Sunday, 26 December 2010

Aubergines in the flesh

A bit dented, but still a beautiful purple-y black

blanched, oiled and ready for baking

Friday, 24 December 2010

not christmas dinner - vietnamese style spicy rice noodles

It's Christmas Eve, and I'm cooking the Christmas meal today. So last night the last thing I wanted was anything heavy. I'd had a luxurious day, fretting about last minute presents and going to the theatre. 

Actually I went to two theatres, at the Barbican I saw Flyboy is alone again this Christmas, a delightfully dark series of tales, performed with a rich musical accompaniment. I was with my own delightful troupe, beautiful daughters of mine, three beautiful daughters of others and handsome husband. Daughter three got over her worries of abandonment, provided the artiste with sweets and won a glow-in-the-dark badge, competitive and Christmas spirit intact and endorsed at the age of 15. The show enchanted all of us - if your'e interested there's info about Flyboy's creator here.

At the Cambridge Theatre I snuck around the back and got some illicit wares from a man wearing much more alluring make up than me. Definitely the better woman. Emerging from Covent Garden tube into Christmas mayhem had made my head spin, but once I had carrier bag accompaniment it all made sense, especially carrying something wonderful from Denise and Dudley.

Back to food. I find chopping calms me down. I was just catering for two, as all the daughters had dispersed. A glass of wine at hand and I set to. 

I love the lightness of Vietnamese cooking. I think I may have become addicted to lime juice. The most complicated thing about this recipe is the chopping, and the result is filling and still light. I used prawn and chicken, but you can use any combination of meat, just don't use too much. I substituted white cabbage for bean sprouts, both because it was what I had at hand and I like cabbage. I didn't have any spring onions, so I did without... but they would have been good, so I've left them in the recipe.

Chicken and Prawn Spicy Rice Noodles

Two nests wide rice noodles
1 chicken breast
10 large prawns
1/3 small white cabbage
1 medium carrot
handful of raw peanuts
3 spring onions
3 spoonfuls chopped coriander 
1 lime
4 cloves garlic
2 tbsp grated ginger
2 tbsps fish sauce
2 tsps sugar

corn or peanut oil

  • Soak the noodles in boiling water while you chop the meat and veg.
  • Prepare the ingredients as follows, setting each one aside, ready for last minute assembly:
  • Finely slice the chicken breast.
  • Devein prawns if necessary - I use frozen raw prawns that have been deveined, so I just make sure they are thawed, otherwise they add too much liquid to the dish.
  • Finely slice cabbage.
  • Peel the carrot and grate on the coarsest bit of the grater.
  • Get the coriander ready - chopped as fine as you fancy.
  • Peel and chop the garlic, peel and grate the ginger.
  • Squeeze the lime and mix the lime juice with the fish sauce and sugar. 
  • Chop up the peanuts a bit.
  • Drain the noodles, which should be soft, but not pappy. 
  • Heat a wok or large frying pan, when it's hot add a few swirls of oil.
  • Quickly cook the chicken and prawns, for about a minute. They should colour up.
  • Add garlic, ginger and lime juice mixture to the pan and cook for another minute.
  • Add all the other ingredients and cook for two minutes, stirring to mix up, but not breaking up the noodles.
Sprinkle with spring onion and serve. Delicious

If you don't have fish sauce you can use soy sauce, or an anchovy fillet mixed up with the lime juice and a spoonful of water.
You can make a veggie version, using tofu or just substituting the meat with more sliced veg, and adding more peanuts.
If you don't have penauts to hand, use a spoonful of peanut butter, but make sure it breaks up in the cooking, coming across lumps is just unpleasant.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Easy, delicious, gluten free pork, lemon and thyme stuffing

You would think there was a big market for gluten free food, especially at Christmas. Yet all I could find in the local supermarket was gluten free chocolate macaroons. But what I need is stuffing. So I bought some pork and bacon and set to making my own.

