Thursday, May 31, 2007

Spicy Aubergine Pot

I am often seduced by the shiny blackness of aubergine, thrilled by its multitude of uses and the number of culinary frontiers it crosses effortlessly. I can buy them randomly without having a specific plan and if takes me half the week to think what to do with it it will still be fresh and edible tucked away in the vegetable drawer in the fridge. The creamy smoky flesh remains distinctive and yet is the centrepoint of dishes as diverse as the Lebanese baba ganoush or the Chinese sea spice aubergine. I wasn't always so fond - my first experience of eating this extraordinary vegetable was a badly made greek dish - slimy, oily and overwhelmingly grey it was much more mouse-acre than moussaka. Took me years to give them another go.

As a vegetable they are obviously seasonal but I was vaguely surprised to find they are grown extensively in the UK. Though they are piled high at this time of year I had thought they come from warmer climes, seeming as they do to contain edible sunshine. In fact they are not even a vegetable but rather a berry - Solanum melongena. That is the useless information for the day that may win you the £1 million. They have been cultivated in parts of Asia since forever and became known in the West after 1500.

This recipe comes from the wonderful Fuchsia Dunlop's Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. Though not very quick to make it is easy peasy and lovely to eat. The aubergine is soft and creamy, and having been salted first it takes up little of the oil, there is the sweet heat of ginger and the prickle and glow of chilli; the pork adds a salty firm chewiness like a scattering of roughness against your tongue, its inclusion in the dish as much for its texture as its flavour. That is one of the things I really love about some Asian food, the way that texture is as integral to the dish as perfume and flavour creating a more interesting and pleasurable experience.

Spicy Aubergine Pot
1 large/2 small aubergine
2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes
75g/2 1/2 oz minced pork (I used finely diced ham as I had no pork and it was good)
2 tbspn chilli bean paste
2 tspn grated fresh ginger (I made a typo at first listing grated finger not ginger - often true!)
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
150ml chicken stock or water
1/2 tspn dark soy
2 spring onions, green parts only, finly sliced
1 tsp sesame oil
groundnut oil for deep frying

Peel the aubergines, cut them in half lengthways and then crosswise. Cut each quarter into chunks, sprinkle with salt and leave to drain for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, drain the shiitakes and squeeze dry. Finely chop them.

Rinse and pat dry the aubergines. Heat the oil for deep-frying in the wok over a high flame then fry the aubergine for a few minutes till they are tender and tinged with gold. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Do this in batches till it is all cooked.

Drain off all but 3 tablespoons of the oil and return the wok to a high flame. Add the pok (ham) and stir fry as it separates and loses its water content. Add the chilli bean paste and stir fry till the oil is red. Add the ginger, garlic, shiitakes and chilli and sizzle till they are wonderfully fragrant. Pour in the stock, add the dark soy and the cooked aubergines and simmer on a medium heat for a few minutes to allow the flavours to penetrate the aubergines. Season if necessary.

Finally, turn up the heat to reduce the sauce a little. Add the spring onions and stir-fry until barely cooked. Remove the wok from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and serve. With rice and another dish, perhaps tofu or peppers and black beans.

Very good cold for lunch next day.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Prawns and Spiced Carrot

We had been out Friday night to celebrate the man's birthday for a not entirely fabulous dinner at the newly opened 32 Great Queen Street - no prizes for guessing where to find it. Should have realised it might not be perfect when I had to repeat my name four times when I made the booking as the background noise was so loud the woman I was speaking to couldn't hear me. We were hit with a barrage of sound when we entered - so loud I had to point to my name on the reservation list because I didn't want to yell any louder. Starters were ordinary - sweetbread terrine for my sweetheart that tasted not one iota of offal and steak tartare for me, nice garnishes of parsley and capers but the meat was only thinly flavoured. Mains were much much better - fillet topped with foie gras for my man served medium rare though he was not asked at the time of ordering how he would like it cooked, and slow cooked neck of lamb with dauphinois for me and a very good green salad to share. All through the meal we had to shout to be heard above the din of the room, not my idea of a treat. Wouldn't go back.

So my offering for party tea Saturday night had to be good. I was already confident about the main course which I'd started the prep for last week, planned to buy the best looking cake at the market for dessert but had nothing determined for starters. Asked the man what he'd like, and after rejecting parma ham and mozzarella as probably too heavy could only come up with mango as being light. Not entirely helpful! Set off a brain wave though and so decided the starter would be fresh prawns set off by grated carrot dressed with a spiced vinaigrette. Light and special - though not mango. I bought the prawns from Shellseekers - their seafood is invariably fresh and fabulous and straight from the Dorset coast. They were small and sweet and just needed the oomph from the dressing and the crunch of texture from the spring carrots to make a fabulous dish.

