Saturday 27 August 2011

Technical difficulties

Please enjoy this picture from Urchin's kittenhood while we establish whether every photo we have ever taken is gone forever...

Thursday 25 August 2011

Leftovers: chicken rice with nuoc cham

This was basically this Diana Henry recipe, although I didn't have enough leftover chicken, so I augmented the protein with a thin, rolled Chinese-style omelette. I also added thinly sliced carrots and red peppers to the dressing to give a nice salady crunch to the warm, soothing rice.

Very satisfying, very delicious!

Saturday 20 August 2011

Summer drinks make me feel fine

I think Laura's music puns are contagious. But this one really was irresistable!

Generally speaking, our alcohol drinking doesn't get a lot more complicated than a gin and tonic. We drink wine (red, white and sparkling), beer (usually Belgian) and the occasional cider. We don't keep a lot of spirits in the house and don't usually go in for cocktails.

But I have mentioned that my new favourite cookbook (I will get over it soon, I promise...) is Mexican Food Made Simple. And poring over that, combined with a special offer on Jose Cuervo at the supermarket, brought a bottle of tequila into my home and a couple of weekends of cocktails into my life.

We started off with Margaritas. On the rocks, with homemade 44 instead of triple sec.

We moved onto Bloody Marias. Tomato juice, lemon juice, tequila, celery salt and a dash of smoked hot sauce. Divine and utterly addictive. The second batch of these (much, much later in the day) reached the absolute pinnacle of Bloody Mariadom, with the addition of a slice of pickled jalapeno instead of the slice of lemon. Utter perfection.

Some leftover plum/rose/vanilla syrup combined with a touch of tequila and a good slug of chilled cava made a delicious "champagne" cocktail.

But I think my most inventive and refreshing use for my bottle of tequila was this, the frozen coconut margarita.

Frozen Coconut Margarita

375ml coconut water
50ml tequila
50ml 44 or triple sec
juice of 2 limes

Blended with ice.

Makes 2 long drinks.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Good things for breakfast

I have not been shy about admitting my love for a good breakfast. One of the things I look forward to all week is a leisurely and delicious brunch on the weekend - sometimes I get my brunch idea on a Monday and have to be patient until the Saturday when the idea comes to fruition.

This sujuk pide was not one of my carefully considered ideas. It was the product of an empty fridge. I wanted something hot and savoury, but we had no eggs or bacon. What I did have was a ball of pide dough in the freezer, a tub of sujuk, also in the freezer, a the remains of a jar of roasted peppers, a jar of pickled jalapenos and a piece of cheese. I didn't quite manage the torpedo shape of a proper pide, but my leftover creation certainly hit the spot.

We were watching Thomasina Miers' new series Mexican Food Made Simple a few weeks ago, and Paul commented on how she cooked eggs - in a lot of hot fat, spooning the fat over the yolks so that they were still runny inside, but without any snotty albumen. He said that was how he wanted his eggs. So I fried some of my homemade chorizo, added some beans and chopped tomatoes to it and used it to top a soft flour tortilla. And added fried eggs.

Paul announced that actually, that wasn't how he liked his eggs at all and that he still wanted them cooked all the way through, with no runny yolk. Like I usually cook them, in fact. Contrary bugger.

This is another dish from Mexican Food Made Simple - which you may have guessed is my new favourite cookbook. Plums poached with vanilla and rose syrup. I didn't have rose syrup so I added rosewater to taste. I piled them onto French toast. Absolutely gorgeous.

I think I made a mistake in my presentation of this one - I had a big plate piled with my delicious pea and halloumi fritters, but we ate off little bread and butter plates. Which makes it look like a mahoosive fritter, but actually it was about the size of the palm of my hand. The serving suggestion in the recipe was roasted tomatoes, but I thought it was a good excuse to revisit the tomato and bacon hash (originally Nigella's, discovered by me at Esi's blog) which I ate constantly for a while and then forgot.

The leftover fritters were also a delicious snack eaten at room temperature.

