Thursday, 26 November 2009

Recipe ideas to occupy the fridge-loving unemployed

Now that I find myself temporarily unemployed and home-bound, my main problem is staying out of the fridge. With time on my hands and constant flavour combinations suggesting themselves to me in my head, I find myself heading fridge-wards a little too often. The fridge and I - as my family will corroborate - have a long and symbiotic relationship; it's not so much that I pick out something to eat each time I pass by, but I find myself quite often opening the door just to check what's in there and spend a few minutes musing on what to have for the next meal, or the one after that, or even tomorrow. I spend a lot of time communing with my fridge. But it's also a tic of boredom and that way, as musings transpire into ever-more complex meal creations, fully-inflated dinghy-shape lies.
So what to do? I have found the best way to retain even a modicum of slenderness (I'm 5ft so really I do need to watch it) is a good 20 mins of walking a day, easily accomplished in my old life by walking to the station every morning and watching the carbs (not obsessively and madly, but being aware of my intake). Now there's no need to march to the station every morning and I don't think clocking up the yards to the kitchen is really any substitute.
For inspiration I dug out India & Nerys' Idiot-Proof recipe book which - co-written as it is with food writer Bee Rawlinson - is full of really good recipe ideas that are filling and interesting without containing carbohydrates. My main problem is breakfast. I love my muesli with yoghurt, but after 5 mornings a week it starts to pall and I find myself craving croissants, sausage sandwiches and bacon rolls - all of which are delicious, but not good on a daily basis. With a little more time on my hands, I can get a bit more creative and save the fry-ups for the weekend where they belong.
Idea no.1: Bearing in mind my recent lizard/piglet-ness and the fact that the weather seems to be sharpening its claws, I'm upping my good fat intake, This morning, I fried 2 strips of streaky bacon and a chopped tomato in a little olive oil. I then halved an avocado and spooned the tomato and bacon into the well and topped with a little Gorgonzola. It went into the oven for a few minutes to soften the cheese and breakfast was done. Tomorrow morning, I shall do something similar but without the bacon.
(BTW - for all of you remarking on the fat content - cheese, bacon, oil - I followed India and Nerys' diet a few years back when I was getting decidedly portly and found that for me , it worked. It is based on the Atkins diet, but what is ingenious is how you re-introduce sensible carbs. I found my energy levels higher, my mood dramatically changed and embedded deep within myself the concept of moderation (hence the continuation of my Sunday morning sausage sandwich).)
Idea no. 2: Similar but use large flat field mushrooms as a base for anything. Yesterday's lunch was the mushrooms baked in the oven with a little butter and garlic, topped with a round of goats cheese and then sat on a bed of watercress with a mustard-y dressing.
Idea no.3: Their idea for a faux-mash made with cauliflower may strike a hint of fear into many, but actually it's amazing and incredibly versatile. The basic premise is to steam cauli florets until tender, then whix them up with a little butter and double cream (or creme fraiche), seasoning and perhaps some nutmeg. Get the consistency right and it's lovely for spooning over shepherd's pie or moussaka; you can add cheese of any description to add bulk and in the recipe book, they suggest adding an egg yolk, whisking the egg white and folding it in and then topping a baked field mushroom, before baking until risen and golden, which sounds an elegant lunch.
One of their most striking points is that breakfast needn't be sweet. As someone utterly without a sweet tooth, I have never found the problem to be pastries and muffins and so on (I even find the fruit in my muesli too much), but rather the ingredients of a fry-up. They go on to suggest that you could pretend you've woken up in Bavaria and feast on meats and cheeses, smoked fish and vegetable-fruits such as tomatoes and avocados, which is an idea I'm rather taken by. Guten Appetit.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

A girl must get her greens...

Last night I was in need of rest, recuperation and vitamins - both inside and out. My face has been reacting badly to the ever-changing weather and a cold and - please God no - red wine and I felt toxic and as if there was no health in me. Moreover I resembled a boiled piglet with severe eczema (attractive, no?).

Operation Vitamins Part 1: So - melt some anchovies in quite a bit of olive oil (I used 4, but then I wanted the heavy saltiness against the bitter greens), then add a finely sliced leek and sweat/saute until softened. I then added some chopped up purple sprouting broccoli, popped the lid on and steamed for a couple of minutes. Then I added a load of chopped up, de-stalked kale, some chopped chilli and chopped garlic and put the lid back on again for a couple of minutes. Finally, a handful of spinach, a good squeeze or 3 of lemon juice and stir until the spinach has wilted down. Top the lot with grated Parmesan and shovel in, feeling unbelievably virtuous.

