Archives for the month of: October, 2011

I’ve been struggling to find anything I wanted to write about, lately. I’ve been eating out a bit too much – just last week, I had five spice braised beef brisket and the best ma-po tofu at Sojo, amazing sushi (as always) at Edamame, an OK smoked haddock macaroni cheese at The Red Lion and salmon with caponata at a little pub near my parents’ (owned by Deborah Mitford!). Which is all well and good, but since I don’t really do restaurant reviews it doesn’t leave me much to work with. And I love eating out – in fact, as the evidence suggests, I find it nigh on impossible to resist an invitation to eat out – but I’m never happier than when I’m in my kitchen with a jotted list of recipes to try out and full cupboards and plenty of time. So, thank you Bill Granger. Thank you for bringing me back to kitchen harmony with these excellent light and juicy meatballs. I thought I had meatballs pretty much covered, but it turns out what I was missing was something paler, with a delicate touch of chilli and a heavier smack of bacon. And, the chance to use my own homegrown multicoloured cherry tomatoes, which always makes me feel very smugly domestic.

Spicy chicken meatballs

Serves 2

Now, this recipe calls for chicken mince, which is not so readily available. Unless you have your own mincer (I wish I did) you have a few options: 1) ask a friendly butcher to mince some chicken for you; 2) substitute turkey mince, which has the bonus of being cheap and stocked in most supermarkets; 3) what I did, which was to buy some chicken, chop it roughly and pulse it in the food processor. Don’t go too far, texture is a good thing. I used a breast and a thigh, but obviously you can use light or dark meat as you prefer.

2-3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced (or one, if you like it hotter)
250-350g minced chicken (see notes above)
2 tbsp breadcrumbs
25g smoked pancetta, chopped small
2 tbsp chopped parsley
250g cherry tomatoes
125ml chicken stock

to serve:
pasta (Bill suggests wholewheat fusilli, I used spelt spaghetti)
parmesan shavings

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a saucepan and fry the onion and garlic over a medium heat until softened. Add the coriander and chilli and cook for a further minute.

Mix together the chicken mince, breadcrumbs, pancetta, parsley and onion mixture. Season well, pinching off a small amount of the mix and frying it in the saucepan to test the seasoning. When you’re happy with the taste, refrigerate the bowl for 30 minutes to firm up. Heat the oven to 200c.

When cold, roll the mixture into small meatballs – around 8-10 – and place on a baking tray. Drizzle with oil. Put the tomatoes on a second tray, drizzle with the remaining oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the meatballs and tomatoes in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the tomatoes are starting to split and the meatballs are golden brown. In the meantime, you can start getting the pasta ready.

Put the stock and tomatoes back in the saucepan, add the meatballs and simmer for 5 minutes. It occurred to me that it might be nice to add a splash of wine as well at this point, if you had some open.

Spoon the meatballs and sauce over the pasta and shave some parmesan over the top.

Adapted from Bill Granger’s ‘Every Day’

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And for afters, how about some ice cream? I began to worry, before I wrote this, that the number of ice cream recipes on this site was slightly disproportionate. But then I realised that it’s only disproportionate if you don’t like ice cream that much, in which case, I don’t understand. Besides, this deserves a place as it’s dead simple (no custard to make) and, obviously, it tastes nice. It also features one of my favourite liqueurs, Frangelico, which is a delicious hazelnut-flavoured booze. If you don’t have it, don’t feel that it will be a waste to buy a bottle just for making this. If you don’t end up drinking it, you can pour it over ice cream alongside coffee for a more alcoholic affogato, or you can add it to baked yoghurt, or buy Allegra McEvedy’s Colour Cookbook and make the ‘autumn a la mode’ on p224 (maybe not the most economical of solutions, but it’s a great book).

You won’t get quite as smooth a result as you would with a more complex ice cream, but that hardly matters as it will start to melt once you’ve drowned it in alcohol. Nightcap and pudding all in one.

Toasted hazelnut and maple syrup ice cream

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I got this from a Woman & Home magazine. And I’m not even 30 yet! But they do produce a glossy quarterly publication called ‘Feel Good Food’ which I really like, even despite the cringey name. They claimed this serves 6, which is an outright lie.

Serves 4

100g hazelnuts
50ml maple syrup
150ml milk
150ml double cream
2 tbsp Frangelico, plus extra to serve

Toast the hazelnuts in a medium oven until golden (or dry fry them in a pan). Finely chop in a food processor or by hand until breadcrumb sized.

