Tuesday, 30 October 2012

When one is left at home on one's own: Chicken, mushroom and vegetable fried rice

Unfortunately the other half is languishing in hospital with a broken ankle (and I mean languishing - a private room, TV, breakfast in bed... he won't want to come home) but alas, a hungry little giraffe still demands to be fed. I find this slightly unsympathetic - after all, the other half is at this moment being operated upon - but at least it gives me something else to concentrate on.

I stopped short at actually going out to buy ingredients though, so here's a lovely quick lunch or worknight dinner recipe that's easy to make with stuff lurking in the fridge. You can substitute any of the vegetables for whatever you have - or use frozen peas, sweetcorn or prawns. It also proves how rubbish I am at cooking for one (only George fancied eating... I'd got so hungry I'd scoffed two scotch eggs an hour before) but as per usual the leftovers will be rather helpful for lunch at work tomorrow.

Chicken, mushroom & vegetable fried rice

Hooves aren't really designed for chopsticks but George had a go anyway

1. Cook some long grain or basmati rice. The general rule is to use twice as much water as rice, and it should be completely done in 10 minutes on a medium heat without having to strain the water out at the end. However, this only works about once in 10 tries for me, so good luck...
2. In the meantime, fry off a chopped shallot, half a chopped clove of garlic and a diced carrot in some groundnut (or vegetable) oil. 
3. Add a teaspoon of miso paste and stir in before adding some chunks of chicken (I chopped up one chicken breast into bite-sized pieces).
4. When the chicken has browned (this should only take a minute or two) add some chopped sugar snap peas and mushrooms and a teaspoon of mirin. 
5. Fry until the chicken is just cooked (should only take 3 or 4 minutes, don't be tempted to give in to the old wives' tales and cremate it cos then it goes horribly chewy), and add the rice and a generous splash of light soy sauce.
6. After mixing in the rice and frying for a minute, add an egg and stir in. 
7. Cook for another 3 minutes before stirring in chopped coriander and serving. 

You never know, if the other half gets home tomorrow he might even get to taste some. George won't admit it, but he misses him really...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Never go shopping when hungry: Baked garam masala seabream with vegetable pilau rice

The other half and I made the fatal error at the weekend of going to Sainsburys when we were hungry. It's something I'm sure that major supermarkets have missed out of their marketing plans, as we always seem to spend twice as much when we're hungry than when we've just eaten.

One counter we can never seem to resist, hungry or not, is the fresh fish. There's something amazingly edible about the array of shiny seafood just waiting to be cooked and eaten. I don't normally like messing around with fish, especially whole ones, as I believe they really are best simply cooked with lots of seasoning. However, as we'd given in and picked up two delicious looking seabream (two for £7 - bargain!) I decided last night to do something a little different.

Firstly, though, let me introduce you to Eric. I'm sorry for those of you who are a little squeamish about such things that I keep naming my food, but whilst I was wiggling this one around the kitchen ("swimmy swimmy swimmy fishy!" Doesn't everyone do that? No?... ah, ok...) I noticed that he bore a startling resemblance to a certain famous French footballer-turned-actor.

Eric hoped the monobrow stare would save him from the oven

Baked garam masala seabream with vegetable pilau rice

I love making my own pilau rice. Although I very much doubt this is particularly authentic (I've probably committed a cardinal sin akin to putting jam on a scone before cream... or is it the other way round...?!) it tastes really fresh and is a great accompaniment to fish.

1. Melt some oil or ghee in a hot non-stick pan with a thick bottom, and add a teaspoon of each of the following: fenugreek seeks, coriander seeds and cumin seeds for a minute, until the seeds start popping.
2. Add a finely chopped onion, 2 diced carrots, a chopped chili and a clove of chopped garlic and fry for 5 minutes, taking care not to burn the garlic.
3. Add a teaspoon of garam masala and two chopped tomatoes to the mix before pouring in basmati rice - with this recipe I made enough for 4 side-servings (perfect take-to-work-for-lunch leftovers!)
4. Add a few strands of saffron or a teaspoon of tumeric, and enough vegetable stock to cover the rice plus a centemetre on top
5. Turn the heat down to very low, put a lid on the pan and cook for 25 minutes.

When the rice has finished it should have absorbed all the water, and if you use a non-stick pan and put it on the lowest heat possible, you shouldn't have any stuck to the bottom. Rice is a funny thing though and it's not that easy to get perfect (I rarely do) so it's a good idea to check half-way through to see if it's gone bone dry - and if so, add some more water. Try not to add so much water that you have to drain it at the end, but if you do it's not a disaster - it just tends to lose a little of the flavour, in my view.