Prawns with Spiced Carrots

200g/7oz fresh shelled prawns
200g/7oz carrots, scraped and grated
Lettuce leaves, washed and torn
1 tbspn lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

It's mostly about arranging things attractively on to plates then shake the oil and juice and seasonings in a jar and drizzle over.

Very light and quite sublime.

And this week ... I bought

Despite heavy skies Borough Market was busy. Started at the Ginger Pig. I had called Chris earlier in the week to ask for some bone marrow to complete the magnificent feast for my man's birthday. He went into the fridge and came out with a huge bone two inches thick and more than a foot long. Very impressive. He sawed off the ends and then in half and began extracting the marrow, putting the pieces onto the block as they came out. Karl, being both curious and tidy, came over to see what he was up to and, while asking, scraped the pieces of marrow off the block and flung them into the bin. Couldn't believe it but had to laugh. When I finally did have enough for my garnish, I also bought a piece of unsmoked gammon -had meant it for lunches but we had a little of the roast beef left and what with it being a short week it is now nestling in the freezer for another time and some eggs - £17

Needed a little sustenance so had a classic carrot, apple and ginger juice from total organics - £3

Ground beef from wild beef - to replenish my freezer supply -£4

Tomatoes from the Isle of Wight because my lunch box is not complete without bright little plum tomatoes and their spectacular burst of flavour - £3.50

Had completely run out so needed a tin of olive oil from Borough Olives where there was no sign of Vaheed though we had seen Marie on her way to elsewhere earlier which was nice - £22.50

Needed cake for dessert - it being a proper party - so bought two huge vanilla slices from the new cake stall. The woman ahead of me bought a thick slice of chocolate cake to eat immediately. I was impressed - it was only about 9.15am - all hail a true cakey-pig! - £4

With the plan being roast rib of beef for dinner wanted to start with something a little lighter so bought a tub of school prawns, ready shelled, from Shellseekers - £5.50

Booths for veg - some dried cep garnish for the beef, white onions that I couldn't get, and skinny green beans- more garnish to complete our feast, cornish new potatoes - hot with sausages Wednesday night and cold as salad for lunch Thursday, rocket - salad Wednsesday night, peppers, cucumber - lunches, lettuce - salad, bananas - smoothies and lunches, thought about a cauliflower but didn't buy one, sugar snap peas - crunch at lunch - and garlic -ten thousand uses - £9.30
Went to Turnips for the white onions more beef accompaniment and quite fantastic - and remembered I needed a bunch of carrots - salad - £3.20

Strawberries - smoothies - from Chegworth - 2 punnets for £2 - ultimate bargain

Sausage roll - Saturday snack - from Ginger Pig ready food counter - £3
Coffee - daily breakfast - from Monmouth - £9

Milk, bread and yoghurt - smoothies - from Neals Yard - £6.50

A hefty bill this week - £92.50 - but the oil will last for months

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Spicy Pork Noodles

The sun shone on the weekend with something like conviction for the first time in a month so though I didn't go for the bbq option I couldn't resist a stir fry Sunday night. It is theoretically part of my freezer clearing exercise - I had some egg noodles and a piece of pork fillet squirrelled away but really it was because it is quick and easy and a joy to eat. It is wonderfully bright in your mouth, with little sparkles of heat from the chilli and the cool silk of wilted bok choy, hot sweeet bursts of ginger against the slither of noodles it is a symphony of textures and flavours. No, really, it is.

Spicy Pork Noodles
2 tbspns peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbspn fresh grated ginger
2 tbspns chilli sauce
200g/ 7oz pork fillet, thinly sliced
2 tbspns light soy sauce
500g/1lb pack fresh egg noodles, rinsed
3 tbspns water
250g/1/2 lb bok choy, washed and trimmed
1 tbspn oyster sauce
Generous handful of coriander, chopped
1 tbspn sesame oil

Heat the oil in a wok till smoking then add garlic, ginger and chilli sauce and stir fry briskly till aromatic then toss in the meat and continue to stir fry till it loses its pinkness, 2 or 3 minutes. Add the soy and stir briefly then toss in the noodles and the water and stir to combine. When the wok begins to simmer, cover and reduce the heat for 5 minutes. Take off the lid, increase the heat and add the bok choy and the oyster sauce and stir fry till the greens are wilted. Turn off the heat and add coriander and sesame oil, mix through and serve immediately in deep bowls.

