Sunday, 15 November 2009

Comfort vegetables

Comfort vegetables.
Eh? let me try that again.
Comfort. Vegetables.

It doesn't sound much more likely the second time around,does it? Your comfort foods tend to be sweet and fatty, or warm, rich, and the sort of thing your mother would make you when you were sick or celebrating something. A bad day at work rarely prompts the phrase "I'm feeling a bit low. Can you peel a carrot for me, love?". At best you might be able to stretch to a plate of mashed potatoes as a platter of comfort, but it can be hard to seek solace in just a plate of greens.

I returned to work at the start of October (hence this poor blog suffering lowest task on the totem pole status). I like my job as much as you can - and same can be said for the people I work with - but it was always going to be a challenge to become a Working Mother. In my first 6 weeks back, us family three have already been struck by mild colds, severe colds, teething, chest infections, feverish nights (and days), gastroenteritis, and the general disturbed sleep that comes from suddenly being left to the care of strangers all day (Baby A&N, not the adults on this one). Sometimes all three of us have been struck at once, which has led to some fairly improvised parenting ("If we drop him at day care after his nap, he'll be well rested enough to last a few hours there and we can go back to bed and get some sleep ourselves").

Eating, when you have the appetite, becomes more functional than fun (which might technically mean meals become 'ctional', but that's a tough batch of letters to pronounce). Hence comfort vegetables - defined as an attempt to bring a touch of much needed coddling to a dish that would otherwise just perpetuate the blah. A recipe in Moro East (which, if you haven't heard of it, is a fantastic seasonal cookbook perfect for the allotment/home food grower) for a beetroot, broad bean, and tarragon salad seemed the perfect antidote to our vegetable lethargy. As the newly branded Mother Who Plans Ahead, I added tarragon to our weekly shopping delivery and sat back, waiting for the beetroot to come in with our weekly veg box.

Except Mother Didn't Know Best, and for the only instance in weeks there was no beetroot waiting for us in our veg box (the world of weekly vegetable deliveries is a very cruel world). Luckily Father Dearest stepped in to stop the situation falling apart ("I need exciting vegetables! I have tarragon! There is no beetroot! THIS WASN'T IN MY WEEKLY FOOD PLAN!") and suggested twists to the original recipe: the salad became a warm dish, carrot stepped in for the beetroot, and a bit of sherry vinegar and cream became the sauce to hold it all together.

Mr A&N was stunningly pleased with the result. I at first mostly tasted defeat and disappointment in myself, though friends assure me this is a common flavor of parenthood so I best get used to it. To be fair to these vegetables, they really were rather special, with the vinegar, tarragon and cream not just giving the right tart, deep flavored, and rich balance to one another, but it all giving a bit of comforting, vegetable love to a week night spent detoxing in front of the television.

Creamy Broad Beans, Carrots and Tarragon
serves 4 as a side dish

  • 2 shallots or 1 small onion, chopped very finely
  • 2-3 Tbs olive oil
  • 3 carrots, chopped into 1cm cubes
  • about 500g broad beans (use frozen - much easier than peeling! Do quickly boil and drain, though to take the edge off the freezing)
  • 1 bunch (about 15g) fresh tarragon, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 Tbs good quality sherry vinegar
  • about 125ml cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Over a medium heat, warm the olive oil and add the onion. Cook until beginning to soften.
  2. Add the carrots and cook for a few minutes until their hardness is taken away.
  3. Add the broad beans and tarragon, and cook a further few minutes until both vegetables are nicely softened.
  4. Add the vinegar (start with 2 Tbs since it can be strong tasting, and add more later if you think it needs it) and cook for a minute or so until it's mostly burnt off.
  5. Add in the cream and stir until everything is well coated.
  6. Salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Daring Bakers: Macarons

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.
Ah macarons. Like salted caramel, they seemed to take the food blog world by storm a short while ago. I resolutely/accidentally missed the boat on both, then felt behind the times enough to not want to make either since everyone else had been there, done that on my behalf. This month's Daring Bakers challenge gave me the chance to rectify this baking
oversight and dig into a plate of dainty sweet sandwiches.

My macarons were destined for imperfection. Not failure - what is failure when you still have a highly edible finished product? They were simply not going to be the macarons that any Frenchman would be seen eating. More for me, then!

Our oven has a slight flaw in that all the numbers on the temperature dial have fallen off. Silly oven. I know where to set the dial for most cakes, cookies, muffins, and roast dinners, but anything falling outside the 160 - 200C range is danger territory. In order to achieve the tell-tale crusty 'foot' on these macarons (see every other Daring Baker page for what this looks like), this recipe has the temperature starting very low and increasing after the macarons have had a chance to rest outside the oven. Low, in this case, is defined as 100C. Or, on my oven, the Vast Unknown.

And so though I journeyed to The Land I've Never Yet Been To, and the macarons returned from that journey with me, they were not as they should be. They were
soft, a bit moist, and with no feet (or limbs of any sort) on them. Oh well. They were also delicious, with the rose water buttercream and nutella buttercream I made for the standard macarons, and a mint buttercream to go with the chocolate version. They may have had trouble in baking, but not any trouble in eating.

Thanks goes to Ami from Baking Without Fear for setting the recipe and setting everyone's macarony imaginations going. Please have a look at her blog for the recipe we all used.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Vietnamese Lamb and Noodles

I cooked a soup this past weekend (soup season has begun, so I've declared). Butternut squash, corn, butter beans, cream. Something of a chowder, with gentle bay and thyme to give it more flavor. It was supposed to be my blog post, but it was brutally ugly. Fairly tasty, but in need of a good food plastic surgeon to bring some beauty to that bowl.

The innocuous "What's for dinner tonight?" question on Monday was a loaded one. The weekend is for food blog time, week nights for survival. But I declared to Mr A&N that Monday night's dinner (lamb chops in the fridge) would have to be blog-worthy as I had nothing to post about this week.

"Leave it to me" Mr. A&N declared. "I'll put something together."

The 5pm phone call to tell me he was leaving work early began not with a hello but with a declaration I wouldn't have guessed had I been given 100 chances. "Vietnamese", Mr A&N stated. "It's more traditional with pork chops but I think it will work. I'm picking up a lime and some noodles, but I'll be home to help with Baby A&N's feeding and bedtime and then cook dinner."

He was of course as good as his word. Got home, set the marinade for the lamb going, pulled funny faces during Baby A&N's dinner and then played with him in the bath. Gave him his milk, bundled this very sleepy baby into bed, came downstairs and cooked me a wonderful meal. The noodles were treated to the marinade the lamb had been sitting in, and I stole irresistable mouthfuls from the wok as I set the camera up. The marinade had created very succulent chops thanks to the lime, with the slight sweetness to it melding seemlessly, and beautifully, with the chilli and soy flavors bringing up the rear. The Vietnamese know what they're doing with flavors, and so did Mr A&N when he put this together.

