Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Getting Organised - Bread Sauce

Ten years ago, I did a post-graduate diploma in a subject intended to help my then career.  Part of the diploma was peer-reviewed, and had to be a practical working example of how organised we'd become since starting the course.  Truth time: I've never been renowned for my organisational skills, with the major exception of food.  Like most other people blessed with the food-obsessive gene, if I start thinking about dinner the second I wake up, I already consider that a second too late.  The working example I brought in was the hefty ring binder used by Mum and I every Christmas to do our food planning.

It really is a thing of wonder and one of the things, people aside of course, that I miss the most now I live here.  We'd routinely cook for no less than 10 people, and loved every second of it.  The ring binder held shopping lists, make-ahead lists, photocopied recipes from books that were tattily past their best, and past menus.

Here, our Christmases are quieter, tending to be just the two of us (which actually, for now, is just the way we like it), but we still can't quite break away from the Great British Christmas dinner, even if we do now cook the turkey on the barbecue, last year in 30 degree temperatures.  Still, I can't shake the need to get organised and start everything that can be started nice and early, to be stashed in the freezer, fridge or pantry and served up on December 25th.

So. Bread Sauce.  Not the flashiest name, admittedly, and not even the flashiest sauce.  Its roots are medieval, and it feels like it, not because it tastes dated, but because it is so, so good that as you dollop it on to roast turkey or roast chicken, the scent of cloves, bay and nutmeg so tantalising, that you can understand how it has become such a staple.

I can understand that if you haven't grown up eating it, the concept might be odd, but every year I am torn between persuading people to try it, ever to be converted, or keeping schtum and having the gloriousness, all to myself.  Oh, and it's just fabulous on the mandatory leftover sandwich.  It freezes perfectly, and only needs thawing and gentle reheating, on the big day.  I used leftover baguette this year, and I love the silkiness the texture of that bread gives, but it is just as good made with any good white bread.

But, since I am sharing only a recipe and not my actual bread sauce, give this a go.

Bread Sauce
A Traditional Recipe

1 unsliced white loaf, or 1 baguette
1 litre full-fat milk
2 tablespoons cream
1 onion, peeled and quarter
4 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon peppercorns
freshly grated nutmeg
30g butter

A couple of hours, at least, before you start the sauce, remove the crusts from the bread (you don't need to be too diligent about this), slice thickly and leave to go stale.

Meanwhile, stud each onion quarter with a clove and put them in a pan with the milk, cream, bay leaves, peppercorns, salt and a good grating of fresh nutmeg.  Over a medium heat, bring nearly to the boil but don't let actually boil.  Put the lid on the pan, and leave it to cool down and infuse with the spices.

You can do both these stages a day before you want to make the sauce.

Fish the onion and spices out of the pan.  Tear the bread into chunks and drop them into the milk.  The bread will swell, soften and break up in the sauce.

If you want to freeze it, do so at this stage.  If you want to serve it straight away, gently reheat it, and, just before serving, stir through the butter until it melts.

If you have frozen your sauce, defrost it and then reheat gently, stirring the butter through as above.

Serve with roast turkey or roast chicken, or with leftover sandwiches.  Decide for yourself whether you want to share.

Serves 10.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Regression Therapy - Malt Loaf

God, I love Soreen so much.  While I wouldn't go so far as to claim it as a universal-to-UK experience, having either a couple of crumpets or a couple of slices of squidgey, dark malt loaf spread with salted butter on the return from school, sofa pulled up to the fire and Jonny Briggs on the tv would certainly be something that would ring a lot of bells with my generation.

When we were challenged to make a sweet or savoury loaf for this month's Bake Club, malt loaf leapt unbidden into my mind, and once it was there, there was no shifting it.  Soreen can't be bought here and so, if I wanted malt loaf, I was going to have to make malt loaf.

It required a fair bit of detective work but eventually I discovered malt extract was available for sale here in NZ and, what's more, it inspires the same kind of nostalgia that I have over malt loaf.  I'm not sure exactly what it is about malt - sweet yet wholesome at the same time, the throat-nudging granularity of barley taking the edge off the sugar hit - but combine that with juicy sultanas and you have an after-school, after work, or just after anything, feast fit for a king.

