Archive for January, 2010


January 27, 2010

Please excuse me, I haven’t introduced this week’s book yet. It’s not much of a looker, with its hideous seventies photography and odd choice of cover image, but I took pity on it in a book shop in Hay-on-Wye last year, because I was in a good mood and because middle eastern food is my favourite, so how exactly was I meant to resist a book called ‘The Complete Middle East Cookbook’? And it’s nothing if not ambitious, covering Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Armenia, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Saudia Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, Israel and the Gulf States (that’s Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, thanks Wikipedia).

I started the week by making a huge batch of rice and lentils (a bit like this, but without the pasta). Then today, I made falafel, because I didn’t really feel like branching out into uncharted middle eastern food territory when I’m already pretty certain that falafel are one of the best culinary creations of all time. Of the several recipes for falafel (turns out a lot of those countries actually have quite similar diets) I went with the one from Israel, because it seemed the simplest. I had to adapt it to omit the bulgur wheat, because apparently I’d run out, but I can’t say I missed it. I also baked the falafel instead of deep frying them, because I don’t go in for unnecessary deep frying as a rule. It makes them a bit less authentic, but they get a nice crisp crust which I like.

Served with rice and lentils from one of the Gulf States, yoghurt with cucumber and sultanas from Iran, and tahini sauce from Lebanon/Syria/Jordan. A Middle East feast.

Falafel  Makes about 14

One tin of chickpeas, or equivalent weight soaked and cooked dried chickpeas
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp plain flour
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
black pepper

Heat the oven to 180c.

Put all the ingredients into a food processor and mix until combined into a rough paste. Add a little water, just until the mixture is soft enough to be squeezed into a ball. Check the seasoning. Shape the mix into small balls each about the size of a walnut and place them on a baking tray drizzled with oil. Trickle a little more oil over the top and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown and crisp. That’s it!

Adapted from Tess Mallos’ ‘The Complete Middle East Cookbook’ (that’s not the version I have, by the way, the photo on that cover is almost nice).


Semolina pudding with blood orange syrup

January 27, 2010

I’m a terrible hoarder. Hidden about our flat (which, as I may have mentioned, is very small), are old bits of string, buttons, copious stashes of plastic bags, shoes with broken straps, unidentifiable wiring and multiple unused packets of obscure ingredients. Often in my enthusiasm for trying a new recipe, I rush out and buy something that I probably only need one tablespoon of for that particular meal and have no clear intention of ever using again.

Every now and then (usually in January, it seems like a January kind of thing to do) I go through my cupboards and sort them out, which generally means I end up with exactly the same unused and out of date things I had before, only now they’re neatly arranged. In the process of one of these sortings-out recently, I came across an almost full packet of semolina which I’d bought for a sort of Moroccan yoghurt cake which didn’t turn out very well. At the same time, I was leafing through the Greens cookbook and came across this recipe for a semolina pudding with blood orange syrup. It just so happened that I’d had a delivery of blood oranges in my veg box that week. I took this as a sign from the universe that it was meant to be.

I know semolina pudding may not sound very exciting, and to be honest, it wasn’t. But that’s really no bad thing, in my opinion. I think some puddings are meant to be on the plain and humble side, like rice pudding or baked apples or oatmeal cookies. It’s also, as you may have noticed, not very picturesque – apart from the rather kitsch pink syrup – but what it is, warm from the oven, is like cake, but softer, or maybe souffle, but heavier, and with the faint vanilla sweetness of custard. The next day, when I had some cold from the fridge, it had firmed up and I liked it even better.

Sadly, it only used a negligible proportion of my semolina stash, so either I’m making this every week or I have to find some other way to use it up…

Semolina pudding with blood orange syrup  Serves 4-6

For the pudding:
1/2 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract
450ml milk
110g sugar
50g semolina
25g butter
1 tsp grated orange zest
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 180c. Generously butter a baking dish – I used a 19cm round one. It doesn’t matter if the mixture comes all the way up to the rim as the pudding won’t rise much.

