It’s been a while since my last post. I haven’t been away or anything – I’ve barely even left my sofa – I just work strange hours which limits the amount of cooking I do. Saying that, it has been an eventful couple of weeks. We’ve had snow. Not much but enough to make it feel like a proper year. I have given up drinking for the month of February. I feel good and I’ve got much more money! Charlie broke my pasta machine so I’m eagerly awaiting a brand new one and a gnocchi board to go with it.
Ok, maybe ‘eventful’ was slightly over the top (a lie) but it has felt very busy. Add to that the ongoing cold weather and endless tedium of the East London line and I found myself hankering after something warming and comforting to eat in front of ‘Arrested Development’ wearing my idiotic slippers. Also, there is nothing more reassuring than food which has the ability to invoke good memories.
Between the ages of 6 and 14 I lived in Germany. I have lots of great memories of living abroad but one of my favourite things was the Germans’ love of winter markets. Wandering the wood-shack stalls to browse handmade toys, giant gingerbread houses, nutcrackers and the like (incidentally, these are all items which, viewed out of context, can be terrifying) was an annual family event and we all happily braved the cold to go. There were two ways of warming up. For the adults you could get a cup of Gluhwein – a heavily spiced and sweetened wine served hot – or, if underage for booze, you could get hot pea soup.
This wonderfully sweet and heartily mushy concoction warmed you to the very marrow of your bones. It seemed to change texture as you ate, from a broth to a puree with a hint of mint and sometimes a kick of chilli or lemon. And the joy when you found the sliced frankfurter floating around somewhere near the middle! Glorious. I decided to try and make a veggie version using meatfree frankfurters and it proved successful. The main reason being that veggie frankfurters taste exactly like meaty ones. Better actually because you know they aren’t filled with pigeon or shoe leather or dog trotters or something.
400g peas (I use frozen garden peas)
200g veggie frankfurters, cut into chunks (I use Tivall frozen ones)
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 litre stock
A good pinch of mint or basil, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Fry the onion, garlic and carrot in a little olive oil until softened. Add 300g of the peas and stir well. Add around 3/4 of the stock and simmer for 10 mins. Blend well. Return to the heat in a clean pan and add the cut up frankfurter and the remaining peas. Check the seasoning and consistency; if it’s thick add a bit more stock. Heat until the sausage is cooked and then stir in your herb of choice. Serve with a dollop of yoghurt or cream and, if you fancy, a pinch of chilli or lemon zest. Or both. And croutons.
Just around the corner from my house is a very nice Thai restaurant called Smiles. I would recommend it to anyone; It’s a quaint, friendly place to eat, they do great tofu dishes and, if requested, they will walk my order straight to my door. The problem they have is that everything tastes like liquorice. The majority of their main dishes have a distinct aniseed flavour. They are still delicious but, once you’ve tasted one dish, the rest taste a bit similar; tofu with basil, chilli and liquorice, red curry with bamboo shoots, lime leaves and liquorice. (The menu doesn’t actually say that, by the way. Nobody would order.) It means I don’t eat there as often as I would if they just held back a bit on the anise. They also appear to be shut a lot on days I want to order. Turns out they’re just closed on Mondays.
They do, however, have a starter which (literally) blew my mind. Tod Mun Kao Pode or Sweet corn cakes to those of you not in the know. They are thin, crunchy, sweet and spicy little fritters which come with a little pot of homemade sweet chilli. I love them and had not had them in ages, so I decided to reproduce them at home. I failed horribly but, in the process, made really good fritters anyway. Mine were kind of airy and light, a bit scotch pancake-like in texture. I had them twice, both with different accompaniments. The second days batch were not as fluffy as the previous day. they were crunchier and denser. I think maybe it was something to do with baking powder not being active or something. I don’t really know. I’m not a scientist.
Sweet corn fritters
6 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 red chilli, finely chopped
75g plain flour
40g sesame seeds
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
A handful of chopped coriander
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Whisk in the soy sauce and then the eggs. Stir in the corn, spring onion and chilli. The mixture should be quite thick and sticky. My Mum would call it ‘clarty’. Don’t ask. Fry in small batches in a little oil in a non-stick pan until fluffy and golden. That’s it.
It makes a decent amount of mixture so I had fritters twice. The first time was as a side dish to a tofu stir fry. I served it with a dip made by combining 2 tbsp honey, juice of 1 lime, 1 tbsp soy, 1/2 a sliced chilli and a handful of finely chopped coriander. Worked nicely. For lunch the next day I had it with some leftover cous-cous salad and fresh salsa.
About once a month I get an obsessive impulse to clean out my food cupboard. It’s not the same as cleaning out your fridge; there’s no hygiene factor or risk of contamination, no mangy carrots or courgettes lurking at the back. It’s purely an exhibition of ‘anality’. I like it compartmentalised – tins and jars lower left, flours and sugars lower right, chocolate and treats upper left, etc, etc. Every time I embark on this fanatical cleaning venture, I always find a little something hidden away and forgotten about. Last time it was a bar of orange dark chocolate which I scoffed sitting on the kitchen counter, listening to the cricket on the radio. This time it was a bag of type ’00’ flour I had bought a couple of weeks ago with the intention of making pasta. So that’s what I did.
