Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cauliflower and parsnip curry

Another "what am I going to do with all this veg?" recipe. Yes, we are still struggling with it and Sarah was away again this weekend. So on Saturday evening I tried to make some space in the fridge and get ahead for the week by making a vegetable curry to take in as lunches. The cauliflower in this was from two boxes ago and the parsnips have been languishing for one week; heaven knows when the celery appeared. This certainly didn't make any in-roads into the latest selection.

It is a very basic curry, using ready ground spices, in which pretty much any left-over bits can be used up - squash, potatoes, broccoli, leafy greens... And don't worry if they look a bit sad already - any loss of colour is irrelevant once the turmeric and paprika are in!

Canned pulses or meat could be added if you feel the need for more protein. Skip the lentils if you don't happen to have any, they're just to provide some bulk to the sauce and you can compensate by using less water and living with less sauce. (Proper curry sauce is based on ghee-softened laboriously-chopped onions; this is the healthier, simpler alternative.) Fresh chilli can be replaced with a pinch of chilli flakes or some ground chilli powder, say half a teaspoon (or more to taste).

Before and after:

For a good four portions:
  • 2 tbsp oil (olive, vegetable, sunflower, whatever)
  • 2 smallish onions (or one big 'un)
  • 2 parsnips (or one enormous bruiser)
  • 2 sticks celery
  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 green chilli
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 3 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp ground paprika
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 can water (i.e. fill the tomato can with water to rinse and measure simultaneously)
  • 1/2 American cup measure or about 125g red lentils
  • 2 tbsp concentrated tomato puree
  • Salt and pepper

  • Heat oil in a large saucepan. Chop onion into small wedges and add to pan. Peel and dice parsnip, then chuck in with the onion on a medium heat. Finely (very finely, even) chop the celery and add to the pan. Finely chop or mince the chilli, removing the seeds unless you have a taste for the very spicy, and stir into the already softening vegetables. Stir in all of the ground spices at the same time. If it looks like the spices might burn on to the bottom of the pan, add some water now. Cut your cauliflower up into small florets and the pepper into bite-sized pieces and stir into the pan together with the canned tomatoes, lentils, water (reduced roughly accordingly if you already added some) and tomato puree. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the lentils are done. Remove the lid if it is not thickening or add more water if it looks like drying out and sticking to the bottom. Before eating, taste and salt as required.



    Okay, deep breaths...

    Phew. I think I have myself back under control now. But the excitement was very great. I went to Borough Market this morning, and there was a Mexican stall which, though it was sadly not selling tamales, did have the wherewithal to make them. Well, corn husks and masa, the filling will have to come from elsewhere.

    I have had tamales precisely once. Well, on two days, but they were consecutive and so count in my mind as one occasion. I spent a few days in Los Angeles back in 2005, and went to the Hollywood Farmer's Market and had tamales for breakfast from a stall there. And they were SO GOOD! I have been missing them ever since. Sob. If anyone knows of a source in London, please, please tell me. More likely, if you are based in the UK, you are thinking "what's a tamale?" Basically, starting from the inside out, they are some sort of filling - usually meat-based I believe, encased in corn dough/paste all wrapped up in corn husks and steamed. To eat, you open up the husk wrapper, add sauce and eat. Preferably in the LA (or even Mexican!) sunshine, but I'm not going to get finickity about the weather if I've got a tamale.

    So anyway, I have corn husks and masa, and now just have to find a recipe, get the rest of the ingredients and find a weekend to make them! I can hardly wait.

    Dinner with Darwin and a diplodocus

    Last night I went to the final in the series of "After Hours" events at the Natural History Museum which have been going on over the winter months. I wish I had known about them before, and will be looking out for any repeats of the idea - it was fun!

    The museum central hall and the exhibition(s) are open late, a couple of bars are set up, food is available and live jazz encourages an end-of-the-week (or beginning-of-the weekend, depending on whether you're a glass half-full or half-empty type) atmosphere. The "Blue Bar" consists of round, white-linen bedecked, tealight-adorned tables in the central hall, with Darwin looking down from his throne on the grand staircase and the diplodocus' tail stretching out over the heads of the diners. Anyone not wanting food is channelled into the "Red Bar" which is sans tables, chairs or cocktails, serving just drinks and a few snacks (pint of sausage rolls, anyone?).

