Sunday, 30 October 2016

Smoked Salmon Rillettes - keeping it classy but easy

Sort-of quinelles
I am typing this still in a semi-building site (my home) with a miniature English Bull Terrier draped across me as if he is a teeny tiny lapdog. But he weighs 20 kilos and keeps wriggling so please excuse any typos. Please also excuse the fact I haven't posted since May, but living in said building site and cooking on my Campingaz 2000s (which only knows hot and bastard hot) has not inspired new culinary adventures, more like old favourites that I can cook with my eyes closed, and not get annoyed with my lack of proper kitchen over. The prospect of cooking in a real kitchen is so exciting that I invited myself back to my parents' to help cook for a little lunch party, even though there were rail replacements and I would spend almost as much time getting there and back as I would indulging in the real kitchen. It was worth it. I made smoked salmon rillettes with pickled cucumber for a starter, and it only went and bloody tasted great (much to my relief), so here's the recipe (can be made the day before).

Feeds four (easily doubled etc). Start with the liquid for the pickled cucumber. Combine 200ml of white wine vinegar with 150g sugar in a small saucepan, heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved, take off the heat and leave to cool (I had to stick it outside as I was short of time). Peel the tough skin off half a cucumber with a potato peeler. Then peel the flesh into thin ribbons with the peeler, but leave the core full of seeds and too much water. Once the pickling liquid has cooled to room temperature, chuck in the cucumber ribbons and leave to pickle for an hour or so. 

Now for the rillettes. Poach two salmon fillets (I used slightly smoked, you don't have to) very simply in freshly boiled water, in a shallow dish with foil on top for about 8 minutes. Drain, cool, and flake into a bowl. Add to the bowl 200g finely shopped smoked salmon, a tbsp mayonaise, 1tbsp creme fraiche, zest and juice of a half a lemon, a pinch of cayenne pepper, cracked black pepper and a small handful each of chopped chives and dill. Mix well and taste. This recipe is all about personal taste so add more lemon if it needs more zing, or cayenne if you want more kick. It should be lively and light, not claggy. If you have time, stick it in the fridge to cool. 

Serve how you like, I opted for quinelles (first time I tried them, not bad for a first attempt, well no-one laughed...) and with toasted seeded sourdough and a little pile of the cucumber pickle on the side. you could go with fancy melba toast but I think anything toasted would be great. Do make the pickle, it really adds contrast and looks pretty with the pink salmon. 

I think it went down well, but sadly one guest had brought with them incredible ridiculously amazing truffle favoured crisps so I had a tough challenge beating those. How inconsiderate. 

Friday, 27 May 2016

Lamb with Braised Little Gems & Peas

That's summer, right there.
This is a less is more recipe. Something quite refined which I've never been very good at (see my lamb tagine recipe). This is I don't know why but I feel like this is quite grown up. It is super springy, a celebration of everything that is green and fresh, super light to eat, but in a sophisticated dinner way, not a salady way. Cooking lettuce feels a bit special, it's my new favourite thing, transforming a crisp tight bundle of bright green to something a little more mellow and soft, but still with a little refreshing bite. I'm still reeling from how easy and quick it was so make, it would be perfect for a dinner party served up in a massive shallow dish. I want to cook it again, now. 

Serves two. Heat oven to 200c. Slice four spring onions, half a fennel bulb, two garlic cloves finely, and quarter two little gems lengthways, removing the very end but leaving root so you get nice wedges. Rub approx 450g lamb neck fillet (a little goes a long way) with olive oil and season. In a hot oven-proof frying pan, sear the lamb really well on both sides, about 5 minutes each side, no more. Put straight into the oven for about 7 minutes, remove from oven and cover in foil. Meanwhile melt a generous knob of butter in a saucepan and saute the spring onions and fennel until softened but not browned. Add garlic and stir for one minute. Throw in a small glass of white wine, and perhaps take a slurp yourself. Once this has bubbled for a minute or so add the lettuce and two handfuls of fresh peas. Don't bother with frozen ones here, just don't. For the lazy (me) you can buy fresh podded peas, so no excuse. Add 300ml chicken stock (sooo much better with home-made) and let this simmer for about 5 more minutes, until the peas are cooked and the lettuce has wilted a bit. Season. Slice up the lamb and serve on top of a pile of the green vegetables and their now amazing brothy sauce. Stick a wedge of lemon on the side for good measure. 

