After a rather long hiatus, I’m back, back, back. Over the next few weeks, as I try and settle myself back into UK living, I’ll be staying with various obliging friends around London. And, in return, I’ll be doing my best to cook some delicious meals for them. So, I’m kickstarting the blog again, by giving you a sample of my cooking using ingredients that are available in other people’s cupboards.

So, here I am at my friend Claire’s lovely house in Peckham. And oh boy, does she have a kitchen after my own heart. Huge five-burner cooker, double oven, well-stocked with Le Creuset and Sabatier, and, best of all, a great big dining table in the middle of the room. My dream set-up – you can cook for friends while they’re in close enough proximity to chat and drink with.

However, right now, I’ve got the place to myself, while Claire and her kids are on holiday, so my soft return to blogging is a dish for one. And, surprise surprise, it involves pork. (Yeah, something tells me it was never going to work, me living in Muslim country.)

Being a party of one on a Sunday is no reason, in my eyes, not to have a roast. And the small piece of pork tenderloin I found myself with is perfect for that. Because it’s small, it cooks very quickly, and a decent piece gives you a wee bit of leftovers for lunch the next day.

In the fridge were a few bags of herbs (remainders of a lamb shank dish I’d cooked the week before, but had too much red wine by the time I took photos of it, and they turned out to be far from bloggable quality…). I chopped up a big handful of rosemary, thyme, sage, fennel seeds, chilli and garlic, and rubbed it all over the tenderloin, along with a good glug of olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper.

One of the vegetables I missed most in Istanbul was fennel – you get the dried seeds very easily, but no one seemed to have heard of the fresh vegetable part of it. It’s something that seems to go with everything, but it tastes particularly good with pork. So, I quartered a bulb and chucked it into the roasting pan.

Into an oven of about 190ºC (gas mark 5) it went, for about 35 minutes (the two pieces pictured were about 150g each). It’s long been the belief that you have to blast the hell out of pork – not a hint of pinky-ness allowed. But after eating very rare pork in a Spanish tapas restaurant a few years ago, I have well and truly disabused myself of that notion. And, in fact, a report came out recently in the UK that said it was perfectly fine to cook pork to à point.

So that’s what I did with my tenderloin. A couple of boiled tatties and some peas on the side, and this was a very tasty return to a traditional(ish) Sunday lunch.

Sunday lunch in Sultanahmet

September 7, 2010

Last weekend, our friends Meryem and Özgür came to our flat in Istanbul’s historic area of Sultanahmet to experience a great British tradition – the Sunday lunch.

Although tasked with cooking them something typical, it was clear a roast was not an option, as an oven doesn’t look like it’s going to make an appearance in our flat any time soon (just saying the word ‘oven’ makes me pine for roast chicken, roast potatoes, apple crumble… *sigh*). And, when I started flipping through all my favourite recipes, I was surprised to see just how many homegrown dishes did actually involve a good roasting.

Conveniently, some homemade hummus was given to me that very morning by my friend Mireille (who has a minor obsession with chickpeas, in which I am happy to share at every opportunity), which I decided to serve as a starter – not exactly British, but delicious nonetheless, and that’s really all that counts at my table.

Roasts aside, another great British staple that regularly pops up in my cookbooks is a good old stew. And, being in the land of the lamb, I plumped for braised lamb shanks (which I was very proud of asking for in Turkish – and the butcher understood me!).

So, I rolled the lamb in seasoned flour and browned it in hot olive oil, removed to a plate, then softened some onion, garlic and carrots in the same oil. I added a good pinch of dried rosemary (unfortunately, I’m finding it hard to get the fresh stuff) and a couple of bay leaves, put the shanks back in, then added about half a bottle of red wine, a good glug of Balsamic vinegar and topped it up with stock until it covered all the meat.

Then I turned down the heat and let it simmer and bubble away for about three hours. After this length of time, the sauce was beautifully dark, full-flavoured – and, I’m afraid, a bit twiggy from all the dried rosemary.

Usually, I’m all for the short-cuts in cooking, and normally would have left the sauce a bit chunky with the onions and carrots. But as this was the first time I was cooking for Meryem and Özgür, I didn’t want them to go home with the memory of nothing but mouthfuls of dried herbs.