    I arrived hungry and aching from the gym with an hour to go before my Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition entry time, so grabbed a table and ordered a Bramble cocktail (gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and creme de mur - to ease the aching, you see) while I contemplated the menu and the setting. The NHM is one of my absolute favourite buildings - it awes me every time I look at it. It's a vast cavern, but so intricately detailed and the use of colour is wonderful - it is everywhere, from the blue terracotta to the gilded ceiling painting, but the effect is so subtle and it all harmonizes beautifully. On the inside and outside there are sculptures of animals and plants (extinct on the east side, living - at least when the museum was built - on the west) and the walls and pillars everywhere are carved. Seeing it lit by soft lights shining from the arches of the second level walkways and candles, with the musicians in an alcove with a reptilian skeleton bigger than the double bass in a glass case and a rock panel with perfect plant fossils in relief behind them, was quite special (small photo above taken with my camera phone, two below taken from the NHM website).

    I drank my Bramble (£7.50), which was rather heavy on the sugar and light on the lemon, and ordered the "Andalucian fish pie with an orange salad" (£9.50, as everything except the sharing platter was). When it arrived I was struck by two things: it was rather small, and there was no orange in the salad... Orange-coloured bits, yes, but I think the menu should have been more specific. A more accurate description would be cooked but cold cubes of carrot, squash and parsnip - just mentioning the words "root vegetables" would have been sensible, I think. The fish pie was adequate, but did I mention small? It was fine for me (just), but I won't be suggesting any of the boys come out for dinner there. I'd get a lot of complaints and demands to stop and pick up something else later on. A glass of Pouilly Fumé and some gazing around at everyone else sitting chatting and eating and drinking with an enormous dinosaur's tail inches above their heads (so incongruous!) took me through to exhibition viewing time.

    On the website it said that to attend the After Hours event one had to buy a ticket to the exhibition, which I did though I had actually already been to see it. (I was very disappointed that Darwin finished last Sunday - a fact I discovered at 4pm that day and have been kicking myself for not looking into earlier ever since.) However, no one checked at any point other than entry to the actual exhibit that I had a ticket, so it seems one could quite easily go along and just chill out in the two bars and enjoy the music and not go to the exhibition , if desired. But I don't want to discourage anyone! The fact that I was quite happy to go again to see the wildlife photographs says it all really - all of the shots are absolutely incredible. So overall, a very pleasant evening in beautiful surroundings, with decent food and drink, provided you are not as hungry as the skeletons gazing at you look.

    Saturday, April 18, 2009

    Easter Slow Food event at the Southbank Centre

    Slow Food London organise various food and drink-themed events in London (details on the website, or see their Facebook page), and last weekend they held an event for Easter at the Southbank Centre. It was basically a farmer's market, with a few talks and demonstrations in a tent to one side.

    There was cheese and charcuterie...

    There were dips and salads and spices...

    There was paella...

    There was also a wine-tasting, featuring "rare wines". Unfortunately, I had nothing with which to take notes, so I couldn't write down exactly what we tried. There was certainly a Tannat, a red from Arbois, a Favorita (possibly Italy or Corsica?) and another white, beginning with R but other than that I can't remember (it was very acidic, and basically tasted of grapefruit, so I wasn't mad about it anyway).

    I caught the end of a "Spring Cheeses" tasting session too, and there were other talks throughout the weekend. All of the vendors had samples out, and most of them were happy to chat about their produce, companies and food generally. A couple of the more interesting points were a long conversation I overheard between a honey-merchant from Norfolk and a customer about colony collapse disorder, in which entire hives of bees just seem to disappear and which continues to spread, a rose petal preserve and a stall selling hemp oil, which apparently contains high levels of omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids in exactly the proportions the body uses them. I was somewhat dubious about the scientific basis of this last claim (surely the required ratios depend on what process exactly the acids are being used for in the body?) but the oil did have a pleasant nutty flavour. Overall, it was a cute little market to wander through if you happened to be in the area, and provided a number of options for a stand-up lunch to the passing hoards, but I wouldn't recommend traveling any great distance especially for it.