Mr A&N and I had a discussion in the car this past weekend, after seeing some friends. "Why do you always tell stories when I'm the butt of the joke? Why do you tell people about when I mean to say or do something nice but it comes out wrong and seems like an insult instead? Why don't you ever tell the good stuff, like how I make you dinner and help around the house and get up in the middle of the night to deal with Baby A&N?"

"Because those stories are funny. You like being funny. If there's one thing I know about you it's that."

"I like being funny," he admitted "but when it's me being funny, rather than me being insensitive. I'd like to be seen as the good guy sometimes."

"You're right, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. You are the good guy. You're the great guy. I promise to do better. I'm sorry."

"Okay." he said. "Thanks."

"I promise." I said. "I promise to do better. And I promise I'll only tell those stories when I'm guaranteed a really big laugh."

He accepted his victory with customary grace.

Vietnamese Lamb and Noodles
Serves 3 eating averagely, 2 greedily, 4 modestly

  • 6-8 lamb good lamb chops
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 small chilli (more if you like it hot), chopped
  • thumb of ginger, well chopped
  • 1 stalk or 2tsp lemon grass paste
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 4 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • chinese egg noodles, enough for the number of people you're serving
  • 2 stir fry veg nicely chopped - like carrot and broccoli, eggplant and zucchini, etc
  • 1 Tbsp seasame oil
  • 1 Tbsp olive or vegetable oil
  • handful of chopped coriander

  1. Combine the marinade ingredients (the garlic, chilli, ginger, lemon grass, sugar, soy sauce, and lime), mixing until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Pour the marinade in a flat casserole dish that's just big enough to hold the lamb. Layer the lamb on top and let marinate for at least a half an hour (or over night, if you're very prepared), then turn the chops over and give that side of the chops as much time to marinate.
  3. Turn the grill on to 180C / 375 F. When ready, lay the lamb out under the grill and cook for 4-8 minutes each side, depending on the thickness of the chops. (This will give you chops that stay nice and pink in the middle; if you don't like pink, add a couple of minutes more to the cook time). Make sure you keep the marinade left over.
  4. Meanwhile, boil water for the egg noodles. When boiled, add noodles and cook according to manufacturers instructions.
  5. Heat a wok on a high heat. Add the oil and give it a short while to heat up.
  6. When the oil is hot, add the vegetables and stir fry for a couple of minutes.
  7. When the vegetables are softening slightly (only slightly), pour in the remaining marinade.
  8. After the garlic in the marinade is a bit softened, add the cooked noodles and give a minute or two worth of stirring.
  9. Serve with the cooked lamb chops on top of the noodles, with a bit of chopped coriander for garnish.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Everything-But-the-Kitchen-Sink Spanish Tortilla

A few disclaimers:

  • This isn't a real Spanish tortilla. I repeat, this is NOT a REAL Spanish tortilla, normally an egg-potato-onion-salt concoction. I've gone off piste, but since it's my blog I'm stubbornly sticking to the name.
  • I made this a couple of weeks ago, before I went on holiday. I thought I set the blog post to release, but it didn't. So sorry for the lack of posting and lack of vacation announcement.
  • I ate this all, all by myself (though not in one sitting). Twas large, and I'm a pig, but the sign of a good dinner is that it didn't make me sick to eat all that.

Before going away for a couple of weeks, it seems a wise thing to clear out the kitchen of anything that won't last til you get back (or anything that will tempt creepy crawlies into your cupboards and make them flourish, as my family once did with an open box of Frosted Flakes and roughly 500 of the neighborhood's ants). Normally when I'm faced with a motley crew of vegetables, meats, and cheeses, I indulge myself in a guilty pleasure of a fried rice, using day-old take out rice and all of the above. With a bit of ketchup on the side, it's hangover food that you didn't have to be drunk the night before in order to enjoy.

An omlette, though, is an equally generous hold-all for food bits that need uniting. French omelettes, light and runny, and messily yet beautifully folded, don't seem to go well with chunky bits thrown into it too. An Italian fritata and a Spanish tortilla are similar in notion to each other, both being chunky wedges of egg wrapped around as many other things as you like. Both being thick, you have to find a way to cook both the bottom and top of the omlettes equally well, since if left to just simmer the will both burn on the bottom before cooking on the top. A fritata is finished off by being put under the grill, while a tortilla is flipped over so that the top becomes the bottom.

The trick of flipping a tortilla is one that seems to be passed down with the Spanish gene, and it's a very hard thing to pull off without the right combination of factors (including Spanish ancestry, it seems). I saw my first tortilla cooked by two Spanish friends working in tandem, and they both still had to hold their breaths when this 12 egg goliath was thrown onto a plate and then slid back into the pan. I worked on my own, with just hunger to carry me through the hair raising moment of El Flip. Working in my super-sticky frying pan, it was never going to turn out well. It fell to pieces like a house placed over the largest crack on the San Andreas fault, but I pushed it back together with the flat end of the spat
ula and continued cooking. There was no one to impress but me, and I already know most of my short comings.

I found the
advice from Fine Cooking was excellent (and it's the top Google hit for the 'spanish tortilla' search, so it must be good), but sadly I went and did my own thing despite the advice. Part of the joy of a tortilla (or fritata) comes the day after, when you can eat it cold or a bit warm, slapped into a generously buttered baguette. Another day-old comfort food that might not rank high for beauty but is in other ways a beautiful thing.
Everything-But-the-Kitchen-Sink Spanish Tortilla
serves 3-4 for dinner

4 small potatoes (about 200g)
1 medium onion
3 inches of dried chorizo, sliced thinly and cut into quarters

1 pepper (red or green), cut into small cubes

1/4 C frozen peas

6 large eggs
1/4 C milk
several Tbs olive oil and a knob of butter

Peel and slice the potatoes, first in half and then into thin, evenly thick half moon shapes, then peel and dice the onion into small, uniformly-sized pieces.

Heat the oil and butter over a medium heat in a large, high-sided frying pan. Add enough oil so that the whole bottom is covered, plus a bit more.

Put the potatoes in when the oil is hot enough for them to begin sizzling. Cook for a few minutes until they're nicely softened, then add the onion.

Cook until the onion is softened, then add the chorizo, pepper and peas.
Cook for another few minutes until the pepper is softened and the chorizo has given off some of its oils. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, roughly beat the eggs together with the milk in a large bowl.
When the goods in the frying pan are all softened (but not cooked), spoon out with a slotted spoon (so that the oil stays in the pan) and add all the softened items to the eggs in the large bowl. Stir it all together roughly.

