I’m sure I’ll get into trouble with someone for calling these falafel, but I’m only really doing so because of the chickpea content (and it sounds a little grander than calling them veggie burgers – which just makes me think of those disgustingly soggy bean burgers that Burger King used to do).

Anyway, I had some guests on Friday – my friend Jane and her two lovely daughters Marnie, who’s eight, and Nina, who is five – so, as well as using up the usual end-of-week remains from my fridge, I had to come up with something I thought the kids would enjoy eating.

I had a couple of golden beetroot, a sweet potato, a carrot, and a bit of salad to use up, so I bought a tin of chickpeas, a packet of sesame seeds and some pitta, which all combined to make a build-your-own-sandwich supper.

The grated beetroot and carrot was softened in a little olive oil. I chucked the chickpeas into the food processor with an egg and some lemon zest, and whizzed it up until it was fairly smooth, then combined it with the cooked veg in a bowl. I sprinkled some sesame seeds on a plate and rolled each ball in them, which added a nice nutty crunch when fried.

The sweet potato crisps were so easy to make and SOOO delicious, I think they are going to become a firm favourite in my kitchen. Simply slice the sweet potato very thinly (leaving the skin on), arrange them on a baking sheet and bake in an oven heated to gas mark 5, for about 40 minutes or so. You don’t even need to season them really, they have so much natural flavour.

Unfortunately, the meal was not a complete success with the kids. Marnie loved the crisps but wasn’t so sure about the falafel, while Nina decided she was only going to eat pitta bread! Luckily, Jane was a big fan of the whole meal and, between the two of us, we managed to pretty much clear the plates – ours and the kids!

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Last night I used the remains of the weekend’s fishy purchases – the mackerel. I’m very fond of mackerel, but it is fairly oily so I like to cook it with something quite sharp, to offset the fatty taste (which I know is what a lot of people don’t like about it).

In among the vegetables I’d bought at Borough Market on Saturday was the first of this this year’s chicory. I love bitter salads, and this crispy leaf is definitely one of my faves. I usually eat it raw in salads, but it can be cooked too, and I thought its flavour would be perfect with the mackerel.

So I cooked the chicory in some olive oil, before adding a leek, for some sweetness, then flavoured the braise with some rosemary, a bay leaf and a splash of Balsamic vinegar. As a side dish to the mackerel it worked really well, but if you want to make it into a veggie main course, a tin of butter beans goes with it very nicely.

Small ones are more useful

January 27, 2010

A couple of Christmases ago, as a last-minute stocking filler, my sister gave me this teeny tiny grater. And, despite my initial thoughts being something along the lines of “Er, okaaay…”, it’s actually been one of the most useful things in my kitchen.

I have discovered that it is the only way to deal with fresh ginger, grating it into perfect little shreds, while leaving those nasty stringy bits behind. And, as for garlic… well, you’ll never use those difficult-to-clean presses again.

So, in case I didn’t sound grateful enough at the time – thanks Sis!

This, I believe, may be one of my slightly odder recipe reinterpretations. I know there are many dishes out there that combine squid and chorizo – it seems to be a very of-the-moment combination – but for some reason, last night, I decided the one thing in my fridge that would go perfectly with it was a crunchy bunch of brussel tops.

My assumption was based on a Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall recipe I’ve made once or twice, involving a cheat’s home-made chorizo, clams and purple sprouting broccoli. I didn’t have the clams or sprouting broccoli, and my chorizo was shop-bought, but, I thought, the basic concept should still stand.

The brussel tops were thinly shredded and steamed for a few minutes, until cooked but still with a bite. Meanwhile, I quickly browned some chopped chorizo, and added a sliced clove of garlic, plus a pinch of ground fennel seeds and paprika. Then, once it was all lovely and fragrant, I added the squid, and cooked for barely a minute or so. Some chopped parsley, a squeeze of lemon and a little seasoning of salt and pepper, and it was ready to spoon over the cooked brussel tops.

It may seem an unlikely combination, but the sweetness of the greens and the squid was a perfect foil to the full-flavoured smokiness of the chorizo. A hearty yet healthy winter supper, I reckon.

Fishing for compliments…

January 25, 2010

This weekend, my shopping at Borough Market was all about fish. I’d recently noticed a new-ish stall and, yesterday, took a closer look. It was selling a small but perfectly fresh selection of fish that had come direct from some Devon boats, and when I checked the prices, it was significantly cheaper than some of the other more established fish stalls in the market.

A box of shiny silvery-black mackerel caught my eye, so I asked for one, plus a small-ish squid. Then, as I was about to pay the whopping £3 for the two items, I saw two large roe sacks.

“What fish is that from?” I asked. “Sea bass,” the guy informed me. “You can have it, and your other bits, for a fiver.” Now, in my books, that’s an offer you don’t refuse!

The mackerel has gone in the freezer for later in the week, and I’ll have the squid tonight, but last night I decided to eat the roe while it was super-fresh.

Some online research led me to discover that bass roe is something of a delicacy in the States, where it’s cooked simply by poaching in some stock. So that’s what I did. Although, me being me, I had to add something else – and this time it was a lemon and chive sauce.