This recipe makes two loaves and, trust me, if you can leave it a few days after making it, well wrapped up, it will reward your patience a hundredfold as the stickiness and maltiness increase, day on day.

This has to be served with salted butter; actually, more specifically, it has to be served with Lurpak.

Malt Loaf
from BBC Good Food

150ml hot black tea (1 tea bag will be enough)
175g malt extract, plus extra for glazing
85g muscovado sugar
50g raisins
250g sultanas
2 large eggs, beaten
250g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
0.5 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Preheat your oven to 150c.  Grease and line two 1lb loaf tins with baking paper.

Mix the tea, malt, sugar and fruit until fully combined and the fruit has started to swell a little in the liquid.  Stir in the eggs.

Mix in the flour, baking powder and bicarb.  Divide the mixture evenly between the two tins.  Bake for 50 minutes.

When they are just out of the oven, dip a pastry brush (silicone if possible, for cleaning reasons) into your tin of malt extract and use it to glaze the top of the loaves, which will become gloriously sticky.

When they're completely cool, wrap well in foil and leave for 2-5 days until at sticky perfection.

Makes 2 loaves

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Our Own Interests - Celery and Chard Gratin

Every so often, Andy or I tentatively suggest a new outing, a new hobby, a new interest, to see if the other would be up for joining in.  "I see they're doing salsa lessons down on the waterfront this summer" we casually throw into the conversation.  "I see Dolly Parton is playing up in Auckland".  "I'm thinking of starting a book club".  "I want to go to the gaming exhibition at Te Papa".

(Three of those were mine, one was Andy's, and I'm not telling which).

At this point the other will start looking wildly round them, clutching at their hair and clutching at straws, until we come up with the ultimate safe get-out clause.

"I think it's important that we have our own interests".

Seriously - that line has got both of us out of more socially-induced awkwardness than anything else.  A real relationship saver, and I selflessly offer it up to you to use as you wish.

Celery, I would say, is my own interest.  Andy is definitely happy to palm that one off on me.  I go through a fair bit of it, it's true, as the basis of most soups, stews, sauces, but that does mean that there's usually a few sticks, looking limply folorn every time I open the fridge.  And as there's only me to eat it - strictly my own interest, you might say - I love finding new ways to use it up.

This recipe, inspired by an Ottolenghi article in The Guardian, is great, with the proviso that you really, really do have to like celery to enjoy it.  As much as I agree with him that it is often unfairly maligned, there is no escaping the fact that this is a very celery-ish dish.  The lemon in it was incredible though, and lifted the whole thing out of the ordinary.  And let's not forget that topping - almost 50% parmesan.  No arguments from me on that front, whatsoever.

I will keep this as my little secret.

Celery and Chard Gratin

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi

4 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped but not too small
1 bay leaf
1 lemon, half the zest taken off in strips with a peeler, the rest of the zest grated
300ml milk
280g silverbeet (Swiss Chard), leaves shredded, stalks trimmed and chopped
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 slice wholemeal bread, grated or blitzed into breadcrumbs
Handful parsley, chopped
40g parmesan, grated

Preheat your oven to 180c/350f

Simmer the celery, bay leaves, and lemon zest strips in the milk for about 12 minutes, until soft.  Strain and reserve the milk (you should have about 200ml left after simmering).  Set the celery to one side; discard the bay and lemon zest.

Clean the pan (I used my non-stick frying pan but it is coming to the end of its days and non-stick isn't so much a misnomer any more as a downright dirty lie), using as much elbow grease as your pan requires.

Fill your clean pan with water, bring to a boil, and add the chard stalks.  Cook for 2 minutes, add the chard leaves, and cook for another minute.  Drain and dry well.

Wipe the pan again so it's dry.  Melt the butter over a medium heat.  Saute the drained chard for a couple of minutes, then add the celery.

Add the flour and stir for a minute or so to cook it out.  Gradually stir in your reserved milk, lemon zest, and the juice from your lemon until you have a thick coating of sauce for the vegetables.

Put this mixture into a smallish gratin dish.

Mix the breadcrumbs with the parsley and parmesan.  Pour this topping on top of the vegetables, and bake for 30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the top is crunchy and golden.

