Tuesday, November 18, 2008

You're a star, eurostar

Not a lot of cooking going down recently (or succesful cooking anyway), so I thought I'd share some high-speed cross-channel catering knowledge instead. I took this photo ages ago, on my first fancy class trip over to Brussels. I was so excited. I am normally excited where free champagne is involved (not technically 'free' I guess, but free enough). But the food was pretty cool too, so I took a picture to document it. After the very decent smoked salmon and bread roll, I got a tasty risotto for the vegetarian option, followed by not only that yummy shiny chocolate thing up there, but also the cheese with its cute little cube of manchego, and-and-and... coffee and a crunchy little biscuit thing. So I arrived at Brussels sated and happy and slightly light-headed...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Pintxo, pintxo!

(pron. 'pincho, pincho!')

So, Papa Saucepan was planning a gathering in the garden. There was a significant number hovering in the air, and it seemed some kind of celebratory shindig was due. We - the younger saucepan and I - proffered our catering services of course, were duly taken up on the offer and it went to work on a Spanish kind of theme. I forget what it was now, but there was something to eat up - chorizo, olives, or somesuch Iberian delicacy. And besides, PS had a string of Spanish flags, proclaiming 'Wines of Spain', which we could use to deck the trees (this is the kind of aesthetic the Saucepan household tends to go for). No idea where that came from - did PS sneakily remove it at a wine trade fair? Was he offered it as a prize? Or was it left over from working in the wine shop, 20-odd years ago? I never found out...
Anyhow, somehow I got onto pintxos. I think I had been searching tapas, and pintxos popped up, and as soon as I discovered that they are pronounced 'pinch-ose' I set my heart upon them. I honestly can't think of a more euphoniously named food right at this moment.
Using the marvellous food blog search I sourced inspiration; largely from the dough ball, who had done a magnificent job documenting her pintxo and non-pintxo culinary adventures in San Sebastian (a place very high up on my must-visit list). Essentially these are just little open sandwiches, and you can let your imagination run riot with what to place on top.
Incredibly enough, I was organised enough to do not one but two test runs for my pintxo performance. The first was fun but kind of unimpressive. By the second however, my ideas were sleeker and bolder and more refined, and if I say so myself, pretty damn good.
I did happen to be in Madrid the next weekend after and ended up in a bar where there were some pintxo-style things sitting in front of us on the bar as we supped coffee waiting for lunch to start being served. And it dawned on me that the whole idea of these little Spanish canapes was advance preparation, easy serving. We, however, had fun rushing in and out of the kitchen every half hour to freshly prepare another batch. Now I think about it, most could be served cold, so all that running around is not really necessary.
Anyway, enough babbling, let me introduce you to each little specimen. In a slightly off-on-a-tangent twist, I decided to pair them with shoes, like we're on a little fashion catwalk. There's something about them all being so pretty and different lined up together that reminded me of a shoe shop, and with exams coming up soon and how I promised myself if I passed my ACA I would be allowed an extravagantly pretty pair of shoes, somehow the two ideas got all mixed up in my mind...

So, number 1, the courgette and grape combo.

Accompanied by some equally light, playful and refreshing Chie Mihara flats, this one is made of ribbons of courgette, lightly sauteed in olive oil with a heap of lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice, and topped with toasted pine nuts and grapes roasted in pomegranate molasses (about 40 mins in a medium hot oven). Yay, I finally got to try roasted grapes after being intrigued about them ever since Claudia cook-eat-fret posted about this peculiar idea. They're delicious. And an excellently sweet and rich match for the light and lemony courgette.

Onto number 2, the beef and mushroom

A more classic combo, this is just thin slices of medium-rare beef steak, tossed with fried wild mushrooms, which have had a glug of red wine or sherry reduced in them. We topped it off second time round with some chopped flat leaf parsley which really added something. The shoe is likewise both classic and sexy, (albeit a little more technically proficient than my basically-an-open-steak-sandwich!) - a beautifully sculptural Nicholas Kirkwood.

Number 3, tuna and red onions
Seared tuna steak slice atop caramelised red onion (1 red onion fried off til soft in olive oil, 1tsp muscovado sugar and 1tsp balsamic vinegar added, and cooked down til dark and rich) and lovely piquant little capers. Equally elegant, smooth but spiky is this lovely Reiss patent indigo number

and, numero quatro... bold, possibly a teensy bit ugly, but bright and bam! full of flavour.

That's homemade tapenade (just a load of Crespo's dried black pitted olives whizzed up with a food processor), topped with slow roasted cherry tomatoes (an hour in a low-medium oven with just olive oil, salt and pepper), and lightly steamed green beans. It is not quite so pretty, a little messy and ott looking you might even say, but velvety deep in the roasted toms, spiky with saltiness, and very tasty. And another Chie Mihara to match...