My local butcher does do gluten free sausagemeat, however I wanted to make some without any imitations of flour or bread in it. So I bought some loin chops and some unsmoked bacon to put together with rice and herbs. 

In this stuffing the lemony tang is nicely balanced with the sweetness of the pork. It is a good match for the richness of roast chicken and potatoes. It's also a  As usual the dilemma is how to avoid overeating. 

By the way, there's no egg in this stuffing either, all the sticking together is done by stirring and the rice.

pork loin

Pork, thyme, lemon and parsley stuffing


330g pork loin (that's two large chops, with fat)
160g unsmoked back bacon
2 onions
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp dried thyme (or half tbsp of fresh thyme)
zest and juice of one lemon
1/2 mug rice
2 handfuls flaked rice
two healthy pinches of Maldon sea salt
2tsp mixed peppercorns (red, green, black)
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley

  • Cook the rice, stir in zest of lemon and pepper - it'll look like it's covered in ash, but the smell is delicious. Set aside.
  • Mince or finely chop the pork and bacon.
  • Finely chop onion and garlic, and fry on low heat until translucent, then stir in herbs.
  • Mix all ingredients together.
  • diced pork and bacon ready for mincing 
  • Roll into balls and chill for several hours before cooking.
Cook on oiled baking tin for 30m, or until brown at 375°F/190°C/Gas mark 6.

Makes 14 balls, could be 15.

These balls can be made ahead and frozen - add 10m to cooking time if you are cooking from frozen. 

mince old style or with a food processor
  • The fat of the pork and bacon keeps the balls moist while cooking. If you think the port is lean, drizzle with olive oil or put a dab of butter on them before cooking. 
  • Wrap the balls in bacon if you like, that keeps them moist too.
  • the rice flakes make the balls nice and sticky, but you can just use a bit more cooked rice and blitz it with the meat.

This stuffing goes well with roast chicken, such as best roast chicken.

I'm going to try them in a tomato sauce soon.

Aha! in tomato sauce they are great, with rice and a sprinkling of parmesan. Extra pepper.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

the tantalising smell of chicken on forty cloves of garlic

Chicken stock

So, you've had some chicken and you have bones left over. Soup is on its way.

The more the bones have been cooked, the less useful they'll be in stock. So bones from fast cooked chicken are best, still all are pretty good. You'll find the stock bubbling on the hob the day after a roast in our house. Alongside the carcass, stripped of meat I either include French or Oriental flavours. The principal is the same, add vegetables and flavours, cover the lot with water and bring it to the boil. I usually boil it up for an hour or two, usually in 20m bursts. I find if I try to do it all at once I seem to burn the pan. I'm the only person I've ever met who has managed to oxidise a heavy-based steel saucepan. Talent will out, and most other burnt pans have ended up in the bin, so I recommend Pentole, if you're prepared to fork out the money.

Ingredients for French stock:
chicken carcass
bouquet garni (thyme, rosemary, parsley, bay leaf and garlic - tied up with string, or you can get it in a bag... I sometimes lob in a hearty pinch of dried mixed herbs, it gets strained off after all)
large carrot
onion studded with cloves (three cloves pushed into the whole peeled raw onion)
two litres of water

You might like to add a glass of white wine towards the end of the cooking time, or add half a lemon to the stock.

Ingredients for 'Oriental' stock:
chicken carcass
1" slice ginger, peeled
three cloves garlic
handful of peppercorns
spoonful coriander seeds
bay leaf

This is the basic set of ingredients. Add a bunch of coriander, curry leaves and/or thai basil to tweak the flavour. You could also add five spice ingredients (star anise, cinnamon stick, allspice and nutmeg - the fifth flavour, ginger, is already included).

