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.

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.

A Sunday pig-out

April 17, 2011

Being a predominantly Muslim country, Turkey doesn’t have a great deal of pork available. And I do love my pork. So when I’m back in France or England, I tend to eat a lot of it. After all, there really is nothing like a deliciously spiced saucisson in France, or a plate of crispy bacon in Britain.

My stay in London has been quite long this time, and I realised today that it’s only two weeks until I head back to Istanbul. Which, of course, I’m really excited about – but, what was the first thing I thought when I realised my UK trip was close to an end? Pork!

So, today, when I said I’d cook Sunday lunch for Lene, my London host (landlady?), and her family, I knew exactly what was going to be on the menu.

Lene is as much into her cooking as I am, and has a fine collection of cookery books. Including a lovely set of Elizabeth David classics. Among which I found a recipe for roast pork with fennel – in her book called Italian Food. But, of course, being a bit of a food fiddler, I couldn’t just leave it at that, and decided to add garlic, rosemary and paprika to the rolled shoulder stuffing.

On the side, I kept to the fennel theme, and made a fennel and potato bake.

And for some extra veggie-ness, some simple steamed chantenay carrots and English peas – with plenty of mint and butter, of course.

And for pud? One of my faves – Dan Lepard’s saffron peach cake, with loads of thick whipped cream.

And now the sofa beckons…

One of my oldest and dearest friends was staying with me in Istanbul last week. We had lots of catching up to do, and as she is as much of a food-lover as I am, most of that catching up was done over meals of some kind or another – starting over the heaving breakfast table, continuing over lunches of köfte or kebaps with lots of bread, then topping it all off over afternoon teas of baklava, and dinners of a million kinds of meze plus grilled fish, chicken shish or lamb chops.

So, as I waddled home from saying goodbye to my friend at the airport on Sunday, I thought it might be a good idea to curb my eating habits for a few days. However, healthy eating, for me, still has to mean tasty eating – and the easiest way to inject some interest into a somewhat basic meal has to be with strong flavours, such as garlic, chilli, and, in this case, capers.

My weekly market shop was a few days away, so this was going to be a real ‘store-cupboard essentials’ meal. A quick fridge-check, and I saw I had potatoes, tomatoes and onions in abundance, plus some runner-like beans that were on their last legs (ahem, ‘scuse the dreadful pun). And tucked into the corner of the top shelf was a jar of long-forgotten capers. Good thing they keep forever, because, as soon as I saw them, I knew that was the flavour I was looking for.

I’ve often used capers in tomato sauces for pasta, and as I had a kind of potato/tomato-ey stew in mind for dinner, I saw no reason not to use them for this dish.

So, I roughly chopped an onion and a couple of garlic cloves, and fried them in some olive oil. When soft, I added a couple of potatoes cut into small cubes. After giving them a few minutes in the olive oil, I added a chopped tomato, some tomato purée, a couple of bay leaves, some of my ever-essential pul biber (a Turkish chilli, for those of you who haven’t yet come across my obsession with this spice), poured in enough water to just cover the potatoes, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, and left it all on a low heat to bubble away.

For some strange reason, I always find potatoes take longer to cook if they are in anything other than plain salted water, and this dish was no different. Despite being in small chunks, it took almost half an hour to get the potato really soft – which was fine, as it gave the flavours in the stew a chance to really deepen. About halfway through cooking, I added a couple of spoons of chopped capers, and checked the seasoning.

And that, dear readers, was simply that. Some steamed beans on the side, and here was a healthy meal, making good use of some store-cupboard leftovers, and, most importantly, it was delicious.

Clove at first sight…

January 9, 2011

Christmas and new year’s eve are pretty much non-events for me and Süleyman – mainly because he has to work both evenings, but also because there just isn’t the same emphasis on those particular holidays in Turkey.

I have to say, it doesn’t bother me too much, but what I do miss is the chance to cook something special for the two of us.

Luckily, it’s Süleyman’s birthday a week after new year, and that day he doesn’t have to work. So I always use the opportunity to make a fairly big celebratory meal.

This year, Süleyman expressed a desire to have something along the lines of the slow-cooked lamb shanks I’d made last year when our friends Meryem and Özgür came for dinner. But, said Süleyman, could I do it with cloves? It turns out he’d eaten a lamb dish with cloves in a restaurant a few years ago, and had loved it. I told him I was pretty sure I could come up with something.

What I did come up with was a recipe for duck with prunes, plus various other herbs and spices, one of which was cloves – courtesy of an old post by David Lebovitz. Looking at the list of ingredients – red wine, cloves, bay leaves, thyme, orange zest, pancetta (which I replaced with a spicy beef sausage called suçuk, as porky products are nigh on impossible to get here) and garlic – I saw no reason not to substitute the duck with lamb.

