Archive for November, 2009

Mushrooms Armeniennes

November 29, 2009

I’ve been a bit quiet this week. It’s not that there aren’t things I want to cook in ‘Week In, Week Out’, which is actually very appealing: a glossy and vividly photographed coffee-table sized book containing a selection of Simon Hopkinson’s food writing from The Independent in the form of ’52 seasonal stories’,  but none of the things that have actually made it onto my table have been very exciting. It’s disappointing, really, because I was all up for jointing my first rabbit. According to Hopkinson, “Any self-respecting French housewife would not be seen dead asking that her rabbit be jointed by the stall holder or butcher; she just knows how to do it as a matter of course.” Of course. And slow-braised rabbit shoulders with white beans and parsley sounded so perfect for the blustery weather. Or what about braised rabbit legs in red wine with smoked bacon, chilli and orange? Sounds delicious, don’t you think? Sadly, the local butcher was not co-operative. So it is I come to you with a recipe for mushrooms on toast.

These are very nice mushrooms on toast though – not that a recipe is really needed, but I started with the one from Lindsey Bareham’s ‘A Wolf in the Kitchen’, and you can tell from the fact that Lindsey Bareham collaborated with Hopkinson on ‘Roast Chicken and Other Stories’ that their cooking styles are quite similar. ‘Wolf…’ was one of the first cookbooks I ever owned as a student and I still rate it very highly for straightforward but unpatronising advice and a good range of decent recipes. It has mushrooms sauteed with garlic, bacon and spring onions and then tipped over toast spread with cream cheese. Mushrooms Armeniennes, apparently, comes from an Elizabeth David recipe and keeps the garlic and bacon, but with an additional stewing in red wine, which makes your kitchen smell as if you were making boeuf bourgignon, but in considerably less time than it would take to make it. If you should be looking for an excuse to open a bottle of red wine at lunchtime, this is it. If, like me, you’re not much of a lunchtime drinker, you can take the rest of the bottle round to a friend’s house in the evening (maybe with some cheese straws and financiers you made, which went down very well but are not from this book so I shan’t write about those).

Mushrooms Armeniennes  Serves 4 for lunch

This is taken from a section on mushroom recipes specifically designed for the commonly available tame mushroom, as opposed to the more exotic wild mushrooms that are so popular – not always justifiably, Hopkinson feels – on restaurant menus. So don’t feel you need to use any particularly special mushrooms for this.

2 tbsp olive oil
4 rashers of bacon, chopped (the recipe says to remove the rind and add it back in later, but mine didn’t really have a rind)
about 700g button mushrooms
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
salt and pepper
300ml red wine
3 tbsp chopped parsley
4 thick slices of bread

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the bacon until crisp. Add the mushrooms, garlic, salt and pepper, and reserved bacon rind, if using. Stir until all is coated with the fat and leave to stew, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Pour in the wine, bring to a boil and cook rapidly for 10 more minutes. The recipe then directs you to tip the contents of the pan into a colander over a clean pan and let it drip for a few minutes, before reducing the liquid in the new pan separately. I was hungry so I just reduced the liquid in the pan with the mushrooms. Either way, you should be left with a small amount of syrupy, dark liquid. Toast your bread, and pour over the mushrooms and juice, checking for seasoning. Scatter with the parsley before serving.

Adapted from Simon Hopkinson’s ‘Week In, Week Out’.


Roast chicken

November 23, 2009

Well, I couldn’t very well cook from a book called ‘Roast Chicken and Other Stories’ for a week without making roast chicken, could I? Also, and frankly, this is shameful to admit, but…I’ve never roasted a chicken before. I know. I have a food blog and I’ve never made one of the basic staples of the Sunday lunch table country-wide. A hangover from The Vegetarian Years, maybe, but I’m just not very confident at cooking animals – particularly if they’re animal shaped as opposed to, say, neatly contained as a thigh or a sausage or an escalope. It just seems more of an event to cook an entire creature and I worry that I won’t do it justice – it dies for my dinner and I make it dry or tough and tasteless. I want to honour my meat. But this is no way to go on. Faint heart never won fine gravy…ahem.  As of Sunday, I decided, there would be a turning point in my life: the post-chicken roasting era would begin!

Having procured my chicken in the scant 5 minute window during which it was not raining, I armed myself with plenty of butter, a lemon, some garlic and herbs. Potatoes were par-boiled. Bird was carefully anointed, cavity was stuffed, and into a hot oven she went. An hour or so later and…well, I was ridiculously over-pleased with myself. The skin was all golden and crispy, just like it was supposed to be, there was enough juice (after a bit of poking about) to mix with the melted buttery bits into a gravy of sorts, and the flesh was moist and not dry at all. Some leftover courgettes from the veg box were sauteed briefly and dressed with vinegar and mint as a slightly sharp contrast, and we sat down to enjoy it in front of the first season of Mad Men. Tom declared it ‘the best Sunday lunch ever’, though I’m sure he was just being nice.

