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...


Monday, 30 May 2011

Thai green chicken salad

This is a really lovely salad, perfect for summer lunches.  Its light and refreshing and really delicious.  Serve it on a large plate with the chicken all in one layer, making the whole thing look beautiful and easy for people to help themselves.

Time: 45 mins difficulty: 3/5 Taste 4/5

Approx 5 chicken breasts
2 limes, zested
2cm square piece of ginger (and some galangal if you can get it) peeled and finely chopped/grated
1-2 sticks lemongrass, bashed very hard with a heavy knife and sliced up a little bit if soft enough
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Half an onion, or 3-4 shallots, finely diced
Large handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
Small handful mint, roughly chopped
3 cardamom pods, split
2 small green chilies, with the seeds removed from one of them (or both, or neither, depending on how hot you like it) and finely sliced
1 can of coconut milk (if you vigorously shake the can before you open it, the solids at the top will integrate with the  liquid below, saving you much work mixing it up with a spoon later)

for the salad:
1 packet of rocket
2 spring onions, finely sliced
small handful fresh coriander, chopped
1 handful cashew nuts, split in half

To make the marinade for the chicken, mix together the lime zest, coriander, shallots, ginger, garlic, mint, cardamom and chilies in a large, shallow non-metallic dish.  Add the sticks of lemon grass and (shaken) coconut milk, stir together and add the chicken, making sure each piece is completely coated in the mixture.  Leave to marinade for a few hours.

About 15 minutes before you are ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 180c (or turn the grill on to medium/high).  Squeeze the juice from 1 of the zested limes into the marinating chicken.  When the oven is hot, arrange the chicken in a roasting dish in a single layer with a little bit of the marinade spooned on top.  Cook for about 25 minutes and check to see if its cooked, and give it another 5 minutes if needed.  Chicken breasts really shouldn’t need more than 30 minutes to cook, unless they are really thick.

You can make the salad with the chicken more or less straight after the oven, or keep the cooked chicken in the fridge until ready to make the salad.  When ready to serve, scatter the serving dish with the rocket.  Slice the chicken and arrange on the plate in a single layer (with the big lumps or marinade goo scraped off), and top with the spring onions, coriander, cashew nuts, and a squeeze of lime juice.  Serve, maybe with some cold noodles or sticky rice and enjoy!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

A warm salad of kale, broccoli and sweet potatoes

A friend was recently describing the life-changing transcendence and clarity of a psychotropic experience, and I sat there and realized that the only thing I have been experimenting with lately is kale.  And while initially I felt incredibly frustrated at the boringness of this, after researching a little bit into kale (thank you Wikipedia, reason I passed my masters) I realized that while it might not have any actual psychedelic properties, it is pretty rad.  Yeah, rad.

This is some of what Wikipedia has to say about kale.  If you stare at it for long enough, things really do start spinning in a trippy kind of way…(not really). 

Kale is considered to be a highly nutritious vegetable with powerful antioxidant properties; is it an anti-inflammatory and is very high in lovely things like beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, and calcium.  As well as other brassicas, kale contains sulforaphane (particularly when chopped or minced), a chemical believed to have potent anti-cancer properties.

Until the end of the Middle Ages, kale was one of the most common green vegetables in all of Europe. Curly leafed varieties of cabbage already existed along with flat leafed varieties in Greece in the fourth century BC. The leaf colours range from light green through green, dark green and violet-green to violet-brown. Russian kale was introduced into Canada (and then into the U.S.) by Russian traders in the 19th century.  During World War II, the cultivation of kale in the U.K. was encouraged by the Dig for Victory campaign. The vegetable was easy to grow and provided important nutrients to supplement those missing from a normal diet because of rationing.[6]

Kale freezes well and actually tastes sweeter and more flavourful after being exposed to a frost.
Tender kale greens can provide an intense addition to salads, particularly when combined with other such strongly flavoured ingredients as dry-roasted peanuts, tamari-roasted almonds, red pepper flakes, or an Asian-style dressing.

