Sunday, 14 June 2009
Just back from Lancashire, after a quick trip to Northcote Manor near Blackburn, to taste The Food from Nigel Haworth's Great British Menu recipes, from the addictive regional cookery competition on BBC. Nigel won the main course with Lancashire Hotpot. It looked lovely on the tv, he looked lovely on the tv, and it certainly lived up to its promise. Tender Lonk lamb, served with pickled red cabbage and carrots and leeks.
But I adored his Lancashire cheese ice cream in a teeny poppy-seeded cone, served with a summer fruit bread pudding. For some extraordinary reason this wonderful pudding didn't win. And as much as I also loved the deep-fried Muncaster crab-claw salad, if I were to make one dish it would be the ice cream. So:
Bring the cream and milk (420ml each) to the boil together in a heavy-based pan. Take off the heat immediately. Whisk the egg yolks (10) and caster sugar(180g) together in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Then add half the warm milk and cream mixture and whisk to combine. Slowly add the remaining milk and cream mixture, whisking continuously, until smooth. Pour back into a clean pan and cook over a low heat, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Add the cream cheese (300g) and Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire cheese (150g, grated) to the mixture and blend with a stick blender until smooth and creamy. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Churn the cheese ice cream mixture in an ice cream machine according its instructions, or beat by hand, then freeze for 90 minutes. Repeat this process twice. Transfer into a freezable container and chill in the freezer until needed.
Meandering back through the Peak District with the top down, we stopped to walk across the spongy hills, startling a few blissfully nibbling sheep as we went. In the fresh, fresh air, with the sweet smell of spring grass, it was impossible not to wonder what the sheep tasted like, so we stopped at a little village butcher and bought a shoulder, a huge pork pie and three fat pork chops with the bone in. The lamb is in the oven as I write. But the pork chops were a revelation.
I fried lots of white wedged onions in oil in a large roasting pan. Then the chops, the rind salted, and fried them for a bit on one side only. Two tins of cannellini beans, and a quarter of a packet of Knorr Thick White Onion Soup. This used to be a staple of South African cooking, and my sister, Pamela brought over 25 packets of the stuff when she moved here - only to find it in all the shops...Add a little boiling water, about a cup or so, and gently mix it all together without covering the chops too much. Then bake until toasted and crispy - including the beans - for about 20 or 30 minutes. Served with spinach, the chops were melting and heavenly.
Sunday, 17 May 2009
We love and adore Greece. We've been to Crete, Corfu, Evia, Zakynthos, (twice) and Skiathos, a beautiful island in the north. I am always inspired by Greek food; tomatoes and cucumber, lemons, thyme, and slow-cooked lamb and beef. It was on Skiathos that we had this wonderful simple dish which has found its way onto my table over and over again. It just seems to set you up for summer, and everyone loves it, especially the kids.
I start by making some tzaziki. Peel and grate a whole cucumber and drain well. In a bowl place the cucumber, two or three crushed garlic cloves, a large tub of sheep's milk yoghurt. Mix well with some olive oil and salt and pepper. That's all you need. Let it stand. Slice at least four large courgette into fat diagonal slices and fry in olive oil in a hot pan. I sprinkle a bit of powdered vegetable stock over them (Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon). Let them get really crispy on the one side and turn over briefly then do the next batch. Serve as a starter with the tzaziki, or with lamb. Yes.
On the other hand, although I believe it's easy enough to make, I only ever buy houmous. I've never had any luck making it, and the bought ones are so good - especially the organic ones; and for people, I mix two different ones together with a spoon of Greek yoghurt. And I really have done this: toasted pine nuts. Tricky to toast in that they burn so easily but divine sprinkled thickly on top with some oil.
One of the things we adored in Crete was spinach pie. It took me many years to think of tracking down a recipe. It's called Spanakopita, and really quite fun to do.
I bought some Greek filo pastry but ordinary filo is almost better. Fry a couple of finely chopped onions in oil with some garlic. Add a kg of fresh spinach (although I suppose frozen would do) and half or a third again of parsley. Fry for a while, then allow to cool and then drain. In a bowl mix up a couple of eggs and a large piece of crumbled feta and mix the spinach into it. Salt, pepper.
