November, 2008


27
Nov 08

A hot and sour stir-fry

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This ticks all the right boxes for me. Fiery heat from the deceptive little Thai red chilli; aromatic depths of ginger matchsticks and little swirled circles of lemongrass; the pungent smell of Bangkok’s food markets from the garlic and fish sauce; all livened up with coriander and a squeeze of super-sour lime juice. A lip-smackingly fresh dinner if ever there was one.

I wouldn’t claim this stir-fry is Thai as the Thais aren’t really known for this type of cooking – most stir-fries in UK restaurants are versions of Chinese recipes – but it does draw heavily on Thai flavours and the holy trinity of hot, salt, sour.

I chose chicken thighs as I prefer dark meat to light and they stay much more juicy; breast can often end up ropey and dry. Thighs are great, much more tasty and cheaper than breast they cook almost as quickly when boned out. But the real joy in a recipe like this is that, cut into bite-size pieces, they end up chewy and crispy on the outside with dense, juicy insides. Heaven.

You can prepare them in a more Chinese fashion by dropping them into cornflour before frying, but I prefer them straight up. Brown rice makes a great accompaniment, and leaves you feeling extra healthy. Ice cream for pudding then…

Hot and sour stir-fry


Ingredients (Serves 2)

  • 4 chicken thighs
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 1 small red chilli
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 thumb size piece of ginger
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 lime
  • 1 inch coriander stalks
  • An optional sprinkling of coriander
  • An optional sprinkling of crushed peanuts
  • 2 tbs groundnut oil

Method

Get your butcher to bone out the thighs for you. Cut them into 2cm-ish pieces.

Set a wok or frying pan over a high flame. When it’s really hot add oil and chicken. Stir, but let ingredients colour in places. While it’s cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Slice onion and garlic quite thinly, chop and deseed chilli and cut ginger into matchsticks. When chicken is golden brown, a matter of some ten or 15 minutes, add garlic, chilli, ginger, onion and coriander stalks. Cook for a few minutes, stirring often.

Once onion softens slightly, squeeze over lime juice, scatter in some coriander and the peanuts and serve. I’d eat this with a pile of brown rice, but it’s equally good with basmati rice or noodles.


24
Nov 08

Slow food

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I still don’t think I’ve warmed up from Saturday yet, despite spending the best part of the day hiding under a duvet. My morning mission started as it always should – a sausage roll for breakfast in Borough, a spot of shopping – pork to cook that excellent vindaloo (see ‘Pig in a pickle’ below) and a few cannelles. By this point I couldn’t feel my extremities any more, but that didn’t stop my friend Elly, a cafe owner from Bristol, and I walking along the Thames to see our mutual friend Petra selling her amazing chocolates at the Slow Food Festival by the Southbank Centre.

A couple of roasted almond brownies later and I was starting to feel a bit more perky. Some hot chocolate with Pedro Ximenez sherry cream and the warmth was emanating out from my insides. And then lunch – it’s often difficult at these events to avoid the sausages or burgers which, although great, aren’t so appealing to vegetarians and Elly is a veggie. We tracked down a lovely little stall selling Arabic food – I’d met the chap before and he sells at various markets around the place. Pungent sumac, a ground middle-eastern berry, fragrant sesame-studded zatar, a wonderful spice mix, and rosewater and pomegranate molasses vinegar were all on sale, but it was the salads that caught my eye. The recipe below is a homage to one of his delicious dishes and, like the festival, requires some very slow cooking.

Aubergine and roasted onion salad with walnuts and mint

Pomegranate molasses is available in larger supermarkets, middle-eastern shops and online

Ingredients (Serves 2 as a side salad)

  • 1 medium aubergine
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 tbs pomegranate molasses
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • handful of walnuts, preferably Iranian
  • handful of fresh mint, leaves picked and chopped

Method

Dice the aubergine into 1 centimetre cubes. Peel, halve the onion and then slice it quite thinly.