Check the link - I've added some words from Ken Lo about gunpowder sauce with a recipe.

place everything in a large casserole and bring to the boil
simmer for about two hours
strain liquid into clean container
chill and use within a week

If you want to freeze the stock, once it is chilled, scrape off the fat, heat again, pour (once cooled) into ice cube tray and freeze. Once frozen store in a freezer bag and use within three months.

I also freeze larger amounts in plastic bags sat in a bowl and freeze it like that - obviously this thaws more slowly.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Just call it aillade

This is a stew that is oh so simple to make and is absolutely delicious. A  wonderfully rich tomato sauce coats the slow-cooked meat. The colour is stunning, and the sauce, thickened with breadcrumbs, has a particular texture. It takes me straight back to the family table, waiting for my plateful of food to arrive.

It's taken from the classic cookbook ‘la veritable cuisine provencale’  by legendary chef Jean-Noel Escudier. He keeps the sauce short. I prefer a substantial sauce, mopping the plate with bread, despite it being thick enough to scoop up on its own. It’s also a next-day pleasure for me, as long as I get there first. Of course there may not be leftovers.

Since I’ve always let economy, convenience and time constraints override a recipe’s instructions, I admit I usually substitute pork for veal. What I do know is that pork and veal are a bit bland, and so both are suited to a flavoursome sauce, which this recipe produces (butchers can shoot me later). I use shoulder of pork. Please, in the time honoured tradition of cooks and writers of recipes, enjoy making your own substitution.

A little word about garlic. Isn’t it great? A younger me used to worry about smelling of garlic. I didn’t worry enough to stop eating it. Elizabeth David’s recipes sometimes tell you to rub a dish with garlic. What a strange idea. I suppose at the time garlic was looked on as a powerful and pungent flavour. Now garlic is used generously and often, without a thought. Despite my supposed anxiety about smelling of garlic I was reassured to read that eating cooked garlic avoids this problem. Another approach is to make sure that everyone you meet has also recently eaten garlic, and if they haven’t you can give them some to eat: problem solved. Remember, this recipe has lots of garlic in it.

Oh, and another excuse to make this dish is if you have a stale loaf of bread, because the breadcrumbs should be from stale bread.

Aillade (de veau)

500g meat, cut into large chunks
Two large handfuls of breadcrumbs from stale bread
400g Tin of tomatoes
2 heaped tbsp tomato paste
1 head of garlic – about twelve cloves
Large glass of white wine
Pepper and salt

Use a heavy based casserole with a lid.

§         Brown the meat in a couple of glugs of olive oil, over medium heat.
§         Add peeled garlic cloves, and stir for a moment.
§         Add tomatoes and white wine and stir.
§         Add breadcrumbs, pepper and salt and tomato paste.
§         Stir, put the lid on, turn heat down and cook at low simmer (barley bubbling) for 2 hours stirring occasionally. Alternatively put the pot in a low oven (Gas Mark 1/275F/140C) and leave for two hours.


As I write this I’ve got a version made with beef cooking. The aroma is exceptional. It is a dish that sits at the high table of family reminiscence.

I want to know more about meat, closeness of grain, different cuts and so on, however I seem too busy cooking and eating to actually get around to increasing my understanding.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


At the back of the cupboard

In a moment of madness in the supermarket a little while ago I bought some dried figs. Husband Steve is a fan of all manner of dried fruit including dates, and perhaps I thought a gritty pippy dried fig would give him some pleasurable mastication. Or maybe I was thinking of my bowels, whilst forgetting that I do not enjoy eating figs, fresh or dried. Checking my cupboard it seems that I have been collecting an assortment of food I feel is worthy and/or find attractive. Still, on both fronts the figs have a lot to offer. Their benefit to digestion is legion. Laid out, their saggy, powdery and striated exterior still appeals. I am aware of, but choose to overlook, their resemblance to heavily talc’d and withered breasts in repose, and on reflection this may be a charitable act anticipating I may soon be the owner of same, sans repose and more likely untalc’d. And not, I hope, stored at the back of my kitchen cupboard with other unused dry goods.