This omelette was another product of an empty fridge. I'd had a great idea for Sunday brunch (it needed to rest in the fridge overnight) but had neglected to consider the hungryness of Saturday. I had eggs and I had a bit of home-smoked trout in the freezer. So I flaked the fish into the eggs, added pepper (no salt - the smoked trout is salty) and chopped parsley and made a big fat omelette to share.

Lest you fear for our arteries - sometimes there is fruit. Melon sprinkled with mint sugar...

... or this particular concoction to which I am addicted and Paul doesn't fancy at all. It's based loosely on the Indonesian fruit salad Rojak, but it is generally a combination of whatever fruits and vegetables I have in the house (as long as one of them is banana and one is a citrus) with a sweet/spicy/hot dressing and some chopped peanuts. It's gorgeous and satisfying and makes me feel ridiculously healthy.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Chilli down with the fire gang

At the end of last winter, we gave one of our Twilight chillis to friends. They had grown too big to have two, and we figured that one would fulfill our hot chilli requirements.

The remaining plant was repotted, pruned, and Paul started fertilising it in preparation for the 2011 growing season.

I'm not quite sure what he did, but it works! The top of the canopy now measures 180cm across, and it is covered in glossy, upright chillis. It sort of looks like one of those big acacias in Africa that gets nibbled to shape by giraffes.

The chilli sauce recipe that I developed last year was so good, this year's entire crop will be going into it. Half will be smoked over beech chips and half left plain. I've made two batches so far. Picking the ripe fruit only seems to make it more productive, so I think our hot sauce needs are taken care of!

My smoked sauce is standing as my entry for the August Forging Fromage challenge - instead of the habanero hot sauce recipe given. Why buy habaneros when you have an endless supply of Twilights?

We'd also decided that we really needed a milder chilli, that we could use more freely, like a vegetable.

After a bit of research we settled on the Hungarian Hot Wax, which seemed like a versatile cultivar. Our two seem to be slightly larger than the 70cm plants we were anticipating... which again I have to put down to Paul's diligent fertiliser regimen. They are getting thrice-weekly feeds with tomato fertiliser, and they seem pretty darn happy on it.

When they get a bit riper, we're planning to pickle some of them like jalapenos. We also have (possibly delusional) thoughts about smoking and drying some fully ripe ones to use like pimenton, although I am not convinced that Hertfordshire has the right climate for drying chillis.

Our first outing for them, however, was stuffing them with garlic and herb cream cheese, wrapping them in bacon and grilling them. Gorgeous. Very "green" tasting still, but with a nice gentle warmth at the stem end where the membranes are concentrated. Definitely a useful chilli.

By the way - anyone who doesn't recognise the title hasn't seen Labyrinth recently enough.

Friday 12 August 2011

Fourth Blogoversary: friands

Who would have thought, 4 years and 554 posts ago, that I would still be doing this blogging thing? I certainly never imagined that blogging was going to be quite so addictive! I never imagined that people from all corners of the world would take the time out to read my posts and sometimes even comment on them. I thought probably my mother would read it, as another way of maintaining contact from the other side of the planet, but I thought that would be pretty much it. Frankly, I am moved and humbled by the kindness of my readers in coming back, post after post.

I have learned a lot in the last 4 years.

I have learned that a crappy-looking cake gets twice as many comments as a delectable offal dish, but dishes involving melted cheese get more comments than anything.

I have learned that the home-cooking of the United States is second to none, and is a rich, untapped seam of goodness for those of us on the outside looking in. And you don't have to use frozen non-dairy whipped topping for anything, ever.

I have learned that generally speaking PRs don't read the blogs they contact and haven't got the slightest clue about how or why to effectively involve social media in their projects.

I have learned that a post without a picture is pointless. To that end, I have also learned to make my pictures prettier. Bless that macro function!

I have learned to appreciate having a husband who will not only eat pretty much whatever I put in front of him, but will participate in some of my whackier experiments.

I have learned that there is a massive community of people who like food, books and animals as much as I do. They all have internet access. They are quite amazing.