Place a pan on your hob on its lowest heat setting. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and pop in the vegetables, sugar and a pinch of salt. Add the aubergine and onion and cook very slowly, stirring occasionally until the onion is quite dark brown and the aubergine very soft. This may take an hour or so, but don’t rush it by turning the heat up.

Once done, turn out the heat and stir through the pomegranate molasses and scrunch in the walnuts. Allow to cool and fold through the mint. Serve at room temperature as part of a mezze, with pitta breads or some feta or halloumi.


20
Nov 08

Roll out the risotto

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Risotto is great comfort food and a regular supper dish in my home at this time of year. The wonderful thing about it is the variations you can have. It’s almost as versatile as pasta, only somehow more unctuous, smooth and warming. You can dress it up, with truffles, say, or morels, or keep it simple with just a few mushrooms and herbs. Risotto somehow seems to suit wintry flavours like squash and leeks and it’s certainly frugal food – many mouths can be fed for only a few pounds.

On a recent trip to a food market I came across a lady selling rolled spelt – a traditional grain used between the Bronze Age and the Middle Ages that has recently made a comeback due to its health benefits. The rolled grains can be used in much the same way as rice, so a risotto seemed perfect.

As with all things new, there was a little concern while I was cooking it, and the obvious questions of “Do you think it’s done?” and “How am I supposed to know?” cropped up, but the result was delicious. Slightly nuttier than arborio rice, with a pleasing bite and a good flavour.

If you have difficulty locating spelt in your local shop or supermarket, it is widely available on the internet and definitely worth seeking out.

Rolled spelt risotto with leeks and crispy bacon

Hot tip: Unlike a traditional risotto, you don’t have to constantly stir the spelt

Ingredients (Serves 2-3)

  • Approx 2 litres chicken stock
  • 150g rolled spelt
  • 300g leeks, cleaned and diced
  • 300ml white wine
  • zest of a lemon
  • 2 handfuls frozen peas
  • 40g parmesan
  • 3 tbs mascarpone
  • 4 rashers of bacon

Method

Bring the stock to a simmer in a large saucepan.

In another pan, sweat leeks in a little olive oil until softened but not coloured. Add spelt and stir for a couple of minutes. Add white wine and allow it to bubble down until wine has been absorbed almost completely. Then add the stock, a ladle at a time, allowing one ladleful to cook off before adding another.

Whilst this is happening, fry the bacon until crispy and place on kitchen paper. Allow to cool while you carry on cooking the risotto.

After about 15-18 minutes, taste the spelt. It should be nutty, soft, but with a little bite. If it is still too hard, keep cooking. If done, add peas and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring until peas are done. Take pan off heat and fold in mascarpone, parmesan and lemon zest. Crumble in salty bacon, season with a little salt and pepper, stir and serve.


17
Nov 08

Simple pleasures

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After a long afternoon at the BBC Good Food Show on Saturday, a traipse round the antique shops in Camden Passage and a meander up to Steve Hatt the fishmonger and the butcher’s next door, the last thing I felt like doing was cooking.

Don’t get me wrong – I love being in the kitchen. But I’d cooked quite a complicated dinner party for friends the night before, and although I love all that pizzazz – the prep, the planning, the plate dressing, sometimes it’s the simplest things that offer the greatest pleasure.

So the ultimate simple supper, a roast chicken – which I wrote about a few weeks back – was the easiest option. But pudding was going to be a bit of a problem, because I only had one panna cotta left from the dinner party, and there were two of us.

Panna cotta is one of the simplest and most rewarding puddings to make – a drop of milk, cream, sugar and gelatine, the zest of a lemon and a vanilla pod and you’re done. How easy is that? And they look the part too. But after I’d dressed one up the way I had the night before, with a redcurrant coulis and a pecan praline, I felt rather miffed that I wouldn’t be eating it. A quick poke around in the fridge, however, produced a second pud that, while not looking so glamorous, tasted brilliant. Simple pleasures…

Stewed apple with praline and cream

A classic praline is made with almonds, but try it with pecans for a change

Safety tip: Always take care when working with hot sugar

Ingredients (Serves 4)

3 Bramley apples

1 tbs sugar

3 tbs water

handful sultanas

For the praline

50g pecan nuts

50g sugar

Double or clotted cream to serve

Method

Peel, core and chop Bramleys into one-centimetre chunks. Pop in a pan and add sugar, water and sultanas. Cook for around 15 minutes over a low heat until soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Taste the apple, it may need a spot more sugar.