Make sure the frying pan still has enough oil to coat the bottom (if you feel it has too much to make you comfortable, spoon out a bit). Then, add the egg mixture to the pan and cook over a medium heat.

Continue cooking until the tortilla is only slightly runny and wobbly on the top, visible layer and you're sure it's all coming away from the sides easily. You'll now need to flip the tortilla, so you want to be sure it's solid enough to do so yet will still come away from the pan. (If you are fairly deft with your hands, you can do this on your own - otherwise, rope in a spare set to help you along.)

Find a plate larger than the frying pan, and hold it firmly over the top. Then, using one motion, turn the frying pan over so that the omlette comes away and lays on the plate.
Return the pan to the flame, and slide the tortilla back into the pan to cook for a further few minutes.

Serve however you like, with a slice of triumph on the side if you managed to do this all on your own.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Don't Pattypan-ic!

I had an email from my friend/food guru Jill the other week, asking me about what I'd done with the pattypan squash in that week's veg delivery box. It was about 3 days after the box had been delivered, and sad to say I hadn't even clocked that vegetable yet. Carrots (check), beetroot (check), courgette (check), mystery yellowy squashy thing (hmm, check on it).

The squash is small and doesn't look like it would have much flesh within (which, it turns out, it doesn't). Jill had searched high and low for recipes and recommendations, and concluded that what seemed to be the done thing with the pattypan is to cut it open and fill it with something rather more delicious. So off Jill went with her chorizo and white beans, off I went with sausages and roman beans, and we both cooked our pattypans and relayed each other the results.

We independently discovered some of the same universal truths:

  • Sausages in any form are wonderful, and sauteeing them with other good things make them even better.
  • A pattypan squash doesn't taste of much, but it does give off an awful lot of water. Fairly tasteless water.
  • The pattypan is nice to look at, but remains a curiosity in how it's survived as food for so long given it's pretty short short comings.
  • Pattypan is a great word. The most fun I had in cooking and eating the squash was in trying to use the word in sentences ("Don't pattypan-ic, I know what I'm doing", "Well darn this pattypanning thing, it's just not cooking", etc). The makers of Sponge Bob Square Pants agree with me on this point.

Our adventures with with pattypan are done for now, and I'm not sad to see it go. Mr A&N loved the filling (naturally, it contained sausages) but thought the squash was as pointless as a pair of high heels on a camel. I feel bad harboring ill will against my food and so didn't take as hard a stance on the pattypan as he did, but I'm not about to start a clandestine affair with it either. If you, too, get landed with a pattypan squash, just keep Douglas Adams in mind: don't pattypan-ic, it will be fine.

Sausage and Sage Stuffed Squash
makes enough for 2-3 people as a main, though you should have a side dish too

  • 4 - 6 pattypan squashes, depending on size
  • olive oil to cook (a tablespoon or two)
  • 1 onion, well chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, sliced thinly
  • handful of fresh sage, roughly chopped
  • 400g / 1lb of sausages (cumberland, simple pork, or something similar)
  • 1 tin of romanesco or white beans, drained
  • Parmesean cheese for topping (optional)
  1. Pre-heat oven to 200C / 450 F
  2. Cut off the tops of the pattypan squash so that you have about 1/4 of the squash as the lid, 3/4 as the bottom
  3. Place the squash bottoms and top in the oven once it's heated, and cook for about 10 minutes
  4. Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over medium-high heat, and add the olive oil. Once that's warm, add the onions, garlic and celery to sautee, and cook for a couple of minutes until the onions are softened (make sure you stir every so often).
  5. Add in the sage and give it all a good stir.
  6. Add in the sausages, keeping them whole for now. Cook until the sausages are mostly done, then cut them up into bite-sized pieces.
  7. Throw in the tin of beans, give it all a good stir and let it cook for a further minute or two
  8. Salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Take the squashes out of the oven, and stuff them full off the sausage mix. Top with parmesean if you want to, and put the filled squashes back in the oven for a further 10 minutes or until a fork inserted into the flesh goes in and out easily.
  10. Serve with some vegetables and something like a potato gratin or hash browns on the side.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Oven-Baked Skate

A skate – either in the ocean or on a plate – is a strange creature to look at. It’s a bottom-dwelling, pre-historic seeming family of fish with a large pointed nose, eyes atop its head, and wings travelling from the tip of its nose down to its body, looking almost like a baby elephant that has been flattened and sent to live on the ocean floor. It’s those large wings which are of edible interest in the skate, covered in tender meat on both the top and the bottom of the fronds of cartilage that give the wings their structure.

I must have lived more sheltered a life than I realized, since skate is another food-stuff that I’d never come across until I was in my 20s (along with rhubarb and broad beans, gooseberries, and any kind of crumble). Like my other late-in-life food deprivations, I try to make up for lost time by eating skate whenever I find it. Mr A&N, more conversant in cooking skate wing than I am, has persuaded me that oven baking is the best way to cook it. The flesh is meaty, succulent and a bit sweet and always reminds me of crab. The oven baking keeps the tenderness sealed in along with its flavor. Oven baking is also an easy-as-anything way to cook the fish, as well as a healthy way of doing it. A strange looking creature, but an excellent dining companion.

Oven-Baked Skate
serves 2

  • 2 skate wings (we prefer the biggest we can find, but then we're greedy)
  • juice 1 1/2 lemon (2 lemons if your lemon isn't that juicy)
  • 1 Tbs capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
  • about 5 Tbs olive oil (bit more if your skate wings are on the large size and they're not being coated)
  • handful each of flat-leaf parsley and basil, well chopped
  • 1 C dry white wine
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C/ 425 F
  2. Rinse and pat dry the skate
  3. Combine the lemon juice, capers, olive oil, herbs, white wine
  4. Place the skate in an oven-proof dish large enough to hold the two wings without overlapping.
  5. Cover the wings with the lemon juice mixture, making sure that the dish has enough liquid in it to cover the bottom completely with some of the mixture staying atop the skate.
  6. Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 15 minutes, then turn the fish over
  7. Cook for another 15 or so, until the fish is cooked through (the flesh will come away from the cartilage fingers easily and will be opaque).

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Spicy Spanish Prawns with Chorizo

I'm still reliving the night, 2 months ago, when Mr A&N and I went on a hot date to the local tapas place. No baby! No responsibilities! Fabulous food! It stands out not just for being a great evening but for being the one time my husband and I have been out alone in 8 months. Baby A&N is good enough with other people that he doesn't mind being baby-sat, but the babysitting chances are few and far between. Other friends have their own families to look after, and our parents live far enough away that when they visit, we spend the short time as an extended family rather than ducking out to grab an evening to ourselves. Boo hoo, poor us. We're a happy family, but sometimes you do long for those couple-only times, even if it's only to enjoy nice food without interruption.