OK, so my carving skills still need some a lot of work, but it wasn’t bad for a first attempt. And the best part is, we now have neatly cling-filmed leftovers sitting in the fridge and waiting to be turned into a lemony pilaf for tomorrow night’s dinner and a chicken and bread salad for lunch the day after that. If there’s one thing I love more than successfully tackling a new recipe, it’s successfully stockpiling the leftovers.

Coming up next: more Simon Hopkinson, with ‘Week In, Week Out’.


Roast Chicken  Serves 4, or 2 with plenty of leftovers

110g butter, at room temperature
large free-range chicken, around 1.8kg
salt and pepper
1 lemon
several sprigs of thyme, tarragon, or both (I used parsley as it was all I had, but tarragon would have been better)
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

Preheat the oven to 230c. Put the chicken in a roasting tin and smear the butter all over it with your hands. Season it liberally with salt and pepper, inside and out, and squeeze over the juice of the lemon. Put the herbs, garlic and squeezed out lemon halves inside the cavity.

Roast the chicken in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Baste, then turn the oven down to 190c and roast for a further 30-45 minutes, basting occasionally. The bird should be golden brown with a crisp skin and if you pierce the thigh the juices should run clear.

Turn off the oven, leaving the door ajar, and leave the chicken to rest for around 15 minutes before carving. The recipe recommends carving in the roasting tin – you can then set aside the carcass for stock later, stir or whisk the juices that have amalgamated in the tin and pour them over the meat. Another option given, which I didn’t bother with, is to scoop the herbs and garlic out of the cavity and stir them into the juices, gently heating through and straining before serving.

From Simon Hopkinson’s ‘Roast Chicken and Other Stories’.

Onion tart & petit pots au chocolat

November 21, 2009

Or tarte a l’oignon and little chocolate pots, possibly. Friends were coming round for dinner at the end of another long week, and we had been talking tarts. Specifically, why don’t we make them more? A tart soothes with pastry and soft, billowy mouthfuls of mild creamy custard, yet it’s also a little bit sophisticated and manages to seem somehow wholesome, despite its full-fat dairy quotient. A tart is a light lunch or a simple dinner and the perfect size to share with friends.

‘Roast Chicken and Other Stories’ certainly delivers on the tart front: anchovy and onion, cep, crab, leek, onion, red pepper, tomato and pesto. I decided on the classic onion tart – mountains of thinly sliced onion half-moons, softened very gently in butter for a whole hour until transformed into a tangled slump, then mixed happily with cream, egg yolks and black pepper. The magic is in the slow cooking of the onions to bring out their deep, gentle savory-sweetness. I didn’t even need to add salt.

Dessert was the little chocolate pots, the consistency of a chocolate truffle under a firmer crust, to attack with a spoon while the discussion veered from meetings with Hermione Lee to Megan Fox’s bra size. Well, just because you’re eating sophisticated French food doesn’t mean you have to have sophisticated conversation.

Onion tart  Serves 4

Simon seems to assume you know what you’re doing on the pastry front and, having made it only once before, I didn’t. Well, anyhow, it seemed to work almost perfectly so I’ve added my notes.

This recipe will leave you with a lot of egg whites, so either make meringues or freeze them (try and remember to write the number of whites on the label).

For the pastry:
50g butter, cut into cubes
110g plain flour
1 egg yolk
a pinch of salt

For the filling:
110g butter
4 large onions (I only had miniature onions so I used about 7)
salt and pepper
4 egg yolks
300ml double cream

To make the pastry, quickly work the butter into the flour, rubbing them together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. There can be a mix of bigger and smaller pieces. I’ve read about everything having to be very cold when you make pastry, but I disregarded that and it didn’t seem to matter. Add the egg yolk, salt, and enough water so that you can stir it and it forms a firm dough. I found this was a tiny amount, so add cautiously. Chill the dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180c. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry as thinly as you can. Grease a deep 20.5cm flan tin and line it with the pastry, pressing it into the edges. Trim off the overhang, either with a knife or your fingers. Don’t be over-zealous, as the pastry may shrink in the oven (mine did). Keep the off-cuts in case of cracks developing. Prick the bottom gently with a fork. Now is the time to use your ceramic beans or pie weights if you have them, or you can use dried beans. This is to stop the pastry from bubbling up in the oven. I didn’t use anything and it was fine. Bake the case for about 15-20 minutes until straw coloured. If cracks have developed, patch them up.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onions and a sprinkle of salt, and cook gently with a lid on for about 10-15 minutes. Make sure the onions don’t brown. When very sloppy, remove the lid and carry on cooking on the lowest heat, stirring from time to time, until most of the liquid has evaporated. This may take up to 1 hour. The onions should become very soft and turn darker in colour, but you’re not caramelising them so make sure they don’t stick and burn on the bottom of the pan. When done, pour into a bowl and cool.