Operation Vitamins Part 2: Follow with a 15 minute Liz Earle face mask (oh the sheer bliss of LE. Fab products, not super-expensive and all-natural) while listening with eyes closed to Joe and Kim on I'm a Celebrity doing a challenge quite unfathomable without actually watching it. God knows what they were doing, but definitely more entertaining only absorbed aurally. Slather face - not TV - with LE moisturiser for dry/sensitive skin (only for extreme emergencies) and marvel at lack of lizard-like, boiled-piglet skin.

Friday, 20 November 2009

In which we enter a brave new world...

What with one thing and another, I haven't managed to post anything much very foodie recently. I shall try to make amends with telling you what I plan to cook at some point this weekend but in the meantime, a brief diversion:

So - I am going freelance. Not for me the 9-5, the Clapham omnibus (or rather, the no.52 bus from Victoria up to Ladbroke Grove), the 6.42am starts; I am braving the world of the solitary home-worker. Actually it's all looking rather good - I am soon to be a Kitchen Queen, a prospect that thrills me as someone who lives to cook and also has a worrisome interest in the layout other people's houses. Simply put I teach people to cook in their own homes. I will be an Educator. Although - as MCD pointed out - as someone who might live to cook, but also can barely step foot into the kitchen without having some kind of accident or another, it might be best practice to allow them to handle the sharp objects.

I am also going back to my roots and working in the much-loved local bookshop for a couple of days a week. I used to work in Ottakars before it was bought out by big, bad Waterstone's wolf and I started my London life working in a psychoanalytic bookshop on Gloucester Road, so I have form. And I can embrace my creeping inclination to be Ash from Don't Ask Me Why.

I'm also pushing the food writing - I'm officially a hack for hire, so if anyone out there's looking for a food writer (or indeed any other sort) rather well-versed in SEO and websites, email me. Self-interested promotion now over.

But back to the point of the piece, which was my thoughts on what to eat this weekend. I shall roast some butternut squash, cut into cubes, then toss with sliced, seared pigeon breast and chicken livers, spinach leaves and cherry tomatoes. The pan I use to cook the meat in will be deglazed with a little sherry vinegar and finely chopped garlic and a little walnut oil, then I shall pour the dressing over the other ingredients. Then (I feel like a magician) I shall top the whole with a version of pangrattato - those crisp fried breadcrumbs mixed with some very finely chopped rosemary and some orange zest.

In my head, it's a visual and oral wowser. I shall let you know what reality is like. If I can make it look pretty, I might even treat you to a photo.

PS: There's an idea I came across recently for butternut squash I'll pass on. You make a stock sugar syrup (water and sugar) and infuse with rosemary. You roast butternut squash in the oven until tender, then pour over the syrup for the last 10 minutes or so. The result should be deeply golden caramelised butternut squash. I will give it a go at some point, but if anyone gets there first, let me know what happens.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Fish & Grill, Croydon

I've been meaning to blog about our fish feast in Fish&Grill for a couple of weeks but events have rather overtaken me and I haven't had a minute to properly sit and write something meaningful, so here goes.

Fish&Grill in South End, Croydon is nearly brilliant. Nearly. Croydon's South End is a curious place, full of rather nicer places to eat than you might think, including Le Cassoulet (I blogged about this earlier), Albert's Table, The Treehouse and others. We made it to Fish&Grill one Thursday lunchtime; it was a bit of a blow-out early Christmas lunch/first day of a few days off celebration so you must forgive the seemingly orgiastic description that follows.

The focus is - duh - fish and seafood, although there is a nod to the die-hard-beef-eaters with burgers, chicken and so on, but you might as well stick to the fishies; they do it so well. I was tempted by everything from fresh oysters to boulliabaisse, MCD by bisques and scallops. We finally agreed on the platter of fruits de mer to start with - a portion for 2, we thought, followed by a light snackerel of lobster and chips for MCD and fish and chips for me. The sweet waitress, however, was quite firm - a portion for one would suffice. When we actually pointed out we were (snigger and a nod to India Knight) Big Pigs and could take anything she cared to bring us, she stood her ground.

Thank Christ. The platter was e-normous. Clams, razor clams, langoustines, half a crab, mussels, oysters, whelks - the only thing missing was winkles, so they threw on some (incredibly scarily over-sized and not altogether attractive) whelks. All daisy-fresh and a perfect portion for 2 for a good-sized lunch. But for us, no, we soldier manfully on....

