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...


Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Warm corn salsa

This recipe comes from Thomasina Miers' Mexican Food Made Simple. It is a really fantastic book and this former Masterchef winner and owner of the chain Wahaca really does know what she is talking about. The TV series accompanying the book is fantastic also, from her beautiful gappy smile, stunning Mexican locations, history and evocative food. Ever since I learnt about how Aztecs used to cut people’s hearts out while they were still alive (I was probably around 8) I have been obsessed with all aspects of Mexican culture. I love the silly movies set in Mexico like ‘From Dusk till Dawn’ and ‘Desperado’, Frida Kahlo, Like Water for Chocolate, songs with Mexico in the title (Down in Mexico, Mexican Radio) and the food, most of all. I distinctly remember rolling my eyes at my grandparents trying to eat fajitas with a knife and fork at the age of 10. Somehow if you don’t have salsa dribbling down your wrist, it doesn’t really count.

Apologies for the lack of photos on this one, I made it last night for dinner and was so impressed that I wanted to get it up here as soon as possible. If I make it again I will add some photos in. it really is a delicious salad, sweet, warm and spicy, smoky and fragrant with lime and coriander. Serve it with sour cream and some tortilla chips.

Approx.. 4 cups of fresh or defrosted frozen corn (not tinned)
1 onion, finely diced
1 or 2 green chillies, deseeded and finely diced
Cooking oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Juice of 1 lime (sadly my limes had absolutely no juice in them so I had to use lemon, it still tasted great though)
Handful of fresh coriander, roughly shredded
½ teaspoon of ground allspice
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in a large frying pan and when its hot add the onion, chilli and corn. Sauté over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until the onion starts getting a little translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another 5-10 minutes until the onion looks cooked and the corn has taken on some colour. Add the allspice, salt and pepper, lime and coriander and cook for a minute or two more until the coriander has wilted slightly.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Couscous salad with fennel, herbs and walnuts

This salad is the first thing that I have cooked from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Everyday! book. While obviously I should have boycotted this book on the grounds of the exclamation mark alone, its staggeringly positive amazon rating was reason enough to give it a go. Also, I really love the River Cottage TV shows, to be honest, I just want my life to be just a little bit more like River Cottage (and it might be soon :p). What I particularly liked about the season about vegetarianism was its honesty, and the wide-eyed enthusiasm of someone who really did seem to be thinking about what a meal that wasn’t a lump of flesh might entail for the first time in his life. I would like to add that I am not actually vegetarian, but about 75% of all of my meals are, possibly more. I think that might be why I like this book so much, and Ottolenghi’s Plenty – they aren’t written by vegetarians. What Hugh F-W rightly points out is that choosing to eat less meat and fish can have ethical and environmental implications over and above the ethical issues surrounding having to kill something to eat it.

I never really liked fennel until I tried a fantastic stew made by superwoman Becky with celery and lemon, and now I can’t get enough of it.  With the herbs, walnuts and lemon here it creates an incredibly complex, savoury and crunchy salad, filling and balanced enough to be a meal in itself.

Please make sure that you use whole spices, toast and grind them yourself – especially as the spices aren’t being ‘cooked’, they need to be toasted to bring out their flavours and add a real presence to the dish.

Serves 5 – 6

2 teaspoons cumin seeds
I teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
300g wholemeal giant couscous, also called Israeli couscous, or moghrabieh
1 onion, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
1 fennel bulb, chopped, tops reserved
2 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
a small handful of mint leaves
75g walnuts, lightly toasted (if you can be bothered) and roughly chopped
zest and juice of 1 lemon
extra virgin olive oil
walnut oil (optional)

Put the cumin, coriander and fennel in a dry frying pan and toast for a few minutes, shaking the pan to make sure that they toast evenly. When they are fragrant, tip them into a mortar and grind them into a powder.

Fry the vegetables and garlic in some olive oil a large frying pan for about 5-8 minutes. Fry them on a medium heat stirring often, so that they soften a little bit, but still have some crunch. Remove from the heat and add the spices and lemon zest.

