Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Is too much bulghur vulgar?

I am rubbish at predicting how much I/we can eat. My eyes are at least 14000 times bigger than my stomach and when I'm measuring out rice or pulses or grains, my imaginary stomach gets the better of me and I end up eating said grain for days on end, mostly because MCD won't eat grains or lentils - they're 'bitty' apparently. So for the record, the amounts given below make enough for 4 people, I think.

I was muttering on about what to do with the lamb chops I had defrosted yesterday - my thoughts naturally wander to the ras-el-hanout spice rub I posted about below - but I wanted something different. The BookSeller mentioned tandoori-style, which seemed to hit the mental spot. I made a paste out of 1 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp and a bit of dried mint, 2 crushed cloves garlic, squeeze of lemon and 1/2 tsp chilli powder with some vegetable oil and rubbed it over the chops.

Leaving them to marinate, I cut a courgette into chunky half moons and tossed with olive oil and lemon juice and arranged in one half of a roast tin. I cut an aubergine into hearty chunks (really they shrivel down to nothing - you'll be amazed - like spinach) and tossed with honey, olive oil and chilli flakes (no, really - try it) and arranged in the other half of the roasting tin. They went into the oven for about 20-30 mins, depending, but watch the honey as it burns quicker than you think.

Put 1 cup bulghur wheat with 2 cups water in a pan, brought to a simmer and cooked for about 17 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed. Tip #1: don't add salt at this stage Tip#2: if you're cooking this for 1 and some leftovers, do halve the quantities.

Once the vegetables were bronzed, I mixed them through the bulghur wheat with a drizzle of olive oil and a couple of handfuls of rocket I had in the fridge - you could use spinach. I popped the lamb chops into a fierce oven for 5 minutes a side while I mixed a couple of spoonfuls of plain yoghurt with garlic, dried mint, a little lemon juice and some black pepper.

Assemble ingredients on plate and make sure you eat lamb chops with fingers as walls will get splattered with yellow-blotched yoghurt.

PS: Today's lunch is very much a reprisal. Tonight's dinner - sticky marinaded chicken wings - will also be accompanied by same. It is not at all helpful MCD has such an aversion to 'grainy' things....

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

It's not what I expected... Part IV

New stock has arrived and I'm busy putting it on the shelf while the BookSeller looks on and sees that it was good. The division of labour has been tacit. A man walks in, takes a quick look round and then says 'Do you have a book about a fridge?' I notice it takes the BookSeller a couple of moments to compute this. I know that we are both thinking 'Why, yes Sir, in our White Goods section just by Self-Help and The Door to Fuck-Knows-What's-in-the-Office.' The BookSeller finally informs him that no, we don't have any books on fridges. The man looks quietly astonished before taking his leave. We are quietly astonished that he would come unarmed with his fridge model number, date of birth, mother's dog's maiden name and 22 forms of ID that you usually require to get help on any form of kitchen appliance.

Monday, 18 January 2010

It's not what I expected... Part III

We're in the bookshop; it's fairly quiet, just a few people milling around wondering whether to get involved in the whole Stieg Larsson thing, or just to move quietly on to the scary New Titles. The silence is shattered as a woman manhandles a 4x4 all-weather buggy through the perhaps slightly-deliberately-difficult-to-negotiate entrance. We watch her for a few minutes as she clips the card spinner and the anti-theft device. She manoevres the buggy into position, conveniently blocking both egress and entry to all other customers. She asks 'Do you sell lunchboxes?'

'Nuff said.

Yak & Yeti, Crystal Palace

We're not short of an Indian restaurant or two in the Palace and most of them aren't too bad either. Viva Goa stands out for its concentration on regional cuisine - the surest cure for the winter blues I know of.

But, folks, we have a new contender for Best Indian Restaurant in the Palace. I give you Yak & Yeti on Church Road, featuring Nepalese and Indian cuisine. I have eaten in and taken out and both times, it's been wondrous. Let me expound.

Tha Papri Chat - that tangy tamarind-laced starter with potatoes and crisp breads and chillies is enough the stimulate the appetite - and the Momo dumplings (vegetarian on our visit), a Kathmandu Valley delicacy, are delicately spiced and not overly heavy.

Kukhura Palak is chicken cooked with spinach, a mild creamy dish with enough interest in the spicing to stop you falling asleep. Achari Gosht was a rich tangy lamb dish, cooked in yoghurt with pickling spices - there was no one spice dominating, just a gentle harmony of the whole. I managed to sneak a spoonful of Seafood Mismas - prawns, scallops and shrimps cooked with ginger, garlic, lemon, cumin and coconut milk - The Pescatarian had trouble holding on to the rest of it. Lamb Nepal, barbecued and cooked with mango was sweet without being sickly and suprisingly butch in its delivery.

Naans are uber-fresh and taste it; the standard paneer dish is lifted to new heights with fenugreeek leaves and leave room to scoop up the Baigan Bharta - smoked aubergine pulp - with any naan you've got left.

The house wine is reasonable value and food-match at around £11 and dishes come in at around £2-£4 for a starter and £6-£7.25 for a generous main. I would also just add at the point that both times I dined under the influence of ongoing virus/tonsilitis and that I could still taste and revel in the flavours on offer was a small miracle in itself.

Not many venture to this end of the Triangle, most choosing to stay within reach of Gurkha Cottage. But for my money, once you've made it to the White Hart for a mulled cider, why go back down Westow St to the old when you could hop over the road and embrace the new?

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Snow and Pomegranates

The garden once again under an inch or two of snow this morning. I'm still not bored of it by any means, but then I don't have a 3 hour commute into work and I haven't been stranded overnight on the Devon moors, so I'll just keep quiet.

