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…

A bit of a cheek

May 9, 2010

This morning, I realised there was no getting away from the fact that, in less than a week, I was moving out of my flat.

Although I’m moving out for all the right reasons, and have an exciting future ahead of me with Suleyman in Istanbul, I’ve found it virtually impossible to motivate myself to start packing up the lovely little flat I’ve lived in for nearly ten years.

In fact, the only thing I’ve successfully managed to pack away is the contents of my freezer – into my stomach! And, in the end, today was not much different.

Last night, I decided that, if I was going to get to grips with the idea of sorting out my stuff, I’d need something to look forward to at the end of the day – and by ‘something’, I of course mean food.

Apart from a number of bags of herbs (which I’m coming to terms with having to chuck at the end of the week), my freezer contents had been reduced to a couple of chicken thighs, some tomato curry sauce made with my little sis’s home-made tikka sauce (more of which later in the week), some frozen peas, and – most tantalisingly – a beef cheek and some of my home-made beef stock, which I made a couple of months ago to use with a venison dish.

The reason for the beef cheek’s residency in my freezer was simply that I’d seen them in The Ginger Pig in Borough Market a couple of weeks ago, had been pleasantly surprised by the price, and thought I’d have a go at cooking them. I’ve eaten pig’s cheeks (or bath chaps, as they are traditionally called), which I’d thoroughly enjoyed, but had never come across the beefy version before.

So, last night, out of the freezer came the beef cheek and the beef stock with the idea of some lovely, unctuous, slow-cooked stew for a Sunday supper, after a hard day’s packing.

In the end, I couldn’t find a recipe using this cut of meat in any of my cookbooks, so turned to the internet – which delivered to me a dish from an Australian magazine called Gourmet Traveller for Spanish beef cheeks. Now, as I have mentioned on many an occasion, the Spanish flavours of paprika and saffron are two of my favourite ingredients, and as this dish included both, I couldn’t resist.

As always, I did a bit of adapting – with no sherry or sherry vinegar in my cupboards, but a glass of red wine and a splash of red wine vinegar to use up, I simply used the latter instead. I also added some shitake mushrooms to the dish, and didn’t bother with the olives. (I used shitakes on the advice of the mushroom man at Borough Market, who said they’d hold up to the strong flavours and slow cooking.) Other than that, I followed the recipe as described.

So, did I get my packing done? Did I hell! But I did have the deliciously beefy, full-flavoured supper I’d planned. I know where my priorities lie…

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.

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…)

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.

A pinch of salt

March 10, 2010

As mentioned a couple of posts ago, I bought something called lemon salt in Istanbul last week. The guy in the shop described it as a natural salt from the east of Turkey, which could be used in cooking for a variety of things. I did a bit of online research on the stuff, and quickly discovered that it is, in fact, citric acid.

Nothing much wrong with that in itself, as citric acid is commonly used as a natural preservative or as a flavouring in things like fizzy drinks – but it certainly isn’t the condiment I was led to believe it was. (I shall be having words with my friend Abdullah the next time I’m in Istanbul!)

However, determined not to let it go to waste, I thought I’d experiment with it in a sweet and sour aubergine salsa. An aubergine had been sitting in my fridge since well before I went to Istanbul, and apart from a slightly squidgy brown patch, which I cut out, it wasn’t in too bad condition. But, I thought, if it didn’t survive the lemon salt, it wouldn’t be too tragic.

I made the salsa as normal, with some paprika, ground cumin seeds and soft brown sugar, and at the end of cooking, instead of adding a squeeze of lemon juice, I sprinkled over a pinch of the lemon salt/citric acid.

The result? Well, there was certainly a strong citrussy kick to it – rather as if I’d added one of those effervescent vitamin C tablets! In other words, it did not taste good.

I’m going to chalk this up to experience, but I’d certainly like to use up the rest of the lemon salt in a rather more appropriate way. Anyone have any ideas?

In the meantime, I’ll post the original recipe for the aubergine salsa, which is, I promise, very tasty.

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?

A spice odyssey…

February 10, 2010

After my rather chilli weekend, I began wondering just how many different kinds of chillies and hot spices I have in my cupboard. So, I’ve just got them all out, and counted nine different ways of heating up my food! Some I use more often than others, and one – the jar of Very Lazy Red Chillies, which I was given – I haven’t used at all.

From left to right, they are: hot chilli sauce, for Thai-style soups; the jar of chopped chillies in wine vinegar, which I haven’t been lazy enough to open yet; the pul biber/tomato paste mix from Istanbul, which I use in my Turkish and Middle Eastern cooking; dried piri piri chillies that I bought on holiday in Portugal a couple of years ago, which I use in more Mediterranean flavoured cooking; flaked pul biber, which, again, I use for a Middle Eastern taste; hot mixed peppercorns, suitable for pretty much anything you want to give a kick to; hot paprika, which is, of course, essential in Spanish cooking; cayenne, for Indian or Mexican food; and, finally, a string of what were originally small, fresh chillies, but I thread them and hang them up to dry out, and these I use mainly in curries.

I know there are much bigger chilli-heads than me out there, so can anyone tell me if I’m missing out on some hot delights? And what about some new ideas for my current chilli collection?