Don't serve this immediately out of the oven; instead, leave it 10 minutes or so.
Serves 4 as a smallish side or 2 as the highlight dish.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Eat Your Greens - Broccoli Pesto

What's your favourite vegetable?  Are there some that you just won't touch, even under pain of terrible things?  I was musing the other day and I can't think of one vegetable that I don't adore which, I'm sure you'll agree, even for an indecisive omnivore is taking things a bit Too Far.

It does mean, though, that when I head down to the Harbourside Market on a Sunday morning, after I have a nosy wander round the stalls, but before I indulge in the best breakfast in Wellington, bar none (Masala Dosa from the Brahman - $10 of pure happiness and therefore worth every cent), I do tend to get overexcited and completely overestimate the amount of vegetables that we need for just the two of us (and just the one of me, really, on the three nights a week that Andy works).

I am never averse to simply-cooked vegetables, cooked till just al dente (except my secret food shame, overcooked cabbage), but when I have such a volume to get through, I have to get a bit creative with what I do with them.

This Broccoli Pesto came about on just such a night.  I was musing that I was keen for summer to start for a million and one reasons, one of them being my basil would grow and, if all goes to plan, I will have enough this year for a regular supply of pesto.  Until then, until then... what could I do?  My eyes fell on a head of broccoli, a seemingly everlasting reminder of my market profligacy.

Par boiled so it has still got plenty of crunch, colour and texture, then mixed with the pesto classics, parmesan, garlic and pine nuts, a good handful of parsley and some cream to bind, this has the beautiful grassy flavour of broccoli combined with the nubbliness of pesto.

Use it on it's own, or use it as I did as the base of a pasta dressing with peas and bacon, just use it.  Because you need to eat your greens, you know.

Broccoli Pesto

1 head broccoli
20g parmesan, grated
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 handful parsley
2 tablespoons cream
salt and pepper

Chop the broccoli into florets, then chop the stalk into one inch pieces.

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, and parboil the broccoli stalks for 2 minutes, adding the florets after one minute.  Drain well.

In a food processor, blitz the pine nuts, garlic, parsley, oil and salt and pepper until the nuts have been ground but there are still a few larger bits left - this is important for texture.

Add the broccoli and pulse until mostly broken down into small pieces.

Add the parmesan and cream and pulse until well combined.

When you use it, retain a cupful of the cooking water from the pasta.  Use this to 'loosen' the pesto when you add it to the pasta, stirring through a spoonful at a time until it melds into the sauce and it coats the pasta easily.

This pesto freezes very well.

Serves 4

Sunday, 10 November 2013

A Dish to Remember - Piperade

I'm blessed with a good memory.  Exams, as long as I can learn the subject by rote, have never been too taxing.  I'm sure I exasperate my husband with my ability to remember every. little. thing.  But when it comes to food, I'm Rainman.  Along with the list of Andy's likes and dislikes that I have committed to memory, I have freaked my friends out with my tendency to have conversations like:
 "I know you miss Marks & Spencer Smoked Mackerel Pate, so I've made you some". 
 "When did I tell you that?"
 "Three years ago, in passing in a conversation".
One friend doesn't like eggs, one doesn't like parsnips, one doesn't like cooked apple.  You get the idea.  It can make catering for groups of them an exercise in elimination, rather than blissfully picking one thing and sticking to it.

The same applies for recipes.  I have an uncanny recall of recipes I've read just once, let alone a few times.  So when it comes to a book I have probably read, cover-to-cover, novel style, more than any other, it's no wonder I can virtually recite the index from memory.  Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course was the first 'grown up' cookery book I owned just for me, rather than borrowing from Mum.  It was a gift as I headed off to university - and what a gift.  I still recommend it to this day for people just setting off on the cooking journey.  Delia holds your hand through this in an informative, slightly strict at times, no-nonsense fashion, and I for one am still reaping the rewards.  Back in the days, before laptops and internet invaded student halls, there was just me and this book, and I read it, and read it, and read it.

So when I woke up this morning, and the word "Piperade" jumped into my head, I wasn't especially surprised, even though I'd never cooked it before.  I knew it contained eggs and peppers, both of which I had lying around.  I also had all the other ingredients, and so made it for a brunch.  Very glad I did; the sweetness of the slow-cooked vegetables makes the eggs incredibly sweet and creamy.  My young, grown-from-seed basil is aniseed-strong, and was a great highlight to the eggs.  