Then the fun bit, building up the filo pastry and brushing with oil - or spraying is quite a good idea. Four layers into a 9" square baking tin, spinach mixture in, maybe a bit more cheese on top. Four more sheets brushed with oil, neaten it up, and bake in a medium oven for about 40 minutes. Also served with tzaziki. Everyone loved it.
Checking our the Spinach Pie recipe, I just came across this lovely-sounding one: Roast Garlic Lamb with Lemon Potatoes: Arni Lemonato me Potates. I've never cooked this, but I shall now.
Spike a leg of lamb with slivers of garlic and rosemary, and then marinate in oil, lemon, grated lemon rind, chopped thyme and rosemary, and a bit of white wine. Reserve the marinade and bake the lamb on a low heat for and hour. Then add the potatoes which have been mixed in an identical marinade of oil, lemon, grated lemon rind, chopped rosemary and thyme, but no wine. Bake for another hour, remove the lamb, cover, and roast the potatoes for another 20 minutes till crisp. Boil up the marinade and serve as a gravy. How good does that sound.
Sunday, 26 April 2009
Here's my cast iron casserole. Possibly he most important piece in my kitchen. It weighs a ton, but you can cook huge meals for 10, and also use it to fry up tiny little things....it always has a good even heat.
".....I'm writing this to you because for some reason this was the best lentil curry I have made, creamy and simple as it is. I don't want to forget it." To Val, 20/09/06.
I've never cooked it again, though.
Chop 1 onion and fry in plenty of oil. Soften well. Add 2 whole cloves of garlic and a large Tbs hot Durban masala. Fry together for a bit. Add half a tube of tomato concentrate, half a box of washed puy lentils and a tray of cherry tomatoes. Add one tsp of powdered vegetable stock. Cover with boiling water and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Serve with brown rice and a tomato salad. Or with crispy lamb chops.
This is probably my signature dish. I'm always so grateful that I grew up in Durban. Apart from the sea, the sub-tropical climate and the jolly mix of Zulu Indian and English it is the home of Durban Curry....obviously, the best curry in the world!
As ever, start with lots of chopped onions - at least three. Plenty of oil. Gently simmer for ages, then add the curry powder. I always use two different powders or paste, a hot Durban masala and a garam or something else. Three large Tbs altogether. Fry for a bit. Then add the meat. My special is braising steak in biggish chunks and a pack of oxtail. The bones give the curry a nice depth, and I really only eat the oxtail - it is the best bit - creamy and tender. After the meat, all the other ingredients: plenty garlic cloves - whole; 2 tins of tomatoes, plenty tomato concentrate, diced ginger, whole green chillies, curry leaves - which I keep in the freezer; 2 organic beef stock. Place in a lowish oven and let it gently cook. After an hour, add peeled halved potatoes (by now the casserole dish is getting VERY full, but no matter). Return to the oven, and gently bubble for another two hours. Long and slow of course. Fresh sheep's milk yoghurt and chopped fresh coriander on top....well you can't beat it.
Samp is something you eat as a child in South Africa. It's what the Africans cook every day. On the farm they do it in big round black potjies, three legs over the fire, with the smoke giving it that little bit extra. They always share it, because all kids love it. Some call it stamp, and if they were Xhosa, they called it gn"d"oosh. That little "d" denotes a click from the front of the mouth "nnn"d"ooosh". What a satisfying word for a child! Made from mature corn, it is creamy white with big tough kernels. We soak the samp overnight and boil it for hours on the stove. A little salt at the end, maybe some cream. It's a creamy, chewy, chunky porridge, and it goes a treat with boerewors. Boerewors is a farmhouse beef sausage with a good spicy bite to it. Not fatty at all, so don't overcook.
Chakalaka is the wonderfully named chillie tomato sauce that developed in the townships. They add baked beans as well as a few other vegetables, but this simple recipe went down a treat.
".... we had the most wonderful dinner tonight......baked boerewors with a lovely slow-cooked samp with butter added afterwards, and a wonderful first attempt at chakalaka: fried onions / garlic / red chillie / beef stock / tomato puree and two tins of chopped tomatoes....delishhh!"