Heat the milk with the sugar and vanilla (either the extract, or scrape the seeds into the milk and add the pod) in a large pan. Just before the milk reaches boiling point add the semolina gradually, stirring to remove any lumps. Cook until the mixture has thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove from the heat, taking out the vanilla pod (if used) and stir in the orange zest and butter. Separate the eggs and beat the yolks with a little of the semolina mixture to warm them before mixing into the pan. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and then fold them into the mixture gently. You don’t need to be too thorough so don’t worry if it’s a little streaky.

Pour the mixture into the buttered dish and bake in the centre of the oven for about 1 hour. You may need to cover the top loosely with silver foil to stop it browning too much (I did!) When done, the centre should be firm and lightly browned. Let the pudding cool for an hour, at which point it will still be warm, or cool it completely and refridgerate.

For the syrup:
Several strips of orange peel
Juice of 2 oranges (preferably blood oranges, but normal oranges will be fine)
100g sugar
1 tbsp Grand Marnier (optional, I didn’t have any)
2 cloves
cinnamon stick

Cut the orange peel into very thin slices. Combine it with the rest of the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Let it simmer for 10 minutes. Pour some of the syrup over each portion of the pudding.

Adapted from Deborah Madison’s ‘The Greens Cook Book’.

Mushroom pizza

January 25, 2010

When I make pizza at home, I generally use a different recipe each time. None of them have been bad, I just haven’t found a definitive version yet; they’re always just a little bit too bready, too doughy. And I don’t mind that, I mean I like bread – even more with tasty things grilled on top –  and I don’t really expect to replicate the perfect authentic Italian pizza in a grimy domestic oven. But I still can’t resist trying new dough recipes, just in case. Add the fact that I got a pizza stone for Christmas, and I had the perfect excuse to make the Greens pizza last night.

I don’t know if it was the pizza stone, or this recipe, or more likely both, but let me tell you – this pizza was outrageously delicious. The base was soft in the middle and crisp at the edges, as it should be, even though I didn’t stretch it thin enough. And on top, an intense tangle of garlicky mushrooms, both fresh chestnut mushrooms and dried wild mushrooms for a deeper, fuller mushroom flavour, then bright  lemon thyme and soft, milky mozzarella (sorry, I just went a bit Gregg Wallace there). This is what mushrooms on toast aspires to in its wildest dreams.

I modified the recipe for the topping slightly to omit the jack and dry jack cheese called for – I didn’t think I’d be able to find those easily in the UK, and also I think that mozzarella is the most common pizza cheese for a reason. Mozzarella is just right on pizza. I got mine from the Moroccan deli, oddly enough – I didn’t know Moroccan people ate a lot of mozzarella, but I guess everyone likes pizza. I got a bit carried away while I was there, as I always do – giant tubs of halva! Black mountain honey! Fresh feta! – and I couldn’t resist buying some clementines with their shiny green leaves still attached and lemons in cute little dinosaur wrapping paper.

I aspire to having go-to recipes, standards that I can pull out whenever I feel like making a certain thing and know that they will turn out exactly as I want. I think that this may well become my go-to recipe for pizza (well, at least until the next one comes along).

Mushroom pizza  Makes 2 10-inch pizzas

For the dough, you can use all white flour or a mixture of white, whole wheat and rye. This gives texture and flavour, according to the recipe notes. I’d just used up the last of my rye flour, so I substituted more whole wheat flour for the rye. I should also mention that the original topping recipe included leeks, which I wasn’t about to go out and buy, so I left them out. If you want to use them, you’ll need 4 medium leeks for 2 people (!) Saute them until soft and add them on first when you dress the pizza.