Mix the egg yolks and cream together and add to the onions with a generous amount of black pepper. Taste and see if it needs salt. Pour the mixture into the pastry case – you may not be able to fit it all in, but try to get in as much as possible. As Simon says, “half-filled tarts are always disappointing.” If you have leftover mixture, look around and see if you still have those pastry off-cuts. If yes, you can form yourself a little miniature tart for your boyfriend to have for lunch tomorrow – you wouldn’t want him to miss out, would you?

Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until set and lightly browned. Mine looked about done after 20, so I turned off the oven and left it in there for the last 10 minutes. Serve with a green salad.

Petit pot au chocolat  Serves 4

175ml double cream
1/2 vanilla pod, split lengthways
75ml milk (I used semi-skimmed)
125g dark, bitter chocolate, broken into pieces (I used some 73% cocoa stuff bought from my veg box people)
2 small egg yolks (now you can really make a lot of meringues)
1 heaped tbsp icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 140c. Warm the cream with the vanilla pod – careful, it can boil up quickly! Stir to disperse the vanilla seeds, turn off the heat, cover and leave to infuse for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in the milk. Beat together the egg yolks and sugar (you may need to sieve the sugar first, icing sugar tends to go lumpy) and add to the chocolate milk and vanilla cream. Mix together thoroughly. Pass through a fine sieve (not sure this was necessary, but I did it) into 4 small pots or ramekins. The ones you get from GU chocolate puds are about the right size.

Bake in a bain-marie (i.e. half fill a deep baking tray with hot water and place the pots in it) for 45 minutes – 1 hour. The pots should puff up slightly and you want them to get to a stage where a crust forms on top – they will probably start to develop teeny cracks in the top when ready. Cool in the fridge for at least 6 hours before serving.

Adapted from Simon Hopkinson’s ‘Roast Chicken and Other Stories’.

Grilled aubergines with sesame

November 21, 2009

After all that talk about squaring up to the French classics, the next two recipes I cooked from Simon Hopkinson were, um, an oriental rice noodle salad and aubergines with satay sauce. Perhaps I haven’t made quite as much progress in my French cuisine rehabilitation as I thought. Let me tell you about the aubergines though, because they’re well worth sticking in your comfort zone for. Unless you’re the sort of person who can confidently whip up oeufs en meurette but have yet to essay forth into the world of cooking with peanut butter, of course.

One of my hang-ups about classic cooking, English in particular, is the belief that a meal is not a meal unless it centres around a great fist of meat. And yes, aubergines are a typical stand-in for meat when people who never cook vegetarian food cook for vegetarians. So this may sound a little cliched, but: these aubergines are good enough to be the centrepiece of a meal, even for people who wouldn’t normally consider a vegetable capable of such a thing. They could, too, easily be a side dish to some stir-fried prawns or chicken or even greens, but that might almost be too much of a good thing. With a bowl of brown rice, you’re free to concentrate on the flavour and it’s so compellingly delicious that brown rice and vegetables for dinner doesn’t seem austere at all.

Grilled aubergines with sesame  Serves 4 as a modest main course or large side dish

Just a note on quantities – I halved the ingredients for the sauce and still had some leftover, which confirmed my hunch that the original quantities would make a vast amount. Still, it is good, so if you want a lot then double it again.

175g peanut butter (I think crunchy is always best)
50ml soy sauce
2 1/2 tbsp lemon juice, or about half a lemon’s worth
2 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1-2 pieces stem ginger
1 1/2 tbsp stem ginger syrup
4 shakes of tabasco, more if you like it hot
1 garlic clove, peeled
50ml cold water
2 large aubergines
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2-4 tbsp groundnut oil or sunflower oil, for frying aubergines

To prepare the aubergines, cut them into thick slices and then quarter so you have 2.5cm/1 inch chunks. Heat the groundnut oil/sunflower oil in a large frying pan until very hot (the amount depends partly on the size of your aubergines, but aubergines tend to absorb a lot of oil and I used less than advised. If they do end up very oily, drain them on kitchen paper). Add the aubergine chunks and fry until well browned and soft all the way through, then set to one side.

Put all the rest of the ingredients, except for the sesame seeds, in a blender and process to a smooth paste. It should be the consistency of thick cream, so add more water if necessary. Place the cooked aubergines on a baking tray, spread over the sauce and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Place under a hot grill until nicely browned – don’t worry if the aubergines start to burn a little at the edges.

Adapted from Simon Hopkinson’s ‘Roast Chicken and Other Stories’.