Cook the couscous according to packet instructions in boiling, salted water – about 8-9 minutes. When it is done, drain it and mix it with the vegetable and spice mixture.  Allow it all to cool slightly, and then add the chopped herbs, walnuts and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Before serving add a little bit more oil and lemon juice.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Interlude number one, the wish list

Hello readers. I’m not doing a recipe this time, I wanted to take a little break and go through my kitchen wish list with you. Somewhat in the style of the ‘any cook who wants to be taken seriously’ section in Kitchen Confidential – although I won’t be mentioning any squeezy bottles or mise-en-place organisers, that’s just a given.  If you haven’t read Kitchen Confidential yet, go read it. Anthony Bourdain is such a brilliant, anarchic writer, and once you get through all the sex and drugs, there is a bit of stuff about food too.

I started cultivating my kitchen wish-list when I realised that my kitchen-based fantasies were less about what/who I was doing (ahem), but rather what the appliances in the background were like – was there a retro red kitchen aid like in The Fabulous Baker Brothers? Or one of those American style humongous fridges with an ice-maker in the door? Oh you know that there was (wink wink).

So here is the list, and thanks to all my delicious facebook friends for adding their suggestions. Of course some of these things aren’t that difficult to get hold of, or that expensive, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

Another microplane – microplanes are fantastic little things, like uber-graters. I already have one, with very small teeth that is perfect for zesting things, but I need one with slightly larger teeth that can be used for grating ginger and garlic, and chocolate. Ginger especially is such a pain in the arse to grate, and these things seem to work the best. They are very sharp, so be careful – I once grated my fingertip off with one, and couldn’t handle lemons or chillies for a week.

Rubbery spatula  -these are just the best things in the world for scraping cake batter or melted chocolate out of bowls – and quite fun to hit people with too.

Global knives – as many of you know I have a bit of an obsession with these, and they were first introduced to me by the wonderful Suzy. Of course as you know a really decent knife is probably the most fundamental thing you should have in your kitchen, and these are my favourite. Sleek Japanese steel, perfectly weighted and a little bit badass – they show that you are serious too. I don’t have any (yet) but I have used them before and they really really are that good.

Springy palette knives – for spreading buttercream on cakes in a swishy, effortless sort of way, and for lovingly spreading melted chocolate onto large marble slabs…which brings me on to…

Giant marble slab. Just the thing for chocolate work, or pastry where you need it to stay really cold. And also just looks so beautiful.

Cast- iron griddle pan – this is actually the next thing I will be buying for myself. I want a big one, preferably that will go over two burners on the hob. Just the thing for cooking steaks, lamb chops or fresh tuna – with perfectly charred and caramelised lines. I also love griddled vegetables – aubergine and courgettes especially – coat them lightly in olive oil and scorch on both sides, sprinkle with salt and serve at room temperature, maybe with more olive oil, toasted pine nuts and crumbled goats cheese. What I also love about these griddle pans, is that they are reassuringly heavy, if you have ever used one, you will know what I mean.

Pressure cooker – pressure cookers are magical. And people are afraid of them, which I don’t understand. I think that possibly back in the day they were all explodey or something. But the fact that it can cook food super fast is a very good thing for 2 reasons. 1) there just isn’t enough time in the day sometimes. 2) it can save the planet! Oh yes. I recently read an article about Wonderbags, which are like super-insulated beanbags which are changing the lives of people in the third world by drastically reducing the amount of fuel needed to cook something. With the wonderbag, food is heated up in a pot for 5-10 minutes, and then the whole pot is snuggled inside the wonderbag for a few hours, cooking in its residual heat. Pretty special, and a thoroughly good idea. But get this – using a pressure cooker, it would just be cooked in the 5 or 10 minutes. Simples. And you can get some pretty awesome retro-spacey ones at the moment that look like something out of The Jetsons. On the subject of saving the planet by the way, I have decided that Masterchef’s beloved blast chillers are of the devil. And on the subject of saving time/ money/ sanity, instead of a sous-vide, just use a ziplock bag in a slow-cooker, yeah.

Wood-burning pizza oven. Obviously, probably more for the back garden then the kitchen though. And lucky me someone has just offered to build me one. Now I just need to learn how to make pizza dough…

Small oven suitable frying pans. The kind that are all metal, and you have to wrap a dry tea-towel around the handle to get them out of the oven. For making tarte-tatins, and fritattas, and shakshouka, properly.  Shakshouka especially, so that the tomato sauce can cook slowly on the hob, and the eggs can set just right in the oven – and then be served just like that, on a heat-proof mat, with crusty bread. I have not met anyone who doesn’t like shakshuka, and there are some great recipes in Ottolenghi’s books and the new Hugh F-W vegetarian book (review coming soon). My recipe is here.