Place a non-stick pan over a high heat. Tip the sugar into the pan. Allow it to melt – you can tilt and gently shake the pan but do not stir. When the sugar has turned into a dark golden liquid add the nuts and tip the mixture out onto a greased baking sheet or greaseproof paper. Under no circumstances touch it! When cooled, about half an hour or so, place in a food processor and whiz until you have fine crumbs.

To serve, divide the apple into bowls, pour or spoon over the cream and sprinkle over the praline.


14
Nov 08

World Diabetes Day

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The fact that it is World Diabetes Day on November 14 got me thinking about how important it is for us all to get the balance between carbohydrates and sugars right while making sure the dishes are still tempting and interesting.

Which put me in mind of a really lovely recipe. It’s about as straightforward as you can get; great for this time of year and with it’s slow-release energy, perfect for diabetics, too. Add roasted cubes of squash or sweet potato as a variation on croutons.

 

 

 

Curried Lentil Soup

Ingredients (Serves 3-4)

 

  • 1 onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 250g red lentils
  • curry powder
  • 1 litre vegetable or chicken stock

Method

 

Roughly chop and then sauté the onion and carrots in a tablespoon of groundnut oil until soft. Add curry powder by the teaspoon – make it as spicy as you like – and cook out for a minute or two.

Add lentils and turn over in oil until they start to smell fragrant – they have a warm, nutty smell. This should take a couple of minutes.

Add stock to cover and simmer gently for half an hour, adding more stock or water as necessary to keep the soup a thick-ish consistency. Season with a pinch of salt and lots of black pepper and serve.


13
Nov 08

Kid in a candy shop

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I’ve just spent the day living every child’s dream – locked in a sweet shop, eating as much as I wanted. How great is that?! I went to see my good pal Paul A Young who runs a lovely chocolate shop in Camden Passage. He’s someone I used to watch on cookery programmes on TV and an old Marco Pierre-White employee, so I jumped at the opportunity to learn how to make some chocolates with him.

First, a tasting, where we discovered 70 per cent isn’t the be-all and end-all we’d thought it was, as the 64 per cent cocoa solids we tried tasted deeper and richer than anything you can find in the supermarket. We then took a tour of the Caribbean, trying beans from different countries and noting their vastly different tastes.

To make our truffles we chose a really fruity, acidic bean from Madagascar, processed by renowned chocolate makers Vahlrona. It was a surprisingly simple process of scorching cream and sugar, pouring it over chocolate and then allowing the mixture to set. A teaspoon size nugget was rolled into a ball, coated in cocoa, then dipped in melted chocolate before another cocoa-coating was added to finish. The results were spectacular.

Alongside truffles we made flavoured bars. This required the chocolate be tempered, which has always been a bit of a mystery to me. It involves heating it to the point of ‘full crystal melt’, ie when the chocolate is completely liquid and the cocoa butter and sugar have dissolved, then folding it over and over on itself as it cools, leaving a shiny chocolate that snaps beautifully.

We chose our own flavours, and I used sandalwood essence mixed into the chocolate itself and then pretty pink peppercorns scattered over for some colour and bite. Simon, eager to show his Indian roots, chose toasted cumin and made his chocolate all the more savoury with Himalayan pink salt.

As we cut it into squares I was reminded of the way chocolate is sold in Geneva – great big random shards, snapped off and weighed. Lovely.

A few more chocolates – I told you I was in heaven – and I wandered off with a big, dark bag of choccies under my arm, my head filled with thoughts of when I might be able to return for another sea salt caramel?

Paul’s Classic Dark Ganache Truffles

Ingredients (makes 40)

  • 250g double cream

  • 200g dark chocolate

  • 100g caster sugar

  • good cocoa powder (such as Green & Blacks or Fair-trade) for dusting

Method

Bring the cream to scorching point (just below boiling) with the sugar in a saucepan. Pour over the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and whisk well until fully combined.