So, on the morning of Süleyman’s birthday, I set to work. I heated some olive oil in a nice deep frying pan, and when smoking hot, added the shanks and browned them all over.

While they were sizzling away, I started peeling some baby onions that I’d decided to add to the dish. And what a flippin’ pain that turned out to be. Not only were they fiddly beyond belief, but the fumes were so powerful I ended up with streaming red eyes. I only managed to deal with about half the bag, and I have a strong suspicion that the rest of those little buggers are going to be sitting in my vegetable rack for rather a long time.

Once I’d cried a river over the onions, I removed the lamb shanks from the pan, added pretty much a whole bottle of red wine, let it bubble away for a few minutes, then threw in all the other ingredients. David’s original recipe calls for the meat to be put in the oven at this point, but as regular readers will know, that’s not an option for me, being oven-less. So, instead, I simply put a tight-fitting lid on the saucepan, turned the heat way down low, and let nature take its course.

Cooking lamb shanks this way, I have found, is just as good as using an oven, but it does take a little longer to make the meat really soft and succulent. But, as the birthday boy and I had plans, after an hour or so of cooking, I turned off the gas, with the intention of finishing it later.

Süleyman and I then toddled off to Istanbul’s Pera Museum to see a stunning exhibition of the work of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. And, I have to say, the intense colour and passion in Kahlo’s paintings put me in the perfect mood for the intense flavours of the dinner waiting for us at home.

Another couple of hours of cooking was needed once we got back. So, while the lamb was gently simmering, and Süleyman and I were getting gently sloshed on some more delicious red wine, I somehow also managed to conjure up some mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. About half an hour before the lamb was done, I added about 200g of stoned prunes to the mix, which provided a gorgeous sweetness to the whole affair.

Dinner was served – and, if I do say so myself, it was truly scrumptious. Lamb in Turkey has quite a strong flavour (I get the impression the animals are slaughtered at an older age than in the UK), so it held up to the clove-y aroma wonderfully. And what’s more warming on a winter’s night than a spicy lamb stew? Not much, I can tell you.

I don’t think Süleyman would mind me saying his taste in food is perhaps a little traditional. Traditionally Turkish, that is.

The Turks, I am discovering, are very protective of their customs – and cooking in particular. So, although this means you can go to pretty much any restaurant here in Istanbul – and most people’s homes, too – and get an amazing Turkish meal, it’s harder to find decent non-Turkish food.

And, as much as Süleyman loves his grub, he can sometime be a weeny bit suspicious of some of the dishes I cook – simply because it’s something he’s not familiar with.

So, when I pointed out some slices of vivid orange pumpkin at the market the other day, and asked if he liked it, I wasn’t surprised when he told me he’d only ever eaten it as a sweet – as that is the traditional Turkish way with pumpkin.

I resolved to change his view of this vegetable and bought some with the intention of making something savoury with it, but not really knowing what. When it came to using the pumpkin, I noticed I also had some jerusalem artichokes left, and it occurred to me that the two might go very well together.

I was, however, fully aware that it could result in a rather odd concoction – and if my tastebuds thought it odd, then god knows what Süleyman would make of it. Oh well, nothing ventured, I thought.

So, here’s what I did. I roughly chopped a red onion and sautéed it in olive oil along with a chopped clove of garlic. I wanted the flavours to be resolutely Mediterranean, so I added a couple of bay leaves, and a sprinkling of dried thyme and rosemary. Once the onion was soft, I added the jerusalem artichoke and pumpkin, both of which had been cut into smallish cubes. I added enough water to cover the bottom of the pan, seasoned well with salt and pepper, then left it all to simmer until cooked. (This actually took much longer than I thought it would – the pumpkin, in particular, I was surprised to find, took a good half an hour to become really soft and sweet.)

About ten minutes before the end of the cooking time, I added a chopped red pepper and a couple of skinned and chopped tomatoes. Finally, to make the dish a little more substantial, I made use of some minced beef I had left over. Here, the mince is very fine, in readiness for it being made into köfte. This means it’s very easy to squish together into tightly bound wee balls, with no need to add egg or breadcrumbs.

I rolled my mince into walnut-sized pieces and simply dropped them into the cooking juices of the pumpkin, artichokes, tomatoes etc. They took barely five minutes to cook through.

And what did this bizarre assortment of ingredients taste like? Well, the delicious earthiness of the jerusalem artichoke really permeated the whole dish, and, added to the sweetness of the pumpkin and a hefty hint of beefiness from the meatballs, it was a surpringly tasty combination.

