Tomorrow is my last night in the UK (and no, I still haven’t even started to pack yet – eek!), and my lovely little sis is taking me to Brighton’s Drakes Hotel for dinner. (I apologise in advance to the waiters for the two blubbing blondes sitting in the corner of the restaurant.)

But tonight, I made my last home-cooked meal in the UK, and it was a can’t-be-beaten British roast chicken, sprinkled with my favourite Turkish spice, pul biber – perfectly combining my past and future foodie lives.

Nuf said. See you soon in Istanbul! xx

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A feast for friends

July 25, 2010

It’s reached that point in my plans for leaving London where I’ve had to start saying goodbye to friends. Although I’m having a big party next week, it’s inevitable that, thanks to the summer holidays, some people won’t be able to come.

Last week, I invited my friends Lea and Nicky over for dinner, because they decided that going to Camp Bestival was more important than waving off their dear friend who’s going to a far and distant land and may never return… Okay, I’ll drop the drama queen act. It’s fine that they’re going away for my last weekend in London, really, it is.

Anyway, back to the point of all this – the food. I decided to cook my favourite saffron poached chicken for the meat-eaters, some grilled whiting sprinkled with pul biber for the pescatarians, plus a Moroccan vegetable stew (which included baby turnips, courgettes, carrots, red onions, chickpeas, turmeric, cumin, and lots of garlic) and couscous for all of us to eat.

This is a dish my mum made regularly when I was a child, and I would always eat far far too much of it. What is it about couscous that allows you to stuff your stomach so full of it? Well, this meal was no exception, and I was left groaning by the end of the evening.

For pudding, I made Dan Lepard’s chocolate honey meringues, which was in last week’s Guardian magazine. In his instructions, Dan said not to make one big one as it would collapse. However, I wanted to slather it with mascarpone and fresh figs, in the manner of a Pavlova, so decided to ignore Mr Lepard and make it whole.

The result was a rather soft, incredibly chewy, almost brownie-like meringue, which, in my humble opinion, was delicious. And the creamy, fruity topping made it extra special.

All in all, it was a pretty indulgent evening, and hopefully I have left Lea and Nicky with some happy foodie memories of me until we see each other again.

Inspect my gadget!

May 1, 2010

I’m a bit of a Luddite when it comes to kitchen equipment. Give me a good sharp knife and a wooden spoon, and I’m happy. However, I have recently been introduced to the delights of the mandolin.

Now, all I previously knew of this gadget is that it regularly slices off the ends of chef’s fingers. But when the nice people at Oxo Good Grips sent me one and I tried it out once or twice, I did wonder what I’d been doing all these years without it.

This one has a very useful wedge-y bit at one end, which hooks over the edge of the bowl you’re slicing into, so it’s super-steady. Plus, my stress levels at using this dangerous kitchen weapon were somewhat reduced by the grip thing that sticks securely to whatever you’re slicing – so your fingers don’t have to go anywhere near that scary-looking blade.

And, most importantly – it’s really fun!

Last night, I used the mandolin to slice some marrow, which I sautéed with mint, lemon zest, pul biber (a Turkish red pepper spice) and lots of garlic.

Once soft and a little browned, I chucked in a grated carrot that needed using up, some leftover roast chicken I’d had in the freezer, plus a handful of parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice. A little salt and pepper was all that was needed to make a delicious, fresh, tangy supper, that conveniently used up some more of my 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.

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.

An Easter chicken

April 5, 2010

London at Easter is surprisingly quiet, and actually becomes pretty enjoyable for the rest of us who haven’t fled to damp cottages in Cornwall or are stuck at Heathrow airport with increasingly grumpy families.

So, after working up an appetite with a long walk along the Thames yesterday, I came home to cook a large roast chicken, which I bought on Saturday at Wyndham’s in Borough Market. They sell a wonderful free-range chicken called Label Anglais, and although it’s not cheap, it’s absolutely worth splashing out on every now and then.

Wyndham’s also gave me a bag of giblets (see pic below), and, as a long weekend off work is just an open invitation for me to cook even more, I made the effort to make some chicken stock, which is now in the freezer for a quick soupy supper later in the week.

I’ll often rub the skin of my chickens with something spicy, but as the weather here is actually resembling spring at long last, I decided to stick with some fresh, herby flavours. So, into the chicken cavity I put a quartered red onion, three or four squished cloves of garlic and plenty of fresh thyme.

As always, I used my trusty chicken clay pot to cook it in. As I’ve mentioned before, the advantage of using the clay pot is that it retains loads of moisture, so keeps the meat really tender.

I also do a little trick that the food editor at the magazine where I work told me about. I cook the chicken upside down for the first half of the cooking time, which means all the juices flow into the breasts. Then, for the last 20 minutes or so, I turn the bird the right way up, and continue cooking wthout the lid on the clay pot, to crisp up the skin a bit.

So, dinner was delicious, juicy roast chicken with mashed potatoes and braised spring greens and peas. Inevitably, there was plenty left over, so I bagged the meat up into convenient little portions and stuck it in the freezer for future lunches and suppers.