Once cooked, the roe resembled a fishy boudin, but the tiny eggs gave it a very smooth texture. It was quite mild in taste, with just a hint of sea-saltiness – but it was very rich, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to eat the whole thing.

I’m not sure it’s something I would bother buying if I saw it again, but hey, you have to try these things once in a while…

Clay-pot chicken

January 23, 2010

Quite often, if I’m home on my own on a Friday night, I’ll cook something a bit special for dinner. And, as yesterday was pay day (hurrah!), I thought I’d go the whole hog and roast a chicken.

I posted a while ago about my ancient clay pot for cooking chickens, which is what I used for my meal last night. I rubbed the chicken with a grated clove of garlic, a teaspoon of pul biber (the Turkish red pepper spice I’ve mentioned before), a teaspoon of ground cumin seeds and some olive oil.

If you must have crispy skin on your roast chicken, I wouldn’t bother with this clay-pot method. It may produce the most juicy, succulent meat, but it doesn’t do much for the skin. Which is why I often take off the lid and turn the oven up high for the last 10 or 15 minutes of cooking, so it has at least a little colour to it.

With the chicken, I had some braised leek and courgette, seasoned with more garlic and parsley, so that – in the spirit of this blog – I had an empty fridge, ready to be refilled this morning.

A year or so ago, I started taking a home-made lunch into work every day. It started as a money-saving exercise (and boy, does it save money if you work, as I do, in central London), but now I do it because it means I can choose exactly what I want to eat.

Although, I have to admit, by the end of each week, I do often have some slightly bizarre/boring lunches, as I try and finish off the dregs of my fridge’s salad crisper. However, today, despite only using some leftovers, the result was one of the tastiest lunches I’ve had in ages.

With a good chunk of chorizo still left, I added a few fried slices to some finely shredded kale, and chucked in half a tin of chickpeas. My last couple of sticks of celery and the remains of a cucumber also found their way into the salad, while I made a dressing with the olive oil I’d fried the chorizo in (beautifully flavoured by the smoky meat) and some red wine vinegar.

All in all, the perfect combination for a winter salad.

When cookbooks go wrong…

January 21, 2010

Okay, so I think we’re all agreed the French can cook. But after flicking through the publication pictured here, I have serious doubts about whether they can write cookbooks.

My mum spent the New Year in Brittany and bought this cookery book, called Les Recettes Bretonnes, for me while she was there. She posted it to me at work, and I have to admit that my colleague Zoe and I had a very good laugh at it when it arrived.

Zoe’s mother-in-law is French, so she’s familiar with a number of the recipes in this book – although, she assures me, the dishes she’s eaten have looked vastly different to these ones.

And, really, when a cake recipe is illustrated with a photo of something that looks like a flat, burnt pancake, while on another page, there’s a photo of a very grey dead-looking fish, with its nose tied to its tail – well, all I’m tempted to do is turn the page!

When I was about six years old, we lived just outside a small village in the Scottish Borders, called Coldstream. Our house backed on to the River Tweed and, sometimes, my dad – a keen trout fisherman – would head down there with his fishing rod at about 5 o’clock in the morning. As long as he didn’t lose all his flies by catching them in his thumbs or earlobes (which happened with grim regularity), he would return in time for breakfast with the most delicious baby brown trout. I realise now just how incredibly lucky we were to be able to eat like this, but at the time, it seemed normal.

I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a trout that compares to the ones my dad caught, but, despite that, it’s still one of my favourite fish.

Tonight – even though the weather hasn’t warmed up one iota – I wanted some altogether fresher, lighter flavours than I’ve been eating recently. (Isn’t it funny how your tastes for certain foods can change so dramatically from one day to the next?) So I poached a trout fillet in a little stock with a couple of bay leaves chucked in, and had some griddled courgettes on the side. The salsa is one of the simplest and tastiest combinations, and goes well with many different kinds of fish, meat and vegetables.

Make enough for two by combining 2 tablespoons of roughly chopped fresh parsley with 4 chopped anchovy fillets, a heaped teaspoon of rinsed capers, the juice of half a lemon, a splash of a good strong-flavoured extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Some classic flavours to go with a classic fish.

A food first…

January 19, 2010

Standing at the Secretts Farm vegetable stall in Borough Market on Saturday, looking at all the wonderful seasonal goodies on offer, I realised there was something I’d never eaten before – kale. I’m a big fan of crunchy green veg – cabbage, broccoli, yes, even sprouts – so I don’t know why I’ve never bothered with kale before.

I remembered seeing a number of recipes using it recently, so thought it was about time I tried it. A dish that came to mind as I was making my purchase was a Nigel Slater one from The Observer a couple of weeks ago for kale and chorizo. And, as there is a stall selling chorizo right next to the Secretts Farm one, I decided I had no choice but to buy some. A ring of the most deliciously spicy, aromatic chorizo cost me £6, but it keeps for about three months, so I thought if I use it sparingly I’ll really get my money’s worth from it.

In the end, my first foray into the world of kale didn’t involve Nigel Slater. Instead, I used a recipe for chorizo, kale and potato broth from the BBC Good Food website that had caught my eye. I love it when you find a recipe for a dish and have all the ingredients already to hand. The only thing I changed with this one was to add half a tin of tomatoes that was already open in my fridge, and really needed to be used up.