Thursday, January 30, 2014

I Wanted ... I Bought ... I Made

Without doubt the achievement of the week - I actually cleaned out the whole freezer, discarded all those little unlabelled packages that seriously could be illegal body parts they were so random, chipped out the ice from the icetray water overspill and washed all drawers and shelves. My freezer is now a thing of beauty - to me at least - with a couple of  meals already to eat and a finite amount to use up before I revert to my old ways.

Next week may well be time to clear the pantry drawers. Or maybe not.

I have half a jar of piquillo peppers and they are the defining ingredient for Friday. I will get some chorizo from Brindisa and some rocket and ciabatta and we will have a home made version of the famed Brindisa chorizo roll for dinner. Yum.

We are away for the weekend, after hot porridge for breakfast! so I think a simple wild mushroom risotto - there is stock in the freezer and some shredded chicken will be a simple and welcome supper Sunday night. Weekend was lovely but couldn't be doing with the faff of cooking when we got back so a tin of French confit goose, sausage and beans was warmed in the oven with a sprinkle of panko crumbs for the full cassoulet experience. Most fine it was too!

Monday we are seeing Happy Days at the Young Vic.The man was under the weather so the tickets were returned and we attempted dinner at the Canton. Sadly the menu was a choice of chopped goat vindaloo or cauliflower cheese with cornichon. Disappointed we returned home for a quick pasta of rocket, chilli and pine nuts, not bad. 

Tuesday I think lamb curry with a tub of spiced stock from the freezer will be good with rice and ginger raita. I had made leek and potato soup from carcasses I made into stock which I then divvied up into tubs and stuck it in the freezer, thereby using more space than the original chicken bones.

But I think it is a sign of progress that I actually defrosted one and we had it Tuesday night, after salami and olives to start and cheese and crackers to round out the meal. Very fine.

 Wednesday oat 'risotto' with spinach and bacon - hock stock, bacon, freezer. Actually made a huge batch of lamb curry Tuesday and - again - put most of it into tubs for the freezer and cooked one lot with rice from the freezer alongside a cucumber raita and red onion sambal and it was divine.

Thursday cassoulet - from a tin in the cupboard we brought back from France last trip just to vary the freezer theme! This was Sunday's dinner so Thursday becomes not oat but pearled spelt *risotto* with spinach and bacon. and it was glorious

Shopping for the week started at Borough Friday with milk and yoghurt from Neals Yard was £3.95, chorizo from Brindisa at £11.90 is a lot but most of it is in - you guessed it the freezer!, Bought olives from Turkey - luscious kuru sele for £3 and chocolates and misshapes from Artisan a bargain at £5.50. £5 bought me a plain stick and a ciabatta from Bread Ahead - who are advertising for staff, not surprising really as the 2 guys they have currently seem to have a private competition going to see who can sell the least bread in a day. Two soft cheeses s gifts for the man's parents and some truffle mortadella with a spur of the moment purchase of a jar of basil also for the man's folks at Gastronomica was £13.50. Another cheese for us £5.50

Early in the new week a trip to Brixton Market got me diced lamb for curry - £16.90 but it will make 4 meals over the next month or two. Lots of fruit and veg for juicing, plus spinach for risotto, cucumber and onions for curry side dishes, rocket for pasta was another tenner. Not a bad week really but no eggs or coffee and not many lunches made either!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Leek & Potato Soup

The mission of late has been clearing the freezer, which is harder than it should be. I am a great one for putting something in without having an actual plan for taking it out again and so most things never again see the light of day. I confess my starting point every week for menu plan is definitely more oooh, I know what I fancy  and I go from there, seldom thinking hmm, I have x or y so I shall make this or that and it will be lovely. I don't lack the skill so much as the inclination.

I've done okay with it, using some of the big and obvious things and then found a couple of chicken carcasses that I froze for stock which never happened.  So I dragged them all out, tossed them in a pot with the usual aromatic suspects and simmered me up a fine pot of flavoured broth. Thoroughly brilliant to this point, I feel. Trouble is I had no immediate use for three and a half litres of chicken stock Decanted to clean milk cartons it simply used more space than the original bones. Hmmm.