Mr A&N is evidently re-living the night out as well, since he came home with a batch of king prawns and an itch to do them up Spanish-style. Prawns pil pil is a regular on tapas menus, a spicy and garlicy dish easy enough to re-create at home. The prawns we had at our tapas place, though, were just that bit better and that bit different from the other versions we've tried. The memory of me returning to the ceramic plate, another piece of bread in hand ("My last bit of bread, I promise - I won't ruin my dinner") chasing around the last drops of oil in the lingers.

We didn't know what went into the restaurant dish, so we had to riff on the idea of prawns pil pil. We wanted to make sure that even if we didn't recreate what we'd eaten, we'd at least create something we'd be happy eating, which we were. If you do make this, though, consider going through the trouble of shelling your prawns first. Sticky spicy oily fingers might not be everyone's ultimate dinner companion, but they do ensure that any bread you pick up to dip in the oil gets a good coating of flavor before it even reaches the bowl.

Spicy Spanish Prawns with Chorizo
serves 4 as a starter

  • 5 Tbs olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 lb prawns (shell off if you have the time and paitence)
  • 1 tsb spicy smoked paprika
  • 1 small red chilli, chopped or 1/2 tsp already chopped chilli
  • 1 Tbs butter and 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 4-5 inches of dried cooking chorizo, cut into small bite sizes (I prefer to quarter the circles)
  • 2 tsp cooking sherry
  • salt and pepper
  1. Mix the 5 Tbs olive oil, garlic, prawns, paprika, and chilli in a bowl. Set aside for an hour or two to let the flavors marinate.
  2. Heat the butter and 1 Tbs olive oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat until the oils are mixed and well warmed.
  3. Add chorizo and stir around for a minute, until the chorizo just begins to cook and give off oil.
  4. Add the prawns mixture and stir well, then leave it for a couple of minutes to let the prawns cook on one side.
  5. Carefully turn the prawns over, and leave them to cook on this side for a couple of minutes, until they're good and pink.
  6. Add the sherry and give it all a good stir, allowing it to cook for a further minute or so.
  7. Remove from heat and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with some mighty good bread.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Daring Bakers: Chocolate Covered Marshmallow and Milan Cookies

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at sweet tooth . She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of thefood network.
Each month, I seem to find less time for cooking things, and each month I hope the next will be better. Surely, since all of the Universe operates cyclically (what goes up must come down, history is doomed to repeat itself, all of this has happened before and all of this will happen again), I should just need to exercise a bit of patience and wait for that calmness. The month of July wasn't the month during which peace and free time freely reined, though. Mr A&N has started working a second job, and so evenings and weekends are being eaten away with his work and with me watching over Baby A&N. But maybe August will be better, yes?

Without oodles of time to myself, I very much appreciated that the Daring Bakers challenge for the month, as set out by Nicole at Sweet Tooth, had an estimated prep time of 30 minutes for each of the two cookies recipes (one for a chocolate covered marshmallow confection, the other for a milano style cookie). That was an appealingly short length of time that made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could pull off a bit of cookie prep while also ensuring there were no big baby bumps on the head or limbs in need of mending. I planned on tackling the milano cookies first since they seemed more straight forward, and would ramp up the effort level to marshmallow making as and when I was allowed.

Sadly, the predicted 10 minute prep time was 10 minutes plus about an hour. Baby A&N was placed in his walker and dragged into the kitchen with me to watch all the exciting goings on. But the child who showed barely a lip quiver at his injections, who didn't even flinch earlier on
when he slammed his head into the side of his cot with a thud loud enough to be heard through closed doors, started crying like, well, a baby as soon as the hand blender turning on. Delicate sausage. And poor mother, who had to carry on with the mixing using only the power in her arms to get it done. It turns out her arms aren't as strong as they used to be (despite lifting a 25lb baby all day long).

The batter looked a bit curdled in a frangipane-esque fashion, but I kept the faith and created a couple of dozen uniform pastry fingers, looking perfect on their entry into the oven. To say they didn't keep their shape once they exited the oven, though, is to say that Delta Burke had a bit of trouble keeping hers during the progress of Designing Women. They expanded. They ballooned. They bled into one another and formed one Uber Milano from which individual forms were hard, nay, impossible to discern. Oh well. I'd just have to practice my best surgery skills and cut cookie shapes out of this vanilla-scented beheamoth.

I made half the cookies with the traditional orange-flavored chocolate spread, and the other half I spread with a bit of melted raspberry jam and dipped them in chocolate. Both sorts were lovely, but it was a shame to have to call half the batch a loss because of the oozy batter. Perhaps a higher oven temperature or a bit of baking powder in the mixture would have helped them keep their shape. I've decided to hold off on having a failure with the marshmallow cookies until I have more time for an afternoon of baking disaster. You can find the recipes for both cookies at Nicole's blog, and thanks goes to her for setting the task this month.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Chickpea Puree

My mind is turning to mush. Figuratively - I've been away from work for 8 months and I can feel that I'm not as sharp at holding on to thoughts and ideas. I'm still doing bits of work while on maternity leave, but half the time is spent me trying to remember the brilliant idea I'd had the previous week/day/hour. It's a different sort of mental gymnastics, keeping lists of groceries and grocery lists of to-do things in your head, than it is gathering together strands of ideas and weaving them into a long-term intentions. I worry about this mushiness when I'm back at work in a couple of months time.

My mind is also literally turning to mush, what with Baby A&N barreling forward with his solids eating and me trying to come up with interesting variations of mush for him to eat. Some are actually pretty tasty even by adult palates: courgette, roasted red pepper and basil; sauteed onion and spinach with cauliflower gratin; garlic, lentil, courgette, carrot, and tomato. Sometimes the only format for them seems to be mush (beetroot, sauteed spinach, dollop of cream cheese) which is a bit of a shame since the only way Mr A&N or I can enjoy these flavors is to steal the sloppy seconds away from any unfinished meals.

There are some adult mushes that Mr A&N and I hold dear and which baby A&N won't be able to enjoy for a while. Our favorite is a chickpea puree from the Casa Moro cookbook. It starts with the heady smell of garlic, cumin and onions gently frying together, and results in a warm, warming, rich dish that stands in for the moistness of gravy when there isn't one. It's very easy to make, and makes a different starchy side dish to mashed potato. We normally have this with lamb, which is the Moro suggestion, but it would also work well with a well-flavored chicken or sausage meat course. In some ways this is more of a winter warmer, but when mush is on the mind this is a very comforting way of seeing the mush through.