In the meantime, clean out your fish if the fishmonger hasn't already done so, season generously with salt and pepper, and rub garam masala into the skin of the fish. Drizzle with olive oil, wrap in foil and bake in the oven for 25 minutes at around 200c.

Before serving, rescue the cardamom pods from the rice as they are definitely not edible. I served mine with some chopped iceberg lettuce and lemon - I know it's a bit 70s but it's the only time I actually love iceberg, as the crispness of the lettuce and sharpness of the lemon compliments the heady coriander, fenugreek and garam masala flavours.

I reckon Eric wouldn't have minded too much...

Saturday, 20 October 2012

I called him Jack: Oxtail and Dorset Naga Chili stew

One of the spoils I managed to snaffle from the amazing butchery course I went on last week was a whole oxtail. When the instructor handed it to me, I gave it a little swing and announced my decision to call him Jack. Bearing in mind it was only me and four guys on the course, I think they ended the session convinced I had been let out for the afternoon and my carer had somehow escaped. Ah well, they weren't far wrong. 

Learning how to slice the oxtail up was one thing (you have to find where the 'knuckle' is and they're not easy to spot) but cooking it was another. I'd never cooked oxtail before, and the only thing I knew was that if we wanted to eat before midnight I'd probably better wait for the weekend.

However, fate stepped in and gave me a stinking cold, so I decided to stay at home rather than generously give it to all my colleagues, and out came half of Jack the Oxtail from the freezer. After he had thoroughly defrosted, in he went with a couple of sliced Dorset Naga chilis to marinate. I still have a drawer full of these extremely hot (hotter than Scotch Bonnet) chilis in the fridge, as I got very excited about the Sea Springs Farm chili stall at the RHS Autumn Harvest Festival a couple of weeks ago, and bought two bags full of them. 

George started worrying about his tummy...

Oxtail and Dorset Naga chili stew

After marinating Jack for an hour in the Naga chilis and some black pepper, I fried up a big sliced onion in olive oil in a casserole pan, and added a big shake of cumin, 3 chopped cloves of garlic, the chopped chilis, some chunky sliced carrots, potatoes and mushrooms, followed by the oxtail, half a tin of flagolet beans (leftover in the fridge otherwise I probably wouldn't have bothered), half a bottle of red wine, a tin of chopped tomatoes, loads of seasoning, two bay leaves and a litre of hot water. I brought it to the boil and chucked it in the oven for 4 hours, then finished off with some fresh spinach at the end. 

We have now learnt that just because Dorset Naga chilis are grown in England does not mean they are any less hot than their equivalents grown in more equatorial climates, and I drank an entire pint of milk after finishing dinner. However, I can tell you that they gave the dish the most beautiful woody flavour. As for the oxtail? Well, it was so good that we ended up picking up the bones to try and scrape the tiniest last bits of meat off them... so we're rather glad that Jack has more to give. God bless whoever invented the freezer. Oxtail curry, anyone?

Friday, 19 October 2012

Best 'leaving work' pressie ever: Butchery course at Allens of Mayfair

Around this time last year, when I left the lovely folk at Cruse Bereavement Care to explore pastures new, they had a whip round and bought me a voucher for a butchery class at Allens of Mayfair, which is in... well, Mayfair.

I know that a few of my colleagues there thought it was the weirdest idea they'd ever heard of, but luckily the fantastic Caroline persuaded them that it would be a great pressie for me. I was a happy bunny, and here's a little picture to prove it.

Anyway, imagine my embarrassment when about two weeks ago I got a text message from Caroline to say that she'd received a letter saying that I hadn't used my voucher, and that she hoped I'd be able to use it soon before it expired.

Now, I blame George and George blames me, but somewhere during one of three house moves we have achieved during the last year, the voucher went 'missing'. Obviously I couldn't own up to this fact, so I shamefully hid my head and hoped it would turn up. Luckily for me, Caroline is one of those amazingly forgiving persons and hopefully won't mind that I was so horrendously careless... (and I'm going to take her out for at least ten drinks to say thank you and sorry...)

The thankfully happy ending to this story is that when I phoned and explained the situation, Allens couldn't have been more helpful. The class was absolutely incredible, set in their 120-year-old butcher's shop, only five of us, with a great instructor. I learnt butchery skills with lamb, chicken, oxtail and beef, even got to use one of those massive saws (yay!), and took home an incredible amount of the highest quality meat I've ever seen. My freezer is stacked full and we're going to be treated to some lovely dinners for at least the next month.