For the pizza dough:
6 tbsp hot water
6 tbsp milk
2 x 7g packets instant yeast
large pinch of sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp rye flour
4 tbsp whole wheat flour (I used whole wheat bread flour)
210g plain white flour

Combine the water and milk. The mixture should be about body temperature, so you’ll need the water to be fairly hot if the milk’s come straight from the fridge. Add the yeast and sugar and give it a good stir. Mix in the olive oil, salt, and rye/whole wheat flour, if using, then gradually add the white flour, stirring to combine into a soft dough. It should remain moist, so you may not need all of the white flour.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, until it’s pliable and no longer sticking to the surface. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, 40 minutes to 1 hour. I turned on the oven for a few minutes and then put the dough in the switched off oven, with a loaf tin full of just-boiled water to keep the temperature up.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to its highest setting, about 250c. Heat the pizza stone if you have one. You’ll need to heat the oven for about 20 minutes to get it good and hot – if you have an oven thermometer, check on that.

To shape the pizzas, separate the dough into two balls and then roll them each out into a circle on a well floured surface. Caution! Don’t do what I did and make them look all pretty on an inadequately floured surface and then have to pull them apart and squidge them back together getting it into the oven. I think the best thing is to flour something that you can lift and slide the pizza from, like some foil or a tray, and shape them on that. The pizzas should only be about 1/8 inch thick. You can pick them up and stretch them with your hands to get them thinner.

Cover the dough with the topping:

For the topping:
30g dried wild mushrooms (usually a whole pack)
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
200g fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced (the recipe called for  twice this many mushrooms, but I think what we had was plenty)
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
about 2 tbsp fresh herbs (I used parsley and lemon thyme, but use any herb you’d want to eat with mushrooms)
4 tbsp white wine or water (optional)
1/2 ball mozzarella

Pour boiling water over the dried mushrooms, just to cover, and leave to soak for 15 minutes. Lift them out and squeeze dry, reserving the straining juices.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the dried mushrooms over high heat for 1 minute. Add the fresh mushrooms and 1/2 tsp salt and continue cooking until soft and juicy. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes more, until the mushrooms are done. Season with pepper and more salt if needed. Add half the herbs. Remove the mushrooms from the pan with a slotted spoon.

Now, the recipe directs you to make a syrupy reduction with the reserved mushroom juices and the white wine. The idea is that you’re left with a tablespoon or two of sauce which you drizzle over the pizza at the end. However, I’m not sure I’d do this again – mushrooms are already a fairly wet vegetable and the middle of the pizza ended up slightly soggy. It didn’t ruin it, by any means, I’m just not sure it’s worth the effort.

Cover the prepared pizza base with two-thirds of the cheese, the mushrooms, and then the rest of the cheese. Slide it into the top third of the oven, onto the pizza stone if using, and bake for 8-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and scatter with the rest of the herbs before serving.

Adapted from Deborah Madison’s ‘The Greens Cook Book’.

Corn, bean and pumpkin stew

January 20, 2010

This week, our featured book is ‘The Greens Cook Book’. Greens is a legendary (in the US, at least) vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco and one of the first things I noticed about the book, published in 1987, is that it really has dated extremely well. OK, there is one chapter on timbales. But apart from that, it heavily features pasta, pizza, mexican flavours, imaginative soups; there’s a lot of advice on vegetarian menu planning and matching wine with vegetarian food, hinting at a time when vegetarianism was still new and exciting, but none of the recipes would look out of place if the book were to be published today. It makes you wonder why mushroom risotto and goat’s cheese salad are still the default vegetarian options at many restaurants over 20 years later.

I once visited Greens. I was in San Francisco for work, and so my visit was somewhat hampered by the awkwardness of dining alone, but I do remember walking a really long way and eating the most heavenly vegan chocolate cake. It definitely involved caramel, or coconut, or both, but either way it’s not in the book.

So, in the absence of chocolate caramel coconut cake, I present you with this stew. Not quite the same, but it is probably much better for you. It’s big and hearty and designed for eating from large bowls, a cross between a soup and a stew. It’s almost sweet, a little bit spicy, a hearteningly colourful slurp of warmth. The first time, I ate it with a generous scattering of coriander, but for lunch today I stirred in a spoonful of babaghanoush, on a whim, and that really worked. Smokiness is good here. Next time, I’m looking forward to crumbling over some goat’s cheese feta I have in the fridge.