So, introducing the Morcilla pintxo...

A lovely rich slice of roasted piquillo pepper - char it under a grill or on a hob flame until blistered, cover in cling film til cool, and peel off all that pesky burnt skin - topped with a delicious soft and smooth butterbean salad (butterbeans, olive oil, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, paprika), and a couple of slices of fried black pudding (which I'm calling morcilla, as 'black pudding' doesn't have quite the same Iberican ring to it). Scrumptious. And that, is a wedge heel from The Jacksons of Notting Hill - velvety and smooth with lots of contrast and rich colours too.

And... last, but certainly not least:
A slice of ripe beef or plum tomato. A couple of sprigs of rocket. A slice of juicy, fragrant mango. Three quickly fried fat chilli and lime marinaded prawns. A sprinkling of pepper. Vibrant and exotic and just lovely. Nicholas Kirkwood again on the right. That's not a shoe; that's a work of art.

Ok, I've spent far too long writing this post, and I am feeling like some kind of bizarre sommelier from some peculiar world where instead of suggesting a pleasant Riesling or fruity Burgundy to accompany Madam's excellent choice, I proffer instead various items of accompanying footwear...

I should get back to work.

Friday, October 03, 2008

I'm still here!

Another post-free month has sailed past and I'm hanging my head in bloggerly shame. I do have a few little things lined up to post when I get the time (exams are looming once again!) but mostly have just been eating ready-made soup and lots of Spanish ham.

Anyway, divert yourselves for now with this gem of a blog http://cakewrecks.blogspot.com/ devoted entirely to cakes gone wrong. Awesome.

And I will be back soon - I promise...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Holiday breakfast

Pancakes are one of those things that if I thought about for a minute I would probably consider a peculiar weakness - just a load of flour eggs and milk, hardly very gastronomically exciting; and all that time standing in front of the stove, waiting for each to firm up and brown, before the next one can have its time in the pan, and then finally getting to eat them half an hour later, their meek flavours are drowned out in sharp lemon juice and liberal snow showers of sugar and a couple of seconds later they sit stodgily in the belly...

But their time-consuming nature contributes to their appeal. Because when else do you have the time to mix up batter and stand there idly daydreaming and singing along to Broken Social Scene as you fry each little flat and floury fellow and pop him in the oven to keep warm for later? On holidays, on weekends, on those glorious days of No Work and Nothing More Important To Do Than Breakfast for HOURS!

I'm off work this week. Holidaying in the lovely north London environs which I live in. I've been perusing books in the library, crocheting on the hill, watching Scrubs and making oatmeal pancakes. Apart from the distinct lack of any weather that could remotely call itself summery, it's been lovely.

I chose these oatmeal pancakes, rather than my usual 'recipe' (eye-estimated amounts of plain flour, milk and 1 egg) because they struck me as a little more meaty and substantial, more worthy somehow. And there is somehow something about that name 'Oatmeal Pancakes' which transmits ideas of homeliness, of rusticity, of heartiness and fun to me.

The recipe is adapted from a much-loved copy of 'Recipes for a Small Planet' that I picked up in a second hand book shop a while back. It follows Frances Moore Lappe's 'Diet for a Small Planet', which espouses a non-meat but protein rich diet in response to global famine and the wasteful practice of fattening up animals before ourselves (see http://www.smallplanet.org/ for a much better explanation that this and more current writings from Lappe and Lappe junior). I don't use the book much - rather I like to delight in its enthusiasm and lovely old-school line drawings, and to marvel at the amount of milk, cheese and eggs which can be edged into pretty much any meal you care to think of.

The pancakes worked well. They're thick but not stodgy and the oats give you something to chew on. I covered them in combinations of honey, yoghurt, banana, lemon juice, sugar and jam. Messy and delicious.

Oatmeal Pancakes (adapted from Ellen Buchman Ewald's Recipes for a Small Planet)
(makes enough for 3-4 people)

1 cup wholewheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 tbsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 tsp oil
1 tsp honey
1 1/2 cups milk

1. Mix dry ingredients well

2. Stir in wet ingredients until all well combined

3. Fry on a hot pan (I used a little butter and/or oil to do mine) until brown on both sides.

Monday, July 21, 2008

beautiful on the inside

Mmmmm mmmmm - open wide for a mouthful of mud and snow covered in little white worms! Or at least, that is what my lovely pie has ended up looking like in this picture. It's not the most glamourous of gastronomical spoonfuls, in any sense.