Salade frisee aux lardons

November 17, 2009

And our featured book this week is: Roast Chicken and Other Stories, by Simon Hopkinson with Lindsey Bareham, which, according to my Oxfam copy, was voted ‘the most useful cookbook of all time’ by Waitrose Food Illustrated. And that’s a publication I respect. Roast Chicken etc. is built around forty chapters, each of which are based on one of Simon’s favourite ingredient, which include anchovies, brains, endives, kidneys and potatoes. The recipes, as you might imagine, are quite heavily biased towards French and British classics; in other words, the kind of cooking I grew up on and have spent most of my subsequent adult life avoiding due to a childhood horror of, well, most food, and a teenage distaste for meat, rich sauces, and absent vegetables. While my taste may still veer towards mainly vegetarian dishes and far more small grain-like things and pulses than my parents would ever consider normal, as I’ve got older I’ve consciously tried to broaden my food horizons. I was struck by Jeffrey Steingarten’s theory, in The Man Who Ate Everything, that all food aversions are really phobias which can, and should, be overcome. I may still have a few (mayonnaise, urgh) but the range of food I will eat now would have been unthinkable ten years ago. Besides, who can take pride in their cooking skills without being able to roast a chicken well?

This salad, which despite the French name is actually bacon and egg salad, conjures up for me an image of a little French bistro, a pavement-side table and a glass of cold white wine. But it went down pretty well even in a small flat in Oxford on a Monday night, and this is key, I think, because it was so simple and so delicious that I understood why this book might have been voted so useful – I can see this becoming one of my standbys.

Salade frisee aux lardons  Serves 4

The instructions preceding the recipe tell you to have everything ready and to hand before you start, as everything comes together quickly, and he’s right – you should.

1 head of frisee, washed and picked over into small tendrils (I couldn’t find frisee alone, but most supermarkets will sell a salad mix of mainly frisee)
salt and pepper
6 tbsp olive oil
vinegared water for poaching
4 eggs
6 thick, rindless streaky bacon rashers, cut into lardons (small pieces)
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 small baguette, rubbed with a garlic clove, cut into cubes, and fried in olive oil (I sliced, toasted, and rubbed with garlic instead)
1 heaped tbsp flat-leaf parsley

Have the washed frisee ready in a large bowl. Season it lightly with salt and pepper. Put a frying pan on to heat and bring the water for poaching the egg to a simmer. Heat the oil in the frying pan and start to fry the bacon until as crisp as you like it. Start to poach the eggs (I find the easiest way is to break the egg into a cup and then lower the cup into the simmering water, twisting the cup to slip the egg gently out, and removing the cup).

When the bacon is crisp, throw it onto the frisee and stir it in. Immediately add the red wine vinegar to the hot frying pan (off the heat), swirl it around, and tip that into the salad leaves too. Mix in the parsley and croutons and divide between four plates. Place a poached egg on the top of each salad, sprinkling with a little salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

From Simon Hopkinson’s ‘Roast Chicken and Other Stories’.

Chocolate, hazelnut and sherry cake with sherry-raisin yoghurt

November 13, 2009


I forgot to take any pictures of this in its intact state, but here: evidence that the leftovers went down well at work (look closely and you can see the remains of the lemon cake too). We had friends coming over who we hadn’t seen for aaages, and it seemed as good an excuse as any to crack open the bottle of pisco we’d brought back from holidays in Chile and make a batch of pisco sours. If you’ve never had a pisco sour, they’re delicious – the perfect pre-dinner drink. Just strong enough to put you in the right celebratory mood, but not so strong that you’re drunk before you move onto the wine (if you only have one, which is probably advisable). The method of making seems to vary, but we made ours with lemon juice, egg white and icing sugar all shaken up with the pisco in a giant thermos flask and it was an almost exact recreation of our favourite holiday aperitif (perhaps a bit tarter, but the Chileans seem to have a big case of the sweet tooth. Oh, and they probably used a proper cocktail shaker).

The cake was one I’d had my eye on for a while, because of  course I am nigh on obsessed with putting nuts into everything I cook, and I love sherry. I hadn’t made it yet because of these exact things: I know many people for whom the addition of nuts, alcohol and raisins to an innocent chocolate cake would be horrifying. Presented with the opportunity to make it for people who I didn’t know for sure were chocolate-nut haters, the urge was too strong and I pressed on, with grudging consent from Tom (I think I might have broken his spirit).

We brought this out after a main of Catalan chicken with picada, which was, well, fine. It’s just that it also contained raisins soaked in sherry and ground almonds and I expected a little more of it. Perhaps sherry in cake form is more likely to win over its detractors. And don’t worry if you are such a person – the sherry flavour is really quite gentle, a faint whiff of booze rather than an all-out assault, meaning this sits somewhere between a grown-up dessert cake and an afternoon coffee cake.

Chocolate, hazelnut and sherry cake  Serves 8 (generously – could easily have stretched to more)

The recipe introduces itself as follows: “Chocolate and sherry – a marriage made in heaven”, and, you know, I think I might be tempted to agree. It also suggests you treat yourself to a glass of Pedro Ximenez sherry to go with it, which I imagine would be absolutely heavenly, but I was loathe to delve into pre- and post-dinner drinks on a weeknight.