This is so simple that it's kind of baffling how good it is, but you let the ingredients speak for themselves and they have a lot to say. Not in a loud shouty way, more of a pleasant soft murmering way. Don't overshadow them with too much garlic or lemon (I am the first to overdo flavours normally), stick to the recipe and enjoy summer on a plate. 

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Asian Salsa Verde (a thrifty way to use up tired herbs)

This is a super simple quick way to use up those floppy herbs in your fridge. I made this the other night in what I can only call a rather successful fridge raid. I had leftover roast beef, all rare and lovely and some very sad looking thai holy basil. The Thais rule when it comes to zesty explosively flavour packed dressings on salads so I went that way inspired, and it bloody worked! You don't have to go East with this, it would be just as amazing with more familiar herbs, but the point is that you chop  up all the herbs really fine, mix them in with some friends, and spoon onto some meat/fish of some description. If veggie you could char some cauliflower and that would be wowser too. 

Makes enough for sploshing on two people's dinner: finely chop half a bunch of thai holy basil, a handful of coriander, one lemongrass stick (hard outer layers and end chopped off), two cloves of garlic and a red bird's eye chillie and the zest of a lime. Put in a bowl with two tablespoons of fish sauce and the juice of the zested lime, along with a splash of non-flavoured oil.* Mix it all up and spoon onto anything from a pork chop, to a grilled bit of fish and really bring it to life. This is soooo good with left over roast beef, very quickly stir fried with some noodles and a load of green veggies.

I've always been a fan of thrifty cooking, something about the smug glow of self-righteousness or something, and avoiding discovering mouldy herbs rotting in your fridge is always nice. 

* A more European combo could include parsley, tarragon, garlic, lemon zest and juice and extra virgin olive oil, but make sure you season it really well, in the 'Asian' version, the fish sauce is all the salt you need. 

Friday, 1 April 2016

Chicken & Harissa One Pot (tray) Wonder

Camping but not camping
Oh how I feel bad about complaining about my tiny kitchen...that tiny kitchen was knocked down a month ago and oh how I long for my tiny kitchen again! Now I have a teeny tiny house, which is getting smaller by the minute, the husband assures me it will get bigger again (the builders come every day and do stuff outside but I can't help thinking this might be a nasty trick), and for now I am making do with enough space to stand in and that is all. The flip side is that  clever husband has managed to literally transplant the kitchen into our living room, so even though there is only enough room for a couple of hobbits (to be fair, I am roughly hobbit sized) I still have my oven, sink, dishwasher and hob. I say hob, but what I really mean is the CAMPINGAZ 200S!!! It's pretty sweet, it has too settings, high and very high, and after a bit of adjustment I'm getting used to it. 
Crap pic, but you get the idea. 

Cramped conditions call for easy cooking, more specifically one pot wonders. Nothing better than a delicious dinner that involves ramming a few key ingredients into a roasting tray and slamming in the oven. This is one of those. 

Feeds 2, but oh so easily doubled, tripled etc. Pre-heat the oven to 180c. Rub two free range chicken legs all over with a tablespoon of harissa each. You can buy it but if you can, make it (recipe here) as it keeps for ages and is so good in and with lots of things. You can cut some slits in the chicken to really let the flavour in. Put the legs in a roasting dish and add 8 cloves of garlic (skin on). I tend to tuck the garlic under the chicken, using the flappy bits as a weirdo kind of blanket for the garlic to stop it burning. Also add a couple of handfuls of baby potatoes, a big handful of cherry tomatoes, some thick wedges of lemon, season very well and pour over a glug of olive oil, giving it all a rattle/turn in the pan to coat. Throw it in the oven and once the chicken skin has gone all delicious and crispy you're done, between 30 and 40 minutes depending on how big they are. Give it all a shake halfway through to brown the spuds evenly and break up the tomatoes a bit. I served this with some spring greens tossed in butter and caraway seeds (TRY IT).

There were no leftovers and only one roasting tray (and one saucepan for the veg)  to wash up so I'm declaring it a success. Even if you have a massive kitchen, you should still cook this. 