But to hell with glamour. As the newscasters shower us with ever more scary statistics and shadowy harbingers of impending economic doom, and the frequency with which we converse about energy bills and the price of a loaf of bread multiplies exponentially, there is a place for a little humble pie. Simple - yes, ugly - maybe so. But tasty, comforting, cheap and easy too...

I've told you before of my love for lentils, I'm sure. And may have even mentioned how smitten I am with sweet spring cabbage... So, whilst for most people the idea of the two together may engender merely mild disgust, or even sniggers at the supposed flatulent effects of these two fibrous heavyweights, I am licking my lips with glee.
This is then, a fairly basic little recipe. It's nothing particularly new or clever, but with a little seasoning trickery and some rich luxurious dairy products sneaked in, it's really much more delicious and satisfying than you might imagine of a lentil and cabbage pie...
Saucepan-Style Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
(Serves about 4)
* Chop an onion, a couple of sticks of celery and a carrot in to small dice
* In a heavy over-proof cocotte (if you have one - otherwise use a normal saucepan and transfer to oven dish later) heat a little olive oil over a low flame, and cook the diced veg, stirring frequently until softened
* Add in half a cup of lentilles vertes, a couple of bay leafs, a finely chopped clove (or two) of garlic, and stir until the lentils are coated in oil.
* Add a good squirt of tomato puree and mix in
* Top up with a couple of cups of stock, bring to the boil and lower to a simmer (stir every couple of minutes and top up with water/stock if it looks like getting dry)
* Meanwhile, cube about 6-8 small potatoes (3-4 larger ones), peeled if you like (though I rarely bother) and cook in salted boiling water.
* After about 15-20 minutes, your potatoes should be done, and your lentils will just want another 10 minutes or so. At this point, drain the potatoes and add half a pointed (spring) cabbage, finely shredded, to the vegetable pot. Add also a can of chopped tomatoes.
* Mash potatoes with a generous knob of butter and a splash of cream (or milk if you don't have cream) and maybe a little parmesan, or any other hard cheese of your choosing.
* Once the lentils are almost cooked, and the cabbage wilted down, mix around, adjust seasoning for taste, and then top with the mashed potato (transfer first to an overproof dish if your saucepan isn't ovenproof)
* Pop in an oven preheated to 200C and cook for 20-30 minutes until browned on top.
* Serve.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

oh for some breeze and a biscotto!

I don't know if you've read that book by Joshua Ferris - half my fellow tube-travellers seem to have their noses buried in it so maybe you have. 'And Then We Came To The End', it's called, and it's set in a modern-day workplace. The workers are 'creative types', as opposed to the accounting types that surround me here, but there were some gems of workplace observations that I think will wring a wry smile of identification from most any of us who spend our days under humming fluorescent lights, wrestling with supposedly ergonomic chairs, staring into the glare of our screens. One phenomenon well known to anyone of the office-worker clan is those fluctuations in the passage of time. How the morning, punctuated by coffee breaks and cemented together with email updating can fly by, but then the afternoon can leave you dazed, beleaguered, emerging into the outside world, feeling a time-space continuum must have been breached and surely a decade has passed by...

Oh, sometimes - like now - time drags. And eyelids droop and minds melt, and thoughts turn to the joy of being free...

Like last bank holiday - (praise be for the 3-day weekend!) - when I walked up to Hampstead Heath, and I could curl up in the grass, and feel the wind playfully muss up my hair as I lost myself in a book and watched the city from through the grass.

And then I went home and made biscotti. And they were so incredibly easy. I love things that turn out good but take so little effort. Perfect! I thought, for impressing people who come round for dinner. For a simple dessert - a little vin santo dribbled over some good vanilla ice cream, biscotti on the side. Or just a good little nibble to go with the coffee.
Or, you know, they can always just sit there in a tupperware box on the counter, and I'll eat one when I get home from work, or as a little 'breakfast dessert' after my toast and cereal, or take them to work for my morning tea break etc. etc.
I just finished the last one, 5 weeks later, so that's what I'm thinking of now, lying in the grass on the heath, or having a slow cup of milky coffee in the sun, a zesty, nutty little biscotti for dunking and crunching alongside
Unfortunately, I don't have the recipe I used right here... but hold on and I'll post it as soon as possible, so watch this space.

And now, there are 38 minutes til hometime. I've expertly wasted a good chunk of afternoon work time so I had better do something before I escape into the lovely warm summer's evening...

Update - I've finally got internet access and the recipe together at the same time!

Biscotti (adapted from Leith's cookery bible)

Mix in a bowl: 200g plain flour; a pinch of salt; 1/2 tsp of baking powder; 40g ground almonds; 75 g sugar; 75g chopped or flaked almonds.