150g plain chocolate (mine was 70% cocoa solids)
75g unsalted butter (I had salted butter so I just left out the salt later on)
125ml dry fino sherry (I used Solera Jerezana dry oloroso, from Waitrose because I wasn’t about to buy two bottles of sherry for one cake)
6 medium eggs, separated
160g caster sugar
150g hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (actually, I would err on the side of finely chopped. And don’t do what I did – realise you’re one egg short and run to the shops, forgetting the hazelnuts toasting under the grill. This makes a lot of burnt nuts)
a pinch of salt
55g self-raising flour, sifted
55g cocoa powder, sifted
icing sugar for dusting

for the sherry-raisin yoghurt or cream:
250g raisins
250ml oloroso sherry
300ml double cream
60ml greek yoghurt or fromage frais (I only had greek yoghurt, so I substituted the cream for yoghurt)
4 tbsp icing sugar

Grease a 22cm spring-form cake tin (clearly Diana Henry has a 22cm cake tin. I have a 23cm cake tin. Maybe this is why neither of her cake recipes have worked out quite right for me). Line it with greaseproof paper.

Put the chocolate, sherry and butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Heat until melted, stirring occasionally. Let the mixture cool.

Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until glossy (wasn’t quite sure what she meant by this – I whisked for a few minutes until it was quite pale yellow). Add the cooled chocolate mixture and 70g of the hazelnuts. Beat the egg-whites until fairly stiff (I took this to mean just before the stiff peak stage). Using a large metal spoon, loosen the chocolate mixture with a big spoonful of egg white (again, ? I just stirred it slightly). Fold in the rest of the egg white, flour, cocoa and salt (if using).

Pour into the tin and bake in an oven preheated to 180c for 50 minutes (this is absolute madness. I took mine out at 30 and it was slightly overdone, and I have an oven thermometer so I know the oven was the right temperature.) Do the skewer test to see if it’s done. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for half an hour before turning it out.

In a small saucepan, heat the raisins in the sherry for the cream. When the sherry is about to reach boiling point, turn the heat off and leave the raisins to plump up.

Whip the cream (if using) and stir the yoghurt and sugar into it. Add the raisins with their soaking liquid (I would actually advise not adding the soaking liquid as it turned it an unappetising colour and it was pretty boozy already. This might have just been because I mucked about leaving out the cream though). Check the sweetness.

Dust the surface of the cake with icing sugar and scatter the rest of the hazelnuts on top (oops! I forgot. Blame the pisco sour). Finish with another light dusting of icing sugar and serve with dollops of the cream/yoghurt.

Adapted from Diana Henry’s ‘Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons’.



Lemon and rosemary cake

November 9, 2009


Saturday was shaping up nicely, the beginning of one of those luxurious weekends in which you have only the loosest of plans and can suit yourself. We swung by the new Ashmolean, which has just re-opened after a £61m renovation project: it was all light and glass and whispered praise and I took a serious fancy to a Japanese picnic box in the shape of a boat. Then we had a rather nice light lunch of quail’s eggs with roasted cumin salt, Cumbrian air-dried ham and Montgomery cheddar with quince, all washed down with Cotswold autumn beer, in the ultra modern new rooftop restaurant. Afterwards, we headed to the covered market so Tom could get his hair cut and I could buy the necessary ingredients for dinner, which I had determined would be a recipe I’d had my eye on for months: sausages with lentils and sweet and sour figs. Sausages were no problem – after some consideration, a winning combination of Toulouse, venison and Oxford pork were duly purchased – but where were the tempting, juicy-looking figs I had seen last week? “We’re all out,” said the woman on the greengrocer’s stall, “but we’ll be getting Brazilian ones in next week.” This was just the tip, as it later transpired, of an Oxford-wide fig shortage. We visited every fruit and vegetable purveyor on the Cowley road and all we found were 6 semi-rotten specimens shoved in a box down the back of a shelf. “What happened to being able to get anything you want whenever you want?” I moaned. The light lunch, while pleasant, was wearing off and leaving me fig-less, hungry and fatigued. We had to go to the off-license we fondly refer to as the ‘magic booze shop’ to buy some campari to cheer me up.

So, instead of sausages with sweet and sour figs we had a somewhat less glamourous sausage, bacon and onion casserole, but after a nice sit down and a cold Americano it seemed like just the thing to accompany the sound of fireworks from across the street. For dessert, we had this lemon and rosemary cake.

Lemon and rosemary cake  Serves 8

I would have liked the flavour of rosemary to have been a bit more pronounced here: I don’t think I used enough – although it smelled so fragrant while it was cooking! After some debate we concluded that a ‘sprig’ of rosemary is one of the little branches of herb, not the little bunches of needles attached to it.

55g stale white bread
100g blanched almonds
2 tsp rosemary leaves
200g caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
grated zest of 1 lemon
200ml olive oil
4 eggs, beaten (I used large)

for the syrup:
juice of 2 lemons
125ml water
60g caster sugar
2 sprigs rosemary

for the garnish:
icing sugar
berries (optional)
yoghurt or cream to serve

Put the bread, almonds and rosemary leaves in a food processor and grind as finely as possible. Put the mixture in a bowl and stir in the sugar and baking powder. Add the lemon zest, olive oil and eggs and stir well.

