Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Hors d'oeuvres

mustard dressing looks a bit like mayo

carrot with lemon juice
This is a wonderful pairing to start a meal - hors d'oeuvres, starters, antipasti, entrees, or what have you. I favour something fresh to kick off with, and these two do the business. 

Carrot, coarsely grated, with the juice from half a lemon squeezed over it. The quantity of carrot can range from a small bowl to a large one, don't bother with more lemon, so long as you are going to let the carrot sit for a little while - the carrot juice joins in with the lemon, and there is plenty of dressing. I don't season it, because I like it as it is. If you want to add anything, just add a few pinches of coarsley ground pepper, anything else is superfluous.

Cooked beetroot is sweet and succulent. I am happy to use the vacuum packed stuff, or fresh cooked. I enjoy the horror film element of prep, as your fingertips go alarmingly pink and the beets leek luridly red juice. I sometimes slice, other times cube them, and add chopped onion and a mustard dressing, with finely chopped parsley if I've got it. 

Mustard vinaigrette

1 tsp dijon mustard
1tbsp wine vinegar or lemon juice
2 - 3tbsp oil
pepper and salt

stir the pepper and salt into the mustard
add the vinegar and stir a bit more
add the oil, stir until combined, and add more or no more oil, according to taste

You will end up with an emulsified mixture, perfect for beetroot, or any salad actually. A beautifully simple salad dressing.

I don't use olive oil, I think it's a waste, and it makes the dressing a little too rich.

Coffee ice cream

You can buy lots of different kinds of ice cream, and I have bought many of them. I can remember times when I ate so much ice cream that my tongue went numb. It probably didn't stop me from having a few mouthfuls more, even though I was unable to taste. Even then, I probably would have said that the ice cream was too sweet. Apart from that time when I tried the experimental avocado ice cream in Golders Hill Park. That wasn't sweet, it was just disgusting. So, driven by greed and the fact that I have inherited a machine that will make ice cream in 25 minutes, I occasionally try making it at home.

Delicious, fresh home made with our own eggs.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Dark banana spice bread

Banana Bread recipe 3

How many of us faithfully follow a recipe? I realise, having had a few experiences recently of sitting down to a meal which was not quite what I expected, or wanted, that there is a reason to do so. I seem a little too fond of using cooking as a memory game, like the one with the objects on the tray covered with a cloth – one minute to study the contents, and then you have to remember what to do.

I tend to favour a recipe without too many ingredients, because I am lazy, and I mostly don’t go out and buy ingredients especially for a meal. I am a store cupboard cook by habit. I’m not trying to claim that it isn’t a well-stocked store cupboard, in fact it is over-stocked, so I can’t find things when I want them, and I seem to have a tendency to buy some ingredients over and over again: sesame seeds; lentils; prunes; couscous; turmeric, to name a few. Some dishes are inspired by this over-stocking, and banana bread is one of them. The bananas are bought after the previous bunch is eaten, and then, mysteriously, everyone stops eating bananas, and they become speckled and too ripe for the taste of anyone in my house.

Whose recipes to use? That is the culinary question. Delia's does work, but I turn to Dan Lepard - he is an award-winning baker. I bought a book about bread of his for my mother, who was an expert cook. She told me it was too complicated, which astonished me, since she was happy to make herself paupiettes de veau for a weekday lunch on her own. Breadmaking isn’t for everyone. And in this case, it isn't for me or Dan either. Banana bread is a cake.

I've been using Dan's recipe for banana bread for a little while, with some success. It is simple and delicious, although I leave out the glace ginger, which I usually find tastes rather soapy in cakes. Oh, and I add some pretty punchy spices – garam masala with extra ginger and cloves. I’m not sure why he specifies wholemeal bread flour, and one day I shall try it with just wholemeal bread flour, but for now I use half wholemeal and half ordinary white baking flour. And I often use a bit more banana and throw in some walnuts. Other than that, all credit to the redoubtable Mr Lepard. He calls it dark banana ginger cake, and it is wonderfully dark and a little bit sticky. In addition the spices in my version given it a perfume that can draw you down the corridor with its deliciousness.

As Dan says, if you don't have muscovado, use caster sugar, but replace 25g of that with black treacle.

Alternative banana bread recipe of mine here, and chocolate banana bread here, there is a lot of banana neglect in my house.

This recipe makes two loaves of banana bread.