Ooooh, I thought, winter cries out for soup and good soup needs good stock so I shall simply perform a little alchemy and make me some soup. Even had some (frozen) cream that needed using. I quite fancied something simple and soothing, using winter veg. I toyed with the idea of broccoli but went off it before I got any further and regretfully rejected cauliflower because I'd had a couple of cauliflower things recently. Had almost decided on curried parsnip when I read about leeks and their lush versatility. Decided on leek and potato soup, something I've not made for years.

Step one, I confess, was putting a couple of litres of stock in the freezer, but with luck it will be risotto or similar within the month. Step two was to take myself off to Brixton Market for some lovely fat leeks and a few potatoes. When I've made it previously I always stir chopped veg through a little melted butter then add stock and simmer for an hour or so till everything is softly approaching mush then blend it till smoothish and add cream or cheese. I like it for its almost generic gentleness but I must confess I'd be hard pressed, if blindfolded, to identify the actual soup. Which is a shame given leeks ability to add a complexity of flavour to the soothing blanket that is pureed potato. Thinking it through I decided it was probably the lengthy simmer that was doing me no favours.

I started at the same point as always, melting butter and coating roughly chopped potato and leek but, instead of adding the stock and leaving it I turned the heat low and covered the veg with a circle of greaseproof paper before putting on the lid. The vegetables steamed gently for about 15 minutes till they'd softened but, crucially, still retained all their lovely flavour. Once the stock was added and simmering it was only five minutes or so to finish the cooking. Quick blitz, stirred in the cream and soup was done, a gorgeous textured liquid tasting wonderfully of leeks. Not just faster, better!

Leek & Potato Soup

I confess this makes a lot of soup, but it freezes well! And indeed that's where some of mine ended up...

50g butter
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
7 or 8 large leeks - about 2cm in diameter - washed and cut into 1 cm rings, both white and green
1kg floury potatoes, washed but no need to peel, diced into 1cm cubes
1.5 litres of chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
About a quarter of a nutmeg, finely grated
250ml cream
1 egg per serving - optional

Melt the butter in a large pan and add the garlic, leeks and potato. Stir to coat well then cover the vegetables with a circle of greaseproof paper then put the lid on the pan and turn the heat to very low.  Leave the vegetables to simmer for about 15 minutes until just tender. Discard the paper and add the stock, increasing the heat to medium. When it comes to the boil, season and then turn the heat down and simmer for five minutes. Take the soup off the heat and puree either with an immersion stick or blender till smooth. Add the grated nutmeg and cream and stir through till well combined.

At the Canton the other night I noticed they had leek and potato soup on the menu, with a poached duck egg added. Could not resist trying that. The yolk added a golden richness to the soup, quite a delight on a cold winter night.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Blackeye Bean Salsa

Blackeye beans, sometimes called peas, indeed sometimes called cow peas, also known as frijoles castilla in Spain, haricot cornille in France, find them as schwarze-augen-bohnen in Germany, zwartoogbonen in Holland while the Italians call them fagioli con l'occhio nero. They are a fabby little dried bean, very cheap to buy, and they have the most wonderful smell of fresh peas when you open the packet. They need to be soaked overnight before cooking but they don't disappoint. They swell to about twice their size and, once cooked, still have a lovely taste of fresh peas and a lighter texture than their more popular shelf mates like chick peas and cannelini beans. Yet, in the UK at least, they are not much loved or used.

A little while before Christmas my sister came to visit after spending a week at a cookery school in Portugal. Eager to share some of the lovely dishes she had learnt she offered to cook dinner one night - that idea got a big yes from me.