I'll be remembering this one for the future.

Adapted from Delia Smith, 'Complete Illustrated Cookery Course'

1 onion, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 tomato, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 eggs
2 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
A few basil leaves
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil and butter in a medium pan over a low heat.  Add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes, until soft but not brown.

Add the pepper, tomato and garlic, and continue to cook slowly for another 20 minutes, until the vegetables are sweet and soft.  Season well with salt and pepper

Beat the eggs well then add them to the pan, stirring constantly.  After a couple of minutes, before they are firm, remove from the heat and continue to stir for 30 seconds.

Serve over toast or, as I did, a grilled field mushroom.  Garnish with basil and serve immediately.

Serves 2

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Mum's Christmas Cake

There are some things you should know about this cake.

Firstly, it comes from a recipe book my mum got not long after she was married (I'm guessing about 1970).  It predates me by lots of - ok, a few - years, and has been made faithfully by our family every year since then.  Sure, we've had odd flirtations with other cakes, by way of Nigella's Chocolate Fruit Cake and Delia's Creole Cake, but this is the cake that we return to, time after time.  On this point too, you should know that we adore Christmas Cake, with its fruit and spices, and are therefore self-appointed connoisseurs.  Bear that in mind when you consider our loyalty to this cake.

You should know that it is never, ever dry, which seems to be the biggest crime that fruit cake is often accused of.  Instead - and I am not discounting the effect of lots of alcohol in this matter - it is rich and moist (gah I hate that word but sometimes it is the only option), buttery and juicy.

You should know that last Christmas, when I made some to sell, a happy customer returned in January specifically to tell me it was (and I quote) the best cake he'd ever eaten.

But mostly, I want you to know that, bar the teensiest of substitutions (I can't abide glace cherries, and used to leave a neat gleaming pile on the edge of my plate - seriously, does anyone eat them? - so use dried cranberries instead), this IS Christmas.  The mixing of it, Christmas tunes sparkling away as the soundtrack, the fruits steeping in alcohol beforehand, the gradual transformation into the mixture so familiar to me from my youth, the smell of it as it bakes and cools, the look of it.  It is the joy of Christmas in one neat package, and that is why I continue to recreate it, year after year.  Truly, nothing is better than the comfort of Christmas traditions.

The earlier you can make this, the better.

Christmas Fruit Cake
From the Stork Cookbook, circa 1970

NB: Because of the date and provenance (UK), all weights are in pounds and ounces.  I have given the weight in metric also, but if you have the option, the original will likely give the better results.

For a 9 inch round cake or 8 inch square.  Since moving to New Zealand I have become the proud owner of a wooden cakebox, which gives amazing results, but any heavy cake tin will do.  Grease and line it inside, and wrap the outside with brown paper secured with string or a paperclip - this will protect the edges of the cake during the long, slow cooking.

13oz (370g) currants
9oz (250g) sultanas
5oz (140g) raisins
3.5oz (100g) dried cranberries
3.5oz (100g) flaked almonds
3.5oz (100g) mixed cut peel
1 grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons sherry (ideally Pedro Ximenez)
9oz (250g) plain flour
1.25 teaspoons mixed spice
0.5 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2.5oz (70g) ground almonds
8oz (230g) unsalted butter, softened
8oz (230g) soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon black treacle
5 eggs

At least a day, and I don't mind if you give it two days, before you start, soak the dried fruit, flaked almonds and lemon zest in the brandy and sherry, stirring every so often.  The fruit will absorb the alcohol and go plump and juicy.

When you want to make the cake, preheat the oven to 140c/290f/gas mark 1

Sieve the flour, nutmeg and mixed spice.  Add the ground almonds.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Beat in the treacle.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating each in thoroughly and adding a little of the flour mixture with every egg.

Add the remaining flour mixture with the prepared fruits.  Stir gently but thoroughly until well mixed.

Put in the prepared tin (or box) and smooth the top with the back of a wet spoon.