As it happens, amongst other items I need to gather around me is a range of tinned fish, mostly sardines and anchovies. Unlike their more popular friend tuna, or as the Americans call it ‘chicken of the sea’, most have retained the alluring style of early packaging. I won’t go on about the variety of sauces sardines may come with, I know I’m unlikely to eat them. However I remain optimistic about managing to consume anchovies, unrealistically so it seems, as I found several cans cozying up to the figs.

I was looking for something interesting to make and turned to a family kitchen bible, La veritable cuisine Provencale by Paul Escudier*. The index is complex, and it’s wise to know your abats from your gibiers. Plumping for the hors d’oeuvres section, I found this recipe. I could have just opened the book, as it is one of the first. I might have got distracted and settled down to read through more, but was stopped in my tracks by the word poutargue. This brought back memories of my father best forgotten. He returned to me as the moustachioed culinary fascist of old. When he put faith something or someone it was unwaverable, and hero Escudier recommends poutargue. You may be familiar with blachan, a shrimp paste used in oriental cooking, and if you are you know what it smells like, and it’s a smell you might think should not be in a kitchen. Poutargue is pressed and preserved cod roe, and its smell is similar to blachan. I have never seen anyone spreading blachan on toast and nibbling on it while swigging a welcome glass. Poutargue should, as far as I’m concerned, be treated with equal care, and if it enters a kitchen it should be kept only as a warning.

The poutargue I remember was sealed in a dull yellow wax, resembling a poor attempt at a joke gold bar. It looked like it might have been released from a long sealed tomb. In fact I believe it is thought to be something the ancient Greeks liked to eat. As the seal was broken a low level deadening stench crept quietly from it. Inside - dark matter, which can be grated or shaved and eaten if you must. Since we were obliged to try everything once, and it was worth saving resistance for things you were certain were appalling, I tried it. All moisture was sucked into the shaving placed on my tongue, livening up the intense, repellent flavour. Spitting out food was not permitted, and although I was ready to dispute its nutritional status swallowing seemed the simplest approach. I’m not sure you can digest poutargue. The memory still makes me shudder.

Despite Escudier recommending poutargue and providing many recipes for tripe this Anchoiade is a winner – and there are no fish eggs, preserved or otherwise, in it.

In the traditional manner, this is not exactly as written by Escudier.

Anchoiade de Croce

12 plump peeled almonds
3 lovely dried figs (stalks removed)
two tins of anchovies in virgin olive oil
half a small red chilli (seeded)
3 peeled cloves garlic
juice of one lemon
generous handful of chopped parsley
two pinches of herbes de provence

extra fruity olive oil to enrich or garnish


For enthusiasts

For those in a hurry
Drain the anchovies, saving the olive oil.

Roughly chop the chilli, anchovies and almonds. Put them all in a mortar and pound together until you make a thick paste.

Roughly chop the figs, add to the mortar and pound to a paste with the other ingredients. If the mixture becomes too stiff add a little olive oil from the anchovies.

Finely chop the parsley and mix in with the other ingredients, together with any remaining olive oil from the anchovies.

Keep stirring, adding lemon juice to taste.

Serve on toast.
Put all the ingredients in a food processor.
Blend on pulse until you have a paste.

Serve on toast.

Escudier recommends a blend of tinned and salted anchovies. I am not a great hunter for ingredients and couldn’t find anything locally, and never mind the air miles and carbon footprint, I wasn’t about to hop on a plane or even catch a bus or tube to the West End. So, again in the traditional manner, I just made it with what I had to hand.

There is, as you know, no accounting for taste. Having thought I’d found a gem I recently served it at my mother’s wake, as a tribute to my mother’s dedication to adventurous cooking and a supplement to the feast provided by one of my sisters. My sister did not seem to think it remarkable. She thought it too garlicky. Perhaps she protested too much, clearly we were all under stress and she had worked hard to make an impressive spread later followed by a marvellous carbonnade. Since she is a purist, curing her own sausage meat, it’s possible I met with disapproval for my other contribution: baba ghanoush from a tin. Perhaps you might not fancy the idea of it.