Pour the mixture onto a clean plastic tray or baking sheet lined with greaseproof. Set aside to cool thoroughly 30 to 60 minutes.

Refrigerate, and once cool use a teaspoon to measure rough amounts, scooping out a small spoonful of ganache for each truffle. Hand roll between your fingertips using cocoa powder to stop them sticking until you have even sized spheres. Dip into really good cocoa to coat and refrigerate until needed.

Allow to come slightly up to room temperature before serving.


10
Nov 08

Pig in a pickle

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Although Saturday was wet and dismal, I was off to a good start. Breakfast was a champion pork pie from Mrs King and a few cannele bordelais, a type of orange French pastry and my new favourite thing (recipe coming soon!).

I was meeting my friend Simon, who’s one hermano in reviewer and writer duo Dos Hermanos. We had planned a day of serious feasting and festivities – an idea we’d been hatching since he left for America a month or two before. I thought it was a fine time to brush up on my Indian cooking skills and pinch some of his brilliant family recipes. The unfathomably good kind you never find in a cookbook.

We spent the morning shopping – a few bits from Borough, a trip to Brixton market to pick up fruit and vegetables, spices and herbs. Then, through a wet and windy afternoon, he regaled me with tales of his exploits eating his way round the world while we enjoyed the fragrant warmth of toasting spices, simmering turmeric-infused coconut milk and a hot green coriander and chilli chutney.

And he taught me his vindaloo, which is a million miles from the incendiary device usually served in curry houses. This is the real deal – an old Portuguese dish given the Indian treatment, rich and pungent with vinegar and spices. It’s a show-stealer and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Simon Majumdar’s Vindaloo

Chef’s tip: make extra spice mix and freeze to use in a curry another day


Ingredients (Serves 5-6)

  • 2lbs of pork, cubed, preferably shoulder


For the marinade

  • 60ml palm vinegar
  • 60ml white wine vinegar (or use all white wine vinegar if you can’t find palm)
  • half a thumb of ginger, peeled
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • half a white onion
  • 2 black cardamom (optional)

 

For the spice mix

  • 5 cloves
  • 4 chillies finely minced (you could use dried, if so, use 2-3)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp hot chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon or a cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp salt

 

Method

First, the alchemy – your spice mix. In a dry frying pan, toast the cloves, cumin, coriander, cinnamon stick and dried chilli (if using) until they become fragrant and aromatic, but not burnt. Blend these in a spice grinder or a pestle and mortar if you are feeling energetic until you have a fine powder. Add the turmeric, ground ginger, chilli and sugar and set aside.

Whiz the garlic and ginger together in a blender until you have a smooth paste. Mix the vinegar, spice mix and cardamom pods and then stir into the pork. Leave to marinade in the fridge for a few hours.

Heat some oil in a large, lidded oven-proof pan. Fry the onion until it starts to go golden. Add the pork and cook out for a couple of minutes to burn off some of the vinegar. Add about half a pint of water. You can then either transfer to a pre-heated over at 150ºC for three hours or let it simmer on the hob for the same amount of time, adding more water if the pan becomes too dry. You are looking for a thick, stew-like consistency – the final curry should be quite dry. Serve with Indian breads or rice and a dollop of raita.


5
Nov 08

Crumble

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Crumble has to be up there with the all-time great British desserts. We’ve come a long way from the dry, powdery mush with unrecognisable fruit and luminous custard of school days. And when done well it can sit happily alongside the best Michelin-starred puds.

A crumble can live and die through its balance, though – it needs to be a perfect match of just-sweet, crunchy topping and soft, unctuous, sharp fruit beneath. Studded with swollen currants, it becomes a thing of wonder.

For the fruit base, I love something quite acidic. Damsons, if you can be bothered with all that stoning, are superb. Plums are a happy compromise, with the seeds from a vanilla pod scattered among them for a little flavour boost, or perhaps some cinnamon.