Make a well in the centre and add two lightly beaten eggs. Gradually incorporate dry ingredients to make a firm dough.

Roll the dough into a long sausage shape about 2 cm in diameter. Slice into two or three sausages so that they fit on a baking tray.

Place the rolls at least 5 cm apart on the baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven (190C/350F/gas 5) for 20 minutes.

Remove the rolls from the oven nd turn the temperature down to 80C/175F/gas 1/4

Cut the rolls at a 45-degree angle into 1cm slices and place on the baking sheet. Bake for a further hour, turning the biscuits over after 30 minutes. Leave on a wire rack to cool completely.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Squash and walnut risotto

Just a note on a new favourite risotto combination:

Sweetly squashy sweet squash
Tart chewy sundried tomatoes, wrinkled lipstick red
Crunchy little brain-like walnuts
Thyme, just a few leaves like light snow in spring
And parmesan, of course, dear parmesan.

Mmmmmmmmm mmmmmm

(ps - for risotto instructions and quantities see this post - cut out the lemon and fennel, and add the tomatoes near the start of cooking, the squash and walnuts right at the end. Squash should have been roasted in a medium-hot oven in olive oil for about 30-40 mins until soft and brown-edged. Walnuts - just break them up a little and chuck them in. )

Update - In response to a request I am amending my lazy ways, and putting a whole recipe here!

Skin a butternut squash and cut into chunky dice (about 1" across). Coat in oil and roast in a preheated medium-hot oven until soft (about 30-40 mins)
Meanwhile, fry off a finely diced onion in a generous slug of olive oil over a low heat.
Once soft, add a handful of chopped sundried tomatoes and about 400g/14oz arborio rice, and stir until all the rice is coated with oil.
Tip in a small glass of white wine and stir in.
Cover with a generous amount of vegetable stock, bring to a simmer and put the lid on. Stir every 5 minutes or so for the next 30-40 minutes, making sure the rice doesn't stick to the bottom, and adding more stock or hot water as required by the rice (I never bother with the one spoon at a time method - it's ever so time-consuming and I'm not sure it makes that much difference - do try not to forget your risotto tho - it will burn!)
When the rice is cooked to your taste, stir in a little butter and parmesan for extra creaminess (optional), then add the squash and a couple of handfuls of chopped walnuts, stir lightly to mix through
Serve scattered with chopped thyme and parmesan shavings

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Simple things

My mother told us once how one of the most memorable meals she had consisted of a boiled potato, a boiled carrot and a boiled onion. There was possibly another vegetable, maybe even some white sauce, but that was the gist of it. Each thing just tasted of itself and that was perfect and exciting just how it was.

Of course, we mocked. A boiled onion! A boiled potato! But, oh, how I know now - sometimes a simple boiled potato - smooth, fresh, nutty - can be truly a thing of beauty.

Recently this is the kind of thing I've been hankering for in the evenings. No complicated melange of unusual items and techniques and flavourings, just a few unadulterated lovely ingredients.

How can you go wrong with some good parma ham and a plate of ripe melon?

And the other day I delighted myself by using the leaves off the beetroots that would often I suppose get thrown away. Certainly I've never cooked with them before. Wilted quickly in a little butter and served on toasted home made bread with a squeeze of lemon juice and a poached egg, they made a really enjoyable supper. It's so much more satisfying to make something easy and pleasing out of some odds and ends hanging around than to spend too much time and money to churn out something slightly disappointing.

And then, we had the meal at the top of this post recently, which finally gives me some kind of recipe to post. With asparagus starting to appear all over the place my mind drifted to homemade mayonnaise. I'd made it once before in an electric food mixer, and really wasn't that impressed, but I had a little time to kill and thought I'd give it another go.

So, I'd like to report that if, like me, you thought you needed a mixer to make mayonnaise, you can consider yourself corrected - a wooden spoon and plenty of elbow grease is all it takes.

And it's good. Very very rich, but a plate of fresh olive oil and lemon juice dressed asparagus, those lovely boiled potatoes and a dollop of silky, sharp mayonnaise is really quite, simply, superb.

Homemade mayonnaise
  1. Beat one egg yolk and a pinch of salt in a bowl with a wooden spoon
  2. Add 75ml oil (olive or half olive and sunflower as I used to make it less strong flavoured) DROP by DROP, beating all the time. The mixture will get very thick.
  3. Beat in a squeeze of lemon juice
  4. Add another 75ml oil - this time you don't need to be quite as careful but still pour in little bits. Alternate the oil with small quantities of white wine vinegar (about a dessertspoon in total).
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Friday, March 28, 2008

new look...

as you can see, I've finally upgraded my template and a little bit of decorating has been going on here. I was going to wait until I'd tweaked the new logo a little more, but I'm SO bored at work that I thought at least this would be a productive way to spend the afternoon (as opposed to staring at spreadsheets I don't understand)...

