For a couple of years now, I’ve been in the habit of taking my lunch into work with me every day. Usually, it’s a fresh salad of some description. But, now I’m making a more determined effort to clear my cupboards, I’m simply making larger quantities of my evening meal, eating the leftovers the next day.

We don’t have a microwave in our office, so the food I take in has to either be eaten raw or taste okay cold. And not all leftovers are very nice cold, so coming up with dishes that work the next day is an added challenge to my culinary skills.

However, tonight’s supper worked in every respect – as a tasty hot meal and as a cold extra to my lunchtime salad tomorrow.

Artichokes are one of my all-time favourite vegetables, but they can be a bit of a hassle to cook fresh if you don’t have a lot of time, not to mention quite pricey. The tinned ones can taste a little briny, but with the right flavour additions, they’re just as delicious as the fresh ones.

So, for a really quick pasta sauce, fry some onion and garlic until soft. Add a drained and rinsed tin of artichokes, some frozen peas, fresh parsley, mint, salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice, and simmer for just a few minutes until the peas are cooked through. I made the sauce quite dry, so it wouldn’t waterlog my salad the next day, but if you’re just making it to go with pasta, then I’d suggest adding a little water.

So, another day, and another recipe to lower my store-cupboard and freezer stocks…

Last night was the turn of my friends Nick and Kerry to help me clear my cupboards. In the spirit of my self-imposed challenge to use up as much food as possible before I move out of my flat next month, I set out to make a meal that involved only dry goods and store-cupboard essentials that I already had – buying only fresh stuff. And I pretty much succeeded.

So, clockwise from the top, the menu consisted of chicken poached with saffron and cinnamon, baked saffron cauliflower (both of which I’ve written about in previous posts), spicy Iranian potato croquettes (from good old Claudia Roden’s New Book Of Middle Eastern Food) and, lastly, a recipe of my own, spicy tomato and spinach couscous, which is flavoured with my Turkish pul piber/tomato paste and some fresh oregano.

We also ate our way through a fair amount of the rosemary and nigella seed sourdough I wrote about in my last post, accompanied by a piece of lovely strong Spanish cheese (another recommendation from my friend over at The Aubergine Files, the name of which I can’t actually remember – but hopefully he’ll let me know what it was…).

Pudding was a concoction of crème fraîche, Greek yoghurt and raspberries, topped off with some of my lemongrass and ginger biscuits (I had some of the dough in the freezer, left over from the last time I made them).

So, as well as getting through good amount of spices, dry goods and bits and bobs from my freezer, I also served up a pretty cosmopolitan selection of dishes – with elements from Iran, Turkey and France, Greece, Thailand and Spain, it was a veritable world tour in one kitchen.

Above is the result of my second baking session with my sourdough starter.

I made a couple of changes since the first one I made – on the advice of Mr Aubergine File, I used Canadian bread flour, which apparently has a much higher gluten content. I’m not too sure what that’s supposed to do to bread, but he said it’s great for sourdough. And this loaf certainly rose much better than my first one.

Also on his suggestion, I added some other flavours, namely rosemary and nigella seeds. Gail’s, the London artisan bakery, does a rosemary and nigella seed sourdough, and as I had all those components, I thought I’d try it.

Personally, I wasn’t too sure the sourdough needed anything extra in the taste department, but my friends, Nick and Kerry, who ate some of it with me this evening really liked it.

One more thing I did differently this time, and that was use a proper proving basket, which is how I got those lovely coiled ridges on the loaf – unfortunately spoilt by it splitting in the oven. My own fault, really. I couldn’t bring myself to ruin those beautiful rings by slashing it, but clearly that’s what I should have done.

Anyway, that’s the nice thing about having a starter on the go – there are plenty of opportunities to experiment, without feeling like you’ve wasted anything. And, next week, I’ll certainly be trying something else…

A taste of Spain

April 23, 2010

As I talked about in my last post, the aim with my cooking at the moment is to use up all my dry goods, cupboard essentials, and odds and sods. It seems to me that the best way to do that is to have meals that involves several small dishes, preferably in a tapas/mezze stylee. Which suits me down to the ground.

A couple of nights ago, I noticed that the new Jamie Oliver series Jamie Does… was, this week, in Andalucia. So, I picked up a couple of my Spanish cookbooks, and came up with a meal that consisted of lambs’ kidneys with white wine vinegar and paprika (that took care of the kidneys I had in the freezer, plus a bit more of a couple of things in my spice cupboard), spring greens with capers (which finished off a jar of the little green taste-bombs that was in my fridge), and puy lentils with peas and mint (dry goods plus stuff from the freezer).

The latter was a recipe I got from the blog by The Omnivorous Bear, who recently posted about making this dish. She actually made it with mint jelly, but as I didn’t have any, I substituted it with a drop of white wine vinegar, some fresh mint I had stored in the freezer, and a wee teaspoon of soft brown sugar – which are, basically, the ingredients of mint jelly. And, conveniently, took care of a few items I was looking to use up.

So, as I sat down with my supper to watch Mr Oliver cook, eat and drink his way around southern Spain, I didn’t feel too jealous of all the wonderful dishes making their way across my television screen. (Okay, I did…)

The final countdown

April 22, 2010

Either I’m proving the adage that life begins at 40, or I’m heading for a mid-life crisis – because, at the age of 41, I have decided to make some scarily bonkers changes in my life.