Corn, bean and pumpkin stew  Serves 4-6

I made this with one chilli and added in a bit of merken, which is a smoky, spicey mix I picked up in Chile. If you want the heat to be a bit more pronounced, use more chillies and/or add in cayenne pepper with the spices.

1 tin pinto beans (other beans would be fine: black-eyed, kidney, black beans etc.)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
300g frozen sweetcorn, defrosted, or 1 tin sweetcorn (or 3 ears fresh corn)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp oregano
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp paprika (I used regular, but I now think smoked would be good here)
500ml vegetable stock
1 winter squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes (I have no idea what sort of squash mine was, but it weighed just over 1kg when peeled and deseeded)
1-2 chillies, seeded and finely chopped
coriander or parsley, for garnish

Toast the cumin seeds in a hot frying pan until they smell fragrant – watch to make sure they don’t burn. Add the oregano, stir for 5 seconds and transfer the spices to a spice grinder or pestle and mortar. Add the cloves and grind to a powder.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion over a high heat for 1 minute. Lower the heat, add the garlic, spices, paprika, cinnamon stick and salt. Here’s where you might want to add in your own choice of extra spices. Stir well to combine, then add 1/4 of the stock and cook until the onion is soft. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Then add the squash and most of the rest of the stock. Cook for 20-30 minutes, until the squash is softened but not quite done.

Add the corn, beans and fresh chillies, and thin with more stock if necessary. Cook until the squash is tender. Mine was already falling apart at this point, so I left it there. Check the seasonings and serve with your choice of garnish.

Adapted from Deborah Madison’s ‘The Greens Cook Book: Extraordinary Vegetarian Cuisine’.

Sweet yellow lentil dahl

January 19, 2010

Now, that might look like a picture of a bowl of soup. A pretty orangey coloured soup, butternut squash maybe, with a dollop of sour cream? No. What that is, in fact, is a sweet yellow lentil dahl. Yes, like the thing you get with your curry, but in dessert form. As someone who likes lentils very, very much, imagine how delighted I was to find the opportunity for another entire course of lentil. Very delighted, is the answer.

For the less lentil enthused, I argue thus: here is where the blandness of the lentil really works in its favour. It provides a formless, starchy mush, which may not sound appealing, but basically it’s exactly the same job that rice plays in rice pudding only it’s nicely pastel hued. It’s the kind of food you might feel like giving to invalids. There’s a whisper of cardamom, but the great sticky hit of condensed milk prevents it from being in any way elegant. The yoghurt is for contrast – trust me, on first bite it might not seem that sweet, but a few mouthfuls in and – ah, there you go.

Sweet yellow lentil dhal  Serves 4

A quick note about lentilly things: I used the tiny yellow moong dal here, the split and hulled version of a mung bean. It mushes down well, I find, because of its diminutive size. However, I feel that the recipe may have had a larger legume in mind because the quantities of water given were far too much and took ages to absorb. I’d say start with a ratio of twice as much water to lentil and top up if necessary.  

I halved these quantities, which you may do also, if you want to use the other half of the condensed milk to make baked yoghurt.

1 mug of yellow lentils
2-5 mugs water
6 whole cardamom pods
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp sultanas
1 x 397g tin condensed milk
natural yoghurt, to serve

Place the lentils, water, cardamom and ginger in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 50 minutes with the lid off. The time may vary depending on your lentils, but all the water should be absorbed and the lentils should be soft to the bite. The recipe instructs you here to mash them so the lentils are half-pureed, but mine were really soft, not mashable, more like a savoury dahl.

Add the sultanas and condensed milk and warm for a further 10 minutes on a low heat. Serve with a dollop of yoghurt.

Adapted from Rosie Lovell’s ‘Spooning With Rosie’.

Baked yoghurt with frangelico

January 18, 2010

It’s not often you come across something completely new in a cookbook. I mean, recipes you haven’t tried yet, yes, but completely new ideas? Like baked yoghurt? I had no idea you could bake yoghurt. But as soon as I knew you could, I wanted to. Especially if it involved frangelico, which is a deliciously sweet hazelnut liqueur that I like to have around. And the great thing about this is, once you’ve discovered the technique, the variations are pretty much endless: imagine it with another liqueur, or the alternative listed in the book, baked yoghurt with fig jam. If I’d had fig jam, that might have been a tough decision, but I think the frangelico still would have edged it.