MCD was introduced to the lobster first; they seemed to get on so Lobster got poached and served with some addictive skinny skin-on chips and plenty of mayonnaise. My fish and chips - halibut in a beer batter - was good, although arguably the oil should have been hotter to fry the fish. As it was the batter was a touch on the soggy side. Not a disaster as I quite like soggy batter with ketchup, but it is a basic request. The accompanying minted pea puree was refreshing and well-judged. A side order of leek gratin was a molten pot of bubbling cheese and leeks, mopped up with the chips. But why wasn't there Sarson's available - and, no, white wine vinegar is not the same thing at all.

We aren't done yet. MCD found a little corner for a monster portion of sticky toffee pudding; I found I could muster enthusiasm for a wedge of lemon meringue pie. Unfortunately it was a whole pie, nicely contrasting lemon and sweet meringue, although I think the lemon filling could have been more set. And I have to admit it beat me.

The whole, with Kir Royales, a bottle of Gavi, 2 dessert wines and an espresso (in an attempt to make it look less like a debauched drunken lunch and more like we quite seriously intended to do something afterwards than just roll on the carpet clutching our stomachs) came to around £150 - not bad for a real lunchtime blow out, but try the set lunches at £12 for 2 courses.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

News just in for Sarah Waters fans...

I attended a Q&A with Sarah Waters at Norwood library last night, which was fascinating. She's a lovely, fluent talker who fielded questions with tact and intelligence and gave some real insights into her working process. I must go back and re-read if only for the delicious spookiness of the brown smudges. Interestingly, she found out the electrical procedure used to treat Roderick's leg is known as 'Faradism'; apparently the coincidence (the narrator being Dr Faraday) was too much for her to be able to put that in the book, but spooky, no?
(I might add the evening was only slightly marred by the terribly officious librarians, who needed to clearly demonstrate who was in charge by pointedly asking each and every person 'Have you booked?' If the answer was yes, you were shown through with a smile; should you say - as I did - 'No and was I meant to as it doesn't say anywhere that you had to', you got told to line up for the 'yes' people to contemplate their 'There-but-for-the-grace-of-god' fate as they ambled past. I wouldn't have minded if it weren't for the fact that there were at least 5 seats near me going spare once they'd assessed status and ushered everyone in. Not to dwell, but really, if libraries are in such strife - and I am a staunch supporter - isn't it even a little incumbent upon them to act graciously and hostingly and make everyone welcome so they come back and join...? Just a thought.)

Anyway, sorry, hot news is her next book is taking a leap back 10-20 years and she'll be exploring the 20s and 30s. The bad news is she's a really slow writer, so could be 2011. Relish, absorb and memorise The Little Stranger in the meantime... Oh and apparently she has laid cunning clues throughout so that the ending is not such a mystery.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

In which I go pro....

I've been doing the London round-up for for a few years now, but recently they've had a complete revamp and now I'm enlisted as the official Food Issues Blogger... It's my first one, go have a look and be gentle - we're working on formatting and it's all a bit suck-it-and-see but hopefully, this is a goer...

India Knight's thoughtful article on blogging

India Knight's article in The Sunday Times Magazine this weekend was wonderful, thoughtful and perfectly summed up what an entire cyber-nation of women bloggers are feeling and thinking right now; ie, that the internet - rather than being the preserve of some teccy-minded, binary-talking dudes in California - can be harnessed for good as well as evil. That blogging has lent a veritable megaphone to those who feel like they're stumbling about the wilderness toute seule, with no-one listening to what they've got to say.

She also makes the point that people aren't just using blogs for banality and moribund thoughts from the morass, but rather these are intelligent, thoughtful, blogs revealing - rather, I like to think, in the manner of Jane Austen -the small, intimate details of lives well- or not-so-well lived. To continue the thought, it's surely this ability of many, many brilliant bloggers - and check the blog roll on the right for current favourites - to paint a portrait of everyday life in such a way that makes your heart ache (A Life Reclaimed-sad, brave and uplifting), snort out loud with laughter (wonderful Emma of Belgian Waffling manages to do both with every post), think more closely about an alien subject (Tania Kindersley's ability to make American politics sound like a must-know) or even share the seemingly mundane and innately female - recipes, childcare tips and so on.

The thing is, I think we all feel we're a bit on our own in this dog-eat-bitch-eat-dog world and the connection of blogging simply enables us to feel less alone; that we're not simply howling into the darkness