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.

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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…

For a couple of years now, I’ve been in the habit of taking my lunch into work with me every day. Usually, it’s a fresh salad of some description. But, now I’m making a more determined effort to clear my cupboards, I’m simply making larger quantities of my evening meal, eating the leftovers the next day.

We don’t have a microwave in our office, so the food I take in has to either be eaten raw or taste okay cold. And not all leftovers are very nice cold, so coming up with dishes that work the next day is an added challenge to my culinary skills.

However, tonight’s supper worked in every respect – as a tasty hot meal and as a cold extra to my lunchtime salad tomorrow.

Artichokes are one of my all-time favourite vegetables, but they can be a bit of a hassle to cook fresh if you don’t have a lot of time, not to mention quite pricey. The tinned ones can taste a little briny, but with the right flavour additions, they’re just as delicious as the fresh ones.

So, for a really quick pasta sauce, fry some onion and garlic until soft. Add a drained and rinsed tin of artichokes, some frozen peas, fresh parsley, mint, salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice, and simmer for just a few minutes until the peas are cooked through. I made the sauce quite dry, so it wouldn’t waterlog my salad the next day, but if you’re just making it to go with pasta, then I’d suggest adding a little water.

So, another day, and another recipe to lower my store-cupboard and freezer stocks…

I’ve been out to eat quite a lot this week, so last night found myself with a relatively full fridge. I thought I’d better try and use as many things as possible in my supper, and, what started out in my mind as a simple meal of omelette, salad and fried potatoes, ended up with a great long list of ingredients worthy of one of Ottolenghi’s finest!

Here’s what I used:

For the omelette: two beaten eggs, spoonful of pul biber/tomato paste, tablespoon of chopped parsley, one grated courgettes, two finely sliced spring onions, olive oil for frying.

For the salad: two tablespoons of frozen peas boiled, half a head of chicory sliced, two or three mint leaves torn up, dressing made with red wine vinegar, olive oil, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper.

For the potatoes: er, potatoes. Useful tip though, I slice a raw potato, boil it until nearly cooked, then fry in an almost dry non-stick frying pan. Much healthier!

Anyway, the upshot of my very tasty supper was that I will no longer moan about recipes that have lots and lots of ingredients and several different cooking methods involved. Because I really can’t talk, can I!

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.

Veal chop with frittedda

March 29, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I met up with some old friends in Southgate, which, if you don’t know London, is just about as far north as you can get on the Victoria Line before falling off the end. It is, without doubt, suburbia.

We met in an updated version of an old-fashioned family-run Italian restaurant, called Fantozzi, and, if I’m totally honest, I wasn’t expecting much of the food. So, with that in mind, it was a rather risky choice to go with the veal chop from the menu. However, I was very surprised to find a full-flavoured, gloriously tender piece of meat on my plate. Mustn’t judge a book by its cover, I reminded myself that night.

Last Saturday, while wandering around Borough Market, I thought I’d give the veal chop another go, this time cooking it myself. So I headed to The Ginger Pig to buy one.

One of the best butchers in London, I imagined I’d be getting another succulent, tasty piece of veal. I decided to cook it simply – salt, pepper, a good olive oil and slap it on the griddle pan. On the side, I thought one of my favourite spring vegetable dishes would be perfect.

A Sicilian dish, frittedda is a sautéed concoction of onion, fennel, broad beans, peas and fresh baby artichokes. With a smattering of salt and pepper, plus a pinch of sugar, this dish absolutely makes the most of the flavours of new season vegetables, and goes beautifully with meat of any sort.

And the frittedda was delicious. Unfortunately, the veal was more of a disappointment. It was much tougher than the one I’d had in suburbia, and it didn’t have a great deal of flavour. As I said, I’d assumed that coming from a great butcher, it would be a treat of a piece of meat. Hmm, I once again thought, mustn’t judge a book by its cover.

But, not wanting to see it go to waste… oh, okay, because I’m a greedy so-and-so, I still ate the lot.

Keep on the ‘grass

March 27, 2010

The last of Zoe’s dad’s Thai lemongrass went into the pot last night, along with some lime leaves that came to me in the same package.

I know, being lucky enough to live in London, these kind of ingredients are readily available here. But there’s something about knowing they came direct from their country of origin, tucked into the corner of a suitcase, that makes them taste so much better.

