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.
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.
Saturday mornings are a glorious thing. I was due to be working but that got cancelled so I got to have a wonderfully lazy day. Up at 9, tea and toast and an hour of Battlefield 3 before a hung over Laurel surfaced. Off to the market we went.
Last year some lovely, crafty and foodie folk decided to start a food market in Brockley. It has proved to be a massive success, selling amazing coffee, fresh fruit and veg, breads – well, you get the idea. My plan was to take a load of pictures, buy some beautiful vegetables and write a post about it. However, I forgot my camera so I will do a post about it next week. In the meantime I did get a large bag of great looking beetroot and some fresh herbs. I had been wanting to make a veggie burger for a while, so that’s how I spent my afternoon.
I found some great looking recipes online for burgers, ranging from beanie burgers to roast vegetable patties. I especially liked the look of this walnut beanie burger, and considered making these but ultimately decided to try something new using my market purchases. I’d never used beetroot in a burger before and just decided to try to combine it with things I thought complemented it.
300g beetroot, grated
100g breadcrumbs (I used old rye bread. Went with the beetroot well.)
1 410g tin red kidney beans, slightly mashed with a fork
1 apple, cored and grated
50g pearl barley
6 small spring onions, chopped
A good handful of dill, roughly chopped
A handful of parsley, roughly chopped
1 large egg, beaten
A pinch of chilli flakes
Salt and pepper
For the tzatziki;
1 cucumber, quartered and deseeded
Zest of 1 lemon
1 clove of garlic, mashed
A big handful of chives, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
2 or 3 tablespoons of natural yoghurt
Couldn’t be simpler this. Cook the pearl barley as per packet instructions and set aside. Meanwhile, combine the rest of the burger ingredients in a big bowl and mix well.
At this point I tried frying a small burger to see what it was like. It was good but was more like a little beetroot rosti than a burger, so I blended half of the mixture and mixed it back in. This improved the texture somewhat. Up to you though.
Mix in the pearl barley (just for texture) and put the burger mix in the fridge for half an hour or so. Grate the cucumber and wrap in a clean tea towel. Squeeze out as much of the moisture as you can and then put in a bowl. Add the chives and lemon zest and mix well. Add the yoghurt 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing all the while, until you have the consistency you desire. Taste and season – it can take salt well! Fry the burger in a little oil over a medium heat until nicely coloured on each side.
I served the burger in a fresh roll with a dollop of tzatziki, a couple of slices of feta and some watercress. I think a bit of fresh horseradish might have been good in it but I didn’t have any. Eat it in front of the telly with a pile of fries on the side.
On a cold winters evening you can’t beat warming yourself up with something ‘mulled’. Your favourite tipple warmed through and spiced, a punch made with Christmas spirit and the smells of bonfire night. We drank (very good) mulled wine while attempting to peruse the Totnes Christmas market the other day. This was, incidentally, a horrible waste of time. There were so many people I couldn’t physically move for dreadlocks, soap sellers or a man with an owl. Enjoying my drink was impossible.
We made our own mulled drink to enjoy on Christmas evening sitting in front of the fire and watching Michael McIntyre shamelessly name-drop his entire audience, providing more ‘mince’ than any pie I’ve ever seen. It was funny.
I used apple juice for this recipe as one of our group doesn’t drink alcohol (whaaa?). It would be perfect with good cider. Or you can do what I did and add 50ml of Jameson’s at the end. Or both.
If you use cider DO NOT let it boil or you’ll get rid of your alcohol. Heat it at a slow simmer.
Makes 6 normal sized mugs or 3 novelty Christmas ones.
2 sticks of cinnamon
8 or 9 allspice berries
8 or 9 cloves
A pinch of nutmeg
2 star anise
Peel of 1 lemon
Peel and juice of 1 Clementine
A thumb sized knob of ginger
3 tbsp maple syrup or honey
Put the juice/cider in a pan and add the syrup/honey. Start heating gently. While this is heating up add the allspice, cloves, star anise and nutmeg. Snap the cinnamon sticks in half and lob them in. Chop the ginger into a few rough sized pieces and put it in as well. Peel the lemon and Clementine into strips using a potato peeler.
I find that you end up with quite large amounts of pith on the strips and this can add a bitter taste to the drink. To remove this lay the strips of peel down with the pith facing up. Secure one end with the tip of your finger and push a sharp knife down flat onto the peel, facing away from your finger.
Push away firmly and you should be able to cut the layer of pith away leaving just the peel. Put it all in the pan with the juice and simmer for about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the sweetness if you want. If you want it more gingery just squeeze the pieces like you were making tea. Sieve before serving.
Put it in a cup. Blow into the cup for a bit. Drink.