Pour the batter into a greased 22cm spring-form cake tin (my tin was 23cm). Put in a cold oven and set the heat to 180c. Bake for 45-50 mins (mine took much less than this – I kind of forgot to set the timer, but I think it was done at about 30 mins so check early). A skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean. Leave in the tin for 5-10 mins to cool and turn out onto a plate (mine seemed pretty well wedded to the base so I just left it in and served it from that).

Make the syrup by gently heating the ingredients together. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then turn up the heat and boil for 5 mins.

Pierce holes in the cake while it’s still warm and pour over the syrup, discarding the rosemary. Leave the cake to cool and when ready to serve, dust with icing sugar and serve with berries or citrus fruits in syrup and yoghurt.

From Diana Henry’s ‘Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons’.

Date-stuffed mackerel with spicy broth and couscous

November 6, 2009


I’m trying to be bolder with fish. Because, really, there’s nothing to be scared of, so why do I rarely eat it whole and unashamedly fish-shaped instead of in neatly filleted form? Mackerel is relatively cheap, good for you, and sustainable so I’m after cultivating a taste for it other than smoked and sealed in supermarket packs. It just so happens that I love dates, so this seemed as good a place as any to start. First stop, the fishmonger’s in the covered market, where I promptly humiliated myself by asking if they had any mackerel while, ahem, standing right in front of it. In my defence, they were bigger than usual…

So, mackerel successfully purchased, gutted, and placed in a carrier bag, I skipped home…where I promptly thrust the resulting pungent whiff and fish-blood dripping package in the fridge until Tom came home to wash away the gory bits. I, meanwhile, busied myself with mixing chopped dates and diced cubes of butter and toasted almonds into a stuffing. Perhaps I’m not quite ready to graduate from fish cookery school just yet.


Luckily, if you too are a nervous mackerel eater, this may be just the dish. The stuffing is very sweet and rich, the broth is aromatic with the must of saffron and a gentle kick of cayenne, there’s a lot going on that the fishiness stands up to but is also slightly tamed by. I was surprised, as someone who can find mackerel and sardines too dense and powerful, how much I liked it here. It also, with dates and cinnamon and ground ginger and heat, feels almost festive: “this would make a great Christmas dinner”, as Tom put it. Well, I think I could be happy with that.


Date-stuffed mackerel with spicy broth and couscous  Serves 2

You’ll need approximately one mackerel per person, but mine were whoppers, as noted above – about twice the weight specified. We saved what we couldn’t eat and I tossed it into a salad of boiled waxy potatoes, green beans and walnut pesto for lunch today. I halved the amount of stuffing, but you’ll want to double it again if your fish are as big as ours or they won’t be stuffed as much as comfortably full (don’t double the spices).

2 x 175g mackerel, scaled and gutted
olive oil
around 1/2 tsp each of ground ginger and cinnamon
150ml fish stock
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp, or a good pinch, of saffron threads
small bunch of coriander

for the stuffing:
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp olive oil
5 moist dates (I used deglet nour)
10g blanched almonds, toasted
about 1 tbsp chopped mint leaves
finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 small lemon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp harissa
15g butter

for the couscous:
100g couscous
100ml water
1/2 tbsp olive oil

For the stuffing, gently saute the onion in a small pan until soft and translucent. Tip into a bowl while you prepare the other ingredients. Pit the dates and roughly chop. Crush or chop the almonds quite small – you want some chunks and some powdery bits. Dice the butter. Add the dates and almonds to the onions with all the other stuffing ingredients and some salt and pepper. Mix everything together with your hands until sticking together.

Preheat the oven to 180c. Wash the mackerel (or get obliging boyfriend/housemate to do it). Bloody bits will make it taste bitter, so be thorough. With a sharp knife, open out the slit in the tail end a bit more so you have a bigger pocket for the stuffing.

Pour a little olive oil into the bottom of an ovenproof dish or baking tray. Season the inside of the fish, fill them with the stuffing, and lay them in the dish. Drizzle a little oil on the outside and rub with the ginger and cinnamon. Season again on the outside. Roast in the preheated oven for about 20 mins, or maybe 10 mins longer if your fish are on the large size. You can tell if it’s done by having a poke with a knife and seeing if the flesh pulls away easily from the bones.

Put the couscous in a bowl, boil the water, and pour it over. Cover with a teatowel for 5-10 mins until all the water has been absorbed, then fluff up the grains with a fork (I’ve simplified the original instructions to the way I normally do couscous, because I wasn’t about to faff about with two soakings and a steaming).

Bring the stock to the boil and add the cayenne. Pour a little boiling water on the saffron and let it steep for a few minutes, then add that too. Taste for seasoning.