Sunday, 19 April 2009
My back garden in London this morning. Spring is here and a perfect time to continue my obsession with peppers.
I love the way yellow peppers collapse into a delicious nuttiness, but I have re-discovered red peppers, and I adore doing them too. To really bring out their fine sweetness, the secret is, as ever, long and slow.
Red pepper baked with tomato and basil
This was my first ever red pepper dish. It's a Delia, although I have added my own little twist. I made it over and over again. My girlfriends loved it. And it's quick, quick, quick....slooow.
Two red peppers halved and cleaned. Fill with basil and half a tomato and drizzle over balsamic vinegar (that's my bit) oil, salt - bake as long as you dare.
Dreamy creamy pork chops with red pepper
I made this up by accident.....and this is exactly as I wrote it:
"Start with chopped spring onions and two or three fairly thinly-sliced red peppers. Bake with a little oil and a vegetable stock cube for about twenty minutes. Add pepper, and then lay thinish-cut pork chops (we had the ones without the bone and not too much fat) over the peppers. Bake in a hottish oven until chops are nicely browned and the peppers all soft. Then bring it down lower in the oven, and sprinkle in a good 3 tbs of rich balsamic vinegar (my new gravy/vegetable wonder-discovery!!). Bubble for a bit, then remove from the oven and stir in half a small tub of double cream and let it sit for a bit to tenderize.....with cyprus potatoes (sauteed in goosefat) ....I'm still thinking about it....."
Goosefat isn't just for Christmas! I've just worked this out. A little jar just about stretches to three meals of fried potato, and it really does elevate a chip.
Red pepper melt
This is a dish they do at Strada, a classy Italian chain. It is irresistible. I've done it wrong a couple of times, because the secret is to cover it so it doesn't brown at all and almost turns to jelly. Start with thinly wedged onion, at least three, and put them in to bake for 15 minutes or so with a bit of salt, till just sweetly softened. Add long, thin-sliced red peppers. I'd do four or five, seriously. Mix in with the onions and add a stock cube. These days I'd probably add a little balsamic vinegar too. Cover with foil. Turn occasionally and check they're not going too fast. They're probably done in a hour or so, but it could easily be more. Good on toasted Ciabbatta with sliced goats cheese on top, or spooned onto baked potatoes. If for some reason it doesn't get finished in one sitting, it keeps.
Sunday, 12 April 2009
We had this last night, the first summery evening of the year. It was a triunph. Fun to prepare, although not exactly a snip, but we all got involved, and nothing was exactly a big job.
First we got the eggs boiled, also the baby new potatoes - which were perfect for the dish. I boiled them very, very gently in a little vegetable stock. Cooled then halved. For the eggs, it doesn't matter how hard, softish even is okay. One each, halved. Everything was fresh-bought that afternoon, which gave it a restaurant standard (not my words)....Whatever. Did this work!
French green beans just cooked and dressed with a little butter and lemon, with lemon wedges. Fresh black olives, a jar of anchovies, two beautiful Romaine lettuce which I chopped straight onto the plate. Wedged tomatoes, salted and let to stand in a little olive oil. And some thinly-sliced red onions.
So. The final step was the tuna steaks, which we fired hot, just like steaks, a teeny bit charred on one side with a bit of fresh crushed pepper, then turned over and turned down to cook through. Or rare, as Ripton likes it. The rest was simply putting the components on the table. So began the building of this wonderful classic. Chunks of fresh tuna on top. And then a Ceasar dressing. We used Tesco's Finest, which was fine.
The pleasure in the eating of this dish is the infinitely variable combinations as you eat your way through. We were talking about it all day today - me especially.
So here's the list:
Tuna steaks, one each
1 hard-boiled egg each
anchovies, four each
new potatoes, one or two each
French green beans
Ceasar salad dressing
Sunday, 29 March 2009
Ripton gave this dish a round of applause! Everyone seems to love beans, the boys especially. No one's ever thrown a dish of beans back at me, that I know.
