Monday, 19 November 2012

Christmas comes every two weeks: Lamb, celeriac and kale stew

Ever since we moved to a new flat, I have noticed that our meals at weekends have been tastier. I definitely think it has something to do with living near the local greengrocer and butcher - potatoes covered in mud are definitely better than the ones washed and prepared at the supermarket. Apparently there's a reason for this - something about the potatoes losing some of their starch in the stuff they wash them with - but I do wonder whether it's just 'cos it makes you feel like you're cooking in a country farmhouse.

Anyway, I was moaning away to George the other day about not being able to go to the greengrocer during the week because of work, and he had this BRILLIANT idea. I swear it was all him and absolutely nothing at all to do with me. He even managed to get hold of the other half's bank card to punch in the numbers with his hooves. Amazing.

So, now every two weeks on a Friday, I get home to find a box waiting outside the door to our flat, full of lovely organic local veg - it's like Christmas for me every two weeks. Yes, George signed us up to a veg box scheme from Riverford Farms - - and we get a medium box every two weeks. I chose the 'seasonal' option, which means you don't get potatoes and onions (and these keep  if I buy them at the weekend anyway) but you get whatever is seasonal and local. It's brilliant and I love it, even if my Mum will ask me when I got to be so middle class.

My only problem is with what you do with stuff you don't know how to cook. It might just be me, but I swear a celeriac looks like one of those cartoon monsters you get in mobile phone games. Not that I play at breeding monsters on the train to work in the morning. Not at all (George mimes coughing fit). But as the other half had paid for the priviledge of getting seasonal veg delivered to our door, I braced myself just in case it grew fangs and jumped at me, and went for it.

The result was this stew, which was most enjoyable and very easy to cook. The celeriac gives it a much lighter feel than potatoes as do the leeks rather than onions, and the kale gives a lovely fresh bite at the end. I also don't use flour to thicken my sauces which helps if you're wanting something not quite as heavy as a big winter stew.

George was worried but I told him there was no need to be scared of celariac after it had been well and truly cooked

Lamb, celeriac and kale stew

1. Saute 2 chopped leeks and 2 cloves of chopped garlic in a casserole pan
2. When the leeks have softened, add a little cumin and cayenne pepper before some diced stewing lamb.
3. When the lamb has browned, add 4 or 5 carrots and 1 celeriac, chopped to around the same sizes as the lamb chunks.
4. Stir the mixture for a minute before adding a tin of tomatoes and enough water to cover the meat and veg in the pot. Season generously - celeriac is like potato with salt - it slurps up loads of it.
5. Bring to the boil before putting in the oven at around 180c for 1 hour 30 minutes.
6. Add a big bunch of chopped curly kale before popping back into the oven for another 20 minutes.

You could serve this with crusty bread for the non-gluten-free people to soak up all the juices - but because I'd just spend my whole meal staring at it, I didn't, so we stuck our noses in and snuffled the broth up out of the bowl instead.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Now this sounds like the way to do it: Vodka Christmas Cake

Courtesy of my friend and pub-buddy Michelle, who has just supplied this recipe via email, here's how I'm making my Christmas Cake this year.

"Once again this year, I’ve had requests for my Vodka Christmas Cake recipe so here goes. Please keep in your files as I am beginning to get tired of typing this up every year! (Made mine this morning.)
1 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 cup water, 1 tablespoon salt , 1 cup brown sugar, lemon juice, 4 large eggs, nuts, 1 bottle vodka, 2 cups dried fruit.

Sample a cup of vodka to check quality. Take a large bowl, check the vodka again to be sure it is of the highest quality. Repeat.
Turn on the electric mixer. Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar. Beat again. At this point, it is best to make sure the Vvdka is still OK. Try another cup just in case.
Turn off the mixerer thingy. Break 2 eggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit. Pick the fruit up off the floor, wash it and put it in the bowl a piece at a time trying to count it. Mix on the turner. If the fried fruit gets stuck in the beaters, just pry it loose with a drewscriver.
Sample the vodka to test for tonsisticity. Next, sift 2 cups of salt, or something. Check the vodka. Now shit shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts. Add one table. Add a spoon of sugar, or somefink. Whatever you can find. Greash the oven. Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over. Don't forget to beat off the turner. Finally, throw the bowl through the window. Finish the vodka and wipe the counter with the cat."
Stocking the beer cupboard for George and the other half. Should
keep them entertained whilst I'm 'making a cake' in the kitchen...


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A miracle - it only took me half an hour!: Chicken szechuan stirfry from scratch

We have a slight problem with our freezer at the moment - well, not the actual freezer, but with its contents. I seem to have managed to freeze a load of meat - which is great, but it's all stuff you have to cook slowly - oxtail, lamb shoulder, beef shin, chicken legs.