From getting the pan out to steaming hot serving in 20 minutes - bliss. The above makes generous servings for 2 people but I was home alone - the man was eating steak sandwiches in Hong Kong - so I had the rest cold on Monday for my lunch. I wasn't sure it would be edible but I'm pleased to say it was fabulous.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Perfect Dinner for One

I was home alone. Needed a treat.

A piece of aged rib eye steak, best part of an inch thick - hung for about 35 days.

At the highest flame, heat ridged grill pan for 10 minutes. Then put steak in the centre of the pan. Do not reduce the heat.

1 beef steak tomato - (possibly) so called because they are great with steak - cut in half.

Put tomato halves next to the meat in the pan. Season generously.

Scrub a few jersey royal or cornish new potatoes.

Put them into a small pan with salted water to cover, bring to the boil and simmer.

Wash a little bunch of rocket.

Arrange artfully on your favourite dinner plate.

Turn tomatoes and steak and season. Cook for another 4-5 minutes then turn off the heat.

After another 5 minutes, drain the potatoes and put them next to the rocket and top with a knob of butter.

Lift the tomatoes onto the plate with a fish slice and finally the steak.

Consume with pleasure.

This is not the only perfect dinner for one, but it is definitely one of the best.

And this week ... I bought

After what feels like a very long and gloomy week the sun came out to play for the weekend. Yay! The trip to the market is so much more pleasant when it's bright and everyone, at least early in the day, is just a little bit more cheerful. I like it. The man is in Hong Kong for a few days - when I was a kid and my mother was annoyed with me or wanted me out of the way she'd yell Get to Hong Kong! Don't know why. Anyway I set off alone on the bus to Borough with a slightly shorter list than usual. I'm still trying to reduce the freezer contents - but having done another butchery class last week we now have 2 cote de boeuf and some diced beef for stewing in the space I had previously cleared. This could take a while.

Ginger Pig was nonetheless my first port of call. We are planning to eat one of the beef foreribs next weekend as a decadent birthday treat for my man and I discovered a quite splendid sounding sauce made with oxtail and red wine so I bought a piece of oxtail but that was all - £3.40

Then I went to Wyndhams for a french corn fed chicken which are a bargain at £5

Next a little juice from Total Organics to keep me going and a brief chat with Gary who has had the stall at Borough since the beginning. It has changed recently from selling an extensive range of organic fruit and vegetbles as well as rice, pulses and nuts to turning the whole stall into a juice bar and prepared dishes. He made the decision after losing a lot of trade when he moved to his new site but it was a difficult one as he has traded in organics for ten years with great passion. Though he still has the business he was not his usual cheery self. The juice was £3

Didn't need cheese or mini plum tomatoes but I had a quick wander round the Green Market just through habit really then headed back to the other side to Booths where I bought asparagus, Italian plum tomatoes, Cornish new potatoes, rocket, lettuce, carrots, peppers and cucumber - £10.90

Back past Ginger Pig and I couldn't resist a big fat scotch egg - £3

Coffee from Monmouth - £9

Milk, yoghurt and bread from Neals Yard - £5.40

And then I forgot to buy myself an almond croissant - too sad

A reasonable total of £39.70

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Aubergine and Chick Pea Curry

It's possible I was a little excessive at Booths on Saturday but the sight of all that lovely spring produce in the midst of gloomy weather spurred me on somehow. More! More! Some of that, and two of those and ooh that looks good too. So we came home with rather a lot. I did have a plan for it all though it must be said that looked at dispassionately the plan would easily have fed the 5000. Amongst my haul I had a couple of glossy black aubergines, the intention being to make a spiced salad to go with stuffed lamb Sunday night and for lunches in the week.
Come Sunday and the grey skies glowered over us again. So we took ourselves out to a wonderful roast beef lunch at the Wheatsheaf in Borough which meant that dinner was of necessity a lighter repast. Pork pie and potato salad fitted the bill. I still roasted the lamb to have cold but the aubergine remained in the fridge. Decided I would make the salad Monday night to go with sausages, fennel and pea salad and vinaigrette potatoes that I was planning to make. But after work Monday I found I was reluctant to add more work to my evening as well as giving in to a niggling feeling that a spiced aubergine salad would be too brash alongside the pale delicacy of my other dishes.
By Tuesday I fancied a curry and what better than aubergine and chick peas to pander to that desire? Seved hot with rice it gave a little zing to this seemingly endless grey week and cold next day in lunch boxes with the lamb meant finally these two elements met well, just not quite as originally planned.