So the book describes these puddings as having the texture of the top bit of a cheesecake – I found mine turned out a bit more moussey than that, but then I didn’t cool them for very long. Either way, boozy yoghurt mousse was nice. And it really works in the way that a cheesecake works, with that satisfying combination of dairy and sweetness and richness. This was pudding after the Moroccan chicken and it went down perfectly, even on an already full belly.

Baked yoghurt with frangelico  Serves 4

I’ve reproduced the quantities as written, although you could halve it, as I did, safe in the knowledge that I have another recipe coming up to use the other half of the condensed milk. Also, I ended up leaving out the lime and hazelnuts because I didn’t have a lime and was feeling lazy.

500g natural yoghurt (I used the Rachel’s whole milk one)
1 x 397g tin of condensed milk
1 small lime (optional)
100ml frangelico liqueur
3 handfuls hazelnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180c. Measure out the yoghurt and whisk so there is no contrast between curd and whey – I didn’t need to do this as my yoghurt seemed fairly well homogenised. Pour in the condensed milk and beat. Now grate in the lime zest, if using, and pour in the liqueur. Pour the mixture into four ramekins – it may stretch to five. I actually filled two mugs with my half measures, so either Rosie’s ramekins are bigger than mine (ooh!) or my yoghurt measurements were very imprecise, which is entirely possible. And, come to think of it, that might be why mine didn’t set quite so much.

Place the ramekins on a roasting tin and fill with water until it comes two-thirds of the way up the puddings. Place the tray in the oven for 20 minutes. When ready, they should only wobble slightly in the centre. They will emulsify as they cool.

If using the hazelnuts, roughly chop and toast them and sprinkle over the tops of the yoghurt pots.

Adapted from Rosie Lovell’s ‘Spooning With Rosie’.

Moroccan honey chicken

January 18, 2010

Do you know what, this book is brilliant. The tone takes a bit of getting used to – all breathless chit-chat and boys and late nights – but once I started thinking of her as a bit like Nigella’s debonair younger sister I settled into it. And I’m glad I did, because she knows her stuff, this Rosie Lovell. From the book this week we made: banana and buckwheat pancakes, muesli, rice cubes with dipping sauce, tofu with soy beans and mushrooms, carrot and sweetcorn fritters, onion and butterbean soup, tuscan bean stew with orzo pasta, smoked mackerel and broccoli bake, smoked mackerel pate, ebi chilli men, babaghanoush, chicken and mushroom korma, plus the moroccan chicken and two other tasty things I’m going to tell you about shortly. The only thing I didn’t like was the soup, which I thought combined sweetness and fishiness in a way that was not pleasant, but Tom liked it. I’m sad to move on, because this is a weighty book and when I was jotting down things I’d like to make from it, before I do my weekly meal plan (you should see it, it’s insanely detailed), I basically just copied out the contents list.

Back to – or rather onto – the chicken. I had to immerse myself in a lengthy and consoling food preparation session on Saturday to take my mind off the horrible hangover resulting from a cocktail party the night before. Of course, we decided to bring the ingredients for White Russians. If you ever see me with a White Russian in my hand feel free to stage an intervention – it’s for my own good.

This is perfect for such a scenario (I didn’t know I needed a recipe specific to a White Russian hangover, but now I have one). You basically poach a whole chicken with some aromatics, which takes a good hour and a half, so you can maybe have a little lie down while the smell of chicken and cloves wafts medicinally in the air about you. Then you have to leave the chicken to cool before you can strip it, which takes another hour or so. You need to make a tomato sauce, too, but that’s mainly simmering for an hour. See? You can take it at your own pace. The chicken stripping is oddly calming and, bonus, you get a whole pan of chicken stock for absolutely no effort whatsoever.