Chickpea Puree, from Casa Moro
Serves 4 - 6

  • 2 400g of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 rounded tsp cumin seeds, roughly ground
  • 30 threads (large pinch) saffron, infused in about 2 Tbs just-boiled water
  • 2 Tbs roughly chopped flat-leave parsely (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  1. Puree the chickpeas (using a blender/food processor) until they're smooth
  2. Add water to them until they're the consistency of wet mashed potato
  3. Heat the olive oil over a meadium-high heat using a medium-sized frying pan
  4. Add the onions, garlic, and cumin and stir, cooking and stirring until things turn golden brown
  5. Mix in the chickpeas along with the saffron infusion and stir, then lower the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with parsely if you want to get fancy.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Roast Forerib of Beef

Popularity isn't a cause that much worries me, mainly because 'popular' wasn't a label that came near being coupled with my name during the teenage years. At the time you're acutely aware that you're so low down on the totem pole you'd first have to dig your way up to the surface to get some face-time on that wooden mast, but unpopularity can be liberating once you wrap your mind around it. You don't have to worry about keeping up appearances, or about tweaking your personality or preferences in order to maintain some standard. At least from my observations as a teenager, the un-popular saved a small fortune in designer clothes and handbags, and trips to the salon and manicurist (and fake tanning, these days).

The same money-saving ethos holds for your unpopular cuts of meat. You're not going to be dipping in to your savings if you get a hankering for liver or want to tuck into a side of goat. Forerib of beef is a cut of meat that has fallen off the popularity wagon, but can still be a sumptuous bit of meat. I first fell in love with forerib at the Marquess Tavern which serves it up as part of a family-style Sunday lunch, succulent and slow cooked and dripping with rich flavors and juices. At our local butchers this weekend, with forerib hanging in the window and golden memories of long Sunday lunches playing in our minds, there was no alternative but to wrap that rib up and bring it back to its new home.

The forerib is a cheaper cut of meat because there's a bit more fiddling about to get beauty from it - athough beauty is very possible. You can either brown the meat off and then roast in the oven until nicely cooked (though still rare, please), or give it the slow-roasting treatment to really concentrate the flavors, as Johanna at The Passionate Cook did recently. We opted for the brown-and-roast method, adapting a recipe from Anthony Worrall Thompson that used paprika, mustard, and dried herbs to give the meat flavor and to create a glorious gravy which nearly became the star of the meal itself.

A topside or silverside of beef is a much more popular roast dinner: easy to whack into a pan and cook to preference, but also easy to over-do because of its lack of fat. Even though the forerib is less simple to carve and to pick the meat from, the efforts are rewarded by the flavor of the meat itself. Since it's not as popular as it once was you will probably need to go to a butcher to get some (and the better the butcher, the better the meat will be), but the double pleasure is that it costs less than other cuts of beef and will give a nice stock from boiling up the bone. If you ever needed an argument to show that being unpopular is a rewarding experience, this is it.

Roast forerib of beef, adapted from Anthony Worrall Thompson
Serves around 6

  • 1.3kg/3lb piece forerib of beef, on the bone
  • handful of roasting vegetables, such as carrot, onion and leek; use 1 of each if mainly using to add flavor to the gravy, more than that if you are roasting the vegetables to eat
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2.5ml/½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 2.5ml/½ tsp dry English mustard powder or wasabi powder
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil (for frying the meat)
  • 600ml/1 pint fresh beef stock
  • 150ml/¼ pint red wine
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil (for cooking the vegetables)
  1. Heat the oven to 200C / 400F
  2. Combine the dried herbs (Anthony warns that the recipe will only work with dried rather than fresh) cayenne, paprika, garlic salt and English mustard powder/wasabi.
  3. Spread a thin layer of the Dijon mustard all over the fat side of the beef and stick the herb mixture into it. If you have time, wrap in cling-film and put to one side to allow the beef to marinate.
  4. Chop up the vegetables and place in the roasting tray the meat will go into, along with the 3 Tbsp olive oil. Cook for 20 minutes until caramelised or lightly browned.
  5. Once the vegetables are browned, increase the temperature to 220C/425F. In a frying pan, heat the 4 Tbsp olive oil and seal the meat on all sides (about 30 seconds per exposed side).
  6. Place the beef into the roasting pan on top of the caramelised vegetables, but don't return to the oven just yet.
  7. Into the frying pan containing the left over juices of the meet, add the red wine and heat to burn off the alcohol. Pour into the base of the roasting pan along with the ½ pint of beef stock.
  8. Return the meat et al to the oven and roast 15 minutes.
  9. After those 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 200C/400 F and roast for 12 minutes per 450g/1lb for medium-rare; or 10 minutes for very rare, almost 'blue' meat and 20 -25 mins for a well done beef. (please note: we followed these instructions and the meat needed another 20 minutes to come up to rare, so either we got our timings wrong or these suggestions are wrong)
  10. Baste the roast regularly, about every 10-15 minutes.
  11. Remove meat from the roasting dish and place on a large dish, letting it rest a good 15 minutes before carving.
  12. Use the juices from the pan to make a succulent gravy.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

A Summer Salad

You'll excuse me for my brevity - it's summer. It's hot. The days are long and we're all reveling in it. Especially baby A&N, who wakes with the sunrise. At 4.30am. Full of the joys of life, which is nicer than being a misery guts, but by 9am we're all flagging and in need of a long perfumed bath (or perhaps that's just my tonic).

Dinners have needed to be cooling (no ovens, please), quick and easy (god we're tired), but without sacrificing taste. Cookbooks could be written and sold by the hundreds based on those criteria. But we're too tired to find the right cookbook, so after a bit of head scratching and repeated staring into the fridge for ingredients on hand, this is the result.

A flexible summer salad, adapted to whim/what's available. The key ingredients are an anchovy dressing, a grilled vegetable of some description (aubergine in this case, but just as easily courgette or pepper), and a bit of something from the bacon family (we used some lovely pancetta, from a specialist Italian organic farmer, having a pedigree better than I do. Probably wasted in this salad, but did I mention we're too tired to think creatively?). It was salty and wet, filling and fresh, meaty and crisp. It will make an appearance again, probably in a slightly different guise, probably later this week when we're too tired to think. Again.