Anchoiade de Croce

12 plump peeled almonds
3 lovely dried figs (stalks removed)
2 tins of anchovies in virgin olive oil
½ a small red chilli (deseeded)
3 peeled cloves garlic
1 lemon - juice
1 generous handful of chopped parsley
2 pinches of herbes de provence
1 stsp of orange flower water

extra fruity olive oil to enrich or garnish

* printed in English

# Poutargue or botargue is still available and recommended by some. It is also called  l'Avgotaharos in Greece and Bottargo in Italy. Don’t let me stop you trying some. I may even try some myself at some point. After all, I’ve never been that keen on truffles either.

Moroccan braised and browned lamb

This slow cooked lamb is wonderfully succulent, tasty and requires almost no chewing. All the flavours are gentle and the aroma is enticing. Several friends who were sure they didn't like lamb enjoyed eating it so much that they now cook it themselves.

The pleasure of this is that it's very simple to prepare, and is still a bit of a show piece. It works with rice, couscous or potatoes.

The meat needs to sit in its marinade for at least two hours, or overnight.

The original recipe comes from a wonderful book, Couscous by Paula Wolfert. 

Moroccan braised and browned lamb (El Lahn Mahammer)

El lahm mahammer is traditionally served either with fried almonds or fried potatoes.

equipment:        small bowl

                        large casserole

preparation:       15 mins work

                        2 hours marinading

cooking:            2 hours braising

                        20 mins baking



½ leg of lamb

2 cloves garlic (peeled and crushed)

pinch powdered saffron

100g softened unsalted butter

¼ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon ground ginger

1½ tsps paprika

1 tsp ground cumin

2 cups grated onion (two small onions)

salt to taste

5 sprigs green coriander tied in bunch with thread

½ cup whole blanched almonds

15 mins prep + 2 hours standing

Trim fat off the lamb. Mash the garlic cloves with the spices and blend with the butter to make a paste. Rub well into the pieces of lamb and let stand for a few hours.

2 hours braising
Place the onion, two cups water, and salt in a large casserole, with the meat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and cover, simmer for one hour, occasionally turning and basting the lamb. Add the coriander sprigs. Continue cooking the lamb for 30 minutes, adding water if necessary. Preheat the oven to 450o. Cook the lamb another 30 minutes, until the meat is very tender and almost falling off the bone.

10 minutes
heat oven to F450o/gas mark 8/230C

Transfer the lamb to the ovenproof serving dish, and cover to keep warm. Skim the remaining liquid. Discard the fat - or save it to fry potatoes.

30 minutes
Reduce the liquid left in the casserole to a thick gravy, boiling it vigorously, stirring all the time. Spoon the gravy over lamb and brown in the oven for 20 minutes, basting occasionally.

While the lamb is baking sauté the almonds in oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and chop coarsely or leave whole. Sprinkle nuts over the meat just before serving.

mulled wine, alcohol free

Agonising about how to make a good substitute for potent, punchy and booze laden mulled wine, for the school Christmas Concert I started researching how to reduce alcohol from wine, as well as the many varieties of spice used to give that lovely flavour. I do like a bit of heat and the alcoholic hum you get from hot spicy booze, but it just wasn't an option.

Alcohol in wine varies hugely, scanning the shelves most were 14%, the lowest I found was 8%. It seems a while since most wine maxed out at 11%. Received wisdom says that if you boil wine or spirits for 30 seconds th alcohol is reduced to almost nothing. That's still almost, not nothing. The answer? Grape juice.