Mix all the ingredients together and churn in an ice cream machine until almost frozen, then transfer to a container and freeze until solid.

Serve with extra Frangelico.

After butternut squash dip heaped onto strips of toasted pitta, the main course. It was griddled lamb chops with a fennel and lentil salad, but that was a bit lengthy as a post title, so I’m going to focus instead on the dressing I used. It’s a good one, honestly. And maybe I’m being presumptuous, but I assume if you’re reading a food blog you can grill a lamb chop and make a salad. I forgot to mention in my last post that we also had an aperitif, a little creation of my own inspiration, which we christened the Royale Noir. It’s cava with a generous splash of homemade blackberry vodka at the bottom. It’s probably a bit more potent than is advisable, particularly if you want to do any cooking afterwards.

So, luckily, this is a simple thing to prepare. Halved lemons are griddled on a hot pan until the edges start to char and the resulting juice is squeezed into your dressing; it’s a bit stickier and darker and consequently gives a richer flavour than plain old lemon juice. I have an old issue of the now defunct Waitrose Food Illustrated to thank for this idea, which they say is also good with griddled chicken, fish and halloumi. It makes sense, if you’ve got your griddle pan out, to put something else on it. I’ve got a second-hand Le Creuset thing that weighs as much as a small human and I certainly don’t want the effort of lifting it out of the cupboard to go to waste.

Caramelised lemon dressing

Serves 4ish

2 lemons, halved
5tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 garlic clove, crushed
1  tsp honey

Heat your griddle pan until very hot. Brush the cut side of the lemon halves with a little of the olive oil and sear for a few minutes, until they have caramelised golden patches. Leave until they’re cool enough to handle, then squeeze the juice into a cup. Whisk in the remaining olive oil, garlic and honey and season. Voila, doable even while tipsy! You can then drizzle a little of the dressing over whatever it is you’re griddling – I put half of it over the lamb chops as they cooked and the other half on the salad.

This recipe was published in the Guardian Weekend on 10th September. I was at work, and a collegue thrust it under my nose. I may have mentioned having a bit of a thing for tahini (and you can always tell who’s made a particular batch of houmous). When I looked at it again, later, I was rather excited to see that the head notes mentioned a lovely lady named Tara who I was at Ballymaloe with, and who has since snared the entirely enviable job of being one of Ottolenghi’s recipe testers. Apparently, after testing this one she pronounced that she could eat it by the bucketful, which is a) a wise verdict and b) a good thing because this recipe makes a (small) bucketful.

So I decided to make it this week as a sort of starter for a low key anniversary dinner to have with a certain person who also likes tahini a lot. And garlic. The good thing about long term relationships is you don’t have to worry about smelling like garlic anymore.

Tara has done a good job, because I didn’t want to change a thing about this recipe. Well, except I prefer to think of it as a ‘dip’ rather than a ‘spread’ – I don’t know, the word ‘spread’ just conjures up cheap margarine and sandwich fillings. Basically, you peel and deseed a squash and then roast it for a long time with salt and cinnamon and oil. It looks so appetising when it comes out of the oven, so golden and glowing, that I pretty much decided I would only roast squash like this from now on. Then you dump it in a food processor with tahini, garlic and greek yoghurt. That’s pretty much it, apart from decorating it with sesame seeds and coriander and date syrup. The full ingredients and method are online here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/sep/09/butternut-tahini-spread-batata-recipes

I’m planning to post the other dishes I made for the dinner soon, for the minority who are interested in garlicky romance food.

prunus spinosa

Image via Wikipedia

The bad news is it’s too late now for your sloe gin to be ready in time for Christmas. The good news is, that means you won’t feel obliged to give any of it away as Christmas presents. Hooray! You’ll probably be in more need of it in January, anyway. In fact I recently learned that if you make your own booze by mixing vodka with blackberries, elderberries, sloes etc. in a jar, leaving it in a dark place for a few months, and shaking it every day, then you have made ‘tincture’. I.e., it’s medicinal. If you want to make it more drinkable, you have to add a considerable amount of sugar, which no doubt reduces its healing benefits somewhat, but the link is clear.

If you live in Oxford, plentiful sloes are available in Brasenose woods (at the bottom of Shotover). If you don’t, I’m afraid I can’t help you, except to say that the branches of the sloe have lots of sharp thorny bits which are apparently slightly poisonous, so avoid getting scratched by them if you can. And don’t eat the berries raw, they make your mouth taste all furry.

