Hello? Anybody there?

Okay, it’s been a while, but in anticipation of getting back into a kitchen of my own in a month or two, I’m testing the blogging waters again with the occasional post – when kitchen equipment allows.

At the moment, I’m flat-sitting for my good friends Nick and Kerry in the relatively uncharted territory (for Bare Cupboard, at least) of north London. So, while they’re tramping the snow-covered hills of the Lake District, I’m basking in the glow of their tiny but perfectly formed kitchen.

Kerry had thoughtfully pointed me in the direction of a small food market held each Saturday in front of the Tufnell Park Tavern, so I pottered along there yesterday and, among the olives, sourdough levain and free-range eggs, was the thing to inspire this post – a piece of beef shin from organic farm Galileo. I’ve never cooked with that particular cut before, but it was cheap and I was in the mood for something slow-cooked, tender and saucey, so it fitted the bill.

I’d already picked up a couple of nice plump artichokes at the local Turkish grocer for a bargainous 75p each, and was wondering what to do with them. I don’t know whether some dim and distant memory of a recipe was lodged in my subconscious, or it was the inspired genius of my own brain (I like to think it’s the latter), but for some reason I thought a beef and artichoke stew sounded like a very good thing indeed.

And the internet agreed. When I searched for beef and artichoke, I found any number of variations on that theme, so at least I knew the flavours would go well together. I found a good basic recipe for a beef shin stew – without the artichokes – by Jamie Oliver, and liked the idea of the herbs and the cinnamon he used, so decided to go for that, with my addition of a bulb of a fennel, some shitake mushrooms that needed using up, and, of course, the artichokes.

I cooked it according to Jamie’s recipe, but added the fennel and artichokes about half way through the cooking time, because I didn’t want them to turn to a complete and utter moosh. Which turned out to be just the right amount of time. (I actually snuck a taste of the meat after I’d browned it, and, oh boy, did it taste good. And it was surprisingly tender even before it had simmered away for three hours.)

Well, let me tell you, the smell alone while the stew was cooking was incredible. Why the neighbours weren’t breaking down the door, plates in hand Oliver Twist-style, is beyond me. Instead, it was just me – although, unlike Oliver, I did have some more.

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.

An Indian supper

February 14, 2010

I was heading off to a birthday party in west London last night. Rather rashly, I offered to contribute a pudding to the Indian-themed meal, and after a glance through a cookery book called simply Indian Cookery by Dharamjit Singh (one of my mum’s 1970s staple recipe books, which has been passed on to me), I decided on what I thought was a very straightforward dish – gajjar karrah, or carrot halva.

The list of ingredients was short and basic, and the method simple, so off I set, cooking vast amounts of grated carrot in several pints of milk. Boil until reduced to a quarter of the original volume, Dharamjit instructed.

What he didn’t tell me was that to reduce that amount of liquid would take about three hours! A fact I didn’t realise until an hour and a half into the boiling, when the milk had reduced by barely half. Oh well, I didn’t have anything else to do with my Saturday afternoon.

Luckily, I’d started early enough to finish the halva in time to catch my train – and the guests at the party thought it tasted very authentic. Phew…

Last night, I took dinner round to my friend Nicky. After a week in hospital, she was in desperate need of feeding up, and I reckoned I was the person to do it!

I brought her a meal that I’d prepared the night before at home, so while she got her two extremely boisterous little children into bed, all I needed to do was put the dishes in the oven and sit down with a glass of wine. (Okay, so I’m a good friend when it comes to food, but not when it comes to helping out with the kids!)

First on the menu was leek, butter bean and potato gratin. I’d got these dinky little pie dishes when I recently made beef and oyster pies, and they were perfect for two individually sized gratins.

Into a mixing bowl I put a tin of drained butter beans and a sliced and washed leek, then seasoned it all with salt, pepper, and a teaspoon or so of chopped fresh rosemary. I divided the mixture between the two pie dishes and added about 100ml of milk to each one.

I’d bought some pink fir apple potatoes at the market last Saturday, and used them to top the gratins. Often, recipes that have sliced potato toppings say to add them raw, but I find it takes an absolute age to cook like this. So, I sliced the potatoes and par-boiled them in some salted water before layering them on top of the butter beans and leeks.

A little grated cheese and some more black pepper was scattered over the potatoes, and then they were baked in an oven heated to gas mark 4, for about 50 minutes.

I did mean to add some chopped garlic, but forgot. And I think it would have made a difference, so in the recipe that I’ll post later, I’ll put the garlic in. I also decided that the dish would have been improved by a half-and-half mix of stock and milk, so again, I’ll change that in the recipe. But all in all it was a warming winter meal.

