Friday, 28 January 2011

Salt and pepper squid with noodles

Amazingly simple and quick.

Slit your squid tube (1 per person) down one side, open it up and slice it in half again. Score the outsides in a diamond pattern lightly with a sharp knife and cut each piece into three. Pat dry with some kitchen roll and set aside.

Heat a frying pan and toast 1 tsp each Sichuan and black peppercorns until slightly darkened. Pound them in a pestle and mortar and throw in about a tsp of sea salt.

Now’s the time to get the noodles and greens on. Tip your noodles into boiling salted water, give them 2 minutes then add in finely sliced greens of your choice. (Obviously if you’re using spinach, for the love of God don’t throw that in; instead wilt it in the heat of the drained noodles once they’ve cooked). After another 2 minutes, everything should be cooked, so drain reasonably thoroughly, put back in the pan and shake in a good 2 tbsp or so of soy sauce and a little drizzle of sesame oil. One thing I find every single time is that I’m too enthusiastic with the soy sauce and end up with puddles of it at the bottom,so go easy.

Get the frying pan back on a high heat and dust the squid with a little flour. Add the squid to the pan, in batches if your pan isn’t big, and cook until just opaque and ideally a little golden in patches. Toss in the ground seasoning and a few sliced red chillies and spring onions if you have them; dried chilli flakes will do if you don’t.

Tip the squid over the noodles, add a squirt of lime juice, and you may even like an extra dollop of chilli sauce. Lingham’s Garlic Chilli Sauce is my condiment of choice at the mo.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Caldo Verde–a variation

Never gild the lily, so they say. It’s a truism, especially in cooking when sometimes the simplest things are the ones we find ourselves yearning for in quieter moments. It’s the austerity perhaps that we find comforting, particularly these days, and the ability to conjure something wonderful out of seemingly meagre pickings.

Last night it was cold outside it seemed a soup would be just the thing. I had potatoes, a bag of kale, an onion, a couple of pieces of stale bread in the freezer and – randomly – a couple of chorizo sausages leftover from the squid and chorizo pilaff from the night before. Slice the onion and sweat in olive oil in a casserole. While that’s cooking, peel and chop one potato per person into chunks; the size is up to you. Large chunks will hold their shape, smaller ones will crumble into the liquid and thicken it: a mixture of the two is optimal. Add them to the pan and throw in the chorizo, sliced into coins. Add a large sliced clove of garlic and cook gently for a few minutes just to allow the oils to leach from the sausage and coat everything.

At this point, I got out my gold spray equivalent, for also in the fridge, while rummaging, I found a few Jerusalem artichokes. It seemed the nutty sweetness would only add to the soup so I simply halved them and threw them in too. I added around 600ml chicken stock, brought it up to the boil and then let it simmer until the vegetables were soft and melting into the soup.

At this point, check your liquid and then throw in as many handfuls of kale as you fancy. Last night I used nearly the whole bag, as it cooks down to near-nothing, top up with more stock if necessary and simmer for a couple of minutes until the kale is cooked.

At this point, taste and season. I also added a tsp of paprika to bumph up the smokiness. The potatoes and artichokes had crumbled and thickened the liquid to a silky sweetness, counteracted by the smoky sausage and bitter greens. I toasted the bread, rubbed it with garlic, drizzled with oil and placed it in the bottom of the warmed (!) soup bowls before ladling the soup on top. Warming, nutritious and a lily barely dusted with gold but all the better for it.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

A tomato-y, coconutty curry

A really simple, easily adaptable curry – just the ticket for the kind of rainy, dank weather we seem to be enduring just now.

Brown 2 chicken thighs skin-side down in a little vegetable oil in a deep-sided pan or wok. Once the skin is bronzed, add in a sliced onion, a couple of sliced garlic cloves, a thumb-sized piece of chopped ginger and stir to coat the veg in the juices. When the onion has softened, add a couple of peeled, chopped sweet potatoes and cook for a few minutes more.

In go the spices: 1 tsp ground coriander, ground cumin, 1/2 tsp turmeric, a few chilli flakes and 4 or 5 cardamom pods.

At this point I ought to add that I had a tub of frozen roasted green tomatoes from the summer that I thought would add just the right tanginess and fruitiness I wanted, so in they went. You could just add a tin of toms or 3-4 fresh ones, chopped up and increase the tang with a little tamarind paste, which I added anyway because it is without doubt my favourite flavour in the world.

Pour in around 400-500ml of chicken or vegetable stock and leave to simmer for about 20 minutes. Then add in enough creamed coconut (or indeed coconut milk if that is what you have) to thicken, but go gently as it thickens very quickly and you might end up having to dilute again. Simmer for another 20 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked through and serve with whatever you fancy, although we had it just as it was.

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Friday, 7 January 2011

Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals

Let the record show that I bow to no-one in my admiration of Jamie Oliver’s good intentions. He may go at it all a bit gung-ho but his heart is essentially in the right place. But his latest book – 30 minute meals – has hit the headlines for exactly the wrong reason; cook after cook furious that the two/three course meals cannot be done in 30 minutes and in fact can take up to an hour and a half.

