seeds. Stir well and let it bubble for five minutes or so. Put the rabbit back in the pan with enough water to nearly cover the meat, season, cover and simmer for about one hour, until the meat is very tender and comes away from the bone easily. If you need to, reduce the sauce just before serving by increasing the heat for 5 minutes or so, letting it bubble more ferociously and thicken. Serve with a sprinkling of chopped parsley or coriander with rice, potatoes or flat breads. 

Cue Sophie's boyfriend banging on the door, refusing food, and playing every CD in our collection at an enthusiastic volume, and after dinner round the coffee table dancing enjoyed by all. You don't want to know what happened when my boyfriend somehow made it home from the pub...

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Claypot Fish (or saucepan fish)

Delicious & virtuous = winner
'We eat too much meat.' I said to the Boyfriend. 'We need to have a few veggie nights.' The tantrum that ensued gave me second thoughts, mostly in the shape of fishy ideas. I have been meaning to cook Claypot Fish for about three and a half years. It has very few ingredients, is quick and straight-forward and promised some very exciting flavour contrasts thanks to the sugar, lime and my bit on the side, fish sauce. The recipe which I based this on suggests halibut, but I couldn't get any and used (sustainably sourced of course), cod. It would work with any firm white fish, what you don't want is something you overcook which ends up flaking all over the place.

Caramelly garlic and ginger 
Feeds two. Take a smallish casserole dish/claypot/saucepan and sprinkle in 1tbsp caster sugar and 1tbsp water. Dissolve the sugar over a gentle heat, then turn it up and bubble away until the colour goes dark and you get an unmistakable wiff of caramel (this took ages for me but I think I was being a wuss with the temperature for fear that I was going to burn it). As soon as this happens add 1 tsp groundnut oil, a finely chopped garlic clove, a chopped chilli and a tbsp of finely shredded ginger. Stir for a minute, then turn the heat down, add 100ml hot water, 2 tbsp fish sauce and two fish fillets. Season well and turn to coat in the sauce. Let it cook for a few more minutes, then turn the fish, carefully, pop the lid on and cook for a further 3 minutes. Remove the lid and let it bubble for a minute, reducing a little, and carefully lift out the fish, serve on rice (cue massive brown v white rice argument with the Boyfriend, I love brown and don't see why he's such  a baby about it), sprinkle with chopped spring onions, something green and steamed, and a wedge of lime. Pour over the sauce and marvel at how something with so few ingredients can taste so damn sexy.

Permission to lick the plate? Granted.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

McMoules with Fries

Cauldron of moules anyone?
Moules, mussels, whatever you call them, these juicy little bi-valves never fail to provide a treat at the dinner table. The key to great mussels is the prep, do this properly and you'll have great success. As with oysters, they say only buy them when there is an R  in the month. I personally think you cannot beat classic moules mariniere, I'm not all that interested in mussels doused in green thai curry sauce, and I much prefer a garlicky white wine sauce to a tomatoey one, but that's just me. The French really know how to do it, and I have fond memories of gorging myself on moules, fresh from the car, after an argumentative, bickery ferry crossing to Saint Marlo with my sisters and long suffering parents. Moules Frites. Pure heaven, crusty bread works too, to suck up the garlic laced liquor, but you can't beat thin crispy chips. And who does thin crispy chips best? MacDonald's. Yes. This Christmas eve, Dad and I made true our mouley dreams, I whipped up the moules while he raced to Macca's to get the chips. I think it might be a new tradition.*

Feeds 2. Take approx 1 kilo of mussels and put them in the sink and cover with cold water. Given them a good swirl around, then one by one, pick them up, pull out their beards (the weird stringy bits hanging out) and place in a colander. Discard any that don't close. Rinse the sink out, put the mussels back in and again, cover in cold water to make sure they are nice and clean, no-one likes gritty mussels, make sure you are thorough. Mussels prepared, in a large saucepan, gently soften one finely chopped onion in a bit of butter for a few minutes. Then add two fat sliced garlic cloves and cook until the onion is soft. Throw the mussels in the pan, add a couple of glasses of white wine, season, stir really well and put the lid on. Let this bubble away for about 5 minutes, as soon as the mussels are open they are done, then stir in approx 150ml single cream and a handful of chopped parsley. Discard any that haven't opened. Serve with MacDonald's fries and munch and slurp away to your heart's content.

