an adventure into my cookbook collection: soul-searching, doing things differently & the truths I learn along the way...

deseeding pomegranates is feminine & erotic, unless you hit them with a wooden spoon...

urm..?

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Mushrooms on toast


Life’s simple pleasures.

Serves two classy people for a starter, or one greedy person for a meal.

Ingredients

200g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1 tbsp (approx) Olive oil
1 echalion/banana shallot, or half an onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed or finely diced
1 tsp grain mustard
1 tbsp crème fraîche
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper
½ tbsp (approx) lemon juice
Toast - as much as you like.


Method

In a large frying pan, fry the onions in a glug of olive oil over a medium/low heat for a few minutes until starting to soften and colour. Add the mushrooms and fry for another ten or so minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the garlic and parsley, fry for a further two to three minutes, and then stir in the mustard, crème fraîche, lemon juice, a little salt and a lot of pepper.

Serve with toast. Happy days.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Restaurant review: Mildreds


Established in 1988, Mildreds is part of the fabric of vegetarian London, and one of my favourite restaurants in the city. The first time I went to Mildreds was the day I handed in my masters dissertation, longer ago than I care to admit. I saw Simon Amstell at the next table, and had some of the best sweet potato fries I had ever eaten.

I have been to Mildreds many times since, and it is consistently excellent. The menu changes regularly, and contains many vegan and gluten-free options. All of the wine on their wine list is organic, mostly vegetarian or vegan, and with biodynamic options. They also serve organic soft drinks.

Mildreds doesn’t accept bookings, and I recognise that some people can find that annoying. Personally, I love no-bookings policies. I love the egalitarian-ness of them. Everyone gets a table, and everyone has to wait.  I have never had to wait very long for a table, and waiting with one of their excellent cocktails is no hardship (their elderflower martini packs a great punch).

The last time I went was with my cousin S, a foodie from NYC with an expense account. We had an excellent meal. For starters I ordered the chargrilled Roman style artichoke heart crostini with lemon aioli. Their artichoke crostini is quite possibly one of the best dishes known to man. There just aren’t enough superlatives in the world to describe how delicious it is. And by ‘Roman style’, they basically mean ‘Jewish style’.

For main course I had the Sri Lankan sweet potato and cashew nut curry with yellow basmati rice with peas and coconut tomato sambal. The curry was rich and well balanced, with a great kick from the sambal. For dessert, S and I shared the lemon, almond and pistachio polenta cake with pomegranate syrup and yoghurt. The cake was moist and delicious, and not too sweet.

For three courses with a shared dessert, cocktails and service, you can expect to pay around £30 per/head, completely reasonable for a central London restaurant of such quality.

Mildreds are publishing a cookbook, which will be available in summer 2015.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Salmon and pistachio risotto


I spoke about this risotto in the third post I ever wrote on this blog, way back in January 2011. It really has been playing on my mind for a while.

When I was eight years old I went on a family holiday to Sicily. When moments are happening it is hard to know what is going to become a significant part of your history, and what will be forgotten as a distant memory. This holiday has definitely become part of my history.

We stayed in a little place called Taormina, in the shadow of Mount Etna. We saw ancient ruins, splashed in volcanic mountain streams, climbed acropolises, and ate incredibly well.

This salmon and pistachio risotto was apparently a regional speciality in Taormina, and I remember it blowing my tiny mind. I haven’t been able to find any recipes for it, and so this is my version, based on a twenty-year old memory.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 salmon fillets (no skin)
Olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1 large shallot, small onion or half a large onion, finely diced
300g Arborio rice (or other suitable risotto rice)
125 ml  (small glass) relatively dry white wine – something that you would want to drink
1 litre hot chicken, fake chicken or vegetable stock
Approx 70g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
25 - 40g butter (risotto loves butter, but your arteries might not)
1 tbsp grated parmesan or similar hard cheese

Optional additions – green zingy herbs like lemon thyme or marjoram, lemon zest.

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (with fan).

Put the salmon fillets on an oven tray, and drizzle with olive oil and season with a pinch of sea salt and a grind or two of black pepper. Roast for 12-15 minutes, until just cooked through (you can do this while the risotto is cooking).

In a large saucepan, fry the onion in a glug of olive oil slowly on a low heat until soft and translucent (about 10 minutes).  Add the rice, and turn over in the onions until coated and glossy in the oil.

Add the wine to the pan and let it bubble for a few minutes, stirring all the time. Once the wine has bubbled to almost nothing, add the stock (I use fake chicken stock) a ladleful at a time, stirring and waiting for all the liquid to be incorporated before adding the next ladle.