She created an amazing feast including, memorably, marinated pork fillet with migas and chorizo topped with fresh oranges and lemon, a gorgeous soup with spinach and fresh cheese and a sublime salad of tuna with blackeye beans. My small contribution - it was the man that had to clear up the bombsite that was the kitchen post supper ! - was to soak and cook some dried blackeye beans. Unsure how much would be needed I did a serious quantity and found there were many left. Popped them in the freezer for another day.

And now I am on a mission to clear the freezer - in part because it needs defrosting and in part because it is the frozen version of the cupboard under the stairs. Stuff goes in and never comes out! I have been good - see last week - but it is something I found remarkably difficult to do. My preference is always to start with a plan and then shop from there, and this requires me to see what's there and then make a plan. Challenging! I also have pork chops in the freezer - still ^o^ - and had been thinking the beans would make a good salad to go with them for a quick midweek meal. Just not really sure what kind of salad.

I googled idly and rejected most things I found till  simply recipes came up - a really interesting food blog I'd not come across. Elise made a salsa using beans which sounded most fine. I didn't have cooked green chillies or roasted poblanos, it's true but I was much taken with the principle of mixing different types of chillies / peppers as a base of many textures and variegating the flavour with coriander and onion. What I did have was a lovely bunch of dried oregano that my sister had brought from Portugal and it was the inclusion of a teaspoon in the dressing that really sold me on this recipe. I used (some of) the varieties of peppers I had to hand and was seriously delighted with the result. Great with sausages and roasted onion and green bean salad as wll as in lunchboxes, this was a proper winter treat but I imagine too it would make a great salad with barbecue. Bring on the sunshine!

Blackeye Bean Salsa

Best made an hour or so before eating it keeps really well for a few days in the fridge

About 4 cups of cooked blackeye beans/peas or 2 400g tins, drained and well rinsed
4 or 5 small hot pickled peppers, I used some I brought back from Hungary that are pretty to look at and HOT to eat
4 or 5 roasted peppers - I used some from a jar of roasted piquillo peppersbut you could as well roast your own from fresh
1 large fresh red pepper or a dozen or so tiny ones
1 bunch of spring onions
1 bunch of coriander, thoroughly washed

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Large pinch of ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

Put the beans into a large bowl. Chop the pickled hot peppers very finely and add to the bowl. Deseed and chop the roasted peppers into 2cm squares and add to the bowl. Deseed the fresh pepper/s and chop to roughly the size of the beans and add to the bowl. Cut the spring onions into thinnish rings, white and green parts, and - you guessed it - add to the bowl. Strip the leaves from the coriander stalks but do keep the fine stalks. Chop roughly and add to the bowl. Put all the ingredients for the dressing into a screwtop jar and shake vigourously till emulsified. Tip over the bowl of bits and toss well.

Leave for an hour or so to develop the flavours.

This Week I Wanted, I Bought, I Made

Feel I did okay on the starting to use stuff whilst actually still having some new and interesting food last week, though many things didn't quite materialise. Undeterred I have a plan for the week, actually using some of the leftover plan from last week!

Friday night I think cold collation with little olive choux buns. Ha! How about cold collation with fresh crusty bread from the market? Was good but the bread was much better as toast next morning.

Saturday the man is working so will continue the freezer theme and have pheasant braised with celery and mash for a tasty end to his day. Really good dinner, the pheasant sauce is finished with cream - from the freezer - and egg yolk for a sumptuous sauce. 

Potatoes are heritage ones from Oval market, and purply blue all the way through. Looked *interesting* tasted great. Sunday I really fancy lasagne - I have a tub of white sauce, a block of Pecorino and some beef mince in the freezer and tomatoes and pasta in the cupboard. Served with a big green salad, think it will be lovely for lunches too.

Thoroughly yum.

Monday I fancy soup, probably broccoli and sesame which I've been wondering about for a little while. This is where it started to fall apart - managed to develop a full on head cold that somehow is not going anywhere. So, luckily, there was lasagne already made, and a fine tea it was.

Tuesday omelette and salad, went for the blackeye bean salsa - so glad I did, it was really good - with roasted onion and green bean salad and some tasty Ginger Pig sausages.