This would be wonderful if I was a lady who lunched, but unfortunately I have to go to work, and if George wants his dinner before midnight I have to think of stuff that cooks a little more rapidly.

So, a couple of days back I admitted defeat and bought chicken breast, a packet of mixed veg and some beansprouts from the supermarket on the way home. I also dithered around the stirfry sauces for five minutes before deciding that really was chickening out - sorry, sorry, couldn't help that one - and purchased some szechuan peppercorns instead.

Anyway, I'm dead chuffed I did - it worked a treat. I have always been scared that making a stirfry sauce myself would result in dry chicken and a heap of noodles tasting of soy, but it didn't... and as an extra bonus we were eating by 8pm and George was a happy giraffe.

George is still struggling with chopsticks, so used his hooves for the noodles.
Who needs children when you've got a messy giraffe?

Chicken szechuan stirfry from scratch

Ingredients (serves 2): 2 chicken breasts, a bag of pre-cut veg (or do it yourself!), 2 big handfuls of beansprouts, 2 beef tomatoes, szechuan peppercorns, lemongrass, 1 shallot, chili, garlic, ginger, soy sauce (gluten-free version if you need it), groundnut or vegetable oil for frying. Noodles to serve.

1. Heat a wok - and I mean heat it, it needs to be hot hot hot. If it's a proper wok the meat won't stick, especially if you oil it nicely. (This has always been my first mistake with stirfrys - if you also grew up with ancient definitely-not-non-stick frying pans you'll know why.)

2. Whilst that's going on, crush a handful of szechuan peppercorns (in a pestle & mortar or mini blender) and add some lemongrass (I use the Lazy stuff - it keeps for much longer), a shallot, a chili, a clove of garlic, and an inch of ginger. Crush or blend together.

3. Chop two chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces.

4. When the wok is really hot, give it a decent glug of groundnut or vegetable oil. The oil should smoke. Add the paste and fry for a minute before adding the chicken.

5. When the chicken has browned (should be around 2 minutes), add a bag of chopped veg (or if you're being good, veg you've just chopped yourself) and 2 big handfuls of beansprouts. Add two big beef tomatoes, chopped fairly small. Splash on some dark soy sauce and carry on frying for another 3-4 minutes. Don't be tempted to fry the chicken for hours, because it really does cook quickly and you don't need to cremate it to ensure it's cooked - it'll just go dry and chewy.

7. Serve with noodles - I used some dry green tea noodles I had in the cupboard, and splashed them with light soy sauce to ensure they didn't stick together.

8. Enjoy an evening sat on the sofa without George pointing rather obviously at his growling stomach.... Ah. That's just me then.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Eating for a broken ankle: Grandma chicken soup

Now that the other half is home from hospital, I have spent the last week trying to make sure he is fed with something other than frozen waffles and microwave burgers when I'm at work. Not that there's anything wrong with frozen waffles and microwave burgers... well, actually there are a million things wrong with them, but even so, neither are going to assist in the speedy recovery of a boy with a broken ankle.

So, I decided to have a go at making what we call 'Grandma Soup' - a traditional Jewish chicken soup which is Hill family legend. We used to drive over after church and sniff as we walked up the driveway to see if she had made it for Sunday lunch, and if she hadn't we'd sulk for the rest of the afternoon. Obviously noone can actually match the way Grandma makes it (Dad tried a couple of times but opted for fishing out the bones rather than straining the liquid, earning it the rather unappetising title of 'body part soup') but I thought I'd give it a go.

Usually you would start with a broiling chicken (Grandma roasts it off afterwards), but I had a bag in the freezer containing the crown and wings of two chickens left over from the butchery course, so I used those. The result was fairly close to Grandma's and very yummy - and hopefully helped the other half a little in his efforts to recouperate. It certainly helped me for lunch the next day.

George correctly noticed I'd put far too much rice in. Pah.

Grandma chicken soup

1. Take a broiling chicken or the crown of a chicken which has had the legs and breasts removed, and put in a big pot along with an onion chopped in half, a few carrots chopped into chunks, some fresh herbs - parsley, thyme - whatever you have, a couple of bay leaves, a handful of peppercorns, and if you're me and can't help yourself, a clove of garlic and a chili. Cover with water and simmer for 3 hours.

2. Remove the bones and strain the liquid through a fairly fine sieve. Put back on the heat and add some rice and chopped cabbage, and if you like you could also add the carrots back in. Don't do what I did and go mad with the rice - it's supposed to have a bit of rice floating about, not resemble a watery risotto. Grandma often adds some pasta or dumplings instead of the rice - I don't think it really matters, as long as there's something to bulk it up a little.

3. Heat through until the rice is cooked and serve.

I am going to send Grandma the link to this blog - oh yes, I have a very technologically advanced Grandma - and I'm sure she'll correct me on where I've gone wrong, but I was pretty proud of myself. There's something very grown up about making your own soup from scratch. *Pats self on back and grins smugly*...