Bake in the pre-heated oven until very firm, a minimum of 3 hours (it took 4 hours in my oven).  If it isn't done after 3 hours, check back at regular intervals.

When it is baked and a cake tester comes out clean, remove from the oven.  Leave in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out, remove the paper and cool on a wire tray.

When completely cold, wrap in double greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin.

Every week, feed the cake by pricking the top all over with a skewer then gently pouring a tablespoon of brandy over so it seeps into the holes.

I will be decorating the cake a week before Christmas and posting up instructions with pictures.


Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Riding Out The Storm - Spicy Sausage Patties

Here is why Andy is my most favourite person in the world.  On Friday night, when the city was being cruelly and mercilessly battered by Mother Nature, in the worst storm since 1968 (200km wind!), when we were holed up in our house with what must have been the best view in the house of the ravaging seas, instead of being miserable and scared, he suggested we make the most of the opportunity and turn it into a mid-winter feast for two, of the sort we normally indulge in around Christmas time.

Thus Mulled Wine (Andy’s ultimate recipe, through years of dedicated and selfless testing, will be coming soon), Charcuterie, many, many cheeses, Pringles, crisps, dips and nuts were on the menu, and for viewing – what else would do in such circumstances but Home Alone?

I made the dip from an old favourite recipe, and to accompany all these picky delights, I made another picky delight, turning, as I do with extraordinary regularity, to Nigella Lawson.  These Spicy Sausage Patties are from her book ‘Kitchen’, a book which resonates so loudly with me with its talk of the pivotal role of the kitchen in a home.

I haven’t yet had my dream kitchen, my warm room that takes up the entire lower ground floor of my dream home and is the first place that everyone stops when they visit our house, but I will, one day, and I will know it the second I see it.  In fact, I know it will be a replica of the kitchens in those exquisite granite houses on The Chanonry in Old Aberdeen, which I used to shuffle past, a frozen and unhappy university student, and wonder at the pangs that those lamp-lit, warm vignettes I glimpsed through the windows created deep within me.  Already I was lingering, unwilling, on the route to a so-called respectable law degree that was meant to lead to a so-called respectable career; already I was delighting in the distractions of food and all the wonderful trappings that surround it.  Warmth.  Light.  Family.  Home.

So no, I haven’t yet had my dream kitchen.  But with a husband who will see the potential joy in any situation, wants to experience life to the full, and who, on the stormiest night that Wellington has seen in 45 years turns our home into a candle-lit place with food and wine and laughter, then I can do no more than count my blessings at the miracle of our haven while the storm swirls around us.

Well, that and make food for the journey.

Spicy Sausage Patties
Adapted from Nigella Lawson*, Kitchen

500g good quality sausages
1 inch piece grated fresh ginger
1 green chilli, chopped
1 red chilli, chopped
2 teaspoons English mustard
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely grated
1 large spring onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh coriander stalks and leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
Approximately 10 iceberg lettuce leaves
2 limes, cut into wedges

Squeeze the sausage meat out of the sausage skins, and put in a bowl with the ginger, chillies, mustard, garlic, spring onion and coriander.  Mix well.

Use a tablespoon to measure out each patty - take the mix from the spoon, form it into a mini burger shape, and put on a plate.  Cover with cling film and leave to rest for an hour.

When you are ready to serve, heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat.  Cook the patties for about 3 minutes each side, until cooked all the way through (you will need to do this in batches unless you have a giganto-pan).

To eat each patty, squeeze lime over and wrap in a lettuce leaf.

*Like everyone, I am more than aware of the horrible situation Nigella Lawson is currently in.  Others have expressed my thoughts on the matter far more eloquently than I could; so I will just say I hope she is safe, I hope she is with people who love her, I hope she can take some comfort from the outpouring of love and admiration for her from strangers such as myself, I hope she finds peace soon, and I hope some good can come of this.  I wish her strength.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Chicken with Cream, Mustard and Tarragon

Sometimes I think this blog should be titled, or at the very least subtitled, “Starting Over: A Million and One Ways to Use Up Leftovers”.  And I’m only half joking.  The thing is, though, that is the way we eat most of the time.  There’s just the two of us, I am determinedly in the ‘mass catering’ mindset, and seem incapable of cooking for fewer than eight hefty appetites at a time.  At every given point in time we are usually pushed for either time or money (and very often both) – right now it is time that is at a premium; we currently just have one night per week to spend in each other’s company.  The rest of the week is either just one of us, home alone, or working in the evenings.  As much as I would love to have limitless hours and dollars to dream up a weekly menu, and shop daily, right now even brushing my hair daily is an achievement, so I’m all about cook-once, reap-the-rewards-many-times kind of cooking  that both frees up my evening hours, while still allowing me a creative challenge: how best to keep these leftovers interesting?