Wednesday I'll use the tub of spiced lamb stock from the freezer to make curry with rice and spinach raita. Met up with the lovely niece of the man for a fine dinner at A Wong - go there if you can. Thursday I'm out so the man can have more curry, it's a good one to eat again. Still feeling bleeeuuugh! so soup it is, rocket and potato from a lovely recipe by Anna del Conte.

Went to Borough with a reasonably short list of things to buy. Only needed eggs from Ginger Pig, at £1.50 it's the least I have ever spent there! Milk @ £1.55 from Neals Yard, another lowest spend I think. Gastronomica has reorganised the layout - sort of easier to find lovely things - so bought Napoli salami and it was simply wonderful, when the man and I first met we used to have Napoli sandwiches on Saturday for lunch and the first mouthful reminded me so much of that happy time. Also bought some coppa, and a big slice of a cow/goat/sheep milk mix from a large round, made by the same producers who make the gorgeous rocchetta and La Tur. Cost £13 all together. Then to find bread - there is a newish baker that is actually based in the market and they sell from a stall Thursday - Saturday. Bought a big white tin loaf that was slightly disappointing fresh but seriously good toasted. £3, not a bad price. Went to the parma ham and mozzarella shop and they now sell a couple of other hams as well so had 100g of a cooked ham with fresh herbs, lovely in a sandwich for lunch £4. Finished the shop with rocket, sugarsnaps and celery from the fruit stall at the front that is neither Chegworths or Ted's Veg but is very good, and supplied by Tony Booth, a recommendation, surely. Was £3 though wish it was more versatile.
Great packaging, no?
Through the week bought more milk and needed onions and garlic, sausages for Tuesday night, green beans and veg to juice.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Bun Noodles with Lemongrass Chicken Topping

I have been frequenting Vietnamese restaurants for many years, always with a great deal of pleasure. I can clearly remember the very first one - a tiny place in Glebe in Sydney in the early 1980's (yes I am that old!). I had never tasted anything like their chicken that had been marinated in honey and lemongrass, indeed I didn't even know what lemongrass was. It was such a great combination of flavours made sticky and smoky with chargrilling and served with noodles thinner than I'd ever seen topped with mint and coriander. A total WOW of a dish. Somehow they made huge flavours presented with an extraordinary delicacy. I was gobsmacked.

I visited this restaurant a few more times before I left Oz, always delighted by whatever I chose but completely unable to understand how this magic came to be. Over the years I have become a much better cook, gaining inspiration from far and wide with a serious penchant for Asian food. Indeed the book I have used most over the decades is Charmaine Solomon's Complete Asian Cookbook, but somehow I've never gone much past the chrystal spring rolls and the little deep fried parcels in the Vietnamese section, despite loving their lightness and genius use of fresh herbs and hot sweet chilli sauce.

I recently ought a copy of New Flavours of the Vietnamese Table by Mai Pham partly because I was tempted by the idea of cooking a bit more Viet food and partly because Fuchsia Dunlop, whose Szchewan food is thoroughly brilliant and has taught me so much, endorses it wholeheartedly on the cover. In truth I was hoping to learn something with this book about what underlies the cuisine rather than just have a couple of new recipes in the repertoire. Delighted to say that has happened quite comprehensively.

I had a little bit of very rare chargrilled steak leftover and I decided to make noodle salad. Browsing the book I came across bun - rice noodles with fresh herbs - which Mai Pham describes as the one dish that exemplifies just how flavours and textures are contrasted in Vietnamese cuisine.