Pears are good, too – although sometimes a little sweet – and the reliable Bramley is always good. I have gone for a mix of varieties of apple, providing a more interesting, deeper crumble. Feel free to vary the fruit, but try and keep the weights the same, as proportion is key here. A large spoonful of the coldest ice cream and you will be oohing and aahing in no time.

Apple and pistachio crumble

For the crumble topping

  • 85g pistachios
  • 120g self-raising flour
  • 85g cold butter
  • 80g demerara or caster sugar
  • 60g oats

For the fruit

  • 750g mixed apples, including at least one Bramley
  • 65g dried fruit
  • 25g sugar

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.

The easiest way to make the topping is to the put all the ingredients into a food processor and whizz to a fine-ish crumb. Not too fine though – it’s nice to see some flecks of pistachio green. Set aside.

For fruit base, peel, core and chop fruit into reasonably thin slices. Scatter sugar and dried fruit on top. Place into the bottom of an oven-proof dish. Scatter crumble on top and spread evenly smoothing down to create an even surface. You can do this a day ahead if needed.

Cook the crumble for 35 minutes, then allow to rest for ten minutes or so before serving with cream, ice cream or crème fraiche.


3
Nov 08

Bonfire Night

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Phwugh, if it ain’t winter already! I think I saw autumn, but I couldn’t be sure as it was going somewhere in a serious hurry. It’s true we all complain about the weather. But come on! One day we’re walking round in t-shirts, the next I’m wearing gloves, a scarf and a woolly hat. And you just try riding a motorbike in this weather. I think mine’s being retired until it gets a weensy bit warmer (probably next week sometime…).

Still, it’s not all bad. I was walking through Borough market yesterday and the air was rich with the warming smell of mulled wine – orange and spices getting me all excited with thoughts of Christmas. The stalls are laden with glorious produce. Parsnips are perfect now that we’ve had a frost. Squashes abound, countless varieties of mushrooms, winter greens – the night-vision green of cavolo nero, the vibrant pinks, reds and yellows of ruby chard. And there’s an abundance of new fruit – apples of all shapes and sizes, the first of the Italian clementines.

And Bonfire Night’s almost here. The air filled with puffs of gasped breaths released in response to the whizzes, bangs and flashes of fireworks displays, and the scent of woodsmoke. I’ve given up on trying to feed people in darkened back gardens and instead cook things to warm and revive people when they eventually end up back indoors. This is just one of those things – a rib-sticking winter wonder.

Individual steamed pear and ginger puddings

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 4 small unripe pears
  • 150g sugar
  • 350ml water
  • 1 lemon

For the pudding mixture

  • 75g muscavado sugar
  • 65g caster sugar
  • 125g butter
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • zest of a whole lemon
  • 2 pieces of stem ginger
  • 3 tbs of the liquid from the jar of ginger

Method

Place water, sugar and half lemon’s juice in a saucepan over a medium heat. Peel and halve pears. You can core them at this stage or after you have poached them. Place in pan and simmer for 15 minutes, turning occasionally. Remove from heat.

When cooled slightly, remove cores with a sharp knife and slice pears lengthways. Dice the rest and reserve.

In a food mixer, beat sugars and butter for a few minutes. Add eggs, one at a time. Sift in flour and baking powder. Fold into the mixture slowly. Add ginger liquid, the juice of the remaining lemon half and all its zest. Dice stem ginger and add this along with the diced pears to the mixture.

Grease four 300ml/1/2 pint Dariole moulds or pudding basins. Alternatively you could do this in large ramekins, or all in one large pudding basin. Or even make more puddings in smaller moulds. Layer slices of pear in bottom of the mould along with a teaspoon or two of poaching liquor. Spoon mixture evenly between them.

Cut four circles of greaseproof or tin foil larger than the top of puddings. Secure paper or foil with string.

Pre-heat your oven to 180°C. Put a roasting tin in oven half-filled with water. When the oven is up to temperature gently place the puddings into the tray. Cook for 45 minutes, then allow to stand for a few minutes before turning out and serving with ice cream, clotted cream or crème fraiche.

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