Friday, February 20, 2009

Maldivian Squash Curry
I've been enjoying this book, which I had for Christmas. It has lots of the kind of recipes I like to eat in the week - spicy, quick and easy. The restaurant in Covent Garden is supposedly a hippy, big-bowl type joint. We have already enjoyed a couple of recipes from this: sweet potatoes in a peanut sauce and this Maldivian curry. The original features mango but we substituted that for sweet potato and extra lime juice. It was a good excuse to try my new Steenbergs set, too - elegant glass pots of fresh new spices. The result was delicious.

However, this is why I am not a food photographer. I hope it does not deter you too much. If you like korma then you'll enjoy this version.

Adapted from World Food Cafe 2

4tbsp butter
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1" piece ginger, grated
10 curry leaves
1dsstsp brown mustard seeds
1tsp coriander seeds
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
1/2tsp ground cardamom seeds
1/2tsp turmeric
225g squash (prepared weight), in 3cm cubes
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tomato, chopped
1 cup black-eyed beans, cooked
200ml coconut milk
125ml plain yoghurt
Squeeze lime juice
Salt and coriander, to taste

Melt the butter and saute the onion, garlic, ginger and curry leaves. When the onion is soft add the spices, squash, tomato and sweet potato and stir, cover, and cook 5 minutes (gently). Add the coconut milk, 1/2 cup water and the beans, then simmer gently until the squash is just tender (be careful, as it disintegrates quickly after this point) - 15-20 minutes. Stir in the yoghurt, lime juice, salt and coriander to taste.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Elizabeth David's 'Hebrew Soup'
From Summer Cooking

Out of season and a bit odd, I know, but this soup is quite interesting. We pulled up the last of our beetroots only a week or so ago - they'd grown huge and intimidating. I barely scrubbed them, just put them in a big pot with water and boiled until tender, then lifted them from the dirty water and peeled thickly.

What to do with them? I have put some aside to make beetroot falafel, but used the rest to make this Hebrew Soup from Elizabeth David's Summer Cooking.

The instructions are simple and characteristically vague. Chop cooked beetroot (250g) and put into a pan with 1.5 pints water and a splash of vinegar (abour 1tbsp) and some salt. Boil until the beets are tender, then pour over a beaten egg and press the concoction through a sieve (I blended before sieving, to help it along a bit). Chill thoroughly.

Elizabeth David says the soup is to be served cold, but I just couldn't do it (and after I'd followed her recipe so faithfully too!). So I reheated it ever so gently, having steamed a handful of new potatoes (from the plot, in November!) and added a bit of butter to their pan. Then put a ladleful in each soup bowl and spooned over a few potatoes. (ED says, serve each guest a bowl of soup and a saucer of hot potatoes, probably so the potatoes don't all go cold at once because they were added to the soup.)

It was really good - strange but filling and unique. (ED describes it as "ambrosial".) I wouldn't go that far, but... hmm, this beetroot is growing on me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Caramelised Chilli & Rosemary Nuts

You could toss any combination of nuts in this gorgeously sticky, spicy, crunchy glaze and the result would be equally or more wonderful.

I am mildly obsessed with finding the best recipe for this kind of warm, spicy nuts. I have tried a few different recipes but by far the best technique, I think, is to warm the sugar and spices in a large pan - the melted sugar bubbles and browns and sticks everything to the nuts, giving a good balance of flavour on every nut. Other recipes usually suggest warm butter to act as spice glue... but I find this always ends up in a big heap of butter and spice at the bottom of the dish. My way gives out crunchy nuts that are evenly coated - and suitable for storing in an airtight jar, ready for pulling out (and perhaps warming briefly on a baking tray) when visitors arrive. (and making you feel like a truly perfect hostess, despite the dust on the fireplace.)