And, luckily, even Süleyman thought so.

I fear I have been neglecting you recently.

Having spent a wonderful ten days relaxing in France with my lovely mother and her equally lovely kitchen – where I was able to do some serious cooking and blogging – I was then plunged into the chaos of bed-hopping and job-hopping in London for three weeks. I had so much fun catching up with friends and family (plus earning some much-needed money by freelancing at a couple of glamorous fashion magazines), but it barely left me time to breathe, never mind cook and blog.

So, here I am, back at a place I am very happy to now call home – in Istanbul, with my terrific Turk, Suleyman. And very eager to get back in the kitchen.

I arrived back yesterday, and despite waking up this morning to a couple of still-full suitcases and a mound of washing the size of Everest, what was the first thing I did? Throw on some clothes and drag poor Suleyman to the local market, of course.

It’s blummin’ cold here at the moment, and wet with it. So I knew I wanted to start off by cooking something cosy and comforting. As I was perusing the selection of vegetables on offer at Sultanahmet market, I suddenly remembered a recipe I used to cook a lot, but hadn’t made for a very long time. I can’t remember where I got it from, but it’s described as a Greek fish stew.

The important elements of the dish, as far as I could remember, were fish – obviously – courgettes, carrots, onions, garlic, plus a touch of chilli and a few peelings of orange zest. This, I thought, was just what I needed – Mediterranean comfort food.

A quick dash through icy rain to the fish market resulted in a bag of red mullet, a wee sea bass, some prawns, and a couple of dinky silver fish that I’ve eaten here before but couldn’t, for the life of me, tell you what they’re called.

After a warming glass of red wine (the heating’s not great in our flat, or, at least, that’s my excuse), I got to cooking. I chopped a couple of onions, a couple of cloves of garlic, a chilli and a carrot, and popped them in a wide, deep saucepan, along with two or three thick slices of orange zest and a couple of bay leaves. I poured in enough water to just cover the ingredients, added some salt, pepper and a good glug of olive oil, brought it all to a low simmer, then left it until the vegetables were just about soft (about six minutes). Then I added a diced courgette and one of those giant radish-y type things I’ve mentioned before. (I’m pretty sure that wasn’t in the original recipe, but I had one, and thought it would go quite well with the other ingredients.)

In the meantime, I cut the fish into equal-sized chunks (discarding heads and tails), cored and chopped a large tomato, juiced the remains of the orange and chopped up a big handful of fresh parsley.

Once the vegetables were cooked to an al-dente texture, I added the fish and chopped tomato. The fish took only four or five minutes to cook, and, with about a minute to go, I added the orange juice and parsley. Once I’d checked the seasoning and given it one last stir, I popped the lid on, turned off the heat, and let it sit for a couple of minutes.

So, there we had it. A steaming pan of slightly spicy, slightly zesty, totally yummy Greek fish stew, served with Turkish bread, Turkish wine and a great big helping of hungry gusto. Mmmm…

Ovens above!

November 14, 2010

I am with oven – finally! Unfortunately, it’s not my own. I’m staying with my mum in France for a week or so, and as is expected of the mother who taught me much of what I know, cooking-wise, her kitchen is well designed, fully stocked and an absolute joy to work in.

Now that I have an oven at my disposal, I’m certainly making the most of it, and reached for the ‘on’ switch almost as soon as I had walked through the door. (I tend to do most of the cooking when staying with Mum – something that gives pleasure to both of us.)

I never have to worry about there being a lack of fresh vegetables, herbs and all sorts of foodie extras at Mum’s, and I can usually find pretty much everything I need for a recipe, no matter what it is.

Mum had some chicken legs in the freezer that she wanted used up, so, after an inspection of her fridge, I found the perfect accompaniments – a large bulb of fennel (one of my favourite vegetables, and impossible to find in Istanbul), a bag of mushrooms and some red onions. Which, in my eyes, added up to baked chicken and fennel.

So, I thinly sliced the fennel, a red onion and a handful of the mushrooms, scattered them evenly in a largeish baking dish, then added a couple of sprigs of rosemary (from the garden), finely chopped, and a couple of roughly chopped cloves of garlic.

I poured over enough hot stock and some white wine to just cover the vegetables, seasoned with a little salt and a fair old grinding of black pepper, then popped it into an oven heated to about 220º for 15 minutes or so. I often find that vegetables take much longer than you’d imagine to soften in an oven, so thought I’d give the fennel et al a head start.

While the vegetables were beginning to cook, I browned the chicken legs – which I’d jointed, so they wouldn’t take quite so long to cook either. Then they were added to the now semi-cooked vegetables, and placed back in the oven for about half an hour at 180º.