Lamb and Beans
Take two fat lamb shanks which have been marinaded for an hour in steak-and-chops and a bit of oil (this will feed three), and fry them up in a big cast iron casserole dish with a couple of onions. I always cut onions into wedges. Cook till the onions are really tender. Add some stock cubes and some boiling water and a good lot of cooked haricot beans. Normally I would cook them up myself, or take my chances with the frozen ones - until I discovered the organic tinned ones are really good. The butterbeans are also great. A few cloves of garlic - I never peel or chop garlic - just straight in. Pepper and - what made this dish - some leftover "wild mushroom organic soup" that had condensed overnight. It added a creamy and meaty gravy to the beans. It took about 2 hours to cook in the oven. I have since done this dish with shoulder shanks, which are half the price...and it was good. Also, a slow-cooked a brisket with butterbeans and mushrooms in exactly the same way....I just LOVE this method.
Steak-and-chops is a generic South African hot barbeque spice. It has revolutionised our eating..... I always bring two 5kg bags home from a spice shop in Durban. They make it up for you while you wait, shaking and adding from giant sacks till the colour looks right, then give you a pinch to taste. I bring the extra bag to share with friends, because once they taste it, they have to have some. Plus you will put it on everything...from sweet potatoes baking, to sausages, fish, lamb chops or mm mm, steak oh, and prawns! It's available here in specialist butchers or from the web. It's made by a South African company called Robertsons, but smaller spice companies make their own.
Not just a bean salad
If I could eat this salad every day, I would be happy. My secret is to buy a ready-prepared salad of mixed beans. Delphi make the best one. Nothing fancy just plenty tasty beans. And here is the rest of the ingredients ...not necessarily all at once. The important thing is balance. Other than the beans, the rest of the vegetables should be in roughly equal portions...too much cauliflower and it becomes a bit of a mission.
this is the definitely-going-in-every-time list:
chopped spring onions
third of a bag of chopped watercress
very large bunch of roughly chopped parsley
yellow pepper ( or red)
avocado (if at all possible)
and this is the whatever-else-you-have-around list:
oh it goes on
With everything chopped a similar size, squeeze in half a lemon and olive oil and then a giant spoon of organic hummous - very important. Organic hummous is the best hummous. Pepper. Salt and stir in gently. My fave dish.
Sunday, 22 March 2009
Brown basmati rice, just tender and allowed to cool, obviously. Add the vegetables in more or less equal amounts. Diced carrots, chopped spring onions, chopped celery, radish, lots of parsley, peppers, cucumber, tomato, you can add a handful of cooked lentils, but rinse them - and not too many because they do spoil the lovely clean white freshness of the salad.
The dressing is olive oil, some lemon and plenty Hellmans, pepper and salt. Mix. Add some more Hellmans, allow to stand for a bit, and serve.
An unusual green salad is a huge bunch of coriander, chopped. Sliced avocado pear, sprinkle with lightly toasted pine nuts, oil and a touch of lemon. Salt, pepper. Excellent.
Tomato and onion salad
This we probably eat every evening during the summer. Big platter. Sliced tomatoes all out flat. Thin sliced onion rings all over. Salt, quite a lot. I use that flaky Malvern salt. Pepper, and lots of olive oil. Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes. Soak up the juice with crusty bread.
Becky's veggie kebabs
We had a barbie the first weekend Bexie came home: truly, it was if she'd been away a year. She offered to make vegetable kebabs. They sounded divine, and I couldn't resist getting involved as they were my first ever kebabs. We used chunks of red onion, red, yellow and green peppers - all the peppers, zucchini and big white mushrooms, halved. She marinated the veggies in steak-and-chops (but one of those hot herb rubs would be good too) with a little oil for an hour, then we threaded the soaked kebab sticks. This was the most fun, and as they stacked up on the platter, they looked absolutely beautiful. The colours! We roasted them over the fire (Weber) till just charred, and they were the star of the show.
A staple from my childhood, one of my favourites. This is how I do it: Boil the potatoes very gently in their skins.When they are just cooked, allow to cool, peel and cut into chunks. Add lots of chopped spring onion and also white onion, mixed. Add parsley, chives and chopped gherkins. For the dressing, mix a lot of Hellmans with a giant teaspoon of dry English mustard and a big dollop of double cream (being a party salad). Mix the mustard mayonnaise into the potatoes, then lots of salt and pepper. Chopped hard-boiled eggs on top is good.