500g mixed nuts - I buy these separately (macadamia, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts) - skinned. (To skin hazelnuts, toast in a low oven, then rub them in a tea-towel.)
2tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2tbsp brown sugar
2tsp Maldon salt
1tsp Chipotle chilli flakes
2tsp pink peppercorns (or 1/2 tsp black pepper)

Grind the salt, chilli and pepper in a pestle and mortar and mix in the rosemary. In a large pan, warm up the sugar slowly until it starts to melt on the surface. When at least half of it has melted, you can add the nuts. Toss quickly then sprinkle over the spice mix, and continue toasting in the pan until the sugar is caramelly and the nuts are starting to brown here and there. Tip into a bowl or baking tray to cool, then put into an airight jar. The sweet, salty, spicy combination is addictive!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Butchart Gardens, late Sept (for Alicia)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Smashing Veggie Squeak

Look, I know it's not exactly a culinary sensation, and it's not the healthiest dinner in the world, but here's the thing: if you feel like chips or chocolate, or you have a cheese craving, this is a fix that will make you feel far less guilty. It feels like a treat - and, containing just a splash of olive oil and a sprinkling of cheddar, it's not quite so bad as a giant Dairy Milk. But you'll feel equally rewarded.

Eat with fresh bread and butter!

Smashing veggie squeak
For 2

2 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cubed (1")
1 cup fresh borlotti or other haricot-type beans
1tsp Marigold vegetable bouillon
2 cobs of sweetcorn, kernels removed
1tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely sliced
1tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2-3 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
Plenty of salt and pepper
Large handful cheddar cheese, grated
OPTIONAL: also good would be mushrooms, sweet potato, red pepper, spinach.

Put the potatoes and beans into a pan and just cover with water; sprinkle over the stock, bring to a boil, and cook for 4 minutes; add the sweetcorn kernels and continue for another 2 minutes - until the potato pieces are knife-tender. Drain in a colander.

In a wok or large frying pan, heat 1tbsp olive oil. Toss in the onion, the rosemary, and then the drained vegetables. Season very generously with both salt and pepper. Stir-fry on a high heat for about 4 minutes, getting lots of golden crunchy bits. Preheat the grill. Add the tomatoes and continue for 1 more minute. Taste for seasoning (I seasoned again here - lots of pepper and salt is GOOD).

Dish up into large bowls or plates and sprinkle over the cheese, then put under the grill until melted. Serve.

How to cook chestnuts

First, I wanted to show you some gratuitous pumpkin porn. But now it's onto the chestnuts, I promise.

These pictures of mine are TERRIBLE. But maybe if you shut your eyes a bit and squint at them, they will come slightly into focus? No? Oh well. Humour me.

Here are some chestnuts, fresh from the grass. You can tell they're chestnuts because they have that tuft at the top - unlike conkers (horse chestnuts) which are fully rounded.

Officially, you should slit each one before dropping it into a pan of cold water. I don't bother, thus risking eighty-nine miniature explosions that will send soft shards of chestnut flying all over my kitchen. Luckily, I am not the nominated Kitchen Cleaner in our house, so I don't let miniature explosions bother me too much. So - drop them in, and remove any chestnuts that float to the top. They're bad'uns.

Bring rapidly to the boil, and boil until the nuts feel tender. If they are freshly fallen, this could take just 5 minutes - yours could take longer, so keep an eye on them.

Now remove a few nuts from the pan and put them on your chopping board, ready for the hell to begin. They are easier to peel while hot, so it's best to tackle a few at a time. You will want to clear the nearby rooms of any family members who have done nothing to deserve your wrath.

So - see that brownish lump on my chopping board (brownish background)? It's a chestnut, after boiling. It does not look very different to the way it did pre-boiling, except that I have slit open the top with a knife and peeled away the outer (glossy brown) and inner (the paler brown) skin. Only another eighty-eight nuts to go. Best put on some soothing music - that'll help with the impending chestnut rage...

After what feels like six years, you will be looking at a small heap of the nuts that are now your least favourite nut in the entire world. Your back will ache. Your knife will be dull. And all appetite for these lovely little scamps will be lost. But that's okay. Because you saved a couple of pounds and a trip to the grocer. Now don't you feel good about the world?