    Of boxes and books

    You may have inferred from the previous couple of posts that I (with Sarah) am now getting a vegetable box delivery each week from Abel & Cole. We've started with the "deluxe organic" box for 4 people and will see how it goes. So far I have been intimidated by the quantity of red kale, and after yesterday's delivery we are in danger from the kohl rabi mountain (well, hillock): a further two arrived and we were as yet to finish the first ones from the earlier boxes. But enough negativity! We are actually loving it.

    And the second box came with an exciting free gift: the Abel & Cole Cookbook! Written by Keith Abel, the founder of the company, it is arranged seasonally and is based around vegetables but includes meat dishes too. It's a good looking book, working along the general principle of a recipe on one page and a photograph on the facing page. There's a bit of waffle from Keith introducing each recipe and at the beginning each chapter, in a friendly, chatty tone that makes you think Keith would be a fun person to have in the kitchen whilst you were cooking. There are some great lines, especially in the intro, some of my favourites being:
    If you think cooking is a chore, you must be doing it the wrong way...
    and (on making cooking fun):
    Sing out loud and embarrass the kids. Take off your clothes and throw on a pinny. Take off your clothes and don't throw on a pinny. (Mind the Aga...)
    and (on the subject of warming plates):
    ..If all else fails, check where the cat hangs out - it's guaranteed to be warm.
    Whilst I'm not about to follow Keith's suggestions in the second quote to the letter, I do agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment. This brings me on to my only word of warning about this book - whilst the recipes look pretty straightforward to follow, and the ones I have tried so far have been successful, it is perhaps not a book for slightly nervous or inexperienced cooks.  It is clear that a fairly cavalier attitude prevails in the Abel kitchen, and one is not expected to follow the instructions here to the letter. Whilst this is how I approach much of my cooking, and encourage others to too, if you are not comfortable relying on your own judgement of how long something needs to cook or whatever, you probably won't love this book. That said, if you get over the initial anxiety and give something a whirl, it might be a perfect aid to building your confidence!

    Of course, one of the main points of this book is to provide suggestions for using the more unusual vegetables that appear in the boxes, and that is exactly what we have used it for. So far I have tried jerusalem artichokes for the first time (made into artichoke and almond rostis (page 195) - utterly delicious) and Sarah made the potato and kohlrabi gratin (page 142) in a desperate bid to use some of the latter up last night. The universal verdict on that was "tasty, but I'd rather have a straight potato gratin" - the kohlrabi retains its crunch, and neither of us found firm layers desirable, feeling the point really is the delicious soft fattiness of the cream soaked starch. 

    I also made a cauliflower-based curry, but it was so far removed from the one in the book that I won't pretend to be able to comment on that specifically, but can endorse the principle. And finally, Sarah also made the pan-fried chicken breasts with blood orange sauce, except with regular oranges, which was also reported as delicious, other than George's reservations about the use of flour in the sauce. Next up I think will be one of the purple sprouting broccoli recipes. Watch this space!

    Sunday, April 12, 2009

    Kale, Kohlrabi and Chorizo Hot Salad

    Our first veg box contained a big bag of red kale. I had it steamed a couple of times (alongside a piece of mackerel, and with the bacon, leek and mushroom tart) but there was still over half the bag left when the second box arrived on Friday last week. One of the great things about Abel & Cole is that you can check online to see what the contenders for the box each week are, and opt out of anything that you don't want, either permanently or just for one week. I thought that this meant one would get extra of some of the other things, so I deselected red cabbage for the second week's delievery, as we still had plenty of leafy stuff from the first. Unfortunately, I had misunderstood - you get an alternative. Which turned out to be another bag of kale. D'oh!

    So now I have 1.5 bags of red kale, and I am the only person in the house over the Easter weekend. I also have two kohlrabi, as we didn't manage to eat the first of those either... Is anyone else thinking that perhaps getting the four person box was a bit ambitious? Or that we should get organised and actually take lunch into work each day, as we said that we would?