So, once the meat was falling off the bone and the sauce suitably reduced, I removed the lamb once again, and strained the sauce, pushing the soft onions, garlic and carrot through a seive to get all the flavour. By this point it was looking a little too thick, so I simply added a bit more water, checked the seasoning, then threw all that lovely soft meat back in the pan, and kept it on a low simmer until we were ready to eat.

I knew the only thing to serve on the side of a saucy dish like this was mashed potatoes, so, to everyone’s delight, that’s exactly what I did. I’d also bought some amazing-looking greens at the market last week, so quickly cooked those down in some olive oil with some more softened carrots and a sprinkling of fennel seeds.

Now all I had to do was conjure up a pudding. And what a treat I came up with.

Again, it was a random flick through my cut-out recipes that inspired me. Remembering the five or six rapidly softening lemons in my fridge, when I came across a recipe for lemon posset, I knew I’d found my pudding destiny.

With just three ingredients – double cream, sugar and lemon juice – posset is such an easy-to-make classic British pud, but I’ve never attempted it before. Although I knew immediately that I’d have to use some ingenuity with it, as double cream is pretty much non-existent here. What there is though, is kaymak, that wonderful clotted-cream-alike that’s eaten at breakfast, smothered on bread and dripping with honey.

So, I simply replaced the cream with kaymak, set the ingredients on to boil and crossed my fingers that it would all come together. Luckily, all that was needed was to pour the cooked mixture through a tea strainer to get rid of some slight graininess, and it set beautifully.

I decorated each posset pot with a little chopped dried cherry and pistachio nut that I had leftover from last week’s cheesecake, put a sponge finger on the plate alongside it, and a very smart-looking pudding was served up.

So, despite using some very un-British ingredients, I was quite amazed at how all the elements came together to create something that tasted, to me, pretty traditional. And hopefully, in the process, I managed to give Meryem and Özgür a taste of my “home” cooking – in more ways than one.

Not sure why I’m craving hearty soups now the weather is actually getting better. But hey-ho.

I spotted a recipe for fennel soup on another blog recently, and as it is most definitely one of my favourite vegetables, I knew I’d be making my own version of it before long. (Apologies for not posting the link, but I can’t for the life of me remember exactly which blog it was on.)

I simmered some chopped fresh fennel in stock, along with some tinned tomatoes, a pinch of ground fennel seeds, a spoonful of pul biber paste and lots of garlic, until it was all really soft. Fennel can be a bit stringy, so I left it for a good half an hour.

Then I liquidised the broth, added plenty of finely shredded cabbage, and simmered again for a few minutes, until the cabbage was cooked. A final handful of chopped parsley, and supper was on the table.

What’s nice about this soup is that the liquidised fennel gives it a comforting creaminess, while the cabbage adds a fresh, crunchy bite. Perfection in a soup bowl, in my humble opinion.

As much as I love lamb, chicken, fish, er, any other kind of meat, I do tend to eat a lot of it in Istanbul, and often come back craving large quantities of vegetables. My time in Istanbul also reminds me of just how lucky we are in the UK to have such a huge variety available to us.

In Turkey, even in the big supermarkets, the vegetables available are pretty much all grown in the country, with very little, if any, imported. Which is, on the one hand, a great thing, as you know there won’t be much of a carbon footprint attached to the aubergines and green peppers you’re consuming.

On the other hand, however, it doesn’t half get tedious eating the same things, day in day out! Anyway, as I currently have the best of both worlds, I can eat wonderfuly fresh, locally grown produce in Istanbul, and then come back to London and take advantage of everything that’s on sale in our full-to-brimming shops here.

Which is what I found myself doing last night. A quick trip to the supermarket on my way home, and my fridge was full of cauliflower, Savoy cabbage, leeks, carrots, plus a big bag of frozen peas for the freezer. And, like a kid in a sweet shop, I wanted a bit of everything, so did pretty much that with a hearty bowl of soup.

Here’s what I put in it: cauliflower, peas, half a tin of tomatoes, some fennel seeds, a teaspoon of pul biber paste, garlic and some chopped parsley. Simple, tasty and the perfect way to satisfy my vegetable cravings.

Splat!

February 26, 2010

Whenever I discover a new ingredient or cooking technique, it reminds me of just how much variety there is out there in the world of food. It also makes me realise that, despite having been cooking for nigh on 30 years, there is still so much to learn.