Okay. So it will take you some time to feel good about the world. Until then, put these peeled monsters into the fridge or freezer, and try to forget about them. Or throw them immediately into a Mushroom & Chestnut Stroganoff, and destroy the evidence by mouth. Yum!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wipe your feet and come on in

I am in fierce competition with our nextdoor-but-one neighbour when it comes to window displays. Here is my autumn sill. I expect she will top it with an enormous display of dried fennel heads and elegant foliage. Mine always look a bit on the... hm, rustic side. But I prefer to think of them as 'cute'.

PS. Our cottage was built pre-1800, and the Planning officers "prefer us to fix, not replace" the windows. So yes, you are looking at draughty, peeling, rotting, cracked old windows, but at least their history is intact. Be glad you don't get our heating bills.

Welcome to my kitchen. Charlie rules the roost in this house, and she likes to remind us. She especially likes to climb anywhere that she can look down on us. She is doubtless planning a surprise attack of some sort. See how she is sharpening her claws on the ancient wooden beams?

The walls are a fetching swamp-monster green. That's what my husband called it when I painted splodges from trial pots. But now he loves it. Further proof, if needed, that I am virtually always right.

Indulge me. This is my cooker. I often stand in the doorway and gaze lovingly at it. I saved up for this darling and it makes my cooking better in every way. (I am not crying. yet.) And can you say that about a race bike that lives in the shed for 300 days of the year? No. You cannot. Do you think those tins are real antiques? I don't know either. I don't mind, anyway. In case my husband reads this, especially the bike part, I should also point out his lovely white silicone around the worktops and tiles. Beautiful work, yes?

You may be getting the sense that this is a slightly censored kitchen tour. That perhaps I chose a good moment to take pictures... to prove otherwise, here is the sink, complete with dirty dishwater and undried plates.

This dresser was especially sawn up, I mean adapted, for my kitchen. It is loaded with jars and things I have no other place for. But that's what it's for, yes? Charming mess.

Just in case you didn't get a good look at the card in front of the tea caddy: yes, it really does say that. There is no low to which the woman will not stoop to secure her first grandchild. I plan to make her wait a LOT longer, or at least that's my story.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Finding food for free

Our mortgage lender is one of those banks that has gone bankrupt (the irony). I don't understand much of the economic stuff, and I am not very good at economising, either. I have very expensive tastes. Lovely husband is constantly amazed at my unique skill - I can walk into any shop or aisle or look at any catalogue page and instantly pick out the single most expensive item with a firm "I want". Knitwear, shoes, TVs. We often check the prices to see if I have missed something with a bigger price tag! and I haven't failed once!

But one place I do economise - for pleasure more than relief - is in the kitchen. I like to make our own pizza bases and jam, hummus and biscuits, because I know what went into them. I am very fortunate to work at home, which gives me the little extra time to boil pulses or start dough in advance of dinner.

And speaking of blessings... we live in the country, and we have an energetic dog who must be walked for an hour ever day, whether it's hailing or baking. In the last three years I have thus learnt a lot about finding food for free!

At the moment there are a few things for the taking, and I thought I'd give you a quick tour. First of course are the easily recognised Blackberries (pictured above) - which are wonderful combined with windfall apples (any type - a mixture is good) in a crumble or cobbler. (They are also nice simmered gently and pressed through a sieve to make a coulis for vanilla ice-cream, cava cocktails, or cheesecake.)

Elderberries - which are just coming to an end (just! but if you hurry you'll find some clinging on!) - can be used to make a cordial full of Vitamin C. It does taste a bit like cough syrup, mind you, so what I'd suggest is... make a note of where you saw them, and return in late spring for the flowers instead!

Rosehips - the oval red berries (avoid the round ones as, with the exception of haws, the varieties I see are inedible) - supposedly make a tomato-like soup, according to Edible Wild Foods (Grub Street 2007) but are more commonly used for syrup or a crab apple jelly.
And finally, chestnuts - which deserve a post all of their own, and will get one. Before I do, take a walk and look for some chestnuts. Don't confuse them with horse chestnuts (conkers) which are rounded. Sweet chestnuts have little tufts at the top, a bit like small punks. They are ready just about now so, instead of buying them at the grocer, go out and find some!