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.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Best Carrots Ever

Shiny carrots...mmm
The Sunday Roast completes the week. That nagging 'eurgh it's Monday tomorrow' feeling is gently pushed aside by a bottle of wine on the table, a great steaming joint of something meaty, and THE SAME OLD BORING VEG! I love veg but I can get stuck in a rut. The ex-boyfriend of a 12 year relationship is now, thank effing Christ, the Boyfriend, once again. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and even better, I could ring his Mum to ask how exactly she cooks her carrots that made them so tasty, without any awkward moments. Every cloud...

All you do, for the most delicious carrots, perfect for the Sunday roast is: peel and slice your carrots and place in a small saucepan on high heat. Lob a knob of butter in and only just cover with already boiling water and season. Bubble away furiously until the water has evaporated and you are left with perfectly cooked carrots, slicked with a glistening lick of butter. You will never throw carrots into a vat of boiling water again. To accompany a roast chook, throw a little chopped tarragon in too.

I also went a bit mental and roasted celariac with the potatoes this sunday, and FYI, that was good too.

An Ode to Fish Sauce

I could not live without you.
Don't judge me or hate me; hear me out. My name is the Little Dinner Lady, and I am obsessed with fish sauce. Nam pla, I love you. You may be stinky fermented little fish, but used correctly you add a massive umami punch to anything you touch. I love you in spag bol, chicken broth, and if I can't sprinkle you over a thai curry, then there is just no point. There. I said it. My dirty rotten smelly pleasure. If I had to choose between you and Tobasco, you would win. And that it saying something.

That is all.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Accidentally Girly Spaghetti

2012 is all about pink food
I won't pretend this was done on purpose, but I did think a bowl or neon pink pasta was hilarious, slightly scary and worth posting. May I suggest cooking this on Valentine's day when the lurid pink would perhaps be more appropriate! This was a very quickly put together supper when the cupboards were barer than Mother Hubbard's and I grabbed some prawns and baby spinach from the shops on the way home. Little did I know the spinach contained shredded beetroot, but it was a happy discovery. It tasted good, and who doesn't like pink pasta??! So this is pink garlic prawn spaghetti.

Feeds two. Get enough spaghetti for two on the boil. While that is happening, in a big-ish saucepan, gently fry some finely chopped garlic in olive oil. After five minutes add a decent splash of white wine and let it bubble for a few minutes. Add to this as many raw peeled prawns as you like and a few generous handfuls of baby spinach and shredded beetroot salad (from a bag from M&S in my case) and let it wilt for 30 seconds or so. Stir in a big tbsp of creme fraiche, shout 'bugger me, it's gone pink!!!' and season. Drain the spaghetti and stir into the pan with the sauce, mix well and get a squeal of excitement or grunt of disapproval depending on who you serve it to.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

A Kebab You Won't Find on the Pavement. Hopefully.

Kebabs are amazing (shish, definitely NOT donner), fast to cook and super tasty, sadly I still haven't mastered the art of looking lady-like with my face full of lamb and chilli sauce outside the takeaway at two in the morning, but that would kind of ruin the fun. Many times I've been in a cab home with my meaty treasure safely tucked up in it's polystyrene box, wafting it's delicious scent my way so I have to pick at it discretely (or not so) in fear of being told off by the cab driver who has seen far too many kebab accidents in his car to let me munch away freely.

But kebabs don't have to be drunken delights, they are equally tasty sober and home made (OK, maybe not quite as deliciously naughty but still pretty good). They have a bad rep due to questionable donner meat, but what could be better than charcoal grilled marinated meat? Not much. Note to self: a BBQ is not just for summer, it's for life.

This feeds two with an extra skewer for quality control purposes and late night snacking. Or a third diner I suppose. Combine approx 200g natural yoghurt with a couple of teaspoons each of ras el hanout  and hot paprika. If your paprika isn't very hot then add some cayenne pepper to the mix. Also add a few finely chopped cloves of garlic, juice of half a lemon, and a good pinch of salt. Slice 6 boneless and skinless chicken thighs into large kebabish chunks and mix well with the yoghurt. Leave for a few hours, if you only have half an hour it's fine, but generally the longer the better. When ready to cook, preheat your grill to 200, and get the chicken onto skewers. Grill for 15 minutes, when they are just starting to char round the edges turn them over. Give them another 10 minutes and test a piece, it should be slightly blackened on the outside but juicy on the inside with no pink meat. Serve with some fluffy cous cous (I can hear my Father shudder with horror) that has had lemon and chopped coriander stirred through it and a wedge of lemon to squeeze over if desired. Or, with more yogurt salad and in a pitta bread.