George was glad there was no giraffe on the menu
In conclusion, the George's Dinner Award for the Most Original Ever Leaving Present and a massive THANK YOU goes to all those lovely people at Cruse Bereavement Care (which, by the way, is a brilliant charity, do have a look at their website - www.cruse.org.uk), and a massive recommendation goes to Allens of Mayfair for a brilliant afternoon.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Crusting it up without breadcrumbs: Rack of lamb with a Moroccan bean crust

After spending the majority of the last five years flicking through various celebrity cookbooks and looking longingly at stuff I can't eat, one gluten-free alternative I have always been desperate to find is how to make a 'crust' on a piece of meat without using breadcrumbs. Online resources suggest polenta as an alternative but I can't eat the stuff without thinking of something unnamed and sloppy dumped on a primary-school plate. Semolina, I think. Well, I'm sure there's plenty out there who love it, but I think it's minging. And so does George. So, nuh-nuh-na-nuh-nuh. 

Avoiding the temptation to regress any further into the playground, I tried to think of something that would stick but keep its shape on the meat, even when carving. Randomly opening kitchen cupboard doors, I spotted a tin of borlotti beans that had snuck its way to the back in hope of being forgotten. Ah ha, I thought, gotcha. A quick trot across the road to the shops found me in the possession of a lovely rack of lamb and a few vegetables, and 45 minutes later, voila! Celebrity chefs, eat your heart out. 

George likes his lamb rare, and yes Mum, that is cooked!

Rack of lamb with a Moroccan bean crust

This recipe is served two hungry people and a small giraffe, so double if cooking for four... 

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180c. 
2. Prepare the lamb, if the butcher hasn't done so already - if the skin has been left on the fatty side, take it off but try to leave as much of the fat on as possible, and strip the meat and fat away from the rib bones. I don't usually bother going in between the bones (I think that's the best bit to eat!) but if you're going for Michelin-star presentation, then that's what one is supposed to do.
3. To make the crust mixture, whizz half a tin of drained beans (borlotti, butter bean, cannelini - doesn't matter, as long as they are already soaked and aren't the Heinz variety) together with a clove of garlic, a small shallot, half a fresh chili, 1 tsp of grated ginger, 1/2 tsp of lemon zest, some cumin, pimenton, paprika and white pepper. Or, cheat and use a tagine paste or ras el hanout spice mix, which is what I would have done had I not known I'd probably blog about it.
4. Brown the lamb on both sides for about 2 mins each side, then rest for 5 minutes.
5. After the lamb has rested, spread thinly with the bean paste (I spread mine too thickly as you can see from the picture - it didn't need that much) and pop in the oven. For rare, cook for 5 mins then take out, cover with foil and rest for another 5 mins. For medium, cook for 10 mins and rest for 5. For cremated, pop down to the local fire station and ask to go with them on their next trip.
6. Cut the lamb into one-rib pieces to serve.

Personally, I think this easily stacks up to a breadcrumbed version - the beans give a really earthy flavour which compliments the lamb, especially in winter. You could also use the same basis for a rocket and watercress crust, one using pesto, a garam-masala version, whatever you fancied. 

I served mine this time with some spicy rice (saute shallots and chili in butter before adding cooked rice and seasoning liberally with paprika and black pepper) and some corn-on-the-cob boiled for 20 mins and smothered in more butter and black pepper.

Next time, George says he wants less of the butter as he's on a diet. I told him where to go. If he wants to go back to eating bug-ridden leaves and drinking water from a communal pond, he's welcome to it...

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A work night fridge meal: Bacon, mushroom & asparagus pot pie

I don't know about you, but my going-home-from-work routine tends to be fairly similar if I have nothing planned for the evening:

6pm: Leave work. Start walking to train station. Try to stop thinking about work
6.15pm: Get on train and realise the strange looks from people around you are because your tummy is grumbling. Start thinking about dinner.
6.15pm: Realise that you can't remember what's in the fridge.
7.15pm: Get off the train at the other end, still trying to remember what's in the fridge
7.20pm: Pass Sainsburys. Do a 'will I, won't I' dance at the front entrance.
7.21pm: Look in wallet. Shake it. Pray. Give up. Decide on the 'won't I' option and walk home...