Aubergine and Chick Pea Curry

3tbspns ghee or oil
2 tspns cumin seeds
2 tspns brown mustard seeds
1 tspn fenugreek seeds
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 tbspns fresh grated ginger
2 fat garlic cloves, crushed
3 little red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
10 curry leaves
2 tspns ground coriander
2 tspns ground cumin
2 tspns ground turmeric
1 tspn hot paprika
1 large or 2 small aubergine, diced
2 x 400g tins tomatoes, chopped
2 tbspns tomato paste
400g tin chick peas, thoroughly rinsed
Salt to taste
Generous bunch of fresh coriander, finely chopped

Heat the ghee or oil in a large pan till very hot then add the seeds which will pop furiously. When they calm down lower the heat and add the onion. Stir frequently and cook for about ten minutes till the onion is transparent. Add ginger, garlic, curry leaves and chillies and stir, cooking for a few minutes before adding the ground spices and continuing to cook for another 3 or 4 minutes. When everything is well combined and fragrant add the diced aubergine and coat well. Cook on a medium heat for 15 minutes then add tomatoes, tomato paste and chick peas. Stir well and season with salt then bring the pan to a simmer. Cover with a lid and lower the heat to a gentle flame. Allow the curry to simmer for 45 minutes then stir through the chopped coriander and serve with hot rice.

A quite splendid meal.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Salad of Fennel and Peas

Fennel is an ancient herb, much recorded in historical documents. It is a hardy perennial, topped with bright golden flowers. A really beautiful plant to have in the garden, its feathery leaves add structure without appearing to take up any space. Magic.

William Coles, in Nature's Paradise (1650) affirms that -
'both the seeds, leaves and root of ourGarden Fennel are much used in drinks and broths for those that are grown fat, to abate their unwieldiness and cause them to grow more gaunt and lank.'

Culpepper says:
'One good old custom is not yet left off, viz., to boil fennel with fish, for it consumes the phlegmatic humour which fish most plentifully afford and annoy the body with, though few that use it know wherefore they do it. It benefits this way, because it is a herb of Mercury, and under Virgo, and therefore bears antipathy to Pisces. Fennel expels wind, provokes urine, and eases the pains of the stone, and helps to break it. The leaves or seed boiled in barley water and drunk, are good for nurses, to increase their milk and make it more wholesome for the child. The leaves, or rather the seeds, boiled in water, stayeth the hiccup and taketh away nausea or inclination to sickness. The seed and the roots much more help to open obstructions of the liver, spleen, and gall, and thereby relieve the painful and windy swellings of the spleen, and the yellow jaundice, as also the gout and cramp. The seed is of good use in medicines for shortness of breath and wheezing, by stoppings of the lungs. The roots are of most use in physic, drinks and broths, that are taken to cleanse the blood, to open obstructions of the liver, to provoke urine, and amend the ill colour of the face after sickness, and to cause a good habit through the body; both leaves, seeds, and roots thereof, are much used in drink, or broth, to make people more lean that are too fat. A decoction of the leaves and root is good for serpent bites, and to neutralize vegetable poison, as mushrooms, etc.'

According to Mrs M. Grieve's A Modern Herbal it grows wild in most parts of temperate Europe, but is generally considered indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean, whence it spreads eastwards to India. It has followed civilization, especially where Italians have colonized, and may be found growing wild in many parts of the world upon dry soils near the sea-coast and upon river-banks. It flourishes particularly on limestone soils and is now naturalized in some parts of this country, being found from North Wales southward and eastward to Kent, being most frequent in Devon and Cornwall and on chalk cliffs near the sea. It is often found in chalky districts inland in a semi-wild state.

And that ties it in to this recipe, which is from Frances Bissell's Country Kitchen, a book she wrote after she made a television series in Cornwall in 1995. She is passionate about quality and flavour and also maintaining traditions in food culture. She recommends using fresh peas - I would too if I grew them, but I do find frozen ones to be a fine substitute.
Salad of Peas, Fennel and Mint
450g/1lb peas, fresh if possible
1 large fennel bulb

For the Dressing
2-4 sprigs of fresh mint
1/4 tspn coarse sea salt
4 tbspns walnut, hazelnut or olive oil
1 tbspn cider vinegar
1 tspn clear honey
freshly ground black pepper

To make the dressing, strip the leaves off the mint and put them into a mortar with the salt. Grind to a paste. Mix together the rest of the ingredients and then gradually add the liquid to the mint till you have a pale green cream.
Boil the peas - for 2 minutes if fresh, for 8-9 minutes if frozen. Drain and refresh under cold water. Put into a bowl with the dressing. Trim the fennel and slice very thinly. Add to the bowl and stir gently so that all the ingredients are well coated before serving.
A lovely spring salad.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Roasted Asparagus, Tomato and Haloumi

A true indicator of spring having irrevocably arrived is the mountains of english asparagus on the vegetable stalls at Borough. I find the fat green fingers irresistable for their promise of sunny days and the lovely flavour they deliver on the plate. Simple is best and most often we eat asparagus after nothing more than a gentle steaming and a dollop of butter - or with a fried duck egg if we are being fancy.