Main advantages of the upgrade are the hierarchical archive which will make it easier to find old posts, and the labels, so you can search by label. I haven't worked out yet how to make my links open in new windows, so you'll just have to right-click and open in new window for the time being, if like me, you prefer that way of doing things.

On the cooking front, things have been... um... experimental. I had spent some time between spreadsheets thinking up spring recipes. One of which was a beetroot and orange soup, served with toasted fresh herb bread and a poached egg. I thought the colours and flavours would be glorious. I invented some crazy prolonged method of making this soup. I decided - I don't really know why - to add a little cumin, coriander and nigella, to spice it up, and lemon to make the orange flavour more bitter. Result - it tastes like curried pickled beetroot and looks like purple sludge. I then decided to strain it, hoping it was just the baby food texture my palate was rejecting, but alas no, the purple juice that resulted tasted the same...

At least the herb bread was a semi-success. I will post about this some time when I've made it again in a less fally-aparty fashion...

I also experimented with a polenta cake, but realised too late I had too little ground almonds. Never mind, I thought, I'll just reduce the amount of almonds, and up the polenta. Result - a curiously crunchy cake. Not unpleasant but not really to be recommended...

And I've been working on a cheesecake. The first one was magnificent looking but so rich every time I ate it I got groaning stomach ache. The second, lighter but less attractive. Hopefully it'll be third time lucky then I can post that too...

Anyway, hope you are having more success in the kitchen than I, and hope you like the new look site...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lentils. Fish. Salsa

That's right, today I am extolling the virtues of 1. eschewing carbs in favour of pulses 2. matching paw paw with fish. Excellente.

So, first, lentils - my humble little friends. This dish features probably my favourite lentil - the lentille verte. Like puy, but cheaper (I know this might be considered philistine in some circles but I'm not really sure I get the point of puy lentils. They just taste the same as lentilles vertes to me, for twice the price, but there we go). I don't see how you could fail to be charmed by these mini green pebbles of goodness. They are full of an earthy, satisfying flavour. And easy to cook to boot.

Now, let's introduce our fish of the day. Chosen mainly because for value for money reasons, he's the exotically named tilapia. A good choice it turned out - sweet white flesh, nice and firm.

And finally, salsa! I love the sweetness of pawpaw and the zing of lime - fresh and sweet and spicy and how nice to have all that colour on the plate - orange and red and purple and green....

Put it all together and you have a really good light dinner dish. I really think with lentils and fish you don't need any extra rice or potato or bread or whatever - this was plenty for us.

Tilapia Fillets with Pawpaw Salsa and Lentille Vertes
(serves 2)

Put 1/2 cup of lentilles vertes in a pan with a cup of water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 20-30 minutes until soft but still with a touch of bite. Season with salt and pepper to taste (add a bayleaf too if you have one). Top up with water as needed, and give an occasional stir to stop any sticking to the pan.
Meanwhile, make your salsa. Seed and dice one pawpaw and about 6 ripe cherry tomatoes. Finely slice 1/4 red onion, and some fennel stalks, if you happen to have a fennel lying around (nice but non-essential).

Put these all in a bowl together, and add a handful of chopped coriander (cilantro), a finely chopped fresh red chilli, the juice of two limes, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to mix.

When your lentils are just about ready dust a plate with some flour, salt and pepper, and coat two Tilapia filets on both sides. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan until hot to hold your hand over it.

Cook the fish on both sides for a few minutes until nicely golden brown, firm to the touch, and flaking cleanly when inserted with a fork.

Serve with extra lime

Monday, March 03, 2008

Pink Scallops

You know when you really love something and you can't help but share your enthusiasm and you recommend it to all your friends and acquaintances, but then it turns out all wrong, and you sit there feeling slightly cheated, protesting, "but it wasn't like this before"? A good restaurant, a cool bar, a show, a dish...

Well, happily that didn't happen when I sung the praises of scallops to a visiting friend. She had only tried them once before - barbecued - and found them unremarkable.

And they can be unremarkable, but they can also be sublime. These were big fat specimens. We cooked them in a hot pan, dusted on both sides with a little sugar, salt and pepper til they were brown on the edges, then perched them atop a simple combination of finely sliced fennel, segments of pink grapefruit and diced avocado.