To start, you shred lettuce and herbs, beansprouts and cucumber and mix them, without any dressing or oil or seasoning, and add them to the bottom of a noodle bowl. Cooked, cooled thin rice vermicelli is put on top. As I followed that instruction it came back to me the number of times I have ordered bun in restaurants and been confused and disappointed by the odd dry salad beneath a tangle of noodles that somehow never worked and yet is on every Vietnamese menu I've ever seen. I kept going though, and I am so glad. She describes how to create a complete bun meal, by making a hot topping for this then - and here is the the magic that transforms the dish - you make and add a series of garnishes and gently toss the whole lot together to make a most fabulous meal. I was so thrilled with the result I made bun again the following night, topping it with lemongrass chicken and again, it was bliss.

Bun with Lemongrass Chicken

The first time you make it unfamiliarity makes it seems like a faff, but in truth it is not really very complex and the result is effort rewarded a thousand times over

Serves 2

For the noodles
150g thin dried rice vermicelli
50g red or green leaf lettuce, shredded into centimetre wide strips
A handful of fresh bean sprouts, topped and tailed
About a quarter of a long cucumber, peeled, deseeded and cut into matchstick strips
2 tablespoons Asian basil leaves, cut into thirds
2 tablespoons of perilla leaves, fresh mint or coriander, roughly chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add the rice vermicelli and stir gently to loosen them. Cook for about 4 minutes until the noodles are white and soft but still slightly resilient. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Gently fluff the noodles and set them aside for at least thirty minutes. The noodles should be dry and sticky before serving.

Gently toss together the lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber and herbs and divide the mixture between 2 bowls. Top each with half of the noodles. The bowls are now ready for the topping.

For the garnish
Spring onion oil
60 ml vegetable oil
5 spring onions, green parts only, cut into thin rings

Heat the vegetable oil in a small pan over a moderat heat. Add the spring onions and stir for 10 seconds. Immediately remove from the heat and transfer the oil with the spring onions to a small bowl. Place in the fridge for 10 minutes - this helps the spring onions stay green. Remove and set aside at room temperature till ready to serve. This sauce will keep for a couple of weeks in a sealed jar in the fridge.

Toasted Peanuts
3 tablespoons raw shelled peanuts, skins removed

Heat a pan over a medium heat, add the peanuts and stir for a few minutes till the peanuts are fragrant and starting to colour. Tip them into a mortar and pestle them lightly till they're roughly crushed.

Nuoc Cham - Dipping Sauce
2 Thai bird's eye chillies
1 garlic clove, sliced
3 tablespoons sugar
170ml warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
5 tablespoons fish sauce

Cut the chillies into thin rings and put them into a mortar with the garlic and sugar and pound into a coarse wet paste. Transfer to a small bowl and add the water, lime juice and fish sauce and stir well to dissolve. Garnish with more chopped chilli and shredded carrot if desired.

For the topping
1 large chicken breast, skinned and thinly sliced
1 stalk lemon grass, sliced into very thin circles
1 thumb sized knob of ginger, peeled. Cut half into very thin dice and shred the other half into thin matchsticks
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
Half red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fish sauce
Juice of half a lime

Mix the sliced chicken with the lemon grass and the thin ginger dice and set aside for 30 minutes to marinate. heat the oil in a wok and add the garlic, ginger shreds and red onion and stir fry for about 30 seconds. Add the chicken and toss over a high heat till it has cooked and turned white. Add the fish sauce and lime juice and toss to combine.

To serve, divide the chicken topping between the prepared noodle bowls. Garnsih each with half a tablepsoon of Spring Onion Oil, 1 tablespoon of peanuts and about 60ml of dipping sauce. Toss several times before eating.

Devour with the most enormous pleasure!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

This Week... I Wanted, I Bought, I Made

And truth be told probably found it in the freezer or the drawer in need of using up. New Year, isn't it, and I really do need to clear the stockpile of  lovely bits and pieces, so for the next month at least they are my starting point. I am determined to be good.