Kale seems to be massively popular all across the world, so maybe it’s a little weird that we don’t cook so much of it here.  To be honest I only picked it up because I was craving something spinachey and the kale was 50p cheaper…

In Ireland kale is mixed with mashed potatoes to make the traditional dish colcannon.
A traditional Portuguese soup, caldo verde, combines pureed potatoes, diced kale, olive oil, broth, and, generally, sliced cooked spicy sausage. Under the name of couve, kale is also popular in Brazil, in caldo verde, or as a vegetable dish, often cooked with carne seca (shredded dried beef). When chopped and stir-fried, couve accompanies Brazil's national dish, feijoada.
In East Africa, it is an essential ingredient in making a stew for ugali, which is almost always eaten with kale. Kale is also eaten throughout southeastern Africa, where it is typically boiled with coconut milk and ground peanuts and is served with rice or boiled cornmeal.
A whole culture around kale has developed in north-western Germany around the towns of Bremen, Oldenburg and Hannover. There, most social clubs of any kind will have a Grünkohlfahrt ("kale tour") sometime between October and February, visiting a country inn to consume large quantities of boiled kale, Kassler, Mettwurst and schnapps. Most communities in the area have a yearly kale festival which includes naming a "kale king" (or queen).
Curly kale is used in Denmark and Halland, Sweden, to make (grøn-)langkål, an obligatory dish on the julbord in the region, and is commonly served together with the Christmas ham (Sweden, Halland).
In Scotland, kale provided such a base for a traditional diet that the word in dialect Scots is synonymous with food. To be "off one's kail" is to feel too ill to eat.
In Montenegro collards, locally known as rashtan is a favorite vegetable. It is particularly popular in winter, cooked with smoked mutton (kastradina) and potatoes.


Makes a large portion time: 40 mins difficulty: 2/5 taste: 3.5/5

I bag of kale
2-3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into small dice, no more than 1 inch square
1 large broccoli, separated into florets
Large handful of pumpkin seeds (or nuts)
Sage (fresh or dried)
Chilli powder
Olive oil
Lemon juice

You will need a large frying pan with a lid.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees before you chop the sweet potatoes.  Toss the cubes with 1 glug of olive oil, sage, paprika and a smallish pinch of chili powder.  Arrange in single layers on a couple of oven trays and sprinkle with salt.  Roast in the oven for about 35 minutes.  When there are about 10-15 minutes left, add the broccoli in with the sweet potatoes (they cook better if they are slightly damp).

While the sweet potatoes are cooking, toast the pumpkin seeds in a very hot frying pan until they all start puffing up and popping.  This should take a few minutes, and use the time to get the kale thoroughly washed in a colander.  Once the seeds are done transfer them to a large bowl.  Add the dripping kale straight to the hot pan, turn the heat down slightly and clamp the lid on.  Let it steam for about 5 minutes, occasionally lifting the lid to stir the greens around.

When the kale is cooked, drain all the liquid from the frying pan and rinse the kale a few times in cold water to stop it overcooking.  Make sure that you squeeze out as much water as possible before adding it to the large bowl.  Finally add the broccoli and sweet potatoes, and mix everything together with the juice of about half a lemon.

So you may not see any swirly colours of higher truths, but it is yummy and leaves you with that lovely smug feeling you get after eating something really wholesome.  

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Lentil and Sausage Salad

This is a fantastic salad for those cooking on a budget, or those like me who tend to live mainly on pasta.  It is protein filled and not at all heavy.  Here is a tip: next time you barbeque, cook a few too many sausages and freeze them.  I really do think that most things taste better on the barbeque.  The smoky flavour and lovely charred edges stay on the sausages even after being defrosted, and then you can have pretty much instant lentil and sausage salad throughout the year.

Sorry I don’t have proper quantities, use your judgement about the amounts of lentils and sausages, depending on how much you want to make.  With the following amounts of veggies and things, this made enough for about 12 or so small portions.

Green Lentils
6 or so cooked Sausages, cut into bite-sized pieces (I used spicy beef, worked really well)
1 ½ onions, diced
1 red pepper, diced (fried mushrooms would also work)
olive oil
2 large red tomatoes, chopped up (alternatively you could use sun-dried tomatoes)
Large handful of parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

For the vinaigrette
Olive oil
Cider vinegar (or wine vinegar, nothing too heavy)
1 tsp grain mustard

1.   In a small jar with a lid make the vinaigrette with 2 parts oil to 1 part vinegar, the mustard and a few drops of cold water.  Shake well to combine.
2.   Cook the lentils in boiling water for 20 minutes or so until they are cooked but not falling apart.  Once they are cooked put them in a bowl and add a couple of spoonfuls of vinaigrette.
3.   While the lentils are cooking, sauté the onions and pepper (or mushrooms) in olive oil over a low heat until sweet and soft.  If you are cooking the sausages fresh, then the veggies will have a great flavour if you fry them in the pan after the sausages.
4.   When the vegetables are cooked, add them to the lentils with the sausages, fresh veggies and parsley.  Mix together and taste for seasoning, and add more dressing if needed to.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Lime & Basil Macaroons

With a chocolate hazelnut variation.