This recipe is from ‘Real Cooking’, a book from a wonderful food writer, Nigel Slater who, thankfully, feels very much the same way I do about having a second go at things – or evidence would suggest that he does, anyway.  There is a wonderful phrase part way through this book regarding roast chicken: “Only the very wasteful would fail to make a broth from the bones”.  Exactamundo, Nigel.  I am many, many things, but very wasteful I am not, especially when it comes to my beloved food.  Elsewhere in the same section are suggestions for transforming leftover roast chicken meat into something not just ‘not bad, for leftovers’, but great in its own right.  In this recipe, chicken is mixed, very simply, with roughly-given quantities of cream, mustard, cheese and tarragon (given that this is necessarily a fridge-scavenging exercise, rough quantities are the only kind that can truly count), topped with breadcrumbs, and baked.  The result is luxury.

Chicken with Cream and Mustard
Adapted from Nigel Slater, ‘Real Cooking’

2 handfuls leftover roast chicken, cut into bite-sized chunks
200mls cream
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
0.5 teaspoons dried tarragon (this would be even better with fresh)
1 handful grated cheese; anything will do (I used 50:50 parmesan and Cheshire)
Pinch salt
2 handfuls breadcrumbs (about 2 slices of bread)

Preheat the oven to 200C.  In a bowl, mix the chicken with the cream, mustard, tarragon, cheese and a pinch of salt.
Pour this mixture into an ovenproof dish, scatter the breadcrumbs over the top.
Bake for about 25 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are golden and the sauce is bubbling.
Serve with a green salad or green vegetables; I went with a huge pile of sautéed, salted cabbage.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Gift of Walnuts

I was lucky enough to be given a bag full of fresh walnuts recently, from a friend who doesn’t like them, and nor does her husband.  Short of uprooting their walnut tree and planting it in a pot on our balcony, accepting them gratefully was the best I could do.  And I was so glad they’d ended up with me.  Creamy, sweet and savoury at the same time, and yet with none of that oily bitterness that pre-packaged nuts seem to end up with.

We don’t own a nutcracker, but even if we did I would have been unable to find it in the midst of the move; experience has now taught me it would have been in the very last box I looked in, so I resorted to the bottom of a coffee jar, gleefully bashing the nuts then picking out that delightful centre.

When I’d eaten my fill just as a snack, I wanted to experience them as part of a meal.  My kitchen haul produced real autumnal ingredients; along with these nuts I had the world’s largest cabbage, a good hunk of Kapiti blue cheese, pungent but not palate-burningly strong, and the end of a box of Risoni pasta.

This was a real joy of a dinner – enough textural interest from the walnuts and slippery-smooth pasta, background earthiness of the cabbage and salty tang of the cheese.  An unintentionally well-balanced meal, that left me giving thanks for those odd folk who don’t like fresh walnuts.  Their loss is definitely my gain. 

Risoni with Walnuts
A recipe, if it can be called that, by myself

100g risoni pasta
Handful fresh walnuts
Handful shredded cabbage
1 tablespoon olive oil
20g blue cheese
2 tablespoons cream

In a large pan of salted, boiling water, cook the risoni according to the instructions on the packet.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat.  Saute the cabbage until it is just done and retains some crunch (although I have admitted to my love of overcooked cabbage, this is not the place for it).  

When the pasta is cooked, reserve half a cup of the cooking water, drain the pasta, then tip it into the pan with the cabbage, keeping it over a low heat.  Stir through the cream, half the cheese and the walnuts, adding as much reserved pasta water as is needed to bring the sauce together.

Serve, sprinkling over the rest of the cheese.

Serves 1

Friday, 14 June 2013

The New View

This is the view from one of the kitchen windows in our new house

And this is the view from the other window.