    Irrespective of the wisdom of our choices, I still have a lot of vegetables to eat up. Luckily, a morning of gardening with attendant mollusc mass-murder (46 snails!) is fairly hunger-inducing, and so I made this light-but-filling salad for lunch, before heading out to the Slow Food event at the Southbank Centre. The kohlrabi adds a crunchy texture, but all the flavour really comes from the sausage and the kale.

    One portion:
  • Large handful red kale (basically, enough to fill your bowl)
  • About 2 inches of skinny chorizo (i.e. not the monster, 2 inch diameter salami-kind)
  • Half a small red onion
  • 1tsp olive oil
  • Pinch of paprika
  • Pinch of chilli flakes
  • 3tbsp julienned kohlrabi
  • Splash (about 2tsp) red wine vinegar

  • Roughly chop the kale, discarding any woody stalks, and steam for 3 or 4 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the chorizo into 3mm thick half-moons and chuck in a hot, dry pan. Let the oil render out of the sausage, and then add the olive oil to the pan if you think it is necessary (if there is more than a tablespoons-worth of chorizo oil already, don't bother). Thinly slice the red onion and add to the pan. Stir in the spices then add the kohlrabi. Add the kale as soon as it has steamed. Give it all a quick toss together - the onion and kohlrabi only need to heat through, not really cook. Remove from the heat, quickly stir in the vinegar, season with salt and pepper and tip into a bowl. Gobble!

    Friday, April 10, 2009

    Bacon, Mushroom and Leek Tart

    I feel like all of the cooking I have done in the past weeks has been has been reactive rather than proactive, by which I mean, of the "what can I make out of all the stuff in the fridge that is going to go bad if we don't eat it soon?" variety, as opposed to the menu-planned-shopping-list-made-accordingly approach. The primary cause of this was my flatmate's boyfriend's birthday party, from which they came home with pounds and pounds of leftover cheese, and more bacon than one can shake a stick at. We also have a vast array of vegetables (more on this later), and Sarah keeps going away for the weekend. So I have more food than ever, and a new year's resolution to keep. Fortunately, I also have friends who can be relied upon to never say no to food, especially homemade food. Last Sunday, I met with one of these friends to have a photography lesson, and so I offered to take lunch. This is what I made, and yes, I appreciate how silly it sounds to say that I made this for a photography lesson and then omitted to take any photographs of it. Instead, I'll give you a picture of London, under a blanket of cloud.

    Makes one shallow 9 inch tart - double the filling if you want it deep-filled.

    For the pastry:
  • 6oz plain flour
  • 3oz butter (or half butter, half shortening - I didn't have any)
  • Pinch of salt
  • About 3tbsp cold water
  • (Alternatively, if you are new to pastry making, see here for a more generous pastry recipe - so you don't have to roll it out so thinly - with very detailed instructions.)

    For the filling:
  • 6 rashers bacon
  • 1 large or 2 small leeks
  • 2 large portobello mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 60ml (4tbsp or 1/4 cup) milk
  • Black pepper

  • Preheat the oven to 200°. To make the pastry, rub the fat into the flour until you get coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the salt and add just enough cold water to form a dough - start with a couple of spoonfuls and only add more if you really need it to get the mixture to clump. Gently roll out on a floured surface until just large enough to fit your flan tin. Line the tin with the pastry, making sure there are no cracks or splits, line with greaseproof paper and weight down with baking beans, old pulses or similar. Bake blind for about 7 minutes, until the sides are sufficiently cooked to support themselves. Remove the beans and paper lining and continue cooking until the base is dried out too. Turn the oven down a tad, or cover the sides of the pastry case if the edges start to brown before the centre is done.

    Meanwhile, make the filling. Cut any excess fat off the bacon and then chop into raggedy strips. Dry fry in a hot pan, making sure to evaporate off any liquid which seeps out. Then add the oil. Chop the mushrooms in half and then slice finely and add to the pan. Rinse out any mud then slice the leek into 3-5mm rounds and chuck them in the frying pan too. Cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, until all are cooked through. Whisk the eggs with the mustard and milk.