These macaroons come from Ottolenghi, one of my all time favourite cookbooks – see previous post.

One of the most important things about Passover for me is the sense of nostalgia and tradition that comes with the bringing out of the kosher for Passover crockery, the accoutrements for the seder, and the seder itself.  They just aren’t the same without our silly jokes, actions, arguing over page numbers and awful singing (all to different tunes, different words, different speeds).  Tradition can of course be a bad thing; sometimes its easier for things to stay the same even though they aren’t particularly good, then to try something new.  In this respect I am of course referring to traditional Passover cookies.  This year I made the radical decision to do away with the traditional altogether, no coconut pyramids, and no standard macaroons. These had been an integral part of our family’s Passover (and im sure everyone elses) since records began.  They just aren’t that nice.  When I found the recipes for Florentines and French-style macaroons in Ottolenghi I knew what had to be done.  There was a mini Passover cookies revolution, and Evelyn Rose went back on the shelf (not that anyone objected, change isn’t as scary as most people think).  Those macaroons, 2 delicate meringue-like disks, sandwiched together with just the perfect amount of filling, quite possibly the best things ever.

This is how my love of real macaroons began (or should I say, macarons).  About a year and half ago when I was unemployed and things were pretty bleak I would cheer myself up with trips to the Royal Academy.  Anish Kapoor was on and I would pretend that I was the kind of elegant Londoner who went to art galleries in the middle of the day: I would wear pearls, matching clothes and everything. Window shopping in Burlington arcade added to the fantasy until one day I forgot that I was completely skint and I went into Ladurée and bought some macaroons. And they are the best in the world for good reason.

In Ottolenghi’s introduction to macaroons, they refer to Ladurée as being the ultimate in macaroon gastronomy, and these versions are seen as a more home-made version.  I read somewhere that Laduree let the macaroons sit for 2 days after being made before they will sell them, and mine too tasted much better with every day after they were made.  It is however, pretty hard to resist eating them all in a few sittings, or putting them in pretty little boxes to give as smug gifts to friends and grandparents.

A word on piping: Most of the time when I see the word ‘pipe’ in relation to cooking I tend to ignore it completely, or replace it with ‘blob haphazardly with a spoon’ in this case however, I really think it is necessary.  What is so wonderful about these macaroons is how perfect they look, and how amazing they taste, it would be a shame to diminish them by making the shapes all wonky.  And from a practical point, they need to fit together in neat little sandwiches, so some uniformity in their size and shape is a good thing.  Once you get the hang of it, piping the mixture is actually much easier and quicker than spooning it.  My medium of choice is a ziplock bag with a little corner snipped off (obviously, don’t cut anything until the mixture is in the bag).  When filling the bag fold the top half down completely so that the outside stays clean and no drips of mixture are wasted.

Makes about 20 time: about 1hr ¼ (including resting and baking) difficulty 3.5/5 taste 5/5

2 egg whites (60g)
110g icing sugar
60g ground almonds
40g caster sugar
zest of 1 lime
5 large basil leaves, finely chopped

For the buttercream filling (enough for about 2 batches):
100g unsalted butter or margarine, at room temperature
45g icing sugar
zest of 1 lime, and juice
5 large basil leaves, finely chopped