A Summer Salad
Serves 2 as a main course with left over for 1 lunch

  • 1 aubergine, cut into thin slices
  • (touch of olive oil for the aubergines and pan frying)
  • 70g of pancetta or bacon
  • 1 small gem lettuce or 2 handfuls of baby spinach
  • 100g green peas
  • 100g broad beans
  • handful of sundried tomatoes, rehydrated and roughly chopped (or just chopped if using ones in oil)
  • 250g pasta
  • 3 anchovies, very finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 5 Tbsp olive oil (or 4 Tbsp if using tomatoes in oil)
  • 1 clove of garlic, very finely chopped
  1. Lightly sprinkle the aubergine slices with olive oil, then grill at 180C for about 15 minutes or until tender. Set aside to cool slightly, then cut into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Pan fry the pieces of pancetta or bacon until nicely crispy, then set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Briefly boil the peas and broad beans until just tender, then quickly put in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking a preserve the flavor. Drain.
  4. Boil water for the pasta, and cook until desired consistency. Drain and cool down under some cold running water.
  5. Chop the lettuce and place in a bowl, and add in the peas and beans as well as the chopped tomatoes. Add the aubergine and pancetta once cooled, as well as the pasta.
  6. Make the dressing by stirring together the anchovy, vinegar, olive oil and garlic.
  7. Pour the dressing over the salad bits and adjust for flavoring.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Daring Bakers: Bakewell Tart

When I joined the Daring Bakers a year and a half ago, I was on the vanguard of a Daring Baker deluge. Because of being the 300th something member at the time, I was due to chose the month's recipe in around 2012. As numbers kept growing and newer members found out that due to the waiting list, their recipe-choosing turn was a legacy they would have to leave to their great-grandchildren, people began pairing up for recipe challenges.

Lucky for me, my good blog friend (and just friend all around) Jasmine had a more reasonable 2009 recipe challenge date, and invited me to share the month with her. We were both interested in doing something from another country and something that didn't just encourage people to take on a new skill but to look again at so
mething they might never before have considered. I thought a recipe from my adopted country, Britain, might fall into that category.

British food still has a bad reputation (particularly in America and Australia...and probably other places too) that I think is due a lot to post-war rationing and deprivation but isn't really a deserved reputation any more. British food from the 1950s until the 1980s and 90s was rarely something worth seeking out, but modern British food has more than come into its own, drawing on traditions of using good quality fresh produce and a range of herbs and spices. I've become a British food convert and fight its corner whenever the fight is brought to me.

The Bakewe
ll Tart, and English dessert from the 19th century, hasn't been changed much over the years since it hasn't needed to. You do have to like almond to stand a chance of liking the tart, but I've always appreciated the balance of sweet jam and spongey mild frangipane, crisp crust and soft topping, and how it can grow sweeter or milder depending on your tastes. A classic Bakewell Tart should have a cherry or strawberry filling, and though those are Mr A&N's favorite incarnations of the treat, I broke free a bit since Mr A&N wouldn't be able to share in the tart because of his diet restrictions. My jam element became a rhubarb, apple and ginger jam, another classic English dessert flavor that I thought might enjoy being introduced to its compatriot. Mr A&N called it a travesty against both the rhubarb and the tart, but since he doesn't have any say in this one, I shan't regard him.

Thanks for the recipe itself must go to Jasmine, who worked hard doing the testing and the tweaking, and only needed me to step in every
so often and say 'yum'. I love the crust she's come up with and will use it whenever a shortcrust is needed, now. I also love how easy and adaptable the whole recipe is and it will now be a standard dessert for me to put on show. Thanks also to Ivonne and Lis for the massive undertaking and success of the Daring Bakers, and for all of you for joining in. I hope that you've (mostly) all enjoyed the tart as well, and at least used it as an opportunity to try out another classic British treat: to enjoy a slice of cake while having a nice sit down and a cup of tea.

Bakewell tart
Makes one 23cm (9” tart)

Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Jasmine’s notes:
• If you cannot have nuts, you can try substituting Victoria sponge for the frangipane. It's a pretty popular popular cake, so you shouldn't have any troubles finding one in one of your cookbooks or through a Google search. That said, our dear Natalie at Gluten a Go Go has sourced some recipes and linked to them in the related alt.db thread.
• You can use whichever jam you wish, but if you choose something with a lot of seeds, such as raspberry or blackberry, you should sieve them out.
• The jam quantity can be anywhere from 60ml (1/4 cup) to 250ml (1cup), depending upon how “damp” and strongly flavoured your preserves are. I made it with the lesser quantity of home made strawberry jam, while Annemarie made it with the greater quantity of cherry jam; we both had fabulous results. If in doubt, just split the difference and spread 150ml (2/3cup) on the crust.
Annemarie’s notes:
• The excess shortcrust can be rolled out and cut into cookie-shapes (heck, it’s pretty darned close to a shortbread dough).

Sweet shortcrust pastry

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

Jasmine’s notes:
• I make this using vanilla salt and vanilla sugar.
• If you wish, you can substitute the seeds of one vanilla bean, one teaspoon of vanilla paste or one teaspoon of vanilla extract for the almond extract


Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Annemarie’s notes:
• Add another five minutes or more if you're grinding your own almonds or if you're mixing by hand (Heaven help you).

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Rosewater and Mint Fruit Salad

This is a recipe adapted from my friend Jill a la Jill Dupliex (not the same Jill though the mistake is an easy one). Friend Jill is an excellent host and cook, and when she has you round for food you can be sure of dining on 3 (or more) wonderful courses of food. On a recent trip around hers, we ate strawberries in rosewater essence with a chocolate sorbet, and the memory of the dessert lingered.

The original recipe uses rosewater essence and sugar to create a sweetened syrup for the strawberries to bask in. The rosewater isn't directly tasted, but adds an 'Ooh, what is that?' flavor to the fruit which ratchets up their appeal. So so far so good with the strawberries and rosewater, it would seem. When making it myself, I decided to throw in a couple of more ingredients for a bit of further interest and to use som
e of the abundant fruit I had bought from the local market (when a bowl full of anything costs £1, it's not hard to wind up with more peaches/peppers/persimmons than modesty would allow).

In this, I used equal parts strawberries and peaches since both turn out a good syrup is allowed to sit in sugar for a while. The rosewater stayed put, and was joined by mint to add additional freshness and flavor. Really, you can play with the fruit and sweetness levels as you see fit, but sticking with a strawberry base and other fruits that are juicy is the best bet. With a bit of cream on top, it's a different way of enjoying strawberries and cream and a slightly sophisticated way of getting your summer fruit salad in. You won't work up a sweat from making this, but you should still enjoy it with a cool glass of Pimms or a dip in the swimming pool (even if it's just an imagined one).