    Once the pastry case has finished baking and the filling is cooked through, assemble the tart by simply spreading the bacon and vegetables mixture evenly over the base, pouring in the egg mix and grinding a little pepper over the top. Place it back in the oven and cook until the filling is set, which should take about 10 minutes. Eat hot, warm or cold, with salad and maybe some chutney on the side, view of the Thames optional.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009

    A recap and some recommendations

    So, clearly I haven't been doing enough playing in the kitchen recently! But this is set to change... First though, a recap of other (significant) things that have happened.

    New house!
    I moved house (again) in January. I knew as soon as I stepped into the kitchen that I wanted to live here: it is gorgeous, big enough to hold a table for six, overlooking a garden, has a larder containing (I kid you not) shelves of neatly hand-labelled kilner jars and .... drum-roll... a bright red KitchenAid mixer! Fortunately, the offer I had made on the rent for another, tiny, tiny one-bedroom flat was sneered at by the owner, and so I was off the hook and free to move in here. I also have a lovely new flatmate, the writer of the afore-mentioned labels and owner of the wonderful KitchenAid, who has chosen the same crockery and tableware as me, was listening to BBC Radio 4 the first time I came around and jazz the second time and thinks that coming back from holiday laden down with cake tins, cookie cutters, jars of spices and sundry other food-related items is perfectly normal - my kind of woman. The first week after I moved in we baked 6 items between us... Well, it was my birthday! And when we combined my store-cupboard with hers, we had enough sugar, of just about all different kinds, to open our own sweet shop, so the baking was obligatory.

    Moroccan cook book
    After moving in to my new place, I wanted the remainder of my belongings back - they had been residing with my grandmother since November. Thus, my parents came round for lunch one Sunday with their two current foster children and a car full of my things. Not all my things, note, as there were four people in the car, but that is a different issue... So: Sunday lunch? I wanted something that would sit in the oven so I could get on with my morning and not worry about what time people would arrive. And also not too heavy, as they had to drive home again after, and a stodge-induced torpor would not be conducive to road safety. But, on the other hand, I was feeding my father: there had to be meat. Lots of it. So I consulted my flatmate's cookery books (mine being absent until the guests arrived), one of which is The Moroccan Collection by Hilaire Walden. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of lamb recipes in here, and I made the lamb tagine with chickpeas and raisins (with a couple of changes - I left out the potatoes and, I think, reduced the quantity of shallots too) and served a pile of couscous with toasted almonds and pinenuts alongside. It was fabulous!

    And then not long after moving in, I had a dinner party: eight people round the table for six - good times! I might post more about the full menu later, but here I shall just note that I went for another recipe from the same book: stuffed baked lamb. And again, it was a triumph! A boned leg of lamb is stuffed with a combination of couscous, spices, pinenuts and flaked almonds, onion, herbs and raisins. I roasted a pile of vegetables (squash, fennel, sweet potato, etc.) and steamed some green beans, and I think everyone went home more than sated. If you like aromatically spiced, balanced and surprisingly simple-to-make food, you might like to try this book out.

    Morocco itself!
    I went to Morocco! Skiing was cancelled, and I had vacation to use before the end of March, and so I went to Morocco, on an Atlas Adventure. The first five days were walking in the Atlas, through the most gorgeous landscapes I've ever seen, stopping each night in Berber villages which looked as though they were about to tumble down the mountainside. We were accompanied by 2 local guides, one cook, three muleteers and four donkeys. We'd walk with the guides until lunchtime, when we'd arrive in a shady, cool spot to find a ground-sheet laid out with cushions along either side ready for us. They'd be mint tea, and then a fabulous lunch all cooked from fresh with piles of beautifully chopped and presented salad, bread, some sort of carbohydrate (pasta, rice...) and a delicious sauce or stew of vegetables, pulses and spices. We'd finish with fresh fruit and more mint tea, then have a snooze or talk and play games or just commune with nature for about another hour, and then set off again to our evening accommodation. Where there would be more fresh food and tea and laughter. It was wonderful - if you get the chance: go!

    And since I am returning in three weeks, I might see you there! But before then, I shall be trying to keep the holiday feeling alive by cooking with the argan oil I brought home with me, and trying to recreate Hallimore's creations (though I am sceptical whether it is possible to do so without a donkey nearby)...