It’s been grey and rainy recently and I’ve been cooking a lot of hearty, ‘wintery’ meals designed to warm and soothe. The kinds of meals that are stuffed full of root vegetables, lentils and barley. Those dinners that sit on the hob long enough to steam up all the windows and make everyone unconsciously gravitate to the kitchen. Well, I’m sick of it. I wanted a taste of summer, something to trick myself into thinking of sun, sea and holidays, something fresh and relaxing. I wanted lemon and basil, basically.
I saw a vintage cookery show the other week. It was rubbish. Two old ladies cooking very old fashioned food in derelict houses in France. They did, however, make one thing that I liked the look of. They blended olive oil, double cream and wild rocket together to create a bright green sauce for pasta. I didn’t see any reason why lemon, basil and a bit of chilli wouldn’t work in there too…
400g type ’00’ pasta flour
4 large eggs
70g bag wild rocket, roughly chopped
300ml creme fraiche
Zest and juice of half a lemon
Good handful of basil leaves, roughly chopped
Pinch of dried chilli
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper
I just made a very simple pasta dough. Put the flour in a large mixing bowl, make a well in the centre and add the eggs. Whisk with a fork, slowly going from the centre outward until fully combined. Once you have a sticky dough, flour your hands and knead until a bit firmer. Add more flour if it’s still too sticky. Turn out onto a floured surface and flatten it with your hands. Set your pasta machine on the lowest setting (1) and run the pasta through. Move up to 2 and run it through again. Keep running it through at these settings (1 then 2, 1 then 2…) until the dough becomes springy and elastic – about 5 or 6 times. At this point you can start moving up through the settings. I was making linguine so I stopped at setting ‘8’ because I didn’t want it too thin. I have a linguine and tagliatelle attachment for my pasta machine, so I ran it through the thinner of the two. Voila.
The sauce was easy. Put 3/4 of the rocket, the basil, creme fraiche, lemon zest and lemon juice in a food processor or blender. Turn on at a low setting and drizzle in some of the olive oil until the mixture loosens and then stop. Fry the onion and garlic in a pan until cooked and translucent. Add the chilli and then the sauce, check the seasoning and allow to heat through. Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water for 2 or 3 minutes and drain. Wilt the remaining rocket in the sauce and serve together with the pasta.
I served it with some roasted cherry tomatoes and a dusting of Parmesan, which went with it very well.
My brother bought me a sack of Monkey Nuts for Christmas. They were a confusing addition to a very nice hamper and I didn’t really know what to do with them. The rest of the gifts are much simpler to use – the cheese, crackers and chutney will make a nice snack, the olives and jalapenos will top a pizza and the Christmas cake can have its disgusting icing thrown away and the lovely fruitcake eaten with coffee.
Monkey nuts though? I forgot they even existed. I thought they were awesome when I was 8 until I’d spent twenty minutes ripping 3 or 4 of them apart. The reward for all your hard work was pathetically unsatisfying and you ended up with that weird flaky skin stuff stuck to the roof of your mouth. And it’s messy. Don’t they come unshelled in bags now?
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful – the hamper was great and will all get used lovingly in various recipes (Zenf? Nice one!). It also turns out they were perfect for a recipe I wanted to try. It took me about an hour to peel them though…
I reckon you can use normal salted peanuts. Maybe lose the soy sauce in the satay though?
For the tofu;
400g firm tofu, cubed
1 red chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, roughly chopped
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
Pinch of coriander leaves
For the peanut sauce;
150g peanuts, toasted
1 stalk lemongrass, roughly chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 thumb-size piece ginger, peeled and chopped
2 shallots, roughly chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 400ml tin of coconut milk
For the tofu marinade put the chilli, lemongrass, coriander, oil and soy sauce in a food processor and blitz. Put the tofu in a dish and pour over the mixture. Cover and put in the fridge for an hour or so.
Put the peanuts in the food processor and blitz, leaving a bit of texture. Remove and then put in all the rest of the ingredients, apart from the coconut milk. Blend into a rough paste. Heat some oil in a saucepan and add the paste. Cook until it’s fragrant – the smells completely dominate your kitchen! Add the peanuts and the coconut milk, stir and simmer until it thickens.
Meanwhile, fry the tofu pieces in a very hot, non-stick frying pan until nicely coloured on all sides. Pour the sauce over the tofu. I served it with toasted garlic noodles, sliced spring onion and some alfalfa I got reduced at Sainsbury’s.
This Monday I started a new job. Sitting around on Sunday evening with an impending early start, I was reminded of times past when I had slightly overdone it on the previous two days. No matter how you spent your Sunday afternoon, you could never escape the drained, dehydrated and lethargic feeling you get after a heavy weekend. Not exactly how you want to be feeling when you have to board a tube with 4 million other people, crush your face into someone else’s armpit and then try to impress your new employers.