It goes without saying that you should not use your finest gin for this – any nuances of taste will be smothered by the sugar and fruit. I used Tesco’s value range, but I’ve heard good things about Lidl gin in this context.

Sloe gin

Makes approx. 2 x 70cl. bottles

700g sloes
350g sugar
2 bottles gin

You will need 2 large kilner jars, or similar. Sterilise them by washing them in hot soapy water and drying them in a low oven. In the meantime, wash and dry the sloes and prick each one several times with a (sterilised) needle. This is the tedious bit. I read that you could bypass it by putting the sloes in the freezer so the skins burst, but it didn’t work for me. So put the radio on, or listen to a podcast or something. When all the berries have tiny holes in them, divide them between the  warm jars, cover each with half the sugar, and top up with a bottle of gin each (keep the gin bottles to reuse for the final product if you like). After 3 months the gin will be ready to drink – apparently it benefits from being kept for longer, but I’m not able to comment on that. You should shake it every day for the first couple of weeks or so and then whenever you remember after that. Keep it in a dark, cool place.

When the time is up, strain out the berries and pour the finished gin either back into the original gin bottles or into something prettier (the rather cute Christmassy bottle in the picture came from Ikea).

From Darina Allen’s ‘Forgotten Skills of Cooking’

Why would you make yoghurt at home when you can buy perfectly good yoghurt in any supermarket, health food stores or your average corner shop? I’m not sure I’ve worked out the answer to that one. Homemade yoghurt is not spectacularly nicer than bought – it has a nice, tart, unmucked about with flavour, but there are a lot of good commercial yoghurts that offer the same thing (Rachel’s greek yoghurt is one of my favourites). It’s not a huge money saver, though it does work out a bit more economical as you’ll only eventually need to buy milk, which is cheaper than yoghurt. So, why do I continue to do it? I can only assume it’s the sense of domestic power involved in introducing live bacteria to milk and making something you want to put on your granola in the morning. Also, it’s very easy. After a failed sourdough or a disappointing batch of ice-cream, yoghurt is a way of reassuring myself that I do have some basic food self-sufficiency skills. I’ve tried several people’s methods, and the one I settled on is Stevie Parle’s, which is the most stripped down and basic of all. Despite being the easiest, I can’t detect any difference in quality between yoghurt made this way and with other recipes involving skimmed milk powder or any other paraphenalia. All you need is some milk and some live yoghurt, which will initially be bought, but can subsequently be your own efforts.

Some notes on milk: I generally prefer non-homogenised milk, but for yoghurt making homogenised gives better results (and since the vast majority of milk available is homogenised this is unlikely to be a problem). I always use full-fat milk; I assume you could use skimmed or semi-skimmed, but the result would not be as creamy. By the same token, if you want creamier yoghurt swap some of the milk for cream. I have tried using goat’s milk but the resulting yoghurt was a bit thin – apparently it’s possible to remedy this by heating to a higher temperature, but I’ve yet to experiment with that. Finally, if your yoghurt does turn out thinner than you’d like, or if you want something more akin to greek yoghurt, strain it through a piece of muslin (or clean tights) set over a sieve. The longer you strain it, the thicker it will get, and eventually you will have made labneh, or yoghurt cheese.

Homemade yoghurt

Makes about 600ml

600ml full-fat milk
4 tbsp live yoghurt (as fresh as possible)

Bring the milk to the boil, keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t burn or boil over (a stainless steel saucepan is best for the first bit). Transfer it to a vessel in which it will keep its warmth – most recipes recommend an earthenware or pottery bowl; I find a thermos flask does the job. Cool the milk to just above body temperature – you should be able to keep your finger in it for a count of 10. If you have a thermometer, you’re looking for 40-42c and definitely below 63c, otherwise the bacteria will be killed off. Stir in the yoghurt. If you’re using a bowl, cover it with clingfilm and wrap in a teatowel. If using a thermos, put the lid on. Now leave the yoghurt somewhere warmish overnight – room temperature generally works fine in our flat. The next day put it in the fridge – warm yoghurt is not nice. Enjoy, and remember to keep a few tablespoons of your yoghurt back for the next batch.

Adapted mainly from Stevie Parle’s ‘Real Food From Near and Far’ and Darina Allen’s ‘Forgotten Skills of Cooking’