I have learned that as nice as it is to experiment with new flavours and techniques, some times you just have to rest on the classics. I had planned to make something a bit fancy to celebrate this milestone. I was thinking about Dan Lepard's coconut milk layer cake, Signe Johansen's Norwegian Spiced Chocolate Cake or Grace's zorse cake. Then I put all those ideas to one side and went with the family favourite, friands from Luke Mangan's recipe. It still astonishes me that these delectable little almondy, buttery, eminently forgiving little cakes are not better known. I made these with lemon and lime zest in the batter, and mixed peel stirred through. Paul was thrilled - he gets tired of being my guineapig sometimes.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Barley Tabbouleh, Merguez, Feta Dip

I may never use bulgur wheat for a tabbouleh again (Paul is VERY AMUSED because on one of Rick Stein's programs he mocked the Australian pronunciation of tabbouleh, so this is now a salad I can write about but not talk about).

It's a version of another Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, using pearl barley instead of the bulgur. I didn't make the marinated feta, because I was going to serve the feta in another guise, I used hazelnuts instead of cashews, because they were cheaper, and I added some sauteed broad beans because they wanted using and I didn't have a green pepper.

The flavours were excellent. The barley is chewy and nutty, but not the same hard work bulgur can sometimes be.

The salad married beautifully with little barbecued merguez patties, made from Scarpetta Dolcetto's recipe and the feta & lemon dip from Jo at Food Junkie, Not Junk Food. I used basil instead of thyme in the dip because my basil plant is prolific at the moment!

This whole meal was a delicious tour around Middle Eastern/Mediterranean flavours. Nothing staggeringly authentic, but all authentically delicious.

Saturday 6 August 2011

Riding the Bánh mì Bandwagon

Bánh mì are having a moment right now. Or they have been for the last few years, but I am just now getting aboard the Bánh mì love train. There are only so many variations you can see on blogs, so many reviews of Bánh mì-specialist cafes and food trucks that you can read before you throw your hands in the air and cry "Enough! I will make this bloody sandwich".

But not any sandwich. This is the ultimate sandwich. It provides the most exquisite balance between crisp, soft, dry, moist, sharp and smooth. It is a sandwich developed by people who think food should be a pleasure. It is a very fine sandwich indeed.

For my Bánh mì I started with a couple of part-baked baguette (and completed the baking thereof). I applied a goodly base-layer of mayonnaise. I smeared a layer of pork pâté. I placed batons of cucumber. I added warm medallions of sweet cooked pork (following the recipe in my Spirit House cookbook). I topped with pickled beansprouts and beetroot. I applied a final garnish of coriander leaves.

Very generously filled sandwiches! But through sheer greed, I could have eaten another.

This lovely sandwich is going to Deb's Kahakai Kitchen for her Souper (soup, salad and sammie) Sunday round-up.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

East London Steak Company

When I did the post about my Asian food binge, I realised that I haven't yet posted about the East London Steak Company.

One of the guys I work with alerted me to them (we were talking about Hawksmoor - shamefully I still haven't been - and apparently ELSCo supply their beef&*) about 9 months ago an pointed out that their rib eye steaks were cheaper per kilo than Ocado.

So ever since we've been having our beef delivered.

I tell you, I love these guys. I love that the website tells you each week what breed they are cutting, I love that the provenance card that comes with each order tells you exactly where each farm is, I love that the meat is wrapped in brown paper, I love that delivery is free within the M25 for orders over £25. I love that they sell my beloved slow braising cuts like oxtail, shin and cheek. I am even coming to love the very bad jokes that they text you when the order is on its way.

This is the bit where I am supposed to say what I don't like... and I can't. Every piece of meat we have bought (and this is an unsolicited post - I have paid for every single piece of meat I have had from ELSCo, they don't even know I am a blogger) has been superb. The echt beef experience. Beef as it should taste.

The only downside is that they only do beef. But I only want them to do beef - I am happy for them to specialise and do the best darned beef available in London. I just want someone else to do the same thing for pork, and the same thing for lamb. Hopefully ELSCo will be so successful that someone will apply the business model to other meats. There has to be a market.

... Edited to add, I have just identified a less-good feature. My order this morning, booked for 8am-3pm delivery, arrived at 6.30am. That is too early.

*... Edited to add a correction. Hawksmoor's executive chef Richard Turner is a partner in ELSCo, but the restaurant gets their beef elsewhere.


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