I haven't really felt like blogging much about food in the last week. An ongoing battle with tonsilitis and some kind of virus that is making me feel utterly rubbish means that, although I've been cooking, I haven't really been enthused. Last night was not much better, but I still fancied flavours that were bright and tangy rather than casserole-savoury.

I smeared a couple of lamb leg steaks with some olive oil and then sprinkled on ras-el-hanout and left for an hour. I roasted some butternut squash sprinkled with dried chilli flakes in the oven until tender and caramelised. Then I cooked the lamb steaks until pink and left to rest wrapped in foil while I sauteed some kale with pine nuts and soaked sultanas in the same pan. So far, so disparate, but I brought all the elements together with an eye-popping 'sauce' of Greek-style yoghurt stirred with a crushed clove of garlic, the juice of a lime and a healthy bashing of pomegranate seeds which looked so translucently beautiful against the white of the yoghurt, they gave me - pace Anne of Green Gables - a 'queer ache' (although that could just have been the effort of bashing the pomegranate...).

A gentle lift of spice from warmer shores combined with the tangy cooling pomegranate yoghurt briefly lifted us out of the mid-January slump.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Norwood Common in the snow

There are a lot of pleasingly synchronous and serendipitous reasons to living where I live. My god Gerald Durrell and family lived in the grounds of the hotel just up the road both pre- and post-Corfu; Norwood is where Dora lived in David Copperfield, my favourite of the Dickens novels... Beulah (as in Hill, my road) is where the stolen FA Cup was found by Pickles the dog; um... I've always liked crystals and palaces... It's my kind of place and those tiny associations make my heart beat just a little faster.

Aannyway, the above picture of Norwood Common just a couple of minutes walk away is nothing particularly special and no different to anyone else's snow pics, except that I have just emailed it to myself from my new phone. And that, dear reader, means today has been a veritable triumph. I may have completed two very different pieces of copy. I may have cooked a delicious, thrifty lunch and I may well finish the 4th Henning Mankell Wallander novel today (I do love Ken's rendition but goodness they're abridged), but this - this - caps it all. My technological joy knows no bounds. What unfortunately the camera doesn't capture is the peculiar, bleached, Swedish, BBC Wallander-esque light that made me stop and stare and feel like I was at the end of the world.

Now if I can just capture the green parakeet and the redwing thrush that are feasting on the wild cherries by the kitchen window, I really will be flying.

Friday, 8 January 2010

It's not what I expected... Part II

I am in the bookshop, I am coming down with tonsilitis but I am soldiering on. I'm tough like that. A woman comes in with her small son, Frank - or perhaps we might call him by his other name - Little Fucker. LF Frank is chuntering away as he barges round the shop. 'Ah' I think. 'Aren't small children funny when they have discovered the wonders of full sentence construction and can chat away like old pros.' Momentarily my instinctive very slightly anti-child facade lifts.

His mother comes to the counter with a book and some wrapping paper. I take the money and roll the wrapping paper and put the goods in a plastic bag. I notice LF Frank is eyeing me up in what might only be described as pre-meditative. I hand the bag to the mother and she turns to put it into the huge buggy (huge I can only imagine because there are leather restraints and a muzzle inside). LF Frank says 'Mummy, that lady punched me.' And he points at me. I am at this point standing some 2-3 feet away across a high counter that the snivelling LF cannot in any way see over. If I were Mrs Incredible, I could indeed have punched him. But I did not.

His mother tells him not to tell such terrible stories. He repeats the accusation. At this point, I empathise with every teacher in the land. I am about to be done for child assault. And for once, I am innocent. The BookSeller is mysteriously silent behind me, but I sense he could leap into action if required. LF Frank is hurriedly ushered from the shop. I'll be watching for him.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

A beefy bargain and a thrifty lunch

A rib of beef is a feast not often seen in this house. Usually outside of the budget, it's mostly reserved for special occasions. However, when the sweet man at the farmers' market offers me a double rib for half-price (it was so very cold and no-one could handle change and he was as desperate to get home as the rest of us) - the very same price as a pack of rib-eyes I was eyeing up - there's no way I'm going to say no.

I cooked it up on the Sunday night, following Hugh's tried and trusted 20 min 'sizzle' at 230C then 10 mins per 500g at 160C. Reader, it was perfect rosy pink. I served it with chips roasted in goose fat, creamed spinach and a little Mirabeau sauce, which is dead simple. Simply add a tiny smidgeon more fat to the roasting pan, melt some anchovies in it, then slosh in red wine and reduce. It sounds a little stark but it's a 'beefy' contrast to the meltingly tender meat.

So, as you might imagine there's a fair bit left for lunches. Yesterday I whizzed up a 'green sauce' to dollop over the top of the cold rare beef and some salad, but frankly the weather's cold, the snow's a-coming and I wanted something more substantial. This, dear reader, is the answer.

Cut up some purple sprouting broccoli and cook until slightly more than 'al dente' in stock to barely cover with a smashed clove of garlic. When they're nearly done, add some puy lentils (I use the ones in a can by Merchant Gourmet; you could also cook them from fresh, in which case simply reverse the order of broccoli and lentils) and cook for another 5 minutes. Drain not too carefully into a bowl. Make up a dressing of mustard, red wine vinegar and olive oil and toss the lentil mixture in it. (Note: you could - and preferably should, if you have any open - add a glass of red wine to the stock - it adds incredible depth of flavour. I just happen to have drunk mine last night)

This is a feast in itself, but I topped it with more cold beef and the remaining green sauce, but as I have half the lentil mixture left, tomorrow I shall have it with lumps of Gorgonzola piccante perhaps. You could try with a goats cheese, chilli, tomatoes - anything that takes your fancy really. The bonus is that overnight something amazing happens to the lentil/broccoli mixture, the flavours seeping and deepening.