Now I'm one of those people who finds it really difficult to throw food away, especially vegetables (for this I blame my Dad, whose fridge resembles a tupperware nursing home), so I often end up making pies, stews and curries which disguise the fact that you've cut the brown bits off the cauliflower or taken a machete to sprouting potatoes. On the plus side however this does usually mean there's something vaguely edible in the fridge.

Last night, I found woody asparagus (cut a good two inches off the end and no-one'll know), the inevitable floppy carrot, a leek that had doubled in length since purchase, two massive mushrooms on their own in a plastic tray, some assorted potatoes covered in mud, and a packet of bacon (which I hasten to add I only bought the day before - I wouldn't recommend the 'chop-the-mouldy-bits-off' method with fresh meat...)

Turning up the radio and turning on the oven, this is what I ended up with.

Bacon, mushroom and asparagus pot pie

George wasn't fooled by the 'put potatoes on top
of it and it'll look great whatever' method
Fry a chopped leek in butter on a low heat, before adding some diced carrots. When softened, add a packet of chopped bacon rashers. Then add chopped asparagus and big chunks of mushrooms, and stir to cook for 5 mins. Season to taste.

In the meantime, make a bechamel sauce (double the recipe on this blog). If you're using rice flour like me, try to be clever and add enough flour in the first place so that you don't have to whisk it in at the end and risk the sauce splitting in the oven. That's exactly what I did didn't do yesterday. Oops.

Add paprika and a little vegetable boullion powder to the sauce, and season.

Pour the bacon and vegetables into a dish, followed by the sauce. Mix together and top with two layers of thinly sliced waxy potatoes. Add lots of salt and pepper to the top plus a shake of paprika, and bake in the oven for an hour at 200c.

Serve with some salad dressed with a squeeze of lemon to offset the creaminess of the pie whilst catching up on The Great British Bake Off. Perfect!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A Saturday night in: Pork belly with chili crackling, potato boulangere and apple sauce

Last night George counted up the coppers left over from the trip to Ireland and decided to impose a ban on going out for the next month. Well, he has a point - and if we go out, he gets very lonely in the flat all on his own, but more importantly he doesn't get fed. I also took the plunge and decided to defrost the freezer, which after an hour of dripping water decided to reveal a pork belly and some lamb shoulder steaks, hidden at the back. Now, I know it's not exactly cordon bleu cooking, but lack of funds meant that the meat actually looked fairly welcoming. The lamb went in a stew today with onions, carrots, potatoes and mushrooms (and is also being heated up right now with the addition of some lentils - we still need to eat tomorrow!) but the pork belly and catching up on Downton Abbey went some way to reducing my not-going-out-on-a-Saturday-night sulk. 

Pork belly with chili crackling, potato boulangere*, apple sauce and butter-tossed carrots, green beans and radish

*must learn how to insert accents on letters. Still can't work it out.

1. If you've just rescued the frozen pork belly from the freezer like me, defrost and then treat the skin to a blow-dry with a hairdryer - quite seriously, moisture is the enemy of pork crackling, so the drier it is the better. Massage with sea salt, getting the salt into all the scores on the skin, cover with kitchen towel and leave for a couple of hours.

2. I'm attributing the idea for this dish to a fab recipe book called POTATO that my friends Chris & Cathryn bought me for a birthday a couple of years ago when I found out I was gluten-intolerant. I think their words were something along the lines of "well, you can't exactly eat many other carbs now, can you..." It's actually saved my life (or my dinner) on several occasions. This isn't exactly their recipe but I definitely tried their version when I got the book, and it's migrated to this since.

Chop floury potatoes, onions and garlic all into thin slices. Layer up a dish with potatoes, onions and garlic, paprika, salt and pepper until you have three or four layers (depending on the deepness of your dish). Press down and pour hot vegetable stock until it's at the top of the potatoes, and finish with more paprika, salt, pepper, and some dried rosemary. If you've overfilled the dish like I always do, stick a baking try underneath to prevent a serious cleaning job on the bottom of your oven, and bake for 2 1/2 hours at 170c, or if it's a fairly large dish you might even need 3 or 4 hours - to be honest, the more the better, it really doesn't matter. The potatoes should be crispy on the top and the ones on the bottom should have absorbed most of the stock, and be really soft. I know this sounds really simple but I have never eaten potatoes that I love more. 