Monday, 14 March 2016

Calcots (what's all the fuss about hey?) and Cheat's Romesco Sauce

Giant spring onions or tiny hand?
In all honesty it was a case of FOMO* that made me buy calcots and I'm glad of this neurotic side to my personality to be honest, as it turns out these giant spring onions are really delicious and quite fun to eat. After a bit of Googling I learnt all about how crazy Catalonians go for these strange onions, even having a whole festival dedicated to the highly seasonal produce, the Calcotada, brilliant! I figured they'd make a fun and unusual start to our Sunday Roast, but then I started waning a little when I realised I had to made Romesco sauce to go with them, then waned a little more when I saw I didn't have all the ingredients. Then I decided I would just cheat and make a quick easy version, and bloody hell, it worked! The sauce would be great on bruschetta and also with fish, and is really good as a dip with crudities, so make the whole batch as below and use up during the week. I sadly didn't have a charcoal grill, which is traditional but I whacked the grill on max and made do (I nearly used our fire but then the Husband wisely reminded me about all the nasties in the coal etc, phew). 

For the cheat's Romesco sauce, heat your oven to 200c, and place on a roasting dish the following: two tomatoes halved, one red bell pepper halved, three cloves of garlic skinned and a piece of bread (I used sourdough). Roast for 10 minutes so things soften a bit but don't burn anything. Do check it. For the last three minutes add a handful of flaked almonds (what I had in the cupboard but whole ones would be better). Allow to cool slightly then throw in a food processor with a tablespoon of sherry vinegar, a teaspoon of smoked paprika, a massive
Burnt onions! Hurray!
glug of extra virgin olive oil and season.
Wizz to a pesto like consistency, slightly lumpy but everything kind of uniform. Sauce done. 

For the calcots, allow 2/3 per person (they are big). Heat grill to max temperature and grill the calcots, as they are (no need to clean or trim, although you may want to take the very long green ends off but make sure you leave some), and grill until blacked and little bubbles of liquid start coming out. Wrap them in newspaper for 15 minutes, this gently steams them so the insides are sweet and delicious. 

To eat the calcots (this is the fun bit) pinch the bottom where the root is, then gently pull the inner leaves from the top and squeal with delight as the sweet tender central part slides out all in one piece. Dip it in the sauce and throw oil and juice all down your top (the Catalans wear bibs, clever).

Obviously the calcot part is very much seasonal (winter) but the sauce is great, can be made in advance and would be very welcome as part of any Mediterranean spread, or just a dip to have with pitta. 

*Fear Of Missing Out (in case you didn't know that).

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Feta & Spring Onion Omlette

Melty feta goodness
In a world of smashed avocado on sourdough toast and eternally cool Bondi style breakfast and brunch dishes popping up on all our tables at the weekend, the omelette can seem a rather dowdy, un-sexy choice. I am an avocado on toast with chilli and lime SLUT, don't get me wrong, but one day, I made an omelette with what was in the fridge, and it kind of made my life a lot better. 

I never used to be able to make omelettes, see Impossible Omelettes that is until, I realised I was using a crap pan. Now I have a lovely non-stick, perfect size for an omelette frying pan and I have, at the age of 33 discovered a world of eggy opportunity. Eggs are cheap, eggs are good for you, and an omelette takes all of 5 minutes from start to finish (ok a minute more if like the Husband you vom at the sight of any remotely un-cooked egg). Putting feta cheese in there really was a good idea, the spring onions too, but what really makes it sing is the herbs and chilli. Have all your bits and pieces ready and breakfast will be on the table before you can shout 'Put the kettle on'.  Do it, you know it makes sense. 

There, that was easy wasn't it?
Feeds one. Take 2 or 3 free range eggs (I go for 2, Husband needs 3) and roughly beat in a bowl/mug and season. Get the frying pan on a medium heat and melt a small nob of butter. Fry 2 chopped spring onions for about 30 seconds. Chuck the eggs in, giving them a poke about with a spatula for a second and then give it a wiggle so the egg gets in all the gaps. Add a small handful of feta to one half of the omelette and sprinkle with chilli flakes (if you want to). Just before it's cooked add small handful of coriander or parsley to the cheesy half, fold over and serve. 

You know those weekend mornings when you're slightly hungover and half way through the ingredient list of some delicious Ottolenghi creation and crying a little bit because it's all too hard? Stop. Put down the za'atar and make a lovely omelette. 

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Fish Stew to Warm your Cockles (no cockles involved).

Note the drill bits top right, building work is FUN!

This is quick, easy and very welcome when you've just got in from work having frozen your balls off having waited for your dog to sniff Every. Single. Lampost. on the way home. Oh just me then. Don't feel you have to stick to the fish I used, if I wasn't cooking for the Husband, I would have thrown in clams, squid, maybe a scallop or two, but he's a bit boring, I mean shy, when it comes to seafood, so I used some lovely big prawns and some pollack that I dug out of the freezer. If you don't have fennel lying around you can just use an onion, but I do think the gentle aniseed flavour makes it. Also this is a one pot wonder. Yessss.