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Hospital antidote: Potato, cauliflower and tomato curry

I am aware that one is really supposed to treat one's other half to treats and nibbles when they are in hospital, and I did do my best with Haribo, Pringles and the obligatory grapes (only seeded purple ones mind, the other half isn't half fussy)... but the main problem as I saw it was the hospital food.

Now, I'm not going to go on a big rant about the quality of NHS hospital food. Firstly, I'm actually a great supporter of the NHS and think that we are lucky that we don't have to shell out bucket loads for healthcare insurance as in the US and various parts of Europe. Secondly, the complaint has been made before by many patients, visitors and even celebrity chefs such as James Martin, Heston Blumenthal and of course the champion of all government-issued nosh, Jamie Oliver. We all know it's pants and we all wish it wasn't. However, what really offended me wasn't the look, taste or the fact it was served half-cold - it was the smell. I actually wouldn't have been surprised to see old ladies fainting on entering the ward during serving-up time and for a couple of hours afterwards. I don't know what the smell is - but I do remember something similar in school canteens. Maybe it's just the vast quantity of mushy vegetables, or the smell of powdered egg mixture in stainless steel containers. Whatever it is, it definitely doesn't encourage you to slurp up whatever has come your way.

So, I decided to cook up some alternatives so that the other half had something that smelled more like our kitchen at home to gobble out of sight of enquiring nurses. I had to think hard - it's over an hour's drive from our house to the hospital so it had to keep hot - but I came up with a cottage pie, which went down nicely, and then this vegetable curry dish, which went down even more nicely (I know - I shared it. Yum.)

Potato, cauliflower and tomato curry

This is a fairly dry curry (I couldn't have it slopping over the sides of the dish on the drive there!) so would work really well as a side dish to your main, or as a simple evening dinner on its own. This recipe makes enough for 4-5 sides and 2-3 mains.

1. Pour a generous glug of oil into a medium-hot pan
2. Add a heaped teaspoon of each of the following spices: cumin, black mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds and garam masala
3. When the mustard seeds start popping (they literally jump so you can definitely tell), add two cloves of chopped garlic, a chopped onion, about an inch square of chopped ginger and a chopped chili to the pan, and fry for five minutes or until the onion and ginger are soft.
4. Add 8 or so new potatoes, chopped into fairly large chunks, a curry leaf and two crushed cardomom pods, and stir
5. When the potatoes are coated in the spices and onion mixture, add a tin of chopped tomatoes and a pint of vegetable stock.
6. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes, before adding the florets of half a cauliflower to the pan.
7. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes or until the cauliflower has cooked, stirring occassionally as by this time the water level will be fairly low.
8. Remove the curry leaves and cardomom pods before wrapping in several layers of foil and two teatowels, and driving to hospital
9. Enjoy the appreciative snuffly sounds coming from the other half with his nose in the pan, and dig in.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Sunday breakfast: Chorizo, potato and asparagus omelette

I would have called this a tortilla as something akin to dishes I have eaten in various Spanish restaurants, but a well-known celebrity chef told me recently, "don't call it a tortilla if you can see the egg", so I'm calling this an omelette. Even though I think it's kind of like a tortilla. Or a frittata. Or whatever. Do I care? Not particularly, as it was one of the tastiest breakfasts I have ever cooked - so stuff the culinary political correctness, and here's the recipe...

Oh, and by the way - us gluten-free people have to be creative with our breakfasts, so I know you wouldn't necessary serve asparagus with your bacon and baked beans, but trust me, it works in this!

Even James Martin would be proud of the 
amount of butter in that pan... oops

Chorizo, potato and asparagus omelette

1. Melt some butter in a pan and fry up 2 small chopped shallots, 8 or so small round slices off a chorizo ring and 3 cubed new potatoes on a medium heat for about 8 minutes, or until the potato cubes are cooked through. If you're being a purist, the potatoes should be sliced - but seen as I'm not being a purist in any other way, I fancied cubes this morning. Season generously whilst cooking.  

2. Add 2 asparagus spears, chopped up at the same size as the potatoes, and fry for another minute.

3. Add 2 beaten eggs, seasoned with chili flakes, salt and pepper, plus a handful off fresh chopped parsley, and cook for a couple of minutes to settle the egg on the bottom of the omelette.

4. Pop into the oven or under the grill for 5 minutes to cook through (this is probably cheating but it helps to avoid a brown crispy bottom).

Serve with some soft lamb's lettuce and laugh smugly at those still waiting for their burnt sausages and cold toast. So much easier to not want theirs when you have something much tastier. Well, most of the time, anyway...

How can you tell if there's a giraffe in your fridge?
There's hoofprints in the butter