2. Pat the extra salt (and moisture that the salt has extracted) off the skin of the pork, and rub in more salt and a generous pinch of chili flakes. Oil and season the bottom of the belly, and pop on a roasting tray above a dish of water. Roast for 2 hours at 170c until the crackling is crispy. The water helps the belly meat not to dry out whilst the skin shrivels up into crackling heaven. 

3. Make an apple sauce - for 2 people, 1 very large or 2 small-ish chopped cooking apples (I like Bramleys) will do, with 3 or 4 tablespoons of sugar, a star anise, and 1/4 litre water. I like to season mine with white pepper, but it depends on how sweet you like your sauce - I should imagine that this is fairly unusual, but I like it with a bit of a kick.

4. Steam some thinly chopped carrot slices and some green beans until almost cooked, then add finely sliced radish, toss in melted butter and season. I like the addition of radish to this, as it gives a little bite to the buttery carrots and beans. 

5. Serve! 

I'm feeling smug cos my crackling was perfect for the first time ever, but if it isn't crispy enough (as usual with me), cheat and separate from the meat before whacking the crackling in the oven for 5 or 10 minutes on the highest heat before putting back on top of the meat. No-one will know - it's meant to look that way, isn't it?! 

The other half also commented that the apple sauce mound was bigger than the piece of meat. Look, I love apple sauce, alright? And no, I'm not American, so it's apple_space_sauce...!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

George Goes Camping: Lamb sausage & bean stew; Chorizo, chickpea and mushroom salsa with fried potatoes

Here's a little message from George:

"So chaps, I'm back from camping in Ireland. Whilst I was there I got very dirty and came back stinking of campfire, but I also got fed some yummy food. I made the bloke Sarah calls 'the other half' take a few photos, and she said she'd put them up here, but only if I had a little run in the washing machine first. Well, to be fair I was scaring off the rest of the family menagerie with my pongyness, so I reluctantly agreed..."

Cooking up a storm... in a storm. 

Lamb sausage and bean stew with curly kale

After a 6 hour drive across Ireland over 400 miles, including an incredible trip through the Connemara Mountains (seriously, I'm not one for looking at 'views', but they really do take your breath away), we ended up at Acton's Beachside Camping Park, in Clifden, County Galway. I have to admit, I have never camped in so much wind, but at the same time have never camped anywhere you can't actually see one other person, tent, animal, house, boat.... anything! Amazing site, camping between the dunes by the beach, fabulous, helpful owners, and a place I would highly recommend. Anyway, popping into Clifden we found a very friendly local butcher who sold me some delicious lamb sausages, which I stewed (in the wind, rain and dark) with onions, garlic, chili, carrots, cumin, mixed spice, paprika, chicken stock and butter beans, throwing in some local curly kale at the end. Best eaten, in our experience, piping hot in the driving rain by a spluttering campfire just before running like Usain Bolt into the tent and the warmth and safety of bed...

The white plastic plates (which, by the way, have Winnie the Pooh on them), just add to the taste experience...

Chorizo, chickpea and mushroom salsa with fried potatoes and a fried egg

I'm not sure whether to call this breakfast, brunch, or lunch, as we ate it at about 11.30am but had already had a slice of toast at 8am, and ate again at around 4pm. Ah well, it was a definite camping larder meal, using the stuff I'd brought with me or acquired throughout our trip, and eggs that the chickens of our next campsite, the brilliant Pure Camping in Querrin, Co Clare, provided in the morning. It's fairly carb-heavy and bathed in oil, but that's what you need at the beginning of October, outdoors, in Ireland!

Let's go and lay eggs for George's breakfast, and then make lots of mess in Sarah's tent.
Egg still in pan when other half took photo!
Fry some chorizo and chopped shallots in olive oil, before adding a chopped fresh chili, a chopped clove of garlic and 5 or 6 chopped chestnut mushrooms. Wait until the shallots and garlic are coloured by the chorizo paprika, add a tin of chickpeas with a mug of vegetable stock, and season. Leave to bubble down until most of the moisture has gone.

In the meantime, shallow fry last night's already-cooked potatoes, chopped up, in whatever oil you have (mine was olive oil but it would be better in vegetable oil or nut oil, especially when you haven't got state-of-the-art washing up equipment to get the stuck potato off the pan), then fry an egg at the last minute and serve on top of the salsa and potatoes so that the yolk runs out. Yummy.
The other half knew he shouldn't have moaned so much
about how packed the car was...

And finally...

Get the other half to wash up in the state-of-the-art camping kitchen sink. Don't laugh, it doesn't half help your back!