That'll warm you right up.
Feeds two cold hungry ones. Chop a fennel bulb quite finely, leaving out any really tough outer bits and saving any soft fronds for later. Also, finely chop a carrot and slice two cloves of garlic. Warm some olive oil in a medium sized saucepan and gently fry/sweat the carrot and fennel, once it has softened (don't brown it) add the garlic and continue stirring for a minute or two. Pour in a large glass of white wine and let it bubble away for a minute. Now add a tin of chopped tomatoes (fresh would be nice, but can you really be arsed to skin them and chop them all up?). Fill the tin with water and add that to the pan along with two big handfuls of length-ways sliced little potatoes (like Anya or baby Charlotte and for God's sake don't worry about skin) and some chilli flakes, if you like a little heat. Bring to the boil and simmer until reduced to a less watery, more stew like consistency, about 10 minutes. Potatoes should be cooked but not mushy and carrots should have lost their bite but again, not mushy. Season it and check how it tastes. Now for the fish, I laid the pollack fillet over the stew with the prawns and pushed it down a bit so it bubbled in the hot stew and cooked. As soon as the prawns are pink and the fish breaks up (stir gently so it doesn't completely flake up) it's ready. Ladle into two bowls, and top with a big blob of creme fraiche, some chopped flat leaf parsley, the grated zest of a lemon and a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

This is really nice with some toasted sourdough rubbed with garlic, but since we had just been to the pub and had a whole Camembert 'starter' we went with the lighter option. Great either way.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Pink Gravadlax (cured with beetroot & horseradish)

My boss's husband is someone who takes his food very seriously, but not in a nobby way. He makes his own gravadlax all the time and no matter how many times I have been told how easy it is, I shied away from it, raw fish = danger, right? WRONG! This is so easy and delicious and about a million times cheaper than buying the equivalent of smoked salmon for a party. I did a side of salmon for my parent's Christmas drinks bash, and despite a very nervous discussion about whether or not it was too salty, with my Father, it turned out brilliantly, and furthermore, very pink! DO IT NOW!

This recipe uses a side of salmon, skin on, about 700/750g. You could do it with a smaller piece but I would reduce the curing time. Be aware that you need to cure it for 48 hours, so this isn't a last minute thing. Don't panic if you can't get fresh horseradish, just leave it out, but it does give a nice firey punch.

Not a salad.
Grate three raw, peeled beetroot and a 5 inch piece of fresh horseradish and mix together. Put the salmon in a big flat dish (I used a baking tray and cut the fish in half for ease), skin side down, and sprinkle over enough sea salt flakes to cover the fish with a decent covering of salt, about 150g depending on the surface area. Now sprinkle over a handful of demerara sugar and the beet horseradish mix and pat down to make sure it's all covered well. Sprinkle over two shots of gin, a big handful of chopped dill and then grate over the zest of a lemon (un-waxed obvs). It will look like a very healthy bright salad but don't be fooled. Wrap the dish tightly in clingfilm and put something on top to weigh it down, I used a smaller tray and a load of tinned tomatoes. 

Hard work done. Leave it in the fridge for 48 hours. 

Pull out of the fridge and marvel at the tonne of liquid that has come out (DON'T spill it all over your fridge. A pink food hygiene issue is not what you need.) Get it over the sink, and however you want, remove all the bits and pieces you have lovingly strewn on the salmon, bin them, and give it a good rinse with COLD water to remove every last bit of salt (I didn't do this at first, hence the very serious 'oh dear it's a bit salty' chat). Now scrub your hands as they will be very pink and a bit fishy. Nice. You can leave the skin on if you like, removing as you go but if you're using the whole lot in one go, using a long sharp knife, and skin side down, carefully remove it. Slice it (a jamon knife is ideal for this) in long thin ribbons and do with your beautifully cured bright pink gravadlax what you like. We had it on blinis with creme fraiche with dill and fake caviar, but it would be amazing in scrambled egg, on crackers, on it's own...I tossed some leftovers in some creamy pasta which completely changed it, not in a bad way, waste not want not and all that. 

Rather annoyed I didn't get a shot of the finished blinis but we were all a bit busy eating them and getting pissed on quince bellinis. Not quince blinis. Or salmon bellinis.