Sunday, 15 March 2009
I would never eat a Pigeon Pie. I love pigeons too much.
My father brought Dexter the pigeon home as little fledgeling he'd picked up by the side of the road. All vulnerable and pathetic, we fed it with a dropper until it turned into Dexter the Family Tyrant. I couldn't practise the piano without Dexter on my head pecking at my hair. Dinners had to be eaten with our feet up on the chair, because Dexter loved to peck our toes. Washing up was his favourite, though. He loved to sit under the pouring tap and cavort in the bubbles as my mother tried to scrub the dishes....and no matter how many times she threw him out of the back door, he had a wonderful trick of: whoh-whoh-whoh-whoh-whoh as he flew around the house to an open window; back in and back in the suds. We loved that bird.
Years later, here in London, we befriended a pigeon who arrived in our garden. But she couldn't fly. We saved her from the foxes, she recovered, and she never left. Every morning she waited outside the kitchen window for her breakfast, and encouraged all the other pigeons to join in the corn feast on the deck. And if we went out, Pidge was the only one who didn't fly away. Pidge was a joy to all of us for the whole of that summer. We hadn't seen her for a while when out of the blue, she arrived at Bexie's window late in the evening. She walked all the way through to the bathroom where we were, and pathetically looked up at us. She'd come to us for help. Her crop was distended, and she could not eat or drink. We made her comfortable, and took her to the vet the next morning, and that, touchingly, was that.
Luckily, I've never fallen in love with a fish.
My mom made Fish Pie once, when she went to a smart cookery class. I remember it well. Here I have tried to re-create it, and this is the dish Becky asked for the very first time she came home from uni.
Plenty leeks, sliced and fried. Cook till very soft. I buy one fish pie mix, that's salmon chunks, mussels and calamari, plus a tray of white fish. Add it in chunks and turn in the leeks till the fish is barely cooked. There's a very tasty fish herb mixture you can get, and I sprinkled it on. Spread the fish and leek out evenly in a terracotta dish. Halve four hard-boiled eggs and distribute evenly. Now the white sauce. Equal butter and white flour, about an ounce each, this will do a half pint of milk, which of course you slowly mix in once the flour is toasty and golden. I've dutifully used a wooden spoon for this job all my life....then I discovered my soft whisk...and trust me, use a whisk. Smooth as silk, and no one will guess in a million years you didn't use a wooden spoon. Whisk until thickened, add the salt and pepper and a bit of dry English mustard powder and cook a little more. Pour over. Creamy mashed potato smoothed over the top, grated cheddar over that, bake for a good 25 minutes - Fish Pie. Just like mother made (once only, ma!!)
Monday, 9 March 2009
How come chefs or writers are always telling us to use the best and freshest ingredients...I mean, like any cook would use mankey old peppers or slippery onions. No. If there exists a cook in this universe unable to appreciate the sparkling crispness of a fresh yellow pepper.......well, as if.
I adore cookbooks, and am always buying inspirational ones. The chef who inspires me most is Jamie Oliver ( "Jamie", as he's known at home). Lots of fresh herbs, and really quite straight-forward. But I seldom follow a recipe. Prue Leith does a roe deer with polenta...it looks excellent, but it requires 53 different ingredients! Home cooking is all about what happens to be there, and this dish turned out perfectly well.
Greek pork - simple and tasty
Fry 2 onions, add minced organic pork. Fry a bit, then add 4 whole cloves (unchopped) of garlic. Add a yellow pepper nice and chunky, then the juice of one lemon, a big bunch of chopped parsley, 2 vegetable stock cubes and mix in one cup of brown basmati rice and maybe a good handful of Puy lentils for a bit more guts. Boiling water to cover, then after 20 minutes or so, a bag of fresh spinach. Top with cinnamon and cook till all absorbed. I have since learned that you should not cook with lemon juice, as it goes a little bitter. I can't say I've noticed it, but maybe add the lemon at the end so you don't offend some universal law. I don't remember using the cinnamon, and I've never used it in a dish before, but cinnamon is a real Greek stalwart....