This can take around 25-30 minutes.  When all the liquid is incorporated, check that the rice is cooked through, but still with a bit of bite. 
Flake the salmon (gently, so it doesn’t turn to mush) and add it to the rice, along with the chopped pistachios. Stir through the butter and parmesan, herbs if using, and season with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Romesco sauce


This is a Spanish (my version Spanish-ish) dip/sauce thing, made with roasted pepper, tomato, garlic and walnuts. You could use other nuts, but I like the slightly bitter edge you get from the walnuts.

Romesco sauce works incredibly well as an accompaniment to some simply grilled or pan-fried fish, and I really love it with sweet potato wedges too, or on a bit of nice bread, or on a spoon. Basically, it is delicious.

Rachel Khoo made one and served it with burnt leeks, which had been steamed in newspaper. That sounded like the kind of bonkers thing I like to do, so I gave it a go – and I thought the leeks were horrible. If you like your sauce-accompaniments oniony and stringy, let me know and I’ll give you the directions.

This recipe is based on recipes by Rick Stein and Rachel Khoo. This amount makes approximately 6 dainty servings. More if you are less dainty, like me.

Ingredients

Pinch chilli flakes or 1 dried birds eye chilli
2 medium/large tomatoes, sliced in half
2 red peppers, slice in half and remove the seeds and white pithy bits
3-4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
30g walnuts - or hazelnuts or almonds, toasted and skins crumbled off (half-heartedly is fine)
20g stale-ish nice bread – no crusts
100ml olive oil
1 ½ tbsp red wine/sherry vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180-200 degrees (I’m not sure exactly because my oven only has three temperatures: very hot, hot, slightly less hot).

On a baking tray, arrange the tomatoes and peppers cut side down. Hide the garlic cloves under the pepper shells to prevent them becoming too scorched (this does work). Roast (no oil needed) for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are fragrant and the skins have blistered and blackened in places.

Pinch off as much of the burnt pepper and tomato skin as you can, and peel the garlic cloves. Put the roasted veggies and garlic in a food processor with the chilli flakes, toasted walnuts and bread. Pulse to chop, and the slowly drizzle in the olive oil as you blend until you get a rough sauce-y consistency. Add a generous pinch of salt and grind of pepper and the vinegar, blend, and then taste to see if it needs more seasoning or more vinegar.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Thyme and citrus roasted carrots with lentils, hazelnuts and yogurt


Based, sort of, on a recipe I saw by Yotam Ottolenghi in the Guardian

I haven’t got any profound or inappropriately personal words to go with this one, because I have been feeling a bit artistically blocked - with writing, not with cooking.

I know this looks like a huge amount of ingredients, but it does all make sense.

Serves 4

Ingredients

500g Carrots, feel and slice them into skinny-ish sticks or wedges, reminiscent of spindly spring carrots
1 orange
1 lemon
1 tbsp (approx) agave syrup
About 6 thyme sprigs
Olive oil
About 180g cooked lentils – puy or beluga
1 medium sized banana or echalion shallot, finely diced
1 (scant) tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
150g (ish) greek yogurt (full fat preferably)
Half clove of garlic, crushed
Handful hazelnuts, halved or roughly chopped and toasted in the oven or a frying pan until they are golden brown and their skins can be rubbed off
Fresh spinach, rocket, pea shoots or whatever green leafy thing you like
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees (or 190 with fan)

Zest and juice the orange and the lemon.

Arrange the carrots in a roasting dish with five of the thyme sprigs. Drizzle with the agave syrup, roughly 1 tbsp of olive oil, half the citrus zests and about 1 tbsp of the citrus juice. Add a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Toss everything together and roast for 35-45 minutes, until the carrots are cooked through and caramelised in places, fragrant with thyme and citrus. Turn the oven off and keep the carrots in the oven to stay warm until you are ready to serve.

Mix the yogurt with the remaining citrus zests, garlic, a pinch of salt and drizzle of olive oil, and keep it in the fridge until ready to serve.

Put the lentils in a bowl with the diced shallot and fresh thyme leaves from the remaining sprig. Season with salt and pepper and dress them with the vinegar, more olive oil, and another tbsp of citrus juice.

To serve, scatter the lentils over your chosen form of green leaf in a nice bowl, and top with the toasted hazelnuts and warm carrots. Add some artful blobs of the yogurt sauce and enjoy!


Sunday, 3 August 2014

Gooseberry fool


"Gooseberry bush" was 19th-century slang for pubic hair, and from this comes the saying that babies are "Born under a gooseberry bush." (Wikipedia)
And now, everything I write about gooseberries will seem slightly inappropriate...
In times like these where you can get pretty much anything at any time of year, it seems like gooseberries are one of the few things left that are truly seasonal. They freeze really well, so get them while you can! The other day I literally bought eight boxes of gooseberries from Waitrose so that my Mum and Grandmother could stock up.