Last night, I decided to finish up some cabbage and flavour it with fennel seeds and a sprinkling of paprika (a delicious taste combination I’ve picked up from various Spanish recipes). And I really fancied something simple and meaty on the side.

Now, I rarely eat chicken breast, as it is usually rather bland in flavour, and no matter how carefully you cook it, I find it often ends up slightly dry. However, for some reason, last night I decided to give it another go.

I have no idea why this popped into my head, but it occurred to me that flattening the breast into a kind of escalope might help. It’s supposed to make the meat more tender, and my thinking was that, as it would be thinner, it wouldn’t need to be cooked for so long, and may end up being less dry.

So, I stuck the breast in a plastic freezer bag and gave it a good bashing with a rolling pin (quite a satisfying thing to do, actually). And, you know what? It worked! I griddled it in my Le Creuset griddle pan, with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper, on a very high heat. It cooked through in a matter of a few minutes, and still retained its moistness.

This is definitely going to be my favoured method of cooking chicken breast from now on – so expect a spate of recipes coming soon!

Last night I had my little sister to stay – which is always an excuse to cook something special. As well as being my biggest fan, she is also my most honest critic, and I know she will always tell me if something is not quite right.

There was a recipe I’d cooked once before and had been meaning to try again for some time – a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall dish he calls Tupperware Chorizo, which he cooks with purple sprouting broccoli and clams. Chorizo is one of my sister’s all-time favourite foods, so I knew this would be something she’d enjoy.

However, as is so often the case with me, I didn’t quite have all the right ingredients. So, on Sunday night, I took the combination of spices that Hugh uses for the chorizo – paprika, cayenne, fennel seeds, a splosh of red wine and salt – and added it to about 400g of pork mince, leaving it overnight (in, you may have guessed, a Tupperware box) for the flavours to develop.

What I did have to go with the pork was a fantastic cabbage from the Secretts Farm stall at Borough Market. It looked like a cross between a red cabbage and a Savoy, and was sweet and crunchy – a perfect foil for the intense smoky flavour of the meatballs.

Once I’d fried the meatballs, I removed them to a plate, and sautéed the shredded cabbage in the same pan, so the greens took on the spices of the pork. Meanwhile, to keep in with the Spanish theme, I made saffron rice with some paella rice. I made it in the same way as you would a risotto – frying an onion, then adding stock with saffron in it until the rice absorbs all the liquid.

So, over to you, Sis… How was it?

I was back at my new favourite fish stall, Devon Fish, at Borough Market on Saturday. What I like about the produce there is that it’s complete pot luck as to what you’re going to find. Which, when you think about it, is as it should be, if you want locally caught fish. I’m a bit suspicious when I go to a fish shop and see almost every fish that exists on the planet out on display. I begin to wonder just how far it came and how long ago it was caught.

Anyway, this week’s goodies at Devon Fish included some lovely shiny big whiting. Cheap, fresh and local – what more could you want? When I got it home and looked it up in Sophie Grigson and William Black’s cookery book, Fish, I was amused to see it described as, “old bespectacled fish that sit under woolly shawls… being the archetypal invalid food, together with warm tea and Rich Tea biscuits.”

Yes, whiting may be a very mild, soft, white-fleshed fish, but to me that just makes it eminently suitable for eating with nice strong flavours. In the same book, I found a recipe for a fish stew, the elements of which I already had in my cupboards. And that was as far as I followed the recipe, instead making a very quick, simple sauce in which to poach the fish.

Into a deep frying pan with a lid went half a tin of tomatoes, a pinch of saffron that had been steeped for a few minutes in hot water, about a teaspoon of crushed cumin seeds, a sprig of thyme, a chopped clove of garlic, and some salt and pepper. I simmered this for a few minutes, until the garlic was soft, then added the fish.

A fish like whiting would cook very well whole in a sauce like this, but I sliced it into what I guess are technically called steaks. Whiting has a nice thick spine, with relatively few bones, so it is very easy to pull off the meat once cooked. And thanks to the smallish chunks, it only took about 5 minutes of simmering in the tomato sauce to cook it through.

On the side I had some Savoy cabbage, which I’d actually bought the week before but hadn’t had a chance to use yet. I braised it in some olive oil, adding a few crushed fennel seeds and a little salt and pepper.

The result was a flavourful, substantial fish supper, made in a matter of minutes.