I served it with the afore-listed babaghanoush as a sort of smokey relish, along with his n’hers starch accompaniments of cranberry and toasted almond-scattered couscous and lemon and thyme roasted potatoes:

Moroccan honey chicken  Serves 3-4

Note: I roughly halved the original recipe, which serves 10. I cooked only one chicken instead of two, using half of the meat and saving the other half for salads and the next day’s chicken curry, and I just halved the sauce quantities. The ratio seemed about right.

For the chicken:
1 chicken, around 1.5 – 1.8 kg
2 bay leaves
2 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp peppercorns

For the sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 red chilli
3 garlic cloves
2 cans chopped tomatoes
2-3 tbsp honey
black pepper

Fill your biggest pan with water and immerse the chicken, along with the bay leaves, cloves and peppercorns. Simmer for around an hour and a half, until the chicken is fully cooked and the flesh is starting to come easily away from the bones. Remove the chicken, keeping the stock, and leave to cool.

Meanwhile, start the sauce: heat the olive oil and fry the onions gently with the cloves, cinnamon and chilli. After a few minutes, peel, crush and add the garlic. Leave for a couple of minutes before adding the tomatoes. Cook, covered, over a low heat for around an hour. You can use a little of the chicken stock to loosen it to the required texture should it dry out. (The chicken stock also comes in handy for cooking the couscous, if that’s what you’re having on the side.)

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, strip all of the meat from the bones. Set aside half for other uses and tip half into the tomato sauce. Stir in the honey and season.

Adapted from Rosie Lovell’s ‘Spooning With Rosie’.

Smoked mackerel, broccoli and spinach bake

January 13, 2010

Restorative, I think, is the best word for this. It almost didn’t get made because, yesterday, I’d had the sort of day where I wanted to just give up and have toast for dinner. The sort of day where you feel like inanimate objects are forming malicious plots against you. You know the ones? I found myself shedding a little tear or two of self-pity on my way home because a car honked at me at the traffic lights, and not because I’m a wuss, but because it was the last straw. And, OK, because I’m a wuss.

Thank goodness I felt sorry for the broccoli looking so neglected and yellowing in the fridge drawer. I thought I’d better just at least boil it in a little water. And then I might as well cook the other vegetables too, and then all it needed was for a quick white sauce to come together, some parmesan to mix with the breadcrumbs that were already waiting in the breadbin, and suddenly we were sitting down to a big, steaming savoury comfort blanket of a dinner.

The title may make it sound a little earnest, but that’s the great thing about this dish: you can feel, with the dark green vegetables and the oily fish, that you’re doing something good and sensible for yourself, but it’s also rich and velvety enough to be satisfying and to not feel wrong, on a bleak January day. It’s a winner, all round.

Smoked mackerel, broccoli and spinach bake  Serves 3 generously, or 4 with bread/potatoes on the side

I should admit that the original title, smoked mackerel and chard bake with a crunchy top, is much more appealing than mine. But I didn’t have any chard, so I couldn’t exactly call it that. Instead of half broccoli and half chard, I used broccoli and spinach with a leek for good measure; it’s nice to have the greens, but I imagine this recipe would be quite forgiving of any vegetables you want to throw at it. The addition of lemon, mustard and nutmeg to the white sauce adds a lift of interest and stops this being too retro-bland.

400g chard or spinach (I used frozen leaf spinach)
400g broccoli (one average sized head)
1 leek (optional)
350-400ml chicken or vegetable stock
50g butter
60g plain flour
100ml semi-skimmed milk
juice of 1/2 lemon (1 tbsp)
1 dsp wholegrain mustard
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
black pepper
200g smoked mackerel (about 2 fillets)
100g breadcrumbs
100g mature manchego, parmesan or any strong, hard cheese (I actually used 75g because I balked at using so much of my parmesan in one dish)

Wash and chop the vegetables. If using the leek, slice it thickly and rinse thoroughly in a colander to get rid of any dirt lurking between the layers. If using chard or fresh spinach, wash and slice into ribbons. Separate the broccoli into small florets, chopping the stalk separately into 2cm chunks (you might need to peel the outer layer of stalk if it’s particularly big and thick).

