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 feast for friends

July 25, 2010

It’s reached that point in my plans for leaving London where I’ve had to start saying goodbye to friends. Although I’m having a big party next week, it’s inevitable that, thanks to the summer holidays, some people won’t be able to come.

Last week, I invited my friends Lea and Nicky over for dinner, because they decided that going to Camp Bestival was more important than waving off their dear friend who’s going to a far and distant land and may never return… Okay, I’ll drop the drama queen act. It’s fine that they’re going away for my last weekend in London, really, it is.

Anyway, back to the point of all this – the food. I decided to cook my favourite saffron poached chicken for the meat-eaters, some grilled whiting sprinkled with pul biber for the pescatarians, plus a Moroccan vegetable stew (which included baby turnips, courgettes, carrots, red onions, chickpeas, turmeric, cumin, and lots of garlic) and couscous for all of us to eat.

This is a dish my mum made regularly when I was a child, and I would always eat far far too much of it. What is it about couscous that allows you to stuff your stomach so full of it? Well, this meal was no exception, and I was left groaning by the end of the evening.

For pudding, I made Dan Lepard’s chocolate honey meringues, which was in last week’s Guardian magazine. In his instructions, Dan said not to make one big one as it would collapse. However, I wanted to slather it with mascarpone and fresh figs, in the manner of a Pavlova, so decided to ignore Mr Lepard and make it whole.

The result was a rather soft, incredibly chewy, almost brownie-like meringue, which, in my humble opinion, was delicious. And the creamy, fruity topping made it extra special.

All in all, it was a pretty indulgent evening, and hopefully I have left Lea and Nicky with some happy foodie memories of me until we see each other again.

To market, to market…

June 29, 2010

Last Saturday, I made my first trip to Borough Market since moving away from the area. As I’m relatively settled for the next four or five weeks in Clapham with my lovely friend Lene and her two equally lovely sons Wesley and Dexter (are you embarrassed yet, boys?), I thought I should get back into the cooking swing of things.

It was both comforting to be back on familiar territory and a little freaky, knowing that it wasn’t actually, strictly speaking, my territory any more. However, the (several) bags of goodies I managed to purchase in a very short space of time made up for any hesitation I may have felt.

Unfortunately, what I did forgot was that it was no longer a quick five-minute stroll along the road back home, but that I had to drag my bags to Clapham on a very hot and sweaty Tube. Not nice. Luckily, my memory is short, and once I got thinking about what to cook, the journey was soon forgotten.

Lene spends most Saturday nights DJing, and as she was booked to play in both Brighton and London last weekend, I said I’d make dinner for her, Dexter, and Dexter’s friend Jacob, who was having a sleepover, so she could get herself ready to go out. (Wesley, having just finished his GCSEs, was nowhere to be seen…)

Now, I don’t have much experience cooking for kids, and the impression I get is that many are not too open to the idea of unusual flavours and ingredients. However, not being particularly tolerant of fussy eaters, I decided to just cook what I wanted to cook, and see what happened.

So, the menu was fried plaice fillets (courtesy of Shellseekers), delicious, organic new potatoes, and saffron cauliflower with olives – an Ottolenghi recipe I’ve made before. On the side, we had a huge loaf of my absolute favourite bread – a tortano ring from The Flour Station, which is an Italian bread made with potato flour.

Well, I’m pleased to report that the meal went down very well with the two 12-year-olds – although, being nice, well-brought-up boys, they could have just been being polite.

But, hopefully, the empty plates were a sign they were telling me the truth!

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.

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.

Last night I discovered my new favourite vegetable dish – saffron cauliflower. And, because the recipe is by Yotam Ottolenghi, I suppose I have to take back a comment I made a while ago about his recipes being too complicated.

I spotted the dish on The Guardian website, in a feature it does each month on seasonal vegetables. Cauliflower is one of my favourite veggies at the best of times, but right now, it is really delicious. And this recipe combines it with one of my favourite spices, saffron.

