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…

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.

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.

Above is the result of my second baking session with my sourdough starter.

I made a couple of changes since the first one I made – on the advice of Mr Aubergine File, I used Canadian bread flour, which apparently has a much higher gluten content. I’m not too sure what that’s supposed to do to bread, but he said it’s great for sourdough. And this loaf certainly rose much better than my first one.

Also on his suggestion, I added some other flavours, namely rosemary and nigella seeds. Gail’s, the London artisan bakery, does a rosemary and nigella seed sourdough, and as I had all those components, I thought I’d try it.

Personally, I wasn’t too sure the sourdough needed anything extra in the taste department, but my friends, Nick and Kerry, who ate some of it with me this evening really liked it.

One more thing I did differently this time, and that was use a proper proving basket, which is how I got those lovely coiled ridges on the loaf – unfortunately spoilt by it splitting in the oven. My own fault, really. I couldn’t bring myself to ruin those beautiful rings by slashing it, but clearly that’s what I should have done.

Anyway, that’s the nice thing about having a starter on the go – there are plenty of opportunities to experiment, without feeling like you’ve wasted anything. And, next week, I’ll certainly be trying something else…

Last night, I looked in my fridge to find half a tin of tomatoes, half a tin of butter beans and half a bulb of fennel. And, despite the gorgeous spring weather here in London, I decided to make a soup from these ingredients.

I finely chopped the fennel bulb, reserving the lovely green fronds, and simmered it in some stock with the butter beans, tinned tomatoes, a chopped clove of garlic and, to add some spring zing, some finely chopped fresh rosemary. (I always use Marigold stock powder, as it’s got a far better flavour, plus you can adjust how much you use more easily than with cubes.) Also added was a spoonful of my Turkish tomato and pepper paste for what is, in my books, an essential hot kick.

Left to cook for a good half an hour, the fennel and butter beans were nice and soft, and ready to purée. To stop it becoming like baby food, I added a little more water, seasoned with salt and pepper, and sprinkled the chopped fennels fronds over the top.

If you’re going to try this, I’d definitely recommend you find a fennel bulb with lots of fronds on the top, as it ensures a deliciously fresh hit to this light, refreshing soup.

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.

Last night I used the remains of the weekend’s fishy purchases – the mackerel. I’m very fond of mackerel, but it is fairly oily so I like to cook it with something quite sharp, to offset the fatty taste (which I know is what a lot of people don’t like about it).

In among the vegetables I’d bought at Borough Market on Saturday was the first of this this year’s chicory. I love bitter salads, and this crispy leaf is definitely one of my faves. I usually eat it raw in salads, but it can be cooked too, and I thought its flavour would be perfect with the mackerel.

So I cooked the chicory in some olive oil, before adding a leek, for some sweetness, then flavoured the braise with some rosemary, a bay leaf and a splash of Balsamic vinegar. As a side dish to the mackerel it worked really well, but if you want to make it into a veggie main course, a tin of butter beans goes with it very nicely.

Fancy a nibble?

December 23, 2009

There are some dishes that are so much greater than the sum of their parts, and these fritters are absolutely that. It’s a recipe I picked up from David Lebovitz’s blog (he calls them ‘panisses’), and tried simply because I had some chickpea flour and didn’t know what else to do with it. There are only four ingredients – water, salt, olive oil and chickpea flour – and the batter is super-quick to put together.

Once the batter is cooled, cut into thick fingers, fry them to a nice brown crispiness, sprinkle with cracked black pepper and chunky sea salt, and there you have it – the most delicious nibbly thing that it’s possible to make out of chickpea flour! If you have any batter leftover after you’ve stuffed yourself silly with them (unlikely, but you never know), it freezes very well (wrap tightly in clingfilm).

If you want to vary the flavour, try throwing a teaspoon of cumin seeds into the frying pan before cooking the fingers of batter, or a couple of sprigs of rosemary and a squashed clove of garlic. Both are very tasty, although I prefer them au naturel.