Boil water to a depth of about 2cm in a large pan and cook the broccoli, leek and frozen spinach for 5-7 minutes with the lid on. If using chard or non-frozen spinach, add after the first few minutes of cooking the broccoli. The vegetables should be tender, but not too soft as they’re going into the oven later. Remove them with tongs (you want to keep the cooking water) and pile into a baking dish or casserole.

Preheat the oven to 150c. Have the stock ready for the white sauce. Melt the butter in a medium-sized pan over a medium heat. Whsen it has melted, add the flour and whisk together, stirring frequently for a few minutes to cook out the flour. At this point it should smell toasty and delicious, and also a bit like chicken nuggets (though that might just be me). Add the leftover vegetable cooking liquid and the stock, whisking to remove any lumps. Gradually add the milk, whisking, and continue to cook for 5 minutes. It should be creamy and thick enough to coat the vegetables but not stodgy. Add the lemon juice, mustard, nutmeg and pepper and check the balance of flavour. You shouldn’t need salt as the fish and cheese are pretty salty already, and even I thought that was enough.

Peel the skin off the mackerel and tear it into chunks over the vegetables. Pour over the white sauce and mix well. Grate the cheese and mix with the breadcrumbs. Scatter this over the top of the dish and bake in the oven for 35 minutes, or until the topping has darkened and crisped.

Adapted from Rosie Lovell’s ‘Spooning With Rosie’.

Tofu feast

January 13, 2010

A week of eating like Nigella at her purest and I found myself at a local gastropub-type joint eating steak smothered in butter, with chips and greens smothered in butter, with dessert. If you’re anywhere in the Oxford area, you should check out the Magdalen Arms, under new management: they’ll serve you a rare roast hare saddle on a giant floral platter, excellent salty bread, and drinks in cute little French farmhousey glasses. And, what I particularly liked, it was as if they’d somehow been inside my head when they compiled their drinks list: Americanos, negronis, whisky macs, dark n’ stormies, bloody marys, a sherry list – all of my very favourites!

After all that, it was time to eat some tofu. Our next book is ‘Spooning with Rosie’, the first book by a young lady by the name of Rosie who owns a cafe/deli in Brixton, and it was to her I turned for this, one of her ‘feasting fiestas’: a stir fry of tofu and vegetables with lime and honey, little cubes of rice with an intense, tangy dipping sauce, and carrot and sweetcorn fritters. I had to adapt it slightly to more conveniently use up our leftovers, but it worked well: I wouldn’t before have eaten vegetable fritters with an Asian meal, but I now realise the shortcomings in my imagination – it’s like an extra vegetable portion, but more fun! The rice cubes are cute, too, although mine weren’t quite as cube-y as they should have been. It’s really not as much work as it looks, either: apart from a bit of grating and chopping for the fritters, there’s almost no preparation required.

Tofu feast  Serves 4-5

There was a mango, cucumber and mint salad in the original fiesta, as well, but I had none of those things, lovely though it sounded.

For the rice cubes & dipping sauce:
1 1/2 cups of Thai rice (I used cup for 4 servings, and short-grain brown rice)
1 red chilli (use a hot variety if you like things spicy)
8 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp sugar (plain granulated is fine)
1 sprig of mint (optional – I left it out as I didn’t have any)
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp soy sauce

This bit requires advance planning for the rice to cool properly (hence my irregular cubes). Overcook the rice by simmering it for 5 minutes longer than the instructions on the packet ask – 55 minutes for my rice, in one and a half times the amount of water to rice. It should be sticky and mushy. Break it up further with a fork or potato masher, then press it shallowly into a small tin lined with cling film. Cool it to room temperature before putting it in the fridge for 8 hours if you have time. I put mine in the freezer for a little bit. It should be served at room temperature, so take it out again a while before you want to eat. Slice it into cubes the size of your choice with a wet knife. Unmould the cubes onto a plate.

