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