Part One of these life-changing events takes place in less than a month, when I’ll be moving out of my lovely bijoux Borough flat, putting my stuff into storage, and then living out of a suitcase for a couple of months. The aim is to live as rent-free as possible until the end of July, at which point, Part Two kicks in, and I’ll be heading out to Istanbul to move in with my boyfriend Süleyman.

As excited as I am about finally living with Süleyman, I think I’m going to find it just a little heartbreaking to move out of the place I’ve called home for nearly ten years – not least because my second home, Borough Market, is five minutes down the road.

So, to try and distract myself, I’ve set myself a challenge… to literally empty my food cupboards by the time I move out in the middle of May.

Looking through my cupboards last night, I realised I didn’t have a vast quantity of stuff to get through (I’ve always been quite good at not buying useless ingredients that I use once and never again), but there are still one or two items I’m not sure what to do with.

How I’m going to use up a nearly full bottle of rose water and an unopened tin of black treacle in four weeks, I just don’t know! Any suggestions will be gratefully received.

I’m actually rather fond of my ramshackle collection of spice jars (pictured above), so I think I might try and take them with me to Turkey. What the customs officials at Istanbul airport will make of an odd collection of powders, seeds and pods is anyone’s guess. But I’ll just put Midnight Express out of my mind, and run the gauntlet!

So, it looks like I’ll be eating lots of lentils, rice, couscous and quinoa over the next four weeks – but I’m certainly going to try and come up with as many variations on those themes as possible. And, as I generally make lunch to take into work every day, that gives me five more opportunities every week to make a dent in my supplies.

I won’t be using much of anything tonight, though, as Little Sis and I are going out to eat with our grandmother at our favourite north London restaurant, the Singapore Garden. But I’ve got some friends coming over for dinner this weekend – so, Nick and Kerry, beware! You may be finding a rather odd concoction of dishes on your plates come Saturday night.

A spring-loaded salad

April 20, 2010

I recently read a news story about how the long, cold winter we’ve just had has affected the English asparagus crop. And, although you’d usually expect it to start making an appearance about now, this year we wouldn’t be seeing anything until May.

So, as a big fan of this vegetable, I was more than a little pleased to see a great basketful of lovely, fresh green asparagus at the Secretts Farm stall at last Saturday’s Borough Market.

I eagerly grabbed a small handful of spears, and although it wasn’t cheap (it came to nearly £4 for about ten spears), I just couldn’t resist. They found their way into yesterday’s lunch – a salad with, among other things, oak leaf lettuce, and topped off with a nice, soft boiled egg.

Spring, as far as I’m concerned, has properly arrived!

Quite often I find myself with one ingredient that I want to eat and I’ll base a meal around it. Last night, it was a green pepper.

Green peppers usually mean Spanish food to me, so I turned to a cookbook I often wax lyrically about, and that’s the Moro one. And, yet again, it came up trumps.

In it, I found a recipe for a chicken and prawn paella, all of the ingredients for which I had – except the prawns! So it became merely a chicken paella, and it certainly didn’t lack anything for not having the seafood in it.

Sourdough success!

April 18, 2010

I baked my first sourdough loaf yesterday, using the starter I’d been working on for a couple of weeks. And it was delicious!

I did the first rise on Friday night, then knocked it back and let it prove for most of Saturday. Then into the oven it went, and the result was a fantastically yeasty-flavoured, good’n’holey sourdough loaf.

My only disappointment was that the loaf was slightly flat, but I think that was because I proved it in a bowl that was too wide. I’m going to try and get a proper proving bread basket for the next one.

Despite the process taking a long time, it’s actually really easy to make sourdough bread, and I’d recommend anyone who has an interest in baking to give it a go.

The starter recipe I used was from this great blog about all things sourdough, which I found to be one of the simplest descriptions. And the bread recipe was from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingtsall.

My starter is now sleeping in my fridge, having a rest before I wake it up in time for another loaf next weekend.

I’ve been out to eat quite a lot this week, so last night found myself with a relatively full fridge. I thought I’d better try and use as many things as possible in my supper, and, what started out in my mind as a simple meal of omelette, salad and fried potatoes, ended up with a great long list of ingredients worthy of one of Ottolenghi’s finest!

Here’s what I used:

For the omelette: two beaten eggs, spoonful of pul biber/tomato paste, tablespoon of chopped parsley, one grated courgettes, two finely sliced spring onions, olive oil for frying.

For the salad: two tablespoons of frozen peas boiled, half a head of chicory sliced, two or three mint leaves torn up, dressing made with red wine vinegar, olive oil, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper.

For the potatoes: er, potatoes. Useful tip though, I slice a raw potato, boil it until nearly cooked, then fry in an almost dry non-stick frying pan. Much healthier!

Anyway, the upshot of my very tasty supper was that I will no longer moan about recipes that have lots and lots of ingredients and several different cooking methods involved. Because I really can’t talk, can I!

Starters orders…

April 14, 2010

The unpleasant looking stuff in the picture above is my ten-day old sourdough starter. And, I’m rather proud of the bubbly gloop!

I made a starter a couple of years ago, and it was going quite well, until I put the whole lot into a loaf, forgetting to reserve some to keep it going. I was so annoyed with myself, I just couldn’t be bothered to make it again.

And this one is actually my second attempt at getting a starter going in recent weeks – the first one had a few little bubbles, but, after a couple of weeks, it hadn’t really developed. So I chucked it away, bought some fresh flour and tried again.

This one – a 70/30 mix of white bread flour and rye flour – is going great guns, with a lovely strong, fruity, yeasty smell to it. I think it’ll be ready to make my first sourdough loaf this weekend, so do come back to see how I get on…