1l grape juice (good quality red)
500ml cranberry juice
500ml orange juice
6 heaped tbsp demerera sugar
1 slice lemon
orange or clementine, sliced
cinnamon stick
6 cloves
heaped tbsp garam masala

make a bag out of an old bit of cloth (clean of course), knotting the corners on the diagonal
with all the spices inside

put the bag of spices (use a sachet if you like) and the sugar into a large pan
add lemon slice, grape juice, cranberry and orange juices
heat to just under the boil and allow to brew for 15m
taste and add more sugar if needed

This delicious alcohol-free mixture was very popular, and soon sold out. In fact quite a few people had several glasses, two said it had helped their sore throat and two others asked for my recipe.

drink up!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

chicken on forty cloves of garlic - alternative chicken

I'm revisiting an old favourite and cooking chicken with forty cloves of garlic. Sounds a bit mad, if you aren't crazy for garlic, fortunately I don't know anyone who isn't crazy for garlic.

Cooked like this the garlic becomes a softly flavoured sweet paste, best squeezed out of the husk onto toast, or, fried bread. Now, that's decadence.

The chicken in this dish is almost blonde, and the flesh is softly succulent.

The magic of this dish is the opening of the casserole. Put it on the table, in front of the hungry and crack it open. The delicious odour emanating is hard to beat. Never mind bisto. Coming from a large family of permanently hungry people, the smell had to satisfy for some time, while the bird was carved, and the stop gap was being allowed to eat the flour and water paste that had sealed the flavours in. Teeth breakingly delicious.


1 chicken, about 4lb/2kg
at least four heads of garlic, the larger the better
a snug fit
pepper olive oil

casserole just big enough for the bird
flour and water


  • take off the outer husk of the garlic heads and twist the cloves off the rooty bit - put just the cloves into the casserole
  • wash and dry the chicken, pulling off any bits of fat you can
  • put herbs into the cavity
  • sit the chicken on the cloves of garlic and pour on some generous glugs of good olive oil
  • the lid is tied on because the chicken's a bit big for the pot
  • liberally sprinkle with pepper and salt

  • put the lid on the casserole and seal it with flour and water paste - don't worry about it looking beautiful, it won't, just make sure it's well sealed
  • put into medium oven, Gas Mark 4 for 1.5h
  • take the casserole out and let it sit for around 20m - the juices improve
  • put the casserole on the table and crack it open - removing the bird carefully, so it's juices stay in the pot

tuck in

a roasted tint - the flesh is blonde
I like this with steamed potatoes and a big green salad, with family dressing, along with some good hunks of bread to mop up all juices

the flour paste is good and sticky 

other chicken recipes: roast chicken flattened chicken marinated chicken strips

Friday, 3 December 2010

warming winter supper

This snowy weather is making everything look lovely, and causing us to wrap up warm. I'm sitting and typing in four layers with a scarf, because I'm not keeping the central heating on all day. I like to think I look poetic, although to the more critical eye I may look like a rather tall pile of unruly laundry.

Anyway, less heating from the outside concentrates the mind on heating from the inside, and of course cooking can keep you warm! Supper tonight: one pan coconut dhal, rice, ginger potatoes and cabbage stir fry. 

All the dishes for this supper can be made separately, this combo is for the greedy if there are few of you. It's a vege feast, you could of course add a nice bit of meat, chicken skewers maybe? The recipe for one pan coconut dhal is here.

Also I do love using lime juice, I love the look of limes. Still, I'm not shy of using the bottled kind. If you have no lime use lemon, the result is slightly less perfumed but still good.

I like to have a little fresh salad on the side too, chopped tomato, onion, cucumber, sprinkle of cumin, grind of pepper and salt, squeeze of lemon and pinch of sugar. Add chopped coriander if you want, too. I know there are people who feel it's an overwhelming flavour, so if you're one of them, don't. If you're one of them you probably won't be interested in most of the recipes on this page. I'm not one of them.

Recipes to follow:
Dry fried ginger potatoes
Cabbage stir fry