Rosewater and Mint Fruit Salad
makes about 6 modest-sized servings

  • about 1lb strawberries, topped and cut in two (or quarters) if large
  • about 1lb peaches, diced into bite sized pieces
  • handful of fresh mint, chopped finely about
  • 3 heaped Tbs confectioner's sugar (more if the strawberries are on the tart side)
  • 2 Tbs rosewater essence
  1. Combine the strawberries, peaches, mint, sugar and rosewater in a large bowl. Taste for tartness, adjusting as needed but keeping in mind the salad will be a bit sweeter after a while.
  2. Stir well and allow to cool for a few hours so the flavors can come together.
  3. Enjoy.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Liver and Sage Pate

It was my birthday this past week (happy birthday to me). Even more momentous than turning the age Jesus was when he was killed was that Mr A&N and I went out with each other on a hot date. That's right - a friend gave me the greatest gift she could give me (along with a nice book) by offering to baby sit Baby A&N. We jumped at the chance, booked ourselves into the local tapas place, and pathologically checked our phones every 20 minutes just in case we missed any messages coming in as we slowly got tipsy on the wine.

The tapas, and the freedom, were wonderful, and my favorite dish of liver and onions in sherry (which was rich, sweet, and entirely too easy to eat too much of) reminded me of my love of liver. In a bid to re-create some of the magic of having dinner with my husband, I bought a batch of chicken livers from my local butchers. Buying them reminded Mr A&N, though, that he has a definite liver threshold, and he'd had enough liver-shaped liver for the week, thanks very much.

Luckily, cooking and sticking liver through a blender disguises the true nature of the meat for him and results in a rather good pate. The inspiration for the pate came from Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall, the execution via Mr A&N and so the recipe has changed slightly to be both of theirs. Sadly, the magic of our evening out wore off within 24 hours since Baby A&N has now decided that he doesn't need to sleep on through the night anymore and he'd rather say hi to us at 3am. At least the pate is tasty.

Liver and Sage Pate

  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 8 rashers streaky bacon, cut into pieces
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 lb chicken liver, trimmed of sinew bits and cut into chunks
  • palmful of fresh sage (about 20 leaves), roughly chopped
  • glug of brandy (about 1/2 C)
  • 1/2 a nutmeg, grated
  • 75g oats (or breadcrumbs)
  1. Melt the butter over a medium high heat in a large pan. Add the onion and bacon and sautee until mostly cooked, then add the garlic and cook until lightly brown.
  2. Add liver and brown on all sides, then add the sage and give a good stir.
  3. Add the brandy and nutmeg and cook over a medium heat until the liver is cooked through (about 5 minutes).
  4. Throw in the oats and give a good stir so that everything is combined well, then turn off the heat.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until smooth (we like to make ours slightly rustic so that it's not toothpaste smooth but a bit chunky).
  6. Place the mixture in a pate dish or loaf dish. Cover in plastic wrap and place a weight on top (or even just a container with some water) so the mixure is pressed. Once it's cool enough, place in fridge and leave for a couple of hours before serving.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Lemon and Basil Sorbet

Summer has arrived this week. Please don't check your calendars, just go by my word. Hayfever, sunscreen, over-warm public transportation. But also long days, pea shoots springing up in the garden, and hours spent sitting in parks with Baby A&N and the other local mummies and babies. It's intoxicating (or that may be the hayfever medication), and I'm beyond happy that I'm still on maternity leave rather than sitting in an office chair, projecting my disembodied spirit outside the window and sending it frollicking barefoot through greenery.

And now summer has gone. The past two days have been cold - heating intermittently on, hat on the baby, a few extra minutes standing in the shower to take up the warmth of the water. And grey grey grey. The summer fruits and flavors that have started to come out at the market don't seem to fit with the steely-skied gloom outside. But I am thankful for the embarrassment of sweet and
juicy things that are suddenly on offer and which I am buying up by the bag-full and eating with closed eyes, hoping the skies will brighten by the time I'm finished.

I have trouble each year with deciding which is my favorite summer fruit - peaches! cherries! strawberries! watermelon! - and always risk filling myself to the point of sickness in the attempt to find the winner. Healthier than gourging yourself on chocolate, but still an act that can result in a something of a sweetness bellyache. An antidote, then, is a summery sweet thing that doesn't send you into hyperglycemic shock: a lemon sorbet.

freshing in both a cooling and tongue-invigorating way, I made this sorbet with a bit of basil thrown in for extra interest and a different dimension to the sweetness. A good twist to a classic, keep it in the freezer for those hot summer days. Or those days when summer disappears and you need a reminder of how the season ought to be enjoyed. C'mon back, summer. Whatever it was that we did to upset you, we're terribly, terribly sorry.

Lemon and Basil Sorbet
makes 1 and a bit liters
/ 4 1/2 cups

  • 750ml water
  • 500g caster sugar
  • 300ml lemon juice (8 or so lemons)
  • zest 1 lemon
  • good handful of basil
  1. Gently heat the water over a medium heat, adding the sugar and stirring until dissolved.
  2. Simmer for a couple of minutes, then add the lemon juice and zest. Taste for tartness and add a bit more sugar/lemon juice if desired.
  3. Cool completely.
  4. Finely chop the basil then add to the cool mixture.
  5. Add to an ice cream maker and churn for about 20-30 minutes or until smooth.

Friday, 29 May 2009

A Trip to Wales

Mother-in-law A&N moved to Wales a few years back. The lure of endless fresh air, a vegetable garden the size of most London flats, and plenty of large hills up which to hike and jog during dangerously inclement weather proved too much for her. She and her husband now live in a beautiful valley with their 4 ducks and the cows and sheep in the next field over singing them off to sleep.

The biggest shame about Wales (and the biggest factor in preserving its beauty) is that it can be mighty difficult to get to. A 60 mile as-the-crow-flies stretch of road can take two stomach churning hours of dipping up and down hills and rocking to and fro around endless bends in the road, often stopping or reversing since the road isn't wide enough to hold two cars at once. We haven't visited them in two years since the thought of taking the 5 hour trip when pregnant made me immediately queasy. Mr A&N last week found himself with a few days off between his freelance projects, so we packed up the c
ar and set off for a week's holiday at his mum's.

Being with baby doesn't make the traditional early morning hikes easy to negotiate, and Mr A&N was glad for the excuse to take it easy. We instead had gentle walks around ruined castles and several tours of the vegetable patch with Baby A&N taking delight in the ducks and the butterflies that stopped by the say hello. I came away from our castle trips with a build-your-own castle book that I'm trying my best not to rip into until Baby A&N is old enough to do it with me, even though I so desperately want to build a while medieval city on our dining table.

Our dining in Wales always takes place at home, with Mr A&N's mother picking things from the garden that are fresh and balancing them with meat or fish from her local farm shop. Ambling about in the same fields as your sheep and seeing them wandering in your church yards brings me closer to the reality of what I'm eating, so I appreciated the chance to buy some well reared meat from the source. Eating lamb these days does give me pangs, thinking that I'm tucking into some sheep's own Baby A&N. Thank goodness it's delicious enough to help me swallow down that guilt with a slight garlic aftertaste.