They were sweet and soft and perfect with the tang of the grapefruit. In fact, I would happily have pared it down further and just had a plate of slightly caramelised scallops on pink grapefruit segments, but Shelley thought the crunch of the fennel was a worthwhile addition.

Either way, a good dish and supremely satisfying to be able to share the true beauty of these seafood pearls and convert someone to the love of scallops! Once again, I feel slightly inadequate for giving you a combination rather than a real recipe - but well, it's a good combination, and you know I'm all about the easy stuff.

Caramelised Scallops with Pink Grapefruit Salad.
(serves 2)
  1. Thinly slice half a bulb of fennel and dice a ripe avocado.
  2. Place in a bowl over which you will segment one pink grapefruit, letting the juice drip in to the bowl.
  3. Dust 4 fat or 6 smaller scallops with sugar, salt and pepper and heat a dry pan until pretty hot.
  4. Cook for a couple of minutes on each side until the flesh has turned opaque and the surfaces caramel brown.
  5. Place scallops on salad. Et voila.

PS - I don't know what is going on with all the links falling to the bottom of the page! I will try and look into that.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A little bit of this, a little bit of that

I've been watching Masterchef recently. Apart from being great 'roll your eyes at the telly TV' (for the ludicrous amateur dramatics of judges John Torode and Greg Wallace as they make 'tough' decisions, cast their judgmental eyes over the contestants' work and raise eyebrows in a serious manner) there's also been some pretty good cooking. One of the contestants in particular - Emily - made some dishes that were genuinely surprising and really exciting.

Which has been making me and my meals feel disappointingly pedestrian. 'Why can't I think up crazy rabbit, langoustine and pear dishes, or work out how to make beetroot into tagliatelle?!', I fret. When I am planning dinner in my head, it's different variations on old combinations that I work with, bits of this, bits of that. Like a comfortable old wardrobe where everything matches. A bit like my wardrobe, come to think of it. My 'innovative' combinations, both sartorial and culinary, are rarely successes...

Still, we can not all creative culinary geniuses be, and sometimes it's better to stick with the pieces you know...

Which is bringing me around to this dish above. The bulghur wheat from my Fabulous Crunchy Salad is making a come back; roasted aubergines and crispy onions I loved recently in a dahl recipe from the Hungry Tiger; the pinenuts and sultanas something I've come across in the Moro books I've been flicking through recently.

It's good - a kind of rich, fruity and yet wholesome-tasting comfort dish.

I served it with a yoghurt slaw - finely shredded green veg (white cabbage, cucumber, green pepper and green chillies) with lemon juice, salt, pepper and natural yogurt.

Jewelled Bulghur Wheat
(serves 2)

  • Chop half an aubergine, half a courgette and half a red pepper into about 1 cm square dice, and toss in a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread out on a baking tray and bake in a hot oven for about 30 minutes until crispy and soft in the middle.

  • Meanwhile, bring to the boil and simmer 1/2 cup bulghur wheat (the coarse type) in 1 cup of water for about 15 minutes until soft and fluffy (or follow instructions on the packet) and set aside to cool.

  • Mix a handful of golden sultanas in whilst cooking so they can plump up nicely.

  • Toast a handful of pinenuts in a dry pan over a medium heat, shaking the pan regularly until they are just browned. Set aside

  • Chop a small bunch of fresh mint.

  • Finally, fry some very thinly sliced onion in hot oil, moving continuously until crispy and brown. Put on a piece of kitchen towel to drain off some of the oil.

  • Mix the roasted veg and mint through the wheat, serve in bowls or plates, and top with pine nuts and crispy onions

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Steak for vegetarians

The photo yet again doesn't do this dish justice, so ignore that slightly messy looking plateful for a minute and just let me tell you about it.

There's three components - a cauliflower 'steak' - browned outside and soft inside; a strangly almondy cauliflower puree; and a rich tomato and caper sauce. The steak and puree bit I borrowed from Bon Appetit magazine, slightly adapted, and the sauce and pine nuts I added.

The other day I tried a recipe for a chickpea and celeriac salad I had had bookmarked in Australian Gourmet for ages. It involved a lot of different ingredients, making your own houmous, and roasting celeriac in about an inch of liquid that needed to be sporadically topped up. Complicated stuff, but I thought it would be worth the effort because it looked like a beautiful dish that would be bursting with flavour and something very special from two humble main ingredients.

I learnt a valuable lesson trying this out. Namely, that complicated recipes are just not my thing. I cut corners and I substitute ingredients, and I expect too much from something which takes all of my evening to prepare. It was a bit of a mess, and the kitchen was so messy by the time I had finished, and I so tired, that I barely noticed eating it in between all the prep and the tidy up.