*Mum, this in no way is meant to put down your amazing Christmas Eve fish pie, we love it.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Duck & Red Wine Risotto with Chard

Sooooo it's ok if I have a fat boy bagel for lunch because I'm going to the gym tonight and then I'm having dinner with my gorgeous friend who is preggers, so I won't drink and it will all be saintly. Erm no. She had to cancel, I DEFINITELY didn't want to go to the gym (something about a particularly hard day at work makes me really anti-exercise) and as I stopped and started on the normally reliable train service between London Waterloo and Surbiton, I became fixated with red wine risotto with duck. I don't know why but I did. Maybe there was some Derran Brown style subliminal messaging weirdness going on but that's what I wanted and that was what I was going to cook. After fantasising about crispy fat laden pan fried duck breasts (what else would you fry it in duh?!) I remembered the pounds I'd popped on during the holiday food and wine fiesta, and remembered I was back on the weight watchers (YES I KNOW, SHUT UP!) and I went for some skin free (boo) mini fillets instead. I also grabbed some chard which I love, which ended up making the dish.

Feeds 2: Fry 1 finely chopped onion in a splash of olive oil for 5 mins and then a couple of finely chopped garlic cloves. Add approx 150g aborio risotto rice and stir around, coating in oil for a minute. Add a glass of red wine (I was like a sulky child, un-willing to share, until I remembered it was my dinner...) and it's the usual risotto ritual: add a ladle-full of hot stock at a time, stirring almost constantly (stopping only for wine glass re-fills) until the liquid has been absorbed, and then add another one.You'll probably need about 1ltr stock in all. Repeat until the rice is cooked but still with a slight bite. Not crunchy. While all this is going on, (it will take 25 minutes or so) plonk about 300g sliced duck breast/mini fillets into a bowl with a decent splash of red wine and plenty of salt and pepper. Also take a big handful of chard and remove the very bottoms, and then cut the white bits off. Wash the green tops and white stalks. Chop a big clove of garlic and a small red chillie, and then dry-fry 2 tsp caraway seeds until toasted an fragrant. When the risotto is done, stir in a big handful of Parmesan and seasoning and set aside with the lid on. Get both a frying pan and a biggish saucepan on the heat. Into each pan slosh a bit of olive oil. In the saucepan add the garlic and white parts of the chard and into the frying pan add the duck and it's juices. Keep the duck moving, you just want to sear it, when you think it's done, just turn the heat off. After a few minutes of stir frying the white bits of the chard throw in the chopped chillie and the green bits of the chard. Squeeze half a lemon over it and add the caraway seeds. Season and pop the lid on for a minute, it won't take long for the green bits to wilt. When they have wilted give them a stir, also stir the risotto. Plate up by spooning a big blob of risotto onto each plate, top with the duck and the chard on the side. Sprinkle the duck with chopped flat leaf parsley and make suggestively rude noises while gobbling it down.

If that sounds a bit involved, it isn't, each bit is super simple, and the excitement from the chard totally makes it, just be organised. Just don't get too pissed while stirring your rice...yeah, easier said than done. Hoever, I definitely had more fun than I would have had in the gym.

Monday, 5 March 2012

The Secret is Out : Nana's Yorkshire Puddings

This New York Strip defeated me...
Apologies for lack of posting recently, Hungry People. I have been away in foreign lands eating giant steak in America and far too many flat breads and tagines in Morocco. It's been tough but I made it through, and now will try to ease up on the (very) bad stuff for a while, to make up for what was pretty much gorging for two weeks. Well surely to have good intentions is better than nothing?
Too many of these isn't enough

Before the good behaviour begins, (whatevs) I thought it was about time to share a very sacred family recipe. My Nana's Yorkshire puddings. I'd love to say that my Nana is from Yorkshire, but she isn't, she's pretty Southern and now lives in Devon, but that doesn't stop her recipe for Yorkshire Puddings from being the Best Ever.