The restaurant where we ate en famille for my mother's birthday have an asparagus dish on the menu that my mother recommended most highly as she had started her meal with it the last time she had dined at The Lagoon. The asparagus was roasted and served with grilled haloumi and looked very pretty on the plate. Tempted to follow this example I wanted it to be a little more substantial to have it as a supper dish. So I bought lots of asparagus, thick stalks to give a greater ratio of flesh to skin, and some deep red plum tomatoes. Roasting tomatoes first creates the juice to roast the asparagus and both are wonderfully sweetened by the time in the oven. Grill the haloumi and its salty tang provides a good contrast. Served with crusty bread it was a seriously good repast.

Roasted Asparagus, Tomato and Haloumi
500g/1lb asparagus
8 ripe plum tomatoes
250g/1/2lb haloumi
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled and crushed
A few sprigs of thyme
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to a low sided baking tray and scatter the garlic and thyme. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthways and add to the pan. Roast in a moderate oven - gas 4 - for 15 minutes. Snap the base off the asparagus spears and discard, unless you have a pan of stock to be made. Add the tender spears to the tomatoes and mix gently to combine. Add a little more oil if necessary then season with salt and pepper. Roast for a further 10-15 minutes till the spears are tender. Meanwhile slice and grill the haloumi till it catches slightly on the edges. Serve the tomato/asparagus melange onto warmed plates, top with haloumi and drizzle with the juices from the pan.

Serve with lots of crusty bread and follow with a little cheese for a complete supper. Perfect.

And this week ... I bought

I've been away to Australia to celebrate my mother's birthday where the seafood was fabulous and the sun shone every day. And now I am back finally to the dull grey light of London - supposedly late spring early summer but more like a protacted autumn. Rain and wind for the weekend.

Whatever is going on with the climate the stalls at Borough are laden with wonderful things that bring joy to your heart and great food to your table. There is still masses of stuff in our freezer so my mission is to use it as the starting point and work around it. Going to Borough and not buying any meat is something of a novel experience.

Started at Total Organics for a zingy orange and fennel juice - £3 - then bought baby plum tomatoes for my lunches as the man dislikes fresh tomato though is happy enough to eat them cooked - and a large tomato from Isle of Wight grilled with pork chops Friday night - £4.25

Had a chat with Vaheed now back running his olive stall till he can replace Marie - which may take longer than he realises! then bought a lovely chunk of aged Pecorino - snack with a glass of wine and a cheese snadwich for the man as the original plan for pasta didn't happen - from the pretty boys at the Gastronomica stall - a bargain £6

Chegworth Valley have moved to a new permanent site to where Ginger Pig used to have their stall - much bigger space and easier to navigate. Bought 2 punnets of sweet scented strawberries for lipstick pink smoothies proving that whatever the weather good times are on the way - £2.50

Bought loads of fruit and veg at Booths - rhubarb - breakfasts, bananas - smoothies and lunchboxes, ratte potatoes - salad, asparagus - roasted with tomatoes and haloumi, sugar snaps - lunches, leeks, aubergines - curry, onions, Italian plum tomatoes - roasted with asparagus, coriander - stuffing for lamb, parsley - with garlic and chilli on pasta, fennel - salad with peas and mint, broad beans - once podded sadly not special enough to do anything with, a rare instance of something hitting the bin before it was cooked - a proper selection of fine seasonal produce - £19

Chocolates from Maison du Chocolat - a small indulgence to ward off the chill from the rain -£3

Pork pie because I fancied one with potato salad for lunch - £4.90

Bread - with supper Saturday and milk and yoghurt - smoothies - from Neal's Yard - £7.90

Herbs from the plant stall - sage, thyme and two rosemary plants in the hope that one will thrive - somehow I am always unsuccessful with this most hardy of herbs - £10

An almond croissant from Flour Power because they are very good - £2

A grand total of £62.55