The view was one of the main reasons we fell for the place.  We first found this road two years ago, when we were in the process of searching for our last place.  The house we saw then was impractical but charming, and turning it down was not a decision we made lightly.  Ever since then, whenever we drove up the road, Andy said “I have a feeling we’re going to end up living here one day”.

And so it came to pass.

Things are still in a bit of a mess here; we’re both working most days of the week and so progress in sorting this collection of boxes and rooms into something resembling a home is taking longer than either of us are comfortable with.

But whenever we get down by the remnants of unpacking, we look out the window.  We already have a new tradition after a night out, of standing out on the balcony with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, depending on the kind of night it’s been, putting the world to rights and watching the tides move across this bay that we have come to love so very much in the last couple of years, and love even more now that we have a different view of it.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Meeting Your Heroes - Vietnamese Ribs

I’m the type of person to get starstruck.  As much as I would love to maintain an aura of chic cool around celebrities – my all-too-vocal cynical side screams “they’re just people”, truth is, the aura I project is more giggling schoolgirl than European Woman of the World.  A couple of times I’ve met real heroes of mine in very informal settings (a dog walk; a family party) and my blushing stutterings have provided much embarrassment to me (and no doubt them), and much amusement to all others around me.  And I’m not even talking Mandela or anything; think 90s popstar and 80s footballer.  Even my heroes are lowbrow.  In fact, the only celebrity I’ve ever managed to keep my head around was the late, much disgraced, Jimmy Saville – long story but he once tried to snatch a lemon & blueberry cake out of my sticky mitts and I stood firm, staring him fiercely right in the eyes like a mama bear defending a cub.  All things considered, I'm glad he was the one I didn't fawn over.

Which is why the world of Twitter is a world of wonder to me.  Andy once said to me “all you use it for is arguing with celebrities” which isn’t strictly true – I would find that exceedingly dull, and I do still get the fear that people can somehow see me through the screen – I would indeed be the world’s worst troll – but there have been a couple of occasions when I’ve challenged a celebrity on something they’ve said and they have actually responded.  Again, most of the time we’re talking lowbrow, B list British TV faces, but while they might not like what I’ve said, they’ve taken the time to reply and I’m always properly grateful, like the little starstruck fan I am.  And yes, I do realise that admitting this is the absolute ultimate in uncool – which is what I specialise in, apparently.

So imagine what happens when one of my culinary heroes, the eloquent and informative Aussie-Vietnamese Chef Luke Nguyen, takes the time to respond.  I mentioned him in a tweet, saying that I’d just had these Ribs for dinner, and how abso-flipping-lutely amazing they are, and he, bless his lovely little cotton socks, replied saying something along the lines of “glad you liked them, I’m having the same for my lunch!”.  A lovely man and someone, for once, who is deserving of the hero moniker.

As are these ribs.  Proper hero ribs.  Sticky, melting, well-balance Vietnamese flavours.  I roast them as suggested in the recipe, but next time I’m very tempted to stick a bit of water in the tray and slow roast them for ages, really let those flavours get to work and make the meat even more unctuous and fall-off-the bone.  Served with plain steamed rice and garlicky broccoli, they are one of my favourite dinners of all time.  A real hero of a dish.  And I’m glad I told Luke Nguyen so.

Roasted Pork Spareribs (Suon Non Quay)
From Luke Nguyen, Songs of Sapa

1 tablespoon shaoxing Rice Wine
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon honey
0.5 teaspoon five-spice
3 garlic cloves, smashed
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
500g pork spare ribs
6 spring onions, thinly sliced lengthways

First, marinade your ribs.  In a bowl big enough to take everything, mix the rice wine, soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, honey, five-spice, all the garlic cloves, and add the ribs.  Leave to marinade for as long as possible, at least 2 hours but these bad boys could take much longer if you get organised in time.

When you are ready to cook them, preheat your oven to 200C.  Put the ribs in a single layer in a roasting tray.  Bake for 30 minutes, basting every 5-10 minutes with the spare marinade.

When they are golden and crispy on the edges and fully cooked through, chop them into seperate ribs, and garnish with the spring onions.

Serve with steamed rice and broccoli.

Serves 2