We went for a rather juicy forerib joint (not four-rib as I originally thought), and yes, it did cost more than our normal little chicken. But my god was it worth it. The beef required some battery goodness to accompany it and I dug out the scrawled hand-written instructions that I scribbled while on the phone to my Mum who has passed the Secret down to me. This was actually the most stressful roast ever, I was so worried about overdoing the beautiful beef that I had timers going and everything, having carefully calculated my cooking times, something I hardly ever do. It all paid off. I have messed up roast beef AND Yorkshires before and it took me a good week to get over it. My Mum never actually times her beef, yet she gets it right every time, maybe I will learn this skill one day. It's a bit like when I needed her help with maths homework, and teary and frustrated I'd ask her how to do it, and she didn't know, she just got the answer right. Maybe she's a genius, maybe she's a secret witch...

Makes at least 12 decent YPs. In a medium sized measuring jug whisk up half a pint of milk mixed with a tsp water, 4oz flour (yes, ounces!), and two eggs. Once this is nicely mixed, leave in the fridge for half an hour. I have no idea why but this is important. They take about 20-30 minutes, so cook them as soon as you take the beef out to rest. Take a muffin/Yorkshire pudding tin, and in each part, drop a little piece of dripping. Put this in the oven so it gets really super hot and melts. Quickly remove from the oven and pour in the mixture into each hole, not quite filling to the top. Now put back in the oven and do not open it until they are done. Usually takes 20 mins, and they are ready when giant and golden.

Douse with gravy and devour with super pink beef smothered in horseradish. Don't tell anyone the recipe though, I'll be in trouble with Nana.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Emergency Food for Mother Hubbard Moments - Garlic, Chilli and Parsley Spaghetti

BOSH! Hangover/hunger gone!
Strangely, I sometimes find myself cooking this when completely overwhelmed by too many recipe books bursting with exciting ideas. Sometimes it's all a bit much and you need things to straightforward, quick and easy, when you can count the ingredients on one hand, you know you can cope. It's also good for when the cupboards are pretty much bare. This makes an excellent lunch and has become a rather favourite hangover cure; the carb load combined with the heat of the chillis, a good slick of peppery olive oil and salty garlic tend to do the trick. It will also keep vampires away, but never mind.

Feeds two: Get a good hand-full of spaghetti (or half spag, half linguine as I used, in a proper Mother Hubbard moment) on the go in a pan of boiling water. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan or another saucepan (big enough to hold the pasta) gently heat about four tbsp of olive oil, if you have some tasty extra virgin then all the better. Yes, it's a lot of oil, but it's just this once and you'll want to drink it once it's all garlicky). GENTLY fry two or three finely chopped cloves of garlic and a big pinch of either dried chilli flakes or a finely chopped fresh red one. Do not burn them, if it gets a bit carried away, simply take the pan off the heat until things calm down, the idea is to take the raw edge off the garlic and infuse the oil. Just before the pasta is ready add a big handful of chopped flat leaf parsley and season liberally. Take off the heat. Drain the pasta and tip into the pan full of oily goodness and mix well. Top with a bit of grated Parmesan and enjoy an incredibly simple but delicious bowl of spaghetti.

Whoever said that parsley counteracts the effects of garlic on ones breath, I think, was incorrect, but you be the judge.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Spiced Yoghurty Lamb Chops

Get your chops round these chops
I made this for myself, an indulgent solo supper, after thinking about  lamb chops all day. Although the weather was freezing, and a nice steaming casserole might have been more appropriate to warm my cockles, the thought of pink, juicy chops, with  deliciously sinful crispy fatty bits clinging to the bones, was too much to bear, so I legged it home and made this, in a 'lets use up whatever is in the fridge' kind of supper. This is also amazing on the BBQ in warmer times.