Greek pork was inspired by a vegetarian lentil dish I made and loved. I've lost the copy I sent to Val (and I daren't check to see if she has in fact kept it)....but really, it is so shockingly simple, just five ingredients. This is how it goes:
Fry 2 chopped onions, add one or two chopped yellow peppers...nice fat pieces. Two cloves of garlic and a stock cube, add half a box of Puy lentils and cover with boiling water. Yellow peppers are simply made for lentils, and when all the water has boiled off, and the lentils soft and creamy, it's a really tasty dish.
Sunday, 1 March 2009
Here I am in my kitchen. My happy space. The heart and centre of our house. Here I cook for my dearest family and extended family, and our friends. Occasionally it's just two eating in the kitchen, and I have once had 50. But big lunch or dinner parties tend to hover around the 12 mark. Seldom does it see a meal for one.
I plan to share my favourite recipes and my favourite people.
I'm going to start with a very short and sweet recipe that has people asking for it, and only agreeing to come (Juliana!) if that's what we're having. this is:
one shoulder of lamb
plenty of salt
place in a 100C oven and bake for 10 hours.
We've had to get up at 5am, sometimes, to put it on...but it's hardly a big job, and it is the most popular meal (other than the Durban beef curry, maybe) that we put on the table. Potatoes can be put in for hours and then crisped up when the meat comes out. You can add herbs/onions/ marinade of any description, but I keep mine simple. It really needs very little else. It comes out of the oven crisp and perfect, with the meat gently falling off the bone. Serve with smashed veggies, ah la my mom - although, I boil two different vegetables in two different stocks (say broccolli and peas, or zucchini (but not too soft) and er, peas).
A good spinach is soft fried spring onions in butter, as a little touch, I add a crushed bay leaf fresh off my birthday tree, and fry it along with the onions. Remove the bay leaf, and add the spinach - oh do as much spinach as the pot will take, trust me.... and a little powdered stock, cook down, stirring a lot, then a good dollop of double cream and pepper....okay it's not rocket science...but I've only just discovered this one and it's good, good, good.
Since time immemorial it has been Bexie's job to do the carrots. Perfect matchsticks caramelized in butter and sugar. But now she's at Sussex University, and I'm in charge of the carrots now!
So for carrots: slice them down the middle, boil up with stock till just tender, then braise for a minute or two with butter, pepper and the juice of half a lemon...mmmmm. Oh, and chopped parsley on top to impress.
Bexie came home this weekend, endearingly missing home comforts. Taking a mother's chance to prove she's right, and to spoil her, I did my new lamb shank and beans and piled the plates high with plenty home-cooked veggies including her favourite, carrots. Most of us went back for seconds - the bean gravy finished off with bread - all the plates and pots were licked clean. I sat back with a satisfied smile ......Bexie digested for a few minutes, then: "so what's happened to the carrots?"
So there's a Sunday lunch that can feed 10, although we've easily done the joint justice when there's only four of us.
We love having Morrie and Carol down for the weekend. Our oldest friends, usually they get a Durban curry, but this time held firm. I'd do a braised beef. I wanted to keep it as simple as possible. Good beef with a good gravy - a country casserole. I loved making this dish because I found some mixed wild mushrooms and these were perfect for the gravy. I repeated a mantra to myself, though: don't put too much in.
I remember this dish, because the next time they came, months later, Morrie asked for the recipe.
Country braised beef
Big wedges of onions - in my big oval cast iron casserole. you need the biggest casserole you can accommodate. On the top of the stove and into the oven, you'll use it for everything ....even for small dishes. I fry the onions slowly in the olive oil. When they're good, add the flour-coated beef ...although in real life, I throw in all the braising steak, then spoon some flour on top with some pepper and stir it around. Cook a bit. The flour needs to brown.
I always use too much meat, and never regret it. Add water...not too much, a clove of garlic, organic beef stock, the wild mushrooms and then a bouquet garni. As darling as the little muslin bags are, like miniature white Christmas puddings, it's still a weird pleasure to plunge a sharp knife into the side of one and shake all the dry herbs into the gravy. Bring it all back up to the boil, scrape and mix the flour in, obviously, and put it into the oven to barely simmer for about an hour. Halved peeled potatoes go in and slow cook for another hour or so.
Serve with the potatoes and, you know, another veg.