It was one of those fortuitous moments where you find a recipe that is new, tasty-looking, simple to put together AND you have all the ingredients to hand. The only thing I left out was the sultanas (yucky, evil little things that they are).

The cauliflower I had was a fairly small one, so I decided to cook the whole thing. I ate half of the dish last night with some of my leftover roast chicken on the side, and am currently munching on the rest of it for lunch (combined with some tinned butter beans), as I type this.

I’m sure this will be making very frequent appearances in my kitchen from now on, and it’s certainly changed my attitude towards trying out Ottolenghi recipes…

Friends reunited…

April 2, 2010

One of my regular commenters is my old friend Gabby, an ex-Brightonian who now lives with her husband in Hokkaido, in northern Japan. (Okay, officially she’s my little sister’s old friend, but I’ve managed to elbow in on her too.)

She’s most definitely a fellow lover of good food, and my posts often torment her with reminders of dishes from back home. So, when she told me she was coming over to England for a couple of weeks, I had to get her round for dinner.

In the end, I actually decided to cook not a British meal, but a dish I discovered in Claudia Roden’s A New Book Of Middle Eastern Food, which has become a real favourite of mine – duck with pomegranate and walnut sauce.

I’d bought a bottle of pomegranate molasses in Istanbul last year, and found this recipe when I was trawling through all my cookbooks to find out how to use it. I’ve made it a number of time with chicken, but this is the first time with duck.

The meat is cooked long and slow, and the resulting sauce is rich, gamey and sweet. It deserves to be well savoured, so on the side I made a couple of simple dishes – a delicate saffron rice, and slow-cooked courgettes with garlic and parsley, which is from a recipe by Skye Gyngell of Petersham Nurseries.

Although it wasn’t British, the flavours of the meal were still a long way from what Gabby generally eats in Japan, which is what she likes when she comes over here. Judging by the empty plates, I think she enjoyed her short trip to the Middle East via south London!

I’ve always quite fancied the idea of doing an underground restaurant. Unfortunately, my studio flat is so small that I’d only be able to fit in about six people, and two of those would have to perch on my bed with the food on their laps.

So, when my friend Lea asked if I’d help her do a charity dinner party at her house, to raise funds for her sons’ primary school playground, I didn’t need to be asked twice. In fact, I said, instead of me just helping her, I’d cook the whole meal.

And that’s how I found myself preparing a squid and aubergine stew at 7am on Saturday morning. (As you are well aware, I love my food – but I’ll freely admit, even I struggled with squid at that hour in the morning!)

I’d suggested to Lea that I do a kind of Turkish/Middle Eastern-themed meal, which she was very happy with. So, we started with a spicy Turkish lentil soup, which I learned to make at a cookery course I did last summer in Istanbul, and which gave me the opportunity to convert a few more people to my essential Turkish ingredient, pul biber. To go with the soup, Lea bought a couple of loaves of fantastic Turkish bread from a local bakery.

For the main course, alongside the aforementioned squid and aubergine stew, I made another Turkish dish called turlu turlu  – a recipe I got from the Moro cookbook. This is one of those dishes that belies its simple ingredients. A tray of aubergines, courgettes, baby turnips and potatoes is seasoned with allspice and coriander, and roasted for about an hour. Then, once cooked, a combination of tomato passata and chickpeas is poured over the top, and the whole lot is garnished with plenty of fresh parsley and coriander. The last dish of the main-course triumvirate was saffron rice.

Finally, for pudding, I turned to a recipe by Dan Lepard that I cut out of The Guardian – a peach saffron cake, which I served with some plain yoghurt.

Some very satisfied customers waddled home late that night, and Lea raised more than £100 for the school playground, which is fantastic. I had a lot of fun cooking the meal, and can’t wait to do something like this again. Now I just need to find someone else willing to lend me their kitchen and dining room.

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?