200g dark muscovado sugar
350g ripe bananas (4 average sized)
125ml sunflower oil
4 medium eggs
200g wholemeal bread flour
3 tsp baking powder
2tsp garam masala (use mixed spice if you prefer)
1tsp ground ginger
½ tsp group cloves


Set oven temp 170C (150C fan-assisted)/335F/gas mark 3
  • Line two medium bread tins with baking parchment
  • Stir the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, breaking up lumps of sugar
  • Add peeled banana broken or cut into 2cm bits
  • Start beating as you add the eggs and oil, and beat until you have a batter, a bit thicker than cream – there may be some lumps, but as long as they aren’t flour, don’t worry
  • Pour into two prepared tins
  • Bake for 40-50 minutes, “or until a careful poke with a skewer in the centre doesn't reveal any uncooked mixture lurking beneath the crust”*

Monday, 18 February 2013

Comice pear - delicious, beautiful and sumptious

I am declaring this pear sumptuous. If you are in the know, you will understand. This is pear royalty. I buy these one at time, and let them ripen, testing for ripeness by pushing gently into the flesh around the stem. When it gives a little its time to peel and scoff. No pictures of the flesh, because I ate the lot. Juicy.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

curried scrambled eggs

When the day before's cabbage and coconut curry winked at me as I bumbled about the kitchen,  instinctively I made myself a strong cup of tea instead of coffee. I sat a split leftover naan in the toaster on low, to warm, rather than crisp, and got out the non-stick pan and turned on the gas.

The two chickens that remain with us are laying well, considering the variations of the weather and the winter short days - I can only remember one day when there hasn't been at least one egg and mostly there are two. Thank you Ginger and Tallulah.

One recently laid egg went into the pan, preceded briefly by a little butter. On top of that went three heaped tablespoons of the curry, and then I stirred like mad, turning the heat down to low. Result: breakfast heaven, a curried scrambled egg sandwich in a nan, eaten over a plate, so that the cascading contents (each bite at one end spilling something out the other) could be scooped up later. Recommended: gulps of builders tea between mouthfuls.

I almost wished for a hangover, so I could be even more grateful.

This would work with any leftover curry, but I think it's best with a dry curry. The leftovers I used were a my version of an earlier takeaway carrot, cabbage, coriander and coconut curry. I'll post that later.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Basic sponge - quatre quarts - Marmalade

It is easy to think that cake making is a natural born skill, rather than something anyone can do. I've got no idea how many cakes I've made that haven't turned out quite as I expected, it could be in the 100s, it seems like more. Still, somehow every failure is a surprise, and in many ways, so is every success! Although cooking is a science, and recipes are the formula, there are so many ways to mess things up. I know very well how essential baking powder is, having produced numerous cakes that look like large biscuits. The thing is to not get distracted.

This cake is a basic sponge, in French they call it four quarters -quatre quarts - because all the ingredients are of the same weight. I used four eggs and matched them, so that is around 200g of all the other ingredients.

I prepare my tins first - I use two lined bread tins - then I tip all the ingredients into a large bowl and beat them together using a hand whisk. Once this is done I stir in flavouring ingredients. I like to split the mixture into two. In this case I got a bit crafty, adding lemon juice and lemon zest from one lemon to the lot, put half the mixture into one tin, and then added four tablespoons of dark marmalade to the mixture, stirring it in quite roughly, and then pouted the mixture into the second tin.

So, here you have pictures of the marmalade cake, which was wonderfully tangy and a little bit sticky, with chewy orange bits. The lemon cake got eaten before anyone took a picture. Like all cakes, I think this one improves for sitting a day or two. Easier said than done.

Cauliflower soup

I like soup all year round, and in the winter I like it even more. The variety of consistencies of soup is also a delight, minestrone types - mixed finely chopped veg is great, but sometimes what is wanted is a smooth soup. Thanks to hand blenders these soups are very easy to make. When I can't lay my hands on a blender I have been known to scoop out some of the cooked vegetables so that I can mash them with a fork. The mashed veg then lend variety to the texture of the soup, and act as a thickener as well.
This recipe for cauliflower soup is very easy. I use leftover cooked cauliflower, but it would be worth cooking it especially for the purpose. Pureed cauliflower is very smooth indeed, velvety, like chocolate. Ok, I know that chocolate afficionados out there may be outraged, but it really does give the same pleasure when you eat it, at least from the point of view of texture. Mouth feel as it is called by some.