Feeds one. Combine two big tbsp of natural yoghurt with a couple of chopped cloves of garlic, a tsp grated ginger, a tsp tomato puree, a tsp curry powder, salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Slop this all over two fat lamb chops and let it marinade for an hour or so (or as long as it takes for your grill to get really hot, in my case, as I was too hungry to wait). Pop under the grill and cook for about 6 minutes on each side, depending on how thick the chops are and how pink you like your lamb. Serve with some buttery cous-cous mixed with chopped coriander and mint, and a squeeze of lime. 

Draw the curtains for privacy, and gnaw away on those bad boys to your hearts content, or at least until you have chewed off every last bit of meat. Just don't let anyone see, apparently the crazed starving carnivore look isn't hot.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Chunky Chilli (if this doesn't warm you up, nothing will)

Mince-free zone
As tasty as a bog standard chilli con carne made out of mince is, this monster of a meal will pulverise what you previously thought of as chilli into oblivion. Just like a proper ragu made from great hunks of meat, slow cooked until self-shredding is better than the quick mincey bol, this version of an old favourite is so blimmin wonderful that you'll wonder why you ever bought mince in the first place. Well, I hope you like it anyway. It's pretty cold right now, and I am existing on what can only be described as 'man food'. The Boyfriend is ecstatic and my belly is full and warm every evening. Salad: be gone, you have no purpose here.

Feeds 3/4 depending on gluttonous tendencies. Take a casserole dish/high sided pan and gently brown about 500g diced braising steak/skirt/ox cheek or any part of cow that likes to be slow cooked in a splash of olive oil. Sprinkle in a tbsp of chilli powder, tsp cumin, tsp paprika and a generous dousing of oregano, dried or fresh and extra chopped chilli if you want it. Mix it all up and add two tins of chopped tomatoes, season and bring to the boil. It should be quite soupy at this point so add some water if needed. Cover and simmer for 1.5 hours (if pushed for time just cut the beef into smaller pieces), take the lid off for the last 20 minutes to let it reduce, if it hasn't already. At this point add a drained tin of kidney beans. The meat is ready when Grandma can eat it without her dentures. If you have any of that wonderful 100% cacao chocolate, grate a bit over the top and stir in. Serve with either toasted tortillas or rice, sliced avocado, a generous squeeze of lime and chopped coriander.

Accompany with some red wine and a hot water bottle.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Big Fat Cheat's Apple Tart

Almost neat
How cool is shop bought puff pastry? So tiring it is, opening the packet and unrolling it out of it's weird blue blanket, I know, but bear with me, this recipe is awesome and super quick, and especially good for people like me who sometimes run out of puff when it comes to pudding. This can all be done in advance and left on the side (or precariously balanced on top of the drying up pile on the draining board) until 20 minutes before it is required, perfect. Based on a Nigella recipe from Nigella Express. I'm posting it because although it's incredibly easy, it took me a year to try it, and once I had done it once, I've wopped it out several times with no stress and lots of success.

Ice-cream isn't an option
Feeds 6. Core 4 apples (don't peel, the skin looks pretty). Cut in half and place in a bowl with a big squeeze of lemon juice in it to stop them apples going brown. Pre-heat oven to 180c. Unroll one sheet of (gasp) shop bought puff pastry and score it (lightly, don't cut through) an inch from the edge, all around, so you have a border. Sprinkle the pastry with a big tbsp sugar and slice the apples as thinly as you can. Now neatly lay the apples on the pastry as pictured above. Not used to being so precise but it's quite fun and satisfying. Just before you put it in the oven (if you've made it in advance, do wait for this bit), melt a knob of butter with a tablespoon of sugar, once bubbling and dissolved, carefully pour over the apples. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.