Chop the coriander roughly. Get out two big, flat soup or pasta bowls (we had to cut our fishies’ heads off to get them to fit) and divide the couscous between them. Pour over the broth. Top with the mackerel and strew with coriander.

Adapted from Diana Henry’s ‘Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons’.

Kushary and roast vegetables with zhug

November 4, 2009


Kushary (or kushari, koshary or koshari) is one of my favourite meals ever. In fact, I think if I had to live off only one thing for the rest of my life – an unlikely scenario, I admit – this might well be an almost perfect solution. What it is, if it’s not crossed your path in life, is an Egyptian pilaf, a mix of lentils, long-grain rice and small pasta like macaroni. It’s served with a spicy tomato sauce, and, usually, a garnish of fried onions. It’s closely related to another Egyptian pilaf called megadarra or mujaddara which is usually just rice and lentils with the onions but no tomato sauce. I prefer it with pasta, of course (see also: potato and rosemary pizza, spaghetti and breadcrumbs), although the simpler variation is nice if you’re having it as a side or with a selection of smaller dishes. I usually eat kushary as a main course and, for me, it’s the ultimate comfort food: starchy and homogenous enough to be eaten soothingly out of a big bowl, tasty enough that you want to carry on eating it until you burst.

I had some oddly summery vegetables left over from my veg box (is it me, or shouldn’t I be getting bumpy root like things by now, not sweetcorn and peppers and courgettes?) so I decided to roast them up as a side dish, although it is altogether possible that the main reason I made this particular recipe was that I love the word ‘zhug’. Maybe I should have called this blog Aioli to Zhug.

Anyway. Zhug is a fiery hot sauce from Israel with (a lot of) chilli, cardamom and caraway. Sounds odd? I think I’m still getting my head round it, and I’ve already tried it. According to the recipe, it makes a good marinade for chicken or lamb, but I think I’d prefer it where it’s not too late to control the amount of it. If you have any labneh left over from yesterday’s pilaf, that’s recommended with the vegetables and some warm bread.


Kushary  Serves 4-6 (I’d say 6 would be pushing it, but I do like it a lot)

I’ve reordered the recipe slightly in a way that made a bit more sense to me and left out a couple of steps which seemed like unecessary work and/or washing up.

110g long-grain rice (I used brown basmati)
140g brown or green lentils
8tbsp olive oil (I think I used a lot less)
1 onion, roughly chopped
75g macaroni or other small pasta shapes. Or, snap some spaghetti/vermicelli into short lengths.
1 tsp ground cumin
400ml chicken or vegetable stock or water
2 onions, sliced

For the sauce:
1 x 400g tin of tomatoes
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil (I left this out)
1 tsp harissa
2 tsp soft brown sugar

To make the sauce, just put all the ingredients in a saucepan, stir, and bring to the boil. Then turn the heat down and simmer for about 25 mins, stirring occasionally, and you’re done. You can puree it with a hand blender or in a food processor to get a smoother texture, which I would recommend although it seems a little fussy, because otherwise the bits of celery are a bit stringy and unpleasant.

You’re supposed to rinse and soak your rice for 2 hours and your lentils for half an hour, but I always forget and nothing is ruined, so I can only conclude that it’s not essential. Either way, cook your lentils for 15 minutes in boiling water.

Cook the pasta separately in boiling water until al dente, then drain and saute in 1 tbsp of the oil until starting to colour. Set aside.

Add a little more of the oil to the pan if necessary and saute the chopped onion until starting to brown. Stir in the cumin, lentils and rice and cook for about a minute. Add the stock/water and some seasoning. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and let cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes. Mine took more like 30 and some more stock, but that’s because I used brown rice. If your stock runs out before the rice is cooked, just keep adding more water and reducing it down until the rice absorbs it and is soft to the bite. Then stir in the pasta, cover, and leave on a low heat for 5 minutes to brown the bottom.

Heat the rest of the oil until very hot and brown the sliced onions in the same pan as the rice mixture, breaking up the crispy bits from the bottom (I used my trusty balsamic onions from last week so omitted this step). Check the seasoning and serve with the sauce.

Zhug  Recipe halved to serve 2 or more

I’m assuming I don’t need to tell you how to roast vegetables – just chop a selection of vegetables of your choice into large pieces, drizzle over olive oil, season, and they should take about 40 mins in a 190c oven.

3 medium green chillies, halved and deseeded (I used one green, one red)
2 red bird’s eye chillies (I only had dried bird’s eyes so chucked in one of those)
seeds from 4 cardamom pods
3/4 tsp caraway seeds
1-2 garlic cloves
handful of coriander
50ml olive oil
squeeze of lime juice

The instructions say to put everything in the food processor except for the oil and lime juice, but I found the spice seeds were a bit small to get ground that way, so you may want to pre-grind them with a pestle and mortar. Once everything’s in the food processor, add the olive oil as you blend, until you have a sauce of a thick but pourable consistency. Add lime and salt to taste.