Once the chicken was cooked, the skin beautifully crisp, and the fennel soft and sweet, all that was left to do was steam some broccoli, and spoon up. There was plenty of juice left – in fact, I’d probably put in a bit too much liquid to start with. But, never one to be wasteful, I simply used it to make a leek and mushroom soup the next day. Both were delicious.

Sounds meh, tastes mmm…

November 11, 2010

I’m thinking of changing the name of this blog to Bare Cupboard & Claudia, after the Julie & Julia film. After all, I seem to be blogging my way through Claudia Roden’s The New Book Of Middle Eastern Food in much the same way that Julie Powell did with Julia Child’s Mastering The Art Of French Cooking.

And today was no different…

I actually made this dish for the first time last week in Istanbul, when I found a bag of seriously softening carrots in the bottom of my fridge. I did what I always do in this situation, and that’s head for the index of a few cookbooks to see if I had enough other ingredients to make something interesting with whatever it is I want to use up.

In this case, I found a recipe that, I have to admit, sounded like something Nanny would have forced upon some sorry Dickensian school-children. Boiled carrot salad. But once I’d read the list of simple ingredients, I had a feeling it was going to taste much better than the name suggested.

Fortunately, I was right. Unfortunately, the photos I took made it look as though Nanny had had a punch-up with the mashed carrots – and lost. Best left for another time, I decided.

And the ‘other time’ presented itself to me today. I arrived at my mum’s in France yesterday, a stopover on my way back to London (only a visit – I haven’t fled Istanbul altogether!), and after a quick rummage in her well-stocked fridge, I found some similarly floppy carrots. Boiled carrot salad for lunch, then.

So, the first step is to, er, boil the carrots. In salted water, with a couple of roughly chopped cloves of garlic. Once the vegetables are super-soft, mash them with a hefty pinch of cumin seeds (I usually just crumble them between my fingertips, rather than grind them to a fine powder), a teaspoon of harissa paste (I used pul biber the first time I made it, and actually thought it tasted better), a splash of wine vinegar (either red or white will do), and a good glug of olive oil. I found that it also needed a bit more of a seasoning with salt and pepper. Don’t mix’n’mash too thoroughly, as it’s tastier when a bit chunky. Leave it to cool a little, then scatter with a few more cumin seeds, a little cayenne pepper (or, in my case, pul biber), and another glug of olive oil.

Mum and I ate it with an avocado salad, some crunchy baguette, and a glass of delicious Muscadet. We both agreed that it was very tasty, and could easily become rather addictive. Nanny would be proud…

Here comes the mushroom man

November 4, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, while wandering around Kumkapi market, I spotted a man sitting at the side of the road with a shoe box on his lap. The shoe box was full of wild mushrooms of all sizes, shapes, colours, and probably levels of edibility. Clearly mushroom season had started.

Being a huge fungi fan, I was sorely tempted to buy some, but something told me it perhaps wasn’t the most sensible thing to do. And I may well have been right – Suleyman later told me there are occasionally cases of people coming to sticky ends at this time of year, after consuming wild mushrooms that had been picked by someone who doesn’t know their Cantharellus cibarius from their Cortinarius rubellus.

So, I was delighted to see a stall at Fatih Pazar yesterday overflowing with what were clearly carefully selected mushrooms.

A halting conversation with the vendor resulted in the information that this was a selection of field and forest fungi from the region around the city of Bolu, about half-way between Istanbul and Ankara. It’s an area known for natural springs, high mountains and pine forests, so I was hoping its vegetation would reflect that unspoilt environment.

With prices starting at about £3 a kilo, I barely knew where to start. It would have been very easy to walk away with several kilos of mushrooms, but even the greediest of gourmands can consume only so much. So, after examining the fungi fare on offer, I went for what I think are saffron milk caps. (Unfortunately, my Turkish is nowhere near good enough to have come to that conclusion from my chat with the mushroom man, and I had to do some internet research instead – but if anyone knows different, please do tell me.)

My shopping companion, Mireille, and I decided to walk home from the market – which is a good hour away from home – so I had plenty of time to think about what I was going to do with my bag of goodies. By the time I got back, I was starving, and knew exactly what was going to become of my mushrooms – sautéed saffron milk caps with garlic, thyme and lemon juice, atop some toast.

The large meaty mushrooms were perfect for this. They held together well in the frying pan and were strong enough in flavour to take on the garlicky, herby aromas. A squeeze of lemon juice stopped the whole dish from becoming too heavy, but, nonetheless, the results were a hugely satisfying autumnal late lunch.