At the farm shop, the farmer explained (first in Welsh, then in English as I gave him polite but empty smiles) how he had some goat meat going cheap. He was given two goats, and while letting himself have a day to decide what to do with them (cheese? milk? sell them on? grow a herd?) they managed to eat through two water butts and some important wiring. And so goat was now being served up at the shop. Mr A&N's mother and I happily offered a home to the bargain meat, only scratching our heads on the way out over what to do with 2 racks of goat rib each. Eat them, is the short conclusion, but anything more than that and we're both stumped. Any suggestions, anyone?

Thursday, 21 May 2009


I hope you'll forgive this break in the normal recipe posting schedule in lieu of me talking a bit about Baby A&N. If you're of a delicate, non-baby disposition, do look away now (and return next week, please).

Rather than thinking of what to make for Mr A&N and myself this past week, my efforts have been concentrated on Baby A&N since we have begun feeding him solid foods. Hooray! He's a fair sized boy, in the 80-something percentile for weight and 90-something percentile for height, and has been jealously eyeing anything that went into anyone's mouth for several
weeks now. I didn't read any childcare books before Baby A&N was born since I didn't want to tie myself in knots about what I should or shouldn't do, but I felt that weaning did probably contain some shoulds and shouldn'ts and so I ought to look through a book or two before tackling solids.

But the books I looked through only confused me more, and didn't always help answer what I thought were basic questions (How much should I feed him? If he wants more solids, should I give it to him or should I guide him toward his milk? At what age should the solids replace the milk during particular feeds? How do I get him to enjoy food rather than just eat it?). So we've decided to invent our own weaning method. We're doing a bit of puree to sate his appetite and a bit of baby led weaning to help him start enjoying food (and we do our best not to panic if Baby A&N has a gagging moment while munching on his stick of cucumber/banana/broccoli). We're also trusting in Baby A&N's palate to guide us through his meals and aren't waiting to introduce strong flavors - anything goes and so far, so good. In one week, he's tackled:

  • Sweet potato
  • Butternut squash
  • Carrot
  • Broccoli
  • Cucumber
  • Mango
  • Banana
  • Apple
  • Potato
  • Beetroot
  • Pear
The only mildly unsuccessful taste so far has been the potato, but I'm sure he'll come around since I can't see him living a life without potato chips and french fries. And I'm sure I'll learn a bit more too - such as not feeding him beetroot just before heading out to meet people. "He looks like he slaughtered a cow with his face" commented Mr A&N on seeing the beetroot aftermath. True, but he wanted more - and in my book of weaning, that's a good thing.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Matina's Roasted Pork With Fennel Seeds and Lemon

Food has been a troublesome matter in the A&N household for the past two weeks. Mr A&N has been put on an exclusion diet by his Doctor to try to isolate what food (if any) causes him stomach pains. He's been plagued by trouble for years, so any possible easing of that pain would be worth the hassle in the mean time. But in the mean time, it's a hassle. Among the foods that he can't eat are:

  • Wheat
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Potato
  • Corn
  • Citrus foods
  • Beef
  • Ham
  • Alcohol
  • Garlic
  • Onions
I've fielded more than one lunch-time call from him, desperately roaming the supermarket aisles for something to eat that isn't brimming over with banned substances. He's ableto reintroduce one food at a time starting from next week, and he stays awake at night thrilling over what to bring back first (wheat would let him have bread and pasta again, but my we have guests next week so perhaps bring alcohol in first...garlic and onions, though, are a staple for most other flavors, so maybe they should come before anything else...).

Going out to dinner would be difficult veering toward impossible, but luckily Baby A&N is an automatic restaurant eliminator so we don't have much to worry about. Going around to friend's houses for food is equally challenging, and filled with many apologies as we turn their menus into a pile of dust or try to postpone our get-together. Our ever-accommodating Greek friend, Matina, saw the challenge head on and produced the planned roast pork main course for us normal mortals along with an improvised grilled sardine course for Mr A&N containing nothing but approved ingredients and a bit of Greek magic.

Mr A&N cooed and ahh'd over the sardines which were full of the tastes of sea and sunshine that you would hope (I tasted, I can verify). But really, the action was where the pork was. Matina used fennel seeds and lemon to flavor the meat and the crackling, and it worked incredibly well. It worked so well that it sent me into a reverie of the different times I've eaten wonderful foods containing fennel seeds, and how I ought to pay the fennel more respect by using it more often. The slow-cooking treatment rendered the pork very soft and moist, and a bit of gravy on the side helped complete the desire to drown yourself in the flavors. A perfect Sunday lunch. Shame Mr A&N couldn't join in for now, but I'll make sure he adds this to his list of Food Deprivations - To Be Rectified for when the diet is done.

Matina's Roasted Pork With Fennel Seeds and Lemon
Good for 1 1/2 - 2 kg of pork shoulder or leg joint, preferably with skin on to make crackling

  • 3 tsp of fennel seeds
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 3 tsp of coarse sea salt
  • 1 tsp of peppercorns
  • rind of one lemon
  • 2 Tbs of olive oil
  • 1 kg leg or shoulder of pork
  • 1 pint of dry apple cider (about 250 - 300ml)
  • 1 bramley (cooking) apple, cut into 8 or so slices
    1 large onion, cut into 8 or so slices
    Flour and water (for the gravy)

  1. Turn the oven on to 200 C / 450 F
  2. Score the pork skin to help it go crispy, and dry it well with paper towels. If you want to make extra crispy crackling, separate the skin from the meat before scoring, then score and blot dry with paper towels.
  3. Mix fennel, cloves, sea salt, peppercorns, lemon, olive oil in a pestle and mortar until it is thick paste.
  4. If you have removed the skin from the pork, spread half the paste over the top side of the pork meat, then place the skin on top as it originally was and spread the other half of the paste on. Tie loosely together with string. If you haven't separated the skin, rub the paste into the skin quite well.
  5. Put the pork in the and oven tray and add the pint of cider, apple and onion
    Cook at 200 / 400 for 1/2 an hour. Then reduce the cooking temperature to 140 / 280 and cook for another 4 hours. Check on occasion to make sure the juices in the pan haven't gone dry; top up with water or more cider if they have.
  6. Rest the pork for 1/2 an hour.
  7. Check the crackling for crispiness. If it looks like it could be crispier, bring the temperature of the oven back up to 200 / 400, and blast the skin for a further 5 minutes at a time until it's crispy enough. Remove from oven.
  8. In the mean time, strain the juice for gravy. Heat the juices on the stove, adding in 1 Tbs of flour at a time until the gravy is of the thickness you like (it's easiest to stir and dissolve the flour in a glass with some water first, then add it to the gravy mix; this helps keep the flour from going lumpy).
  9. Serve the pork in slices with gravy on top and some crackling on the side.