Adapted from Diana Henry’s ‘Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons’.

Mograbiah with spinach, labneh and roasted tomatoes

November 3, 2009


This week’s book is Diana Henry’s ‘Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons’. Ooh, I was excited about this one. I love this book. Not only is it full of exactly the kinds of things that I want to eat for dinner, but her writing is wonderful: so elegant and so evocative that I feel like Alice in Wonderland tumbling into a daydream world, only it’s filled with rosewater and lavender and figs instead of rabbits and mad hatters and the queen of hearts. The pages are covered with post-it notes marking things I wanted to make the last time I took it down from the shelf, but this time I found a completely different set of things caught my interest – a demonstration of how your taste for what you want to eat changes by the day, the week, the month. Among the things that caught my eye: lemon and rosemary cake; greek herb pilaf with prawns and feta; catalan chicken with picada; sausages and lentils with sweet and sour figs; chocolate, hazelnut and sherry cake with sherry-raisin cream; fig anchoiade…frankly, there’s not much in this book I don’t want to make.

This one recipe, however, I knew was going to be a great dinner to start the week, and I knew because I’d made it before. It’s a good example of how Henry’s recipes pile in as many delicious things as possible: sauteed spinach, fresh, creamy cheese, spicy-sweet tomatoes, caramelised onions, all tangled about and set off perfectly with the softness of the starch. The original recipe used bulgur wheat, but I’d run out so used mograbiah – the large-sized couscous, also known as (I believe) pearl couscous or Israeli couscous. I also happened to have roast tomatoes and roast onions in my fridge from my Skye Gyngell experiments, so dinner was on the table with almost no effort at all, but I’ve included the notes for the original recipe’s chilli roast tomatoes and cinnamon onions below.

Mograbiah with spinach, labneh and roasted tomatoes  Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a side

Recipe halved from the original as other half has issues with ‘small textured’ starches so had cheese on toast instead. I initially thought what I ended up with a bit small for a main, but it is unexpectedly filling – if you’re really hungry, up the quantities.

1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
100g mograbiah or bulgur wheat
200-300ml chicken or vegetable stock
150g spinach
small bunch of mint, leaves chopped

for the labneh:
200g greek yoghurt (I used the fat free yoghurt I had in the fridge – worked fine)
1 garlic clove, crushed
pinch of salt

for the tomatoes: (quantities for a full batch as they’re good to have around)
12 plum tomatoes
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1-1 1/2 tsp harissa
2 tsp soft dark brown sugar

for the onions: (also full batch)
2 onions, very finely sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp soft dark brown sugar
juice of 1/2 small lemon

You need to start the labneh the day before, but it’s no trouble. Line a sieve with cheesecloth or muslin (I normally just use the cut off foot end of an old pair of tights, which Tom thinks is disgusting, but I promise they are clean) and set it over a small bowl. Dump the yoghurt in the cloth and tie the ends up over the top. Put it in the fridge for 24 hours. That’s it! Excess moisture will drain out and leave you with a firm, cheese-like texture. When it’s done, add the garlic and salt.

For the tomatoes, preheat the oven to 180c. Halve them lengthways and put them in a small roasting tin. Mix together the olive oil, vinegar, harissa and a bit of salt and pepper and pour over the tomatoes. Turn them over to coat them in the mixture but turn them back cut side up for the oven. Sprinkle over the sugar and cook for 40-45 minutes until shrivelled somewhere between a normal and a sundried tomato, and sweet.

Now the pilaf. Saute the chopped onion in half the olive oil until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. Tip in the bulgur or mograbiah, pour on the stock, and season. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and let the grains simmer in the stock for about 15 mins – if using bulgur it should have absorbed all the stock and you can cover the pot and leave it to fluff up for another 10 minutes. If using mograbiah, you may need more stock as it’s less absorbent and doesn’t cook as well in small amounts of liquid, so use a larger amount and boil off any excess liquid if necessary. Or you could cook it separately, drain it, and add back to the onions and garlic.

Meanwhile, take the stalks off the spinach, wash the leaves and chop. Cook the leaves in a covered pot with the water still clinging to them (although it occurred to me after the fact that you could possibly wilt the spinach leaves in the stock for the grains and save yourself a pan and a few oil calories). When wilted, cool slightly and squeeze out any excess moisture. Then saute in the remaining oil from the first step and season. Stir into the bulgur/mograbiah.

Quickly cook the sliced onions in very hot olive oil until golden brown and starting to crisp. For the last minute that they’re cooking, add the cinnamon and sugar. Stir until the sugar melts, then add a squeeze of lemon juice and season.

Layer up your pilaf in a shallow bowl or receptacle of your choice. Bulgur/mograbiah first, then half the mint, then the tomatoes, then the other half of the mint. Break the labneh into lumps and scatter over the top, then finish with the onions.

Adapted from Diana Henry’s ‘Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons’.