As well as giving me these Thai delights, Zoe also pointed me in the direction of this Nigel Slater recipe for pumpkin and tomato laksa.

Obviously, coconut milk is the essential ingredient that makes a laksa a laksa, and as I didn’t have any, I’ll just call last night’s supper a Thai curry.

The other things I changed in the recipe were replacing the pumpkin with butternut squash, adding some sweet potato (simply because I had some that needed to be finished), adding some peas (there’s my obsession with green stuff again) and using tinned tomatoes instead of cherry ones (again, just because I had an open tin and it needed to be used).

Served with rice vermicelli noodles, this spicy, citrussy, fresh combination is very hard to beat.

Tunisian fish couscous

March 18, 2010

When growing up, my sister and I were lucky enough to have been exposed to some rather unusual foods – unusual certainly for Britain in the 1970s. My mum was always an adventurous cook, but she and my dad had so many international friends – Indian and Pakistani, Italian and French – that she picked up lots of recipes from them over the years.

Punjabi chicken curry, fresh artichokes with vinaigrette, spaghetti bolognese (in the days when most Brits thought pasta only came in a tin) all made regular appearances on our kitchen table. But, my absolute favourite of all these exotic dishes was chicken couscous – by which I mean the proper caboodle of broth, vegetables, chickpeas, chicken or lamb and harissa, plus steamed couscous.

Mum would poach a whole chicken in an enormous pot with baby turnips, carrots, onions and chickpeas, all simmering in a delicious broth tinged bright yellow with turmeric. On top of the broth would sit a vast sieve-full of couscous, steaming to soft perfection.

She always made far more than a family of four could possibly eat, but that family of four would inevitably eat it all! (I don’t know what it is about couscous, but I just seem to be able to fit an inordinate amount of the stuff in my belly.) I can still remember the first time I cooked it myself, as a student in London, after phoning Mum for her recipe – and the friends I have since cooked it for have, without fail, loved it as much as I do.

I still cook it fairly regularly, and every now and then, I have such an urge for those familiar flavours, that really nothing else will do. Which is what happened last night. The only thing was, I had taken a mackerel out of the freezer, and I really needed to eat it, or it would have to be chucked.

Now, I know that there are fish couscous recipes, but I have to admit, I’ve never made one. So, turning to my trusty copy of A New Book Of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden, I found just what I was looking for.

The recipe I used was described by Claudia as Tunisian in origin, and she said that any kind of fish could be used. I’m not entirely sure that mackerel was the best thing for it, but it worked well enough for me.

Once again, I incorporated a couple of variations on the recipe – but just the replacement of green pepper, which I didn’t have, with some frozen peas, because I always feel like a meal isn’t complete without some green stuff in it! She also said to include quince in the broth, but I certainly didn’t have any of that lying around, so I just left it out. (Although, I’ll definitely give it a shot the next time I see some at the market.)

I’ve become a bit lazy when it comes to cooking couscous these days, and usually just steep the grains in boiling water until they are soft. But I decided to make a bit of an effort with this dish, and cook it properly. Which is why you see the sieve sitting atop the fish and broth in the picture above.

This is a dish that is quite hard to make in small quantities, so I made a pretty large pot, intending to finish it off today. However, that plan somewhat fell by the wayside once I’d started digging in. And, reader, I ate the lot!

Baked eggs with leeks

March 13, 2010

The end of the week found my fridge in possession of a couple of eggs, a leek and some rather wrinkly cherry tomatoes.

Two eggs are not enough to make a tortilla, and I didn’t really fancy an omelette, so, after a few minutes of pondering, I came up with another of my childhood favourites – baked eggs.

It really is the perfect way to deal with leftover vegetables, because you can use pretty much anything as the basis of this dish.

I sautéed the leeks with some garlic until soft, then added a couple of spoonfuls of frozen peas. When they were cooked through, I mixed in the halved cherry tomatoes, seasoned with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice, and put the veg in an oiled, ovenproof dish.

Making a couple of little wells in the mixture, I broke the eggs into the leeks, and baked for about 10 minutes, so the yolks were still nice and runny. And a big hunk of crusty bread was the only addition needed to make the meal a particularly satisfying supper.

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.