It's great hot but also good cold. Just make sure you eat it with ice-cream.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Nasi Goreng - Breakfast/Lunch/Brunch of Kings

So often at the weekend we wake up, eventually pull ourselves out of bed, and by the time we've showered and made ourselves presentable for the day it's that weird in-between meal time, kind of too late for breakfast, but then do you wait and have lunch in half an hour? NO! You have brunch of course. Nasi Goreng is a brilliant dish to whip up on such an occasion, I had it for the first time in Bali, where it hails from (we ate it every day for 7 days in a row, sometimes having two orders of it, it was that good). It's a bit like an egg fried rice thing, the genius of the dish is that it uses up left overs, I had planned to use left-over rice from the Chinese feast from the night before, but had somehow contaminated it with god knows what in the chaos of the party, it was probably gin. Anyway, this meal is very quick and fills you up perfectly until you get to the in-between lunch and supper bit. My food-clock gets properly messed up at the weekend but isn't that an excuse to eat all day?! The following recipe is admittedly a bit of a bastardisation, and will never be as good as pool-side in Bali, but it's pretty good when starving at 11.30 on a Sunday morning in Surbiton.

Feeds two. Gently fry a chopped onion with some garlic in a large frying pan or wok. An optional meaty addition is chopped pancetta/bacon which you should add at this point if using. Once this softens a bit add a finely chopped carrot and some finely sliced Chinese cabbage (or whatever veg you have loitering in the fridge), stir fry for a few minutes and then mix in a squirt of tomato ketchup (seriously), a tbsp soy sauce and chilli sambal to taste (I didn't have any but used my new discovery and best friend chilli bean paste). Once combined, throw in a couple of big handfuls of cold, cooked rice. Now keep stir frying until piping hot throughout and the rice has taken on the colour of the sauces. When nearly ready fry a couple of eggs in another frying pan, dish up the rice, top with an egg each and scatter a bit of chopped coriander over the top.

Dig in and kiss your hangover goodbye.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Cullen Skink (NOT Cullen Skank) Pies with Mash Tops

Dive in and say mmmmmm
How lush is smoked haddock? Even people who aren't that keen on regular fish, complaining that it's too 'fishy', often succumb to the gentle smokey saltiness of a decent piece of smoked haddock. I once made a bit of a fool of myself at a fish counter, asking if they had any un-dyed specimens, turning my nose up at the artificial neon yellow ones on display. "Madam, it's only turmeric that colours them you know..." Oh alright then. Whoops. Anyway, I for one find it very comforting, it goes well with gentle stodge, rice in kedgeree for example and mashed potatoes in this recipe which is basically a fish pie, but only with smoked haddock, in a velvety creamy white wine sauce, spiked with chopped chives to add a little interest. Cullen skink is a traditional Scottish soup; here it is thickened up and a roof of mash turns it into a pie. Of sorts.

Serves 4. Preheat the oven to 200c. Peel two large potatoes, cut into chunks and boil until tender, then drain. Poach approx. 600g smoked haddock fillet (if skinless then cut into chunks before poaching, if not poach as it is and peel the skin off after cooking, it's very easy) in a deep frying pan by pouring over enough milk to cover it and a few bay leaves and peppercorns thrown in for aromatic goodness. Cover and bring the milk to a simmer, let it bubble for 4 minutes then turn off the heat and leave to cool for a bit. If the haddock is skinless and in chunks, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside, reserving the milk (discard bay leaves and peppercorns), and if it has skin, remove with a slotted spoon and peel the skin off and gently flake. Feel for bones as you do this to save anyone having a nice choke at the dinner table. Make a roux by melting a decent chunk of butter in a small pan, into this briskly stir in a heaped tablespoon of plain flour. Keep stirring and gradually incorporate a splash of white wine and most of the reserved milk. Keep stirring on the heat until thickened. Season, stir in a hand full of chopped chives and gently fold in the fish. Mash the spuds with plenty of seasoning, a knob of butter and a splash of milk. Spoon the fish mixture into 4 individual pie dishes or one big one, allowing enough milky wine to make it saucy, but not so much that the haddock is swimming again. Top with mash, a light dusting of paprika (mostly to make it a bit pretty) and a little bit of grated cheese if you wish. Serve with plenty of greens.

I would recommend you eat this not too far from bed as it is as comforting as a bed time story multiplied by hot water bottles and cocoa.