If it makes you feel better, eat this standing up, swaying in the street, or gobble surreptitiously in the back of a cab.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

And so it begins...2012 (slow roasted pork loin)

Sarnie heaven
Happy new year. I mean it. There's something about a new year which excites me, no matter how many new year's resolutions we break, diets discarded and positive thoughts banished, the prospect of a clean slate each January makes me feel good. Especially when the previous year wasn't the best. We're all bloated with rotting livers from Christmas, I had a lovely time, cooked a lot, reduced Mum's bulging fridge to a couple of Tupperware tubs, saw friends and family and generally had a gay old time. We broke a record for using leftovers, the enormous turkey was gobbled up within a week thanks to amazing, life-changingly-good sandwiches, the boxing day ham didn't last long and the look of pure fear and disgust in my Dad's eyes when I kept threatening to make a lovely cous cous salad for him kept me entertained for over a week. I don't think I've ever watched so much telly in my life, or had such a relaxing festive break, so all good there. I didn't bother blogging over the holiday as I was far too busy doing nothing, and I didn't think a recipe for a sandwich was really that interesting (in-case you are interested: lightly toasted white bread, turkey, stuffing as butter, lettuce, gherkins, mayo and Tabasco). I spent a lot of the Christmas break drooling over new cookbooks which I have already attacked, and am hungry for more.

Let's face it, the best bit.
Now we're back to reality with a bang, the weather isn't great (the roof may be blowing off as I type). New year's day was a write off (the less said about that the better), so much so that yesterday, the 2nd, felt like my New Year's Day, involving a walk to the pub, a lazy slow roast pork loin and way too much red wine. Stuff the detox, just eat and drink a little less but keep it delicious and interesting. Good food will always make you feel better when you're down and it makes me so sad when people say they can't be bothered to cook for one. You should because (cue hair flick and plastic smile) YOU'RE WORTH IT! And then, when you do have company, really go for it, and reap the rewards, in the form of empty plates and grateful friends. Below is what I cooked for two of my best friends last night, I recommend it. It's kind of an amalgamation of several recipes, everyone has a different method for perfect crackling it seems, this turned out great so I'm sticking with it.

Fake fire on table, WHY?!
Feeds three generously. Pre-heat the oven to 220 and make sure your 1kg boned pork loin joint (with scored skin) is at room temperature. Stick the meat on a wire stay in the sink and pour over a kettle of boiling water. Now dry it really well with kitchen roll. On the flesh side rub in a few teaspoons of freshly ground fennel seeds (thank you for my spice grinder middle sister) and sprinkle with salt. In a baking tray combine a sliced onion and a few bashed whole cloves of garlic and a little olive oil. Now put the pork on top, flesh side down, so that the onion is all underneath, it's there to kind of provide a barrier between the pork and tray, which no matter what I do, always burns. But it doesn't matter. Sprinkle the skin with coarse rock salt and place on top shelf of the oven for about half an hour, or until the crackling has started forming. Reduce the heat to 150, lower the tray in the oven, cover with foil, put the extractor fan on and walk to the pub. Stay there drinking Rioja for two or three hours, ignoring nagging thoughts that the house is burning down. When you come back, remove the foil, drain off the fat that has rendered off the joint (use this for your roast potatoes) and keep cooking until you have done all your veg. Timing really doesn't matter, it's a long low cook, three hours at the lowered temperature is about enough but if you go over it's fine. At this point, if the crackling is less than tooth-breakingly crunchy, just slice it off the meat and cook it on the top shelf of the oven until satisfactory. By this point the meat can be carved with a spoon. I served it with purple sprouting broccoli, braised cauliflower (simmer/steam broken up florets in a small amount of stock with a pinch of saffron strands, when cooked, drain off excess stock, squeeze half a lemon over it, sprinkle with chopped parsley and a slick of extra virgin olive oil) and roast potatoes that were cooked in the pork fat. I like to think the resourceful merit there outweighs the risk of a heart attack. Somehow. Oh and also an amazing spiced apple sauce from my new cook book by the legend that is Niamh Shields (chopped apples cooked in a little water with chopped chili, nutmeg and cinnamon until mushy).

Oh I forgot to mention, the house will reek of pig for a few days, which I always forget about. Get some Fabreeze or something.