I am not oblivious to the fact that some people don't like cauliflower. Obviously, they are nuts. The low, slightly rooty and a little bit cabbagey flavour is wonderful, as far as I am concerned. I have converted people to cauliflower by cooking it in pieces (steam or boil) and then sauteeing in butter with plenty of black pepper and a pinch of salt. The sound as it rolls around the frying pan is great, the smell is terrific, it looks so tasty, with the little browned patches and when it comes to the taste, it is glorious. Rooty, nutty, peppery, buttery and sweet - and it hardly needs chewing. 



a large bowlful of cooked cauliflower
1 onion
1 potato
1 clove garlic
large handful of parsley, chopped
three mugfuls of water/stock
pepper and salt

  • Prepare the onion, potato and garlic - peel and chop up quite small - and cook in the water until soft
  • Add the cauliflower and chopped parsley, pepper and salt (to taste, but make sure there is lots of pepper) and a pinch of nutmeg, simmer for a couple of minutes
  • Blend the lot and serve

Samosas and pea fritters

The best samosas I know of are from Gupta in Drummond Street, near Euston Station in London. There are two types, the one pictured is potato and veg, well flavoured, with a lovely short crust. Tetrahedron of joy. Not for when you are dieting. There is another kind, the flat type, in filo type pastry, which is more cabbagey, also so delicious that I ate it before taking a picture. 

Friend of the samosa is the pea croquette, crispy on the outside, with a violently green interior. This one is very spicy and makes your gums tingle.

Just had to record the pleasure of eating these.

Chicken Teriyaki - sticky fried chicken with stickier sauce

I lifted this recipe from Chow, a brilliant website that has all sorts of useful videos and tips. It seems a little obsessed with cocktails, which in my book pander to a fantasy drink cabinet, because reading the list of ingredient makes me bemused. Who has all that stuff to hand? I don’t even keep tonic water. In a moment of enthusiasm three years ago I went out and bought angostura bitters, only to realise that it was just one component part of the cocktail I wanted to make. I never got around to buying what I needed to put the thing together. I fully expect that bottle to last me my whole life, I am sure I will move house several times with it, fondly imagining the times when I will have all the ingredients I need to make the perfect cocktail such as the Boothby, in the house at the same time. Meanwhile, I find myself occasionally unscrewing the lid and taking a little sniff, to remind me what the hell is in that bottle. In saner moments I recognise that this is what might be called a companion ingredient – I keep it for company, rather than for use. No doubt my kidneys are grateful to my maintenance of an aspirational but incomplete cocktail cabinet, and I can still dream. 

Back to food – my pantry ingredients are more regularly replenished – this is pseudo teriyaki but it is not ersatz teriyaki, as it delivers on flavour. The endorsement of the lovely Kitty, daughter who shuns the home-cooked anything, gives it the flavourful thumbs-up. This is a finger-licking dish, as somehow the sauce gets everywhere. The chicken is pan-fried before the sauce is added, it has a gentle heat from the pepper and the sticky sauce is wonderful with plain rice. 

A quick review of teriyaki recipes that might be thought of as more authentic, finds mirin, sake and sugar putting in an appearance, alongside fresh ginger. Some include different kinds of oil and marinading as part of the process. Some like to cook the chicken with skin on, making it nice and crisply, but I use skinless chickens. Simpler and less fat. This recipe substitutes a bit of bashing about for marinading, and uses honey and soy sauce for the teriyaki. I dilute the soy sauce so that it isn't too salty. In total it takes about 15 minutes. I like it with rice, some green salad and sliced cucumber.

½ cup soy sauce with ¼ cup water
¼ cup honey
1 ¼ tsp peeled, grated fresh ginger (from about a thumb length piece), grated very fine
500g (about four large boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs) the breasts will need pounding…
Freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
If you like, serve with two spring onions (scallions to some), thinly sliced

  • Make the sauce first: Heat through the soy sauce, water and honey, bringing it to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often until the honey has completely dissolved, about 5 minutes (alternatively use the microwave, for one minute, stirring after 30 seconds)
  • Remove from heat and add the ginger, stirring to combine and set aside
  • If using chicken breasts, place them on a cutting board and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap. Use a meat mallet, frying pan or rolling pin. Gently pound them to a 1/2-inch thickness. Cut each in half so you have pieces roughly the same size. (If using chicken thighs, no need to pound or cut.)
  • Season both sides of the chicken with pepper.
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan over high heat until shimmering and add the chicken in a single layer, and cook without poking for around 3 minutes. Then flip and cook the second side until equally browned, about 3 minutes more.
  • Reduce the heat to medium, slowly pour in the reserved sauce, and cook, turning the chicken occasionally to coat in the sauce, cooking through for around another 3 minutes.
  • Take the chicken out, shaking any sauce back into the pan, and put it onto a cutting board. I like to cover the chicken with a bowl to keep the juices in.
  • Keep cooking the sauce until it has thickened slightly, about 3 minutes more, then turn off the heat.
  • Slice the rested chicken crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces and put it on a serving dish. Drizzle over the sauce and sprinkle the sliced spring onions over the lot.