I love gooseberries. For me they are so evocative of childhood summers and meals with my grandparents – and after polling some of my friends I think that the same is true for a lot of people. When I was growing up we had a whole load of gooseberry bushes in the garden, and ate a lot of delicious gooseberry desserts (and strangely lumpy gooseberry soup), until one year they all died - our neighbour’s leylandii were blamed and all-out war was declared.

You may think less of me, but I made this recipe with custard made from Birds Custard Powder. Birds custard is one of the best things ever – it makes the most delicious yellow thick custard, and it is vegan too. If using Birds (which I would recommend), add slightly more powder than usual, as the custard should be thicker.

Gooseberry fool is rich and creamy, and an excellent dessert to make for special occasions, or for when you just really want to spoil yourself.

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

800g red or green gooseberries, topped and tailed.
2 tbsp caster sugar – plus more to taste
1 tbsp Date syrup
Approx. 1 pint custard, homemade from scratch, with Birds Custard Powder, or bought.
300ml double cream

Method

Stew the gooseberries in a few tablespoons of water and the sugar until they have completely collapsed. This might take around 15 minutes.

Allow them to cool slightly, add the date syrup and use an immersion blender to wiz them into a smooth sauce. They should really be sieved at this point too, but I can never be bothered – the seeds aren’t too annoying. Taste the pureed gooseberry and sweeten further if needed (remember that the custard will be sweet too) – use date syrup if you want it to be more caramel-y, or just use normal sugar.

When the pureed gooseberry mixture is cold, whisk it together with the custard and cream, and leave it in the fridge to thicken, for at least a few hours until you are ready to serve.

See here for a recipe for gooseberry fool from 1914. 

Friday, 11 July 2014

Grilled pepper bruschetta


(nice things on toast, part deux)

Maybe I’ve lost my mojo. It is hard for me to think that maybe my creativity stemmed from my unhappiness, but at least that realisation has given me something to work on.

I have been away at a yoga retreat in Turkey (bliss), and my yoga teacher Dimuthu said something really interesting about scar tissue, and how sometimes we protect old injuries, whether physical or emotional, so carefully that the scar tissue which builds is far bigger than the injury, creating a huge block. That concept resonates with me a lot. I am so much happier now, but maybe I am still protecting those old wounds. 

Inside the yoga studio
I definitely needed a holiday
So anyway, back to food. Being at a vegetarian yoga retreat in Turkey I am, of course eating extremely well. The food is simple and wholesome, and mostly grown in the hotel gardens. I have been taking a lot of notes, and really look forward to recreating some of the dishes when I get home; things like bulgur wheat as a side, full-fat yogurt swirled with olive oil, and tahini swirled with apricot and hazelnuts.

This pepper bruschetta recipe, despite being more Italian in influence, I think it works with the style of the food I have been eating here too – simple vegetables and good olive oil. Some of the best things to eat on a hot day.

Ingredients

Approximately 3 red or yellow peppers. It is hard for me to estimate how many peppers you will need, but obviously it is better to make a bit too much than too little. Any leftovers would be wonderful in a salad or pasta sauce, or just as more bruschetta.
2 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
½ tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
Approximately 5 basil leaves (depending on how big they are), torn up
Coarse-ish sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the bruschetta:
6 slices of ciabatta, or similar lovely Italian bread
1 clove of garlic, peeled
Really good quality extra virgin olive oil

Method

This quantity makes approximately 6 pieces of bruschetta – obviously depending on how big your slices of bread are.

Preheat the grill to very hot, but not the hottest it can go.

I find it best to line trays with foil when roasting peppers, as the liquid that comes out of them can be difficult to scrub off trays once it has burnt.

Grill the peppers for 3-5 minutes each side, until softened and blackened in places. When they are done, put them in a bowl and cover it tightly with cling film to let them steam.

When the peppers have mostly cooled down, peel off their skins and take out the stalks and seeds.

Slice the pepper flesh into thin-ish strips and put them in a bowl with the olive oil, vinegar, the torn basil leaves (save a few bits for garnish), and some salt and black pepper.

Cover the bowl and leave the peppers to marinate for at least half an hour. Put them in the fridge if you will be leaving them for longer than half an hour, but make sure to remove them from the fridge in enough time to come back up to room temperature before serving.

To make the bruschetta toast the bread on both sides, and then rub one side with garlic (serving side up).

To serve, spoon the pepper strips onto the bruschetta and garnish with the remaining bits of basil leaf.