1.   Sift the icing sugar and almonds into a clean, dry bowl.
2.   Whisk the egg whites and caster sugar until they have formed a thick, aerated meringue, firm but not too dry.  If you have one, whisk them in a stainless steel bowl, for some magical reason it is much easier than in a regular bowl.  The whisking will take about 15 minutes using a hand-held electric whisk.
3.   Take a third of the meringue and fold it gently into the almond/sugar mix.  Once incorporated, add another third and continue until all of the meringue has been added and the mix is smooth and glossy.  At this stage fold in the lime zest and basil.
4.   Take a sheet of baking parchment (or silicone paper – I highly recommend, see previous note) and glue it to a baking sheet with a tiny amount of the macaroon mix.  Pipe the macaroon mix onto the lined tray using a piping bag into uniform shallow disks, about the size of a £2 coin.  To assist you, you could draw little circles on the paper first.
5.   Once all the macaroons are piped hold the tray firmly and tap the underside hard.  This should help to spread out and smooth out the biscuits.  Use a wet finger to poke down any pointy bits. Leave the macaroons out uncovered for at least 25 minutes before baking (use this time to preheat the oven, to 170 degrees - 160 w/fan).
6.   To bake, place the macaroons in the oven and leave for 12 minutes, although they may take a little longer, depending on your oven (mine took about 14).  The macaroons are ready when they come freely off the paper when lifted gently with a palette knife (if you are using the silicone paper, you can just use a finger).  Whatever you do don’t over bake them, they should be light and delicate.  Leave them aside to cool down completely before you fill them.
7.   To make the buttercream filling, beat the butter and icing sugar together until pale and light.  Add the lime juice, zest and basil and mix until incorporated.  Cover the buttercream with cling film and leave in a cool place (not the fridge).
8.   To assemble the macaroons, use a small spoon or piping bag to place a pea-sized amount of filling on the flat size of half the biscuits.  Sandwich together with another half, pressing gently.  Try to make sure you match the macaroons in size and shape.  Leave them to set, either at room temperature or in the fridge.  Do not serve them straight from the fridge, allow them to come back to room temperature.

Chocolate and Hazelnut variation

2 egg whites
110g icing sugar
50g ground hazelnuts (or almonds)
10g cocoa, as good quality as you can find (sift this in with the ground nuts and icing sugar)
40g caster sugar

for the chocolate ganache (or just use nutella)
65g dark chocolate
15g unsalted butter or margarine
50ml double cream
2 tsp dark rum

I wish I had taken better photos...

Monday, 2 May 2011

Almond & Orange Florentines

Whats good about this post is that I am actually going back to my original concept (see my first post) of cooking recipes from a cookbook I own! I think of all the posts I have done, only about 2 actually do so.  This recipe comes from the wonderful Ottolenghi, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (an Israeli and Palestinian who run the very successful Ottolenghi and Nopi delis/restaurants).  I am sure that at this point someone very intelligent could say something also very intelligent and witty about the middle Eastern peace process being solved through food.  Suggestions on a postcard, or comment, best one wins points.  International relations aside, it is a fantastic book, with inspiring recipes, prose and photographs.  The Middle Eastern style is both comfortingly familiar and exotic.  It is also very easy to follow and so far, foolproof.

As far as I am aware, the best Florentines in the world are made by my grandmother.  Parkways are pretty good too.  I am not trying to do any kind of Florentine coup d’état with these, as you will see from the recipe, they are different (and suitable for Passover, which was a nice surprise).  Traditional Florentines are condensed milk/caramel-y based and filled with lovely treats like pink glace cherries, crunchy around the edges, piled and squidgy in the centre.  These ones are much simpler, they are not pretending to be the real deal, nor a cheating version.  They are delicious though, and on the ease vs. taste scale, they score incredibly high.  They look beautiful, taste complex and indulgent, and are incredibly easy and quick to make.

In my family Passover is pretty much the only time that we make cookies, and so we have a few sheets of silicone paper, cut to fit oven trays.  Essentially it is like the best greaseproof paper ever, and it is washable.  The Florentines and macaroons (recipe to follow soon) came off the paper with the slightest nudge, fantastic!  If you do not have this use the vegetable oil method as described in the recipe below.

Makes about 20 time: 25 mins difficulty 2/5

260g Flaked almonds
2 egg whites
Zest of 1 orange (or more, if you want)
100g icing sugar
About 75g dark chocolate (melt the chocolate very carefully.  whatever you do, do not allow the chocolate to seize at all, you want a perfectly glossy finish).

Preheat the oven to 150c.  Line a heavy baking tray with baking parchment and brush lightly with vegetable oil.  Next to you have a small bowl of water.

Put the egg whites, icing sugar, flaked almonds and orange zest in a bowl and gently mix together.  Dip your hand in the bowl of water and pick up portions of the mix to make little mounds on the lined tray, well spaced apart.  Dip a fork in the water (or use a finger) and flatten each biscuit very thinly.  Try to make them as thin as possible without creating too many gaps between the almond flakes.  They should be about 8cm in diameter. 

Place the tray in the oven and bake for about 12 minutes, until the Florentines are golden brown.  Check underneath one to make sure they are cooked through.  Allow to cool, and then remove gently using a palette knife if you need to.

The recipe suggests brushing them with some melted dark chocolate as an optional extra, I say that it’s a must.