Okay, as promised last week, here is part 3 of Adventures With An Onion Squash… Last night, my little sister was staying with me again, so I thought I’d introduce her to the delights of this new discovery of mine.

I’d spotted a Nigel Slater recipe in a recent Observer Food Monthly for roast partridge with pumpkin, and thought my chicken legs and onion squash were close enough replacements.

I took two chicken legs, jointed them (so they would cook a little bit quicker), and browned them in a little olive oil. I also chucked in about five whole cloves of garlic, with the skin still on.

Once browned. I placed the chicken pieces on top of the deseeded and sliced squashes in a large ceramic baking dish. A few sage leaves were added, plus a good amount of seasoning, then I poured in enough water to almost cover the squash slices.

Into an oven heated to gas mark 5 it went, for about 35 minutes, and out came a beautifully coloured, garlic-scented, sweet pile of chickeny-squashy yumminess. With it, we had some boiled pink fir apple potatoes, and the last of the cabbage, simply braised. And it was absolutely delicious – even if I do say so myself.

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.

As a keen foodie living on her own, there are always going to be times when it’s impossible to make a one-portion sized dish. Roast chicken being a case in point. Well, any roast really, but as roast chicken is one of my all-time favourite meals, that’s what comes to mind. (When I was a kid, I used to say that if I was a princess, I would have roast chicken for breakfast every day. Clearly, I learned young…) And that’s why the freezer is the single foodie’s best friend.

Here are a few of my favourite uses for my friendly freezer:

  • Bread. I’m not a huge consumer of bread, but when I do buy a loaf, like a nice crusty sourdough from The Flour Station in Borough Market, I’ll cut it into quarters and freeze what I’m not going to eat that day. Once thawed out, pop it in the oven to crisp it up a bit.
  • Cakes. I haven’t really experimented too much with this, but so far I have successfully frozen my homemade biscuits and cupcakes (without fillings and icings), and my date loaf cut into slices and wrapped individually in clingfilm. I’ve also frozen some leftover chocolate ganache, which was fine to use when I thawed it out.
  • Herbs. Pretty much all herbs freeze well. I don’t usually bother freezing parsley as I use it up so quickly, but rosemary, basil, thyme, sage and mint are permanent residents in my ice-box. Do not attempt to thaw herbs before using – they’ll just turn into slimy mush. But straight from the freezer they’re nice and brittle, and crumble easily into your cooking.
  • Tinned tomatoes. Not in the tin, obviously. But often I’ll use half a tin of tomatoes, and if I don’t think I’ll want to use the rest of it within a day or two, into a tupperware pot it goes and into the freezer. And the best thing is you can use it straight from frozen.
  • Frozen veg. I think all frozen veg is pretty horrible except peas – so that’s the only vegetable that graces my freezer.
  • Fresh meat and fish. If I buy two or three items at the market on a Saturday, I’ll usually eat one of them at the weekend, and put the rest in the freezer to cook during the week. I also use a fair bit of pork and lamb mince, so I’ll buy, say, 300g, divide it into 100g portions and freeze them. And, again, you can cook mince from frozen, if you don’t remember to take it out in time to thaw.
  • Leftovers. The above-mentioned roast chicken is not as extravagant a meal as you might think for one person. Once the leftovers are cold, I remove all the meat from the bones, divide it into portions and freeze. Perfect for risottos, soups, salads, stir fries, and, most delicious of all, fried in olive oil to crisp it up with a side of oven chips. Mmmmouthwatering.

So, am I missing any tricks here? What’s in your freezer?

Blast from a kitchen past

December 10, 2009

Chances are, if you grew up in the 1970s, your mum had one of these. And, if your mum was anything like mine, this clay crock pot languished at the back of a cupboard for most of that decade. After being carefully packed and unpacked, and moved from London to Scotland to Brighton to France, finally, 40 years after my mum first bought it, this one found its way back to London and my kitchen. Where it, ahem, languished on top of a cupboard for several years.

It was a major kitchen clear-out that eventually inspired me to use the pot. I couldn’t quite bring myself to throw the thing away, so I decided if I was going to keep it, I’d have to use it. A phone call to my mum and some intensive Googling, and it was clear that this could become my new favourite utensil. Although you can apparently cook pretty much anything – from potatoes to prawns – in it, I’ve only used it for chicken. And, I have to say, I now don’t roast a chicken any other way.

The pot is soaked in cold water for about 10 minutes before you put the chicken in, and the steam that this creates in the hot oven effectively poaches and roasts the meat at the same time. The result? The juiciest, most succulent roast chicken you’ll ever taste. (If I’ve tempted you at all, I think you can still buy these clay crocks in Habitat. I certainly recommend giving it a go.)

Isn’t it funny that, despite all those high-tech gadgets available to the home cook nowadays, the old ones seem to still do the job just as well – if not better? What things do you remember from your childhood kitchen?

UPDATE Some more research has led me to discover that this thing is actually called a chicken brick. And apparently Habitat first started selling them in 1966 – which must be about when my mum bought hers. Ooh, I have an antique in my kitchen.