Hang all that. I am much happier with recipes with a little give and take. That concentrate on one or two ingredients, that don't require the finely tuned balance of 17 different spices, that can be thrown together in an hour and then enjoyed at leisure.

I saw this cauli recipe and it seemed much more the kind of thing. I thought there was something very dignified and beautiful about presenting this vegetable in both a luxurious processed form and in a proud, unadulterated chunk. It required few ingredients and only three pans. It looked promising.

And it delivered. The 'steak' is good and caramelised and tasty. The puree is light and slightly sweet and rich. The sauce is rich and sharp and a good complement to both. It's a good dinner dish. Something a bit different and fully satisfying. And not too complicated!

Cauliflower steak with cauliflower puree and tomato sauce
(Serves 2)
  • First, chop half an onion, a clove of garlic and several handfuls of cherry tomatoes (sorry - I forgot to weigh them so no more accurate weight, but you can work out how many you need I'm sure!) or just use a tin or two of tinned tomatoes.
  • Heat some olive oil gently, add the onion, garlic and tomatoes, a good slug of red wine, salt and pepper and a few branches of rosemary. Let simmer for an hour or so, stirring occasionally, until rich and thick.
  • Near the end, add a handful of capers and pick out the sticky bits of rosemary.
  • Meanwhile, cut two 1 inch slices from the middle of a medium-sized cauliflower and break the rest into florets.
  • Heat some olice oil in a frying pan, and cook the 'steaks' on both sides for about 5-10 minutes until browned, at which point transfer to an oven tray and bake at about 180C for another 20 minutes to soften the inside
  • While the steaks are cooking, put the florets in a saucepan with a cup of milk, a cup of water and a couple of pieces of cinnamon bark. When soft (about 10 minutes), drain, reserving the liquid, spread out on an oven tray and put in the oven until they've crisped up a little (5-10 minutes)
  • Process the florets with a cup of the reserved liquid and a little grated parmesan, until nice and smooth.
  • Toast some pinenuts in a frying pan until lightly browned.
  • Put a blob of puree on each plate, top with a steak, and scatter with pinenuts. Sauce on the side.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Fabulous Crunchy Salad

I made the fabulous crunchy salad on a Thursday night. Its composition had been settling in my thoughts for a few days and I finally had some time to boil bulghur and to pull apart a pomegranate and bring my ideas into reality.

And boy was I glad that I did. I know it sounds humble, and it's, if not super easy, then just one smidge below that, but it is utterly utterly fabulous. Hand on heart I can say this is the best thing I have eaten in months. I kept closing my eyes as I ate it, the better to taste all its constituents and savour their happy amalgamation.

It was so good I'm almost scared to make it again, in case my expectations are too high and will be cruelly dashed.

But you should make it. Even if you think you don't like bulghur wheat or red cabbage or celery. In fact, especially if you don't like bulghur wheat or red cabbage or celery. Retain your gastronomical scepticism, and, I hope, you will have your preconceptions pleasantly re-buffed. Fabulous Crunchy Salad

Serves c.4 people - nb measurements are approximate; adjust as you see fit

Bring to the boil and simmer 1 cup bulghur wheat (the coarse type) in 2 cups of water for about 15 minutes until soft and fluffy (or follow instructions on the packet) and set aside to cool.

Roughly chop a couple of sticks of celery and thinly slice half a red cabbage.

Dice a ripe avocado.

Prise open a pomegranate and pick out all those jewel-like seeds (this will make a mess!).

Mix the cooled bulghur, cabbage, celery and a handful of chopped fresh parsley with a good slug of olive oil, the juice of a lime, salt and pepper.

Set on plates, top with the avo and pomegranate, and some more parsley if you like.

Squeeze over a little more lime and drizzle over a dribble of pomegranate molasses.

Serve and enjoy.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Great minds think alike

I was idly perusing the wares of Liberty a couple of days ago. I'd gone in to get myself a Moleskine diary - an object which I had coveted for many weeks, and which, now it is in my possession, I love more even than I imagined I would. It's the perfect diary! I keep getting it out to show various friends and aquaintances who don't seem quite so enthralled at the smooth leather cover, and the neat elastic to keep it closed, the page for notes next to a week-to-view page (who doesn't like a good page for notes?), the maps, the pocket for keepsakes and cards...

Anyway, I had the diary in my hand, but when in a store as full of pretty things as Liberty, it's a shame not to slow a little and just to look at them all and maybe pick up one or two or tilt your head appraisingly before this and that. Which was how I came to be in the chocolate room and how I came to notice a brand of chocolate hitherto unknown to me, and how I came to pick up this delightful looking and intriguing sounding confection and take it to the cashdesk with the aforementioned Moleskine.