So, Friday we shall have grilled pork chops (freezer) with mash and carrots and peas, a meal I really lovely for its simplicity and how gorgeous it is on the plate and in my mouth. Already this plan has gone to pot! Woke early with jetlag and changed my mind to Viet beef and noodles for Friday supper. Went to the market and Ginger Pig had sirloin on the bone for £8 each - as I asked for a slice of rump for noodles they offered me these instead - with the offer of cutting me rump if I really wanted some. Didn't! So I had nothing for dinner - remembered bacon and peas in the freezer so it was pasta - using tiny little ditali from the cupboard so very quick - with bacon, onions and peas with a little creme fraiche.

Saturday we may start the day with porridge as the man and I have been to Oz where the sun shines practically daily so our blood is warm and our bodies are surprised to find themselves back in the dark dank winter chill of  London. Off to Suffolk for the weekend, there was a change of plans so breakfast was toast from a loaf from the freezer and dinner will be the fabulous steaks with a simple salad. Still thinking dal - lentils in the cupboard - and rice with roasted spiced cauliflower when we get back Sunday night, as it's an easy thing to put together and works a treat cold for lunch. Even without going away it was a good idea, specially with the pretty purple rimmed  heritage carrots in lunchboxes.

Monday we're at the Royal Court to see the Beckett trilogy, so dinner out somewhere. Tuesday we shall have a Vietnamese style vegetable curry - I have tofu sheets in the cupboard and an open book on fresh veg as the fridge is post holiday bare. Actually had a little of the steak left from Saturday so made Viet herbed noodles topped with stir fried steak and it was gorgeous. I really enjoyed making this salad, actually called bun in Vietnam which I do find slightly confusing. The salad is a mix of shredded lettuce with sprouts and cucumber and herbs that goes into the bottom of the bowls undressed - no jokes please about naked buns!. The cooked fine rice noodles go on top and then the stirfried meat goes in on top of  that. I made a couple of little bowls of condiments which is what really made the meal - spring onion oil, toasted crushed peanuts and a bowl of nuoc cham, a hot/sweet/sour chilli sauce. Once all three were added you toss the whole lot together and it was amazing. Also made me realise what I should have been doing in Vietnamese restaurants when I've always felt slightly disappointed to be presented with this.

Wednesday omelette with black eye bean salsa - got a bag of beans already cooked and frozen. Bun was so good last night defrosted a chicken breast and cooked it with ginger and lemon grass and made the noodles again to use up the herbs and beansprouts I'd bought for last night, 

 Thursday I really fancy spaghetti with a simple tomato sauce with lots of Parmesan and a big salad. Instead it is vegetable curry to use the other half of the cauliflower and the last of the beansprouts and a tin of coconut milk from the cupboard.

At the market I bought coffee from Monmouth - £12.50 then went to Ginger Pig and bought the steaks and some eggs - £17.50. At L'Artisan du Chocolat I bought a bag of misshapes for the man £2.50 and, after asking a guide where to find them bought olives from the recently moved Fresh Olive stand £3.50. At Gastronomica I bought a lovely piece of Pecorino £9.20 - while I was being served a woman came and asked to try the provolone, I was amazed to see her simply stuff it in her mouth as she walked away without so much as a thank you. Milk and yoghurt at Neals Yard - £5.05 and I was done, except for the hot chorizo roll from Brindisa - a delight at £4.95

Bought more in the week, creme fraiche for the pasta at the Lidl newly opened round the corner. Lettuce and carrots from Oval farmers market, and cauliflower from Brixton farmers market as well as spinach and coriander, cucumber, lemons and limes, passionfruit, clementines, ginger, chillies, lemongrass, beansprouts and Thai basil from Brixton market.

Thursday I got a new vegetable juicer, possibly a mad notion given how difficult it is to buy decent veg but I've been hankering for juice lately. So went to Brixton again and bought beetroot, carrots, peppers, apples and more ginger, theplan being to have juice every evening when the man returns from hunting and gathering instead of beer. We'll see how that goes!

I made as well a chocolate mud cake from a recipe in the Graun only because, you understand, I had salted butter and lots of chocolate in the fridge. I used passionfruit instead of limes and it was gorgeous to eat and a big hit when the man took it into work. Think he may regret sharing so generously.