For pudding, I made a pear and cinnamon tart. When I cooked the beef and oyster pies last December, I had some of the rough puff pastry left, so stuck it in the freezer – where I discovered it after a good rootle round at the weekend. I also had a bag of pears that I’d bought for a mere 40p at a supermarket, which had, in fact, turned out to be utterly tasteless.

The thin slices of pear were simmered in a little water, with some soft brown sugar and cinnamon, until soft. Then I simply placed them in a nice pattern on the rolled out pastry in a tart tin, and baked in an oven heated to gas mark 4 for about 40 minutes.

Although the tart certainly did wonders for the flavour of the pears, the pastry, unfortunately, was a little soggy in the middle. I’m not sure if it needed to be cooked for longer or had just not lasted well in the freezer, but I’ll experiment with it a bit more and post the recipe if I am more successful next time.

Back in cold, grey London but – despite really missing Süleyman and Istanbul – foodwise, I’d been really looking forward to eating some vegetable dishes that didn’t involve tomatoes, aubergines or green peppers! I got back too late to get to Borough Market on Saturday, so headed off to the supermarket on Sunday and filled my basket with a marrow, a cauliflower, some courgettes, lots of carrots, onions and salad, and an organic chicken.

Despite my cravings for some British veggies, I found I couldn’t quite leave Istanbul behind, and decided to poach the chicken with some saffron and a cinnamon stick I’d bought on Friday from the Spice Market. The garlic in the photo comes from Süleyman’s home town of Tunceli and, although it looks like a bulb, it is, in fact, a single clove.

I put the chicken in a large casserole pot with a finely chopped onion, poured in enough water to almost cover the bird, added a good pinch of saffron, a cinnamon stick, the garlic and plenty of salt and pepper. Once it came to the boil, I turned the heat down very low and let it cook for about an hour and a half. By this point, the meat was literally falling of the bone, so I removed the chicken to a warm plate, and reduced the liquid over a high flame. The aroma of the spices was absolutely mouthwatering – and so warming and comforting, it was perfect for the shock of arriving back into the depths of a British winter. A squeeze of lemon over the cooked chicken and some simply steamed cauliflower, courgette and sweet Chantenay carrots on the side, and I was beginning to feel a little less ‘home’-sick for Istanbul.

There was plenty of meat left over, some of which I’ll put in the freezer, and the rest I’ll use in a salad to take to work for lunch. And, thanks to the cooking method, it should stay nice and moist.

In the three years I’ve been coming to Istanbul, I’ve eaten and drunk many many delicious things. But I was recently introduced to something quite unlike anything I’ve tasted before. I hesitate to call boza a drink, because its consistency is so thick, it easily supports the roast chickpeas you sprinkle on the top, and really you have to eat it with a spoon.

Not dissimilar to lassi in appearance, boza actually has no dairy in it at all, and is, in fact, made from fermented millet. Only drunk in the winter, its mild, tangy, yoghurty flavour is supposed to give you the strength to get through the cold weather.

And the only place to drink boza in Istanbul is in the beautiful old Vefa Bozacısı, on Çelebi Caddesi. It’s quite a ritual to have your boza there. First you buy your chickpeas from the little shop opposite, then you cross the street and take your place at a wooden table, under the immaculately tiled walls. The glasses of boza are lined up along a long counter, sprinkled liberally with freshly ground cinnamon. Then, drop a few of your roast chickpeas on top, and dig in. It’s a surprisingly light and refreshing pick-me-up, made all the more special by the surroundings, of course.

As previously mentioned, I’m off to Istanbul on Thursday. So, currently, I’m in a desperate bid to finish off everything in my fridge. I’m doing a fair job of it so far, but I do seem to have a surfeit of eggs. So, last night I thought I’d give myself a taster of all the fantastic Turkish food I’m going to be eating soon, and cook one of my favourite eggy dishes. It’s an Allegra McEvedy recipe from somewhere or other, that I discovered when searching for dishes that include pomegranate molasses. I’d bought a bottle of this sweet’n’sour syrup on an earlier trip to Istanbul and it had sat unopened on top of my fridge for a few months, before I made a determined effort to use it.

And once I’d tried out the molasses a few times, I realised it was a lot easier to use than I’d orginally thought. One of my favourite dishes with it is a chicken stew with ground walnuts, a recipe from Claudia Roden’s A New Book Of Middle Eastern Food. I’m sure it won’t be long before I cook that again, so I’ll tell you more about it then.

In the meantime, this is my version of this poached egg dish. The eggs are cooked in a fairly liquidy sauce, so to make it more substantial, I added some frozen peas, and had some basmati rice on the side. But it’s also very tasty as a winter brunch dish with flat bread.