I love pink peppercorns. Quite simply, they are pink and peppery, and they taste like you might imagine a black peppercorn would if it were a little more pink. Quite joyous and zingy.

I am also not unfond of dark chocolate.

The two together though, I was not sure of. I had tried and been disappointed by chilli chocolate, and you know how often you love two friends separately but together they just don't bond, are not well suited.

Was it to be thus with chocolate and pink peppercorn? It was not! I was delighted.

And the title of this post? Well, just hours after I'd made this happy chocolatary discovery, I was reading Claudia's lovely blog, and found more pink peppercorns cosying up to some chocolate. (Except in a much more beautiful and better researched fashion than mine!) Read this post to see what I mean. I am definitely going to try her pretty diy version next time I fancy this sweetspicy treat. Superb!
(and he likes it too!)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Guest Slot #3 - Gluten-free cookies

This time it's Big Sister Saucepan who's augmenting the saucepan repertoire with a culinary contribution from the other side of the world. The first specialist gluten-free recipe on the blog as well! Which reminds me, Shauna's book is out in the UK now so I must go and look that up sometime soon...

Anyway, back to the biscuits. Apparently these are so good they have to be strictly rationed in the BSS household. Sounds good to me...

Gluten Free Orange Dark Choc Chip Cookies (alternative Lemon & White Choc)

125g unsalted butter
½ cup brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
The rind of an orange, finely grated
1 cup baby rice cereal (or cornflour)
1 cup plain gluten free flour
2/3 teaspoon bicarb soda
200g choc chips

Preheat over to 170degrees. Line tray with baking paper
Cream butter and sugar until creamy
Add the egg and orange rind until all combined
Separately, mix the flours and the bi carb
Fold this into the egg mixture along with the choc chips
Once all is mixed together well roll into small balls and flatten slightly. They flatten during cooking.
Cook for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Jerusalem 'Chokes with Celery Leaves

A little while ago I was happily reminded of how sublime these knobbly little fellows can be. I met them again as one un-assuming little dish in an array of mezze, seeminly boiled or baked in a lemony-oily sauce. They were silken and tangy and slightly nutty.

I'm fond of jerusalem artichokes. Maybe partly because I have a fondness in general for 'ugly' vegetables, and probably a lot because I remember digging up artichokes in my parent's garden one winter, and I remember the sheer joy that came from plunging fingers into soft soil and unearthing first one silvery nugget, then two, then four, then a whole heaving bunch of them. Something so lovely about this bounteousness emerging from a barren earth.

And because they taste good. I know some find them bland and un-arresting. But they have to me a flavour quite velvety and delicate and delicious.

Good in soups, with lots of thyme and creme fraiche. Also good in this kind of warm salad/mezze dish, which I created based on the memory of the little 'chokes I had in Turkey the other week, and with the leaves of a magnificent bunch of celery which the little shop sells. They have a lovely soft celery flavour to them.

Jerusalem Artichokes with Celery Leaves and Yoghurt

1. Peel your jerusalem artichokes (3-4 for each portion), and cut into c.10mm slices. Place in a small saucepan with a generous splash of olive oil, the juice of a lemon (for two portions, more for more), a clove of garlic - minced fine, salt and pepper.

2. Cook over a low heat for 30-40 minutes, shaking every now and then to make sure it doesn't stick, until the chokes are soft to a knife.

3. Add a couple of handfuls of celery leaves, replace the lid and return to the heat so they can steam for a further 5-10 minutes.

4. Turn out on to a plate and garnish with fresh plain yoghurt, chopped parsley, more lemon juice and pepper.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Happy New Year!

Oh jeez, over a month since I last wrote. I meant to remind you of menu for hope, which I somehow sadly managed to miss this year (will make up next year!), I meant to post at least a Christmas message, if not a recipe, something, anything...

Ah well, sometimes things slide. And now a super fresh new year lies tantalisingly before me (I still fall every January for the promise of the new and improved). I won't repeat last year's attempt to keep myself disciplined and hemmed into my self-promises though. This year, things will just go as they go I think. Though this humble little site hasn't quite lived up to my dreams of it in terms of content, it has been much more rewarding and challenging and fun than I imagined, and I feel now I know better where I want to go with it and what I want to do and say.

I have been enormously cheered by those of you who have visited and commented this year. It makes it all so much more enjoyable. I really truly appreciate each kind word left and feel uplifted by each visit on the counter. And I have been hugely inspired by all those others out there in food blog world producing such treats for eyes and brain at a rate much faster than I can digest it all. May it all continue and grow.

And the very very best wishes to you and yours for 2008. Happy New Year!