For the dipping sauce, finely slice the chilli (seeds removed or not, as you like) and place it in a pan with the rest of the ingredients. Simmer for about 15 minutes on a low heat – it should reduce quite a bit, so you have enough to half fill a ramekin. It is potent, so you don’t need a huge amount. Serve the sauce alongside the rice cubes for dipping.

For the tofu stir-fry:
400g fried tofu (you may be able to get ready-fried tofu from your local Chinese supermarket. I used regular tofu).
2 tbsp groundnut or sunflower oil
2 tsp ground ginger or 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
200g mangetout (I used shelled edamame beans)
120g enoki mushrooms (I used common or garden veg box mushrooms)
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 dsp honey
juice of 1 lime (2 tbsp)

Slice the tofu into smallish pieces. Heat the oil until very hot and add the tofu, turning down the heat. Fry for a few minutes and then sprinkle in the ginger, beans and mushrooms. Stir and add the honey, soy sauce and lime juice. Cook for just a few minutes more and then serve.

For the sweetcorn and carrot fritters:
2 eggs
3 tbsp cornflour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 spring onion
1 clove garlic
a small handful fresh coriander
1 x 285g tin of sweetcorn, or about the same weight frozen and defrosted
1 carrot
1-3 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil

Crack the eggs into a decent sized bowl and whisk thoroughly. Whisk in the cornflour and baking powder. Finely chop the spring onion, garlic and coriander. Peel and grate the carrot. Add all of this to the bowl along with the sweetcorn and mix well (I added a sprinkle of salt, too).

Heat the oil in a frying pan until very hot. Dollop spoonfuls of the mixture into the pan, about a heaped tablespoon at a time. I got 8 fritters in 2 batches, although the recipe notes say 10. They should only take a minute or so per side and should become golden and crisp, flipping easily. If oily, drain on kitchen paper. They are best served while still warm but I found a quick blast in the microwave to reheat the leftovers the next day didn’t do much harm.

Adapted from Rosie Lovell’s ‘Spooning With Rosie: Food, Friendship and Kitchen Loving’.

Braised shitake mushrooms with soba noodles

January 6, 2010

I know nobody cares what I had for dinner today, because outside is a wondrous, fairytale snowland that, if you’re lucky, means you didn’t have to go to work and you could spend the day making snowmen and taking pictures of improbably snowy things. Or just watching it snow. I don’t know about you, but I find that snow never gets boring. Between watching it snow and speculating about how long it might snow and what the implications of that might be, you’ve got a whole day’s entertainment figured out.

Anyway, if you did happen to be snowed in and were completely unable to get to the shops, this is the kind of thing you might want to make yourself to eat from the ingredients of your store cupboard. See the tenuous link I clawed in there? And if you don’t have these things in your store cupboard, you might want to stock up now, just in case. It’s almost difficult to believe that something so satisfying can be made from so few ingredients in such little time, but trust me, I’ve made it twice and it is. It’s always worth having one of those packets of dried mushrooms around as they lend an intense flavour that elevates many a dish; when matched with the density of soy and buckwheat you have something toothsome and pure-feeling – bolstering, Nigella calls it.

Braised shitake mushrooms with soba noodles  Serves 1

This isn’t a huge portion, so if you’re not eating it with other things you could increase the weight of noodles and just reduce the sauce slightly less.

8 or more dried shitake mushrooms (probably about 10-15g)
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp sake
3 tbsp Japanese soy sauce
4 tbsp mirin
80g soba noodles
few drops toasted sesame oil
fresh coriander (optional)

Soak the mushrooms in hot water for about 30 minutes, then squeeze and drain, reserving around 100ml of the soaking water.

Heat the oil in a small frying pan and stir fry the mushrooms for 2 minutes. Mix the sake, mirin, and 2 tbsp of the soy sauce with the mushroom-soaking water and add to the pan. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for around 15 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated to give a concentrated sauce. Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to packet instructions (probably about 4 minutes), drain and rinse in cold water to stop them sticking. Drain again and toss with the remaining soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil. Put in a noodle bowl and pour over the mushrooms. You can add a drop more sesame oil and some fresh coriander if liked.

From Nigella Lawson’s ‘How To Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food’.