This brought to mind an old soup recipe I tried a while ago which, eaten on a Sunday evening, purges and re-energises. I served it with a simple loaf of homemade soda bread.
Carrot, ginger and orange soup.
To feel better, you will need;
1 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
100g red lentils (about half a ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ mug)
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
A large knob of Ginger, about 50g, finely grated
Juice of 2 oranges
1 tsp ground cumin
3/4 litre vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Heat some oil in a saucepan and cook the onions until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and chilli and cook for a further few minutes. Sprinkle in the cumin and mix well. At this point I normally squeeze the grated ginger into the pan so that you get the flavour without the ‘dog hair’ like fibres. You could use muslin to do this but I didn’t have any so I used a cloth napkin. Add the carrots, half the orange juice and the lentils and mix well. You could swap half the carrots with butternut squash but, again, I didn’t have any. Mix well, season with salt and pepper and then add the stock. Put a lid on and let simmer for around 30 mins or until the carrots are tender and the lentils are cooked through. Put the soup in a blender, whizz until smooth and then pour into a clean pan. It should be quite thick at this point, which is where the remaining orange juice comes into play. Add a little bit at a time, stirring all the while, until you have a consistency of soup that you like. Taste and add a bit more salt and pepper if it needs it. Ladle into bowls, top with a scoop of yoghurt and a sprinkle of chilli and serve. Some torn coriander (cilantro for you Americans) tossed on top would’ve been nice too but I didn’t have any.
The easiest bread ever. Delicious hot out of the oven and also makes great toast the next morning. Most recipes call for buttermilk but I think it’s much nicer with yoghurt. Tastes less like a scone.
500g plain flour
400ml live yoghurt
2 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp salt
Preheat your oven to 200°C. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda together in a bowl. Stir in the salt. Add the yoghurt and mix until you have a basic dough. It is good if it’s a tiny bit sticky. Tip onto a floured work surface, knead for a minute or so and form into a rough ball; it should look scruffy! Place on a floured baking tray, dust with flour and, using a serrated knife, score the top with a cross. You can go pretty deep – about a third of the way through. put in the oven and bake for 40-45 mins. It should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Nomnomnom.
This year, due to my overwhelming poorness, I have decided to make the majority of my Christmas presents. The plan is to be able to gift friends and family with a small homemade hamper full of lovely things that would be ideal Boxing Day accompaniments. I want these things to go perfectly with cold turkey and ham, cheese, bread and also something in there to cure the Christmas hangover. If your family is anything like mine, Xmas day is spent excitedly opening presents (often power tools), getting hammered on my Mum’s Japanese language Wii (!) by a seven year old, eating 4.9 metric tonnes of food and then getting so drunk you lose the ability to walk and/or see – neither of which you need to be able to do at this point anyway. Boxing day therefore is generally a day of meekly picking at leftovers, pretending you feel alright until the point where you actually do, then repeating the last step from the day before. I love Christmas.
If you are a friend or member of my family… Merry Christmas! This is what you’re getting…
You will need:
200g yellow and brown mustard seeds
A good pinch of crumbled dried chilli
250ml of good cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp runny honey
Put the mustard seeds, chilli and vinegar in a bowl, mix, cover with Clingfilm and set aside for 24 hours.
Add the honey (delicious) and mix well. Put ¾ of the mixture in a food processor (I did it in a blender and it worked fine) and blend until crushed or a consistency you like. You can probably do this in a pestle and mortar as well. Mix everything back together and add the salt. Put the mixture into sterilised jars. I got 5 4oz jars out of this and a small amount for my friend Joe to take home with him. He will, however, never eat it because it doesn’t go with prawns.
This will store for months in a cupboard and once opened will keep for a couple of months in the fridge.
I also tried a version adding 50ml whiskey and removing 50ml of the vinegar. It was very nice but probably not as good. Try it! Also nice mixed through some fluffy mashed potato.
This recipe was inspired by Annie Rigg’s book, ‘Gifts From The Kitchen’. Buy it. It’s great.
Get enough blackberries to fill a sterilised, airtight Kilner jar (or likewise). Pour in golden caster sugar and keep shaking and filling until you can’t fit anymore in. Fill with whiskey (just use cheap stuff) and allow it to drip through the fruit and sugar. Keep topping up if it needs it. At this point I wish I had added a couple of drops of vanilla extract, but ive only just thought of that so there we are. Seal and put in a cupboard for a month or so. Basically you want the sugar to have dissolved in the alcohol.
I decanted it into 25cl sealable bottles by separating the fruit and liquid, putting around 6 or 7 blackberries in each bottle and then filling with the syrupy goodness. The leftover whiskey-soaked blackberries were delicious with ice cream. There was no more of the drink left. Honest.
There are more presents than this but I don’t want to give the game away. I’ll put up more after the big event.
Oh, as a footnote, I got all my jars and bottles from a lovely ebay shop called freeman-and-harding-the-jar-people. Brilliant service if you want jars. If not, I wouldn’t advise contacting them.