Large stainless steel bowl – for beating egg whites, nothing is better.

Silicone paper – for lining baking trays. As I have said here, and here and here, there really is nothing better for when making delicate little baked things.

Egg coddlers – another one of my favourite books, The Vintage Tea Party Book by Angel Adoree has a whole area of its breakfast section dedicated to coddled eggs. It’s a delicious looking poached egg delight, that just has to be made in a retro, patterned china little dish, preferably with little flowers painted up the sides, and a gold rim.

Tagine – this of course also comes with me wanting an oven with the capacity to cook this properly, like an aga, or my shiny new wood-burning oven in the garden (one can hope).  And it has to be a beautiful, painted all brightly coloured, warm and evocative of the delicious food-goodness on the inside (this means by the way that i will have to have two, as the painted ones are just for serving). Before I went to Morocco I just didn’t get tagines, they were just oddly shaped dishes right? But then when I was there I knew – the heavy ceramic and that iconic shape keeps them incredibly hot, and the stew gets heady and thick and perfect, and it just cant be recreated properly in a normal saucepan - although this one comes close.

So there it is, my kitchen fantasy wish list. I hope you enjoyed it.  Please let me know what essential things you would add to your fantasy kitchen. And don’t worry I will be back to recipes again very soon. I just found a great looking one for a giant couscous salad with parsley, fennel and walnuts, or  I might have another attempt at my chilli-polenta crusted potatoes. 

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Sri Wasano’s Infamous Indonesian Quinoa Salad

Quinoa is one of my new magic ingredients. Making this dish was actually the first time I have cooked it, as with many other trends (such as leggings), I always seem to be a bit late to the party. But oh wow how brilliant it is. According to Wikipedia quinoa is a pseudocereal that is more related to beets, spinach and tumbleweed than other grains – messes with your head doesn’t it? What this means is that while you can cook it and use it in recipes just like its grainy equivalent (eg. Risotto, stuffed peppers) it is low carb, high protein, gluten free and kosher for Passover (not kitniot either).

This recipe comes from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook – I have mentioned before how much I love this book. In fact, it was my first ever cookbook. Its vegetarian, interesting and wholesome recipes, with hand-drawn illustrations and a whimsical style of prose.  I have tried this recipe before with brown rice as the recipe suggested, but actually I think I preferred it with quinoa – what it also has, which quinoa needs, it a whole lot of dressing. Quinoa tends to get pretty dry, but this salad does not, even on day two. The Indonesian style flavours are fantastic – the pineapple, chilli, garlic, soy combinations creates an incredibly complex flavour, with much more depth than the standard Chinese style sweet and sour.

If you do not have American cup measures, use a teacup. This recipe will give about 4 – 6 servings. I have scaled down the oils a little bit in the dressing.

2 cups quinoa
4 cups water

For the dressing –
¼ cup flavourless oil
2 ½ tbsp sesame oil (optional)
½ cup orange juice (I didn’t have this, and 1/3 cup lime juice instead)
1 or 2 medium cloves of garlic
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp soy sauce (or a little salt)
½ tsp crushed red pepper (I used 1 crumbled, dried birds eye chilli as they are pretty powerful, but I probably should have used 2 – this salad needs big flavours)
2 tbsp rice vinegar (or vinegar suitable for passover)
1 cup chopped fresh pineapple/ canned in juice (I used the canned variety, and added about ½ a cup of the juice)

For the salad –
3 finely sliced spring onions (whites and greens)
2 finely sliced stalks celery
1 can water chestnuts, thinly sliced (optional - I didn’t have these)
1 big handful beansprouts (not for passover)
1 cup roughly chopped roasted, salted, cashews

Put the quinoa in a large saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer with the lid on for approx. 10 minutes, and then leave off the heat with the lid on for another 5 – 10 minutes.  While the quinoa is cooking assemble the dressing ingredients in a large bowl, and add the hot quinoa directly to the dressing bowl and mix well. It will look like that there is way too much dressing to absorb, but don’t worry it will. Cover and leave to cool. Don’t add the rest of the salad ingredients until just before you are ready to serve it, so that everything stays fresh and crunchy.