There are, I think, two sides to this culinary coin. On the one hand, I think that these recipes are probably do-able in 30 minutes, give or take (and I know that’s not the promise but let’s be generous). I gave the Sister a copy for her birthday and – as a competent if not adventurous cook – she found that she could do most meals in around 40-45 minutes at her own leisurely pace. The other inference here is that she is cooking from it on a regular basis, which surely indicates that the recipes themselves are tempting and inspiring. Her point was that the recipes could be completed within the allotted time if – and this is a big if – you have absolutely everything measured out, ready to go and you are confident both in your own abilities and in your kitchen and equipment. And, to be fair, having watched the accompanying TV series last year, he did start every show with that exact mandate: get everything ready beforehand – ingredients weighted out, kettle boiled, gas on, etc.

On the other hand, I have a couple of issues with St Jamie of O. Flicking through the book – of course – before handing it over, you can’t help but be slightly taken aback by the extensive equipment list detailed in order to be able to cook the recipes in 30 minutes. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but your average cook who wants to get a meal on the table in 30 minutes isn’t necessarily the same type of cook who wants to spend upwards of £300 on kitchen equipment, just to cook the recipes out of said book. A keen amateur, confident in the kitchen, who enjoys cooking as a pleasurable activity – and therefore doesn’t get het up about promises of 30 minutes, but would rather spend a leisurely hour enjoying the process – might well want to go and splash out, if they haven’t already got the equipment, but I think it’s a bit rich, in these financially stretched times, to ask people to spend a lot of money in order to create easy recipes whose USP is that they can be done quickly. Is it completely contradictory to add a coda along the lines of how long they would take using your own equipment.

The other dilemma is with the ingredients. There have been a lot of complaints that individual meals can cost upwards of £20 or £30. That’s a huge amount on one mealtime. And again, I would have thought that your average 30-minute cook wouldn’t have the time, inclination or maybe even the budget to shop so extravagantly. It’s not justifiable. I cooked the recipe for steak sandwiches with two or three accompaniments. I drew the line at spending over £3 on a jar of roasted peppers when I know I could buy a couple of peppers for mere pence, bung them in the oven at the beginning of the cooking process and hey-ho – roasted peppers are mine for a fraction of the price.

And this brings me on to the paradox of this book. I knew that I could roast the peppers myself, saving myself money and alter the cooking process to suit my own capabilities and budget. But does Jamie’s average reader necessarily have the knowledge or confidence to do the same? He enjoys huge success with those who have little confidence in the kitchen – and rightly so. His recipes are mostly (ketchup aside!) accurate, always tempting and he inspires confidence in those who might be lacking. These are all good factors. BUT, in this book he seems to miss his target somewhat. To inspire people to cook, and assure them that a multi-course meal can be on the table in only 30 minutes, is not a licence to demand they spend hundreds of pounds on equipment to do so and further needless cash on expensive ingredients simply to fit within an arbitrary time limit. It seems the ideal cook for this book would be a wealthy couple, time-poor with an expensively-fitted but under-used kitchen who want to expand their repertoire past the ping of the microwave. And how many of us does that include?

Thursday, 6 January 2011


My name is Jo and I have a breadmaker and I love it. There, I’ve said it. I have made – and do sometimes still – loaves by hand but when you just want a loaf for sausage sandwiches or cheese on toast, I find my breadmaker indispensable. I just wanted to get that out the way at the beginning so we’re all clear.

Anyway, the latest find is Bacheldre Watermill’s oak-smoked malted blend bread flour. I bunged it in the machine with the normal amounts that would make up a 750g loaf, set it for a white loaf (I find for some reason on my Panasonic that a granary setting makes the loaf really dry. Answers on a postcard…) and let it go. I had in mind that it would be the perfect setting for Nigel Slater’s idea of smoked salmon, bacon, lettuce and chutney sandwiches.

Reader I was not wrong. I chose a beetroot, horseradish and apple chutney, leaves of Little Gem, smoked salmon with a little pepper and slices of streaky bacon – not too crisp for me. It was amazing. The bread is very delicately smokily flavoured and the malted granary gives a pleasing sweetness. It would be fabulous as a backdrop for smoked mackerel pate and I’m trying it now with the omnipresent sausages with slices of tomato and Dijon mustard. I’ll let you know.

And just on a tangent, last night’s supper was just perfect for this dank cold January. A sausage casserole, simmering the links in chicken stock with sliced onion, two sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped, a peeled, chopped apple. tbsp of flour for thickening and a tin of cannellini beans. Add a good tbsp of Dijon just before serving to counteract all that sweetness and it’s a real body-hugger of a dish. The potatoes crumble and thicken the stock, the apple melts and adds background sweetness and it’s a lovely convivial gathering of flavours.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

A resolution-free zone

I bloody hate them. New year resolutions, that is. Made in a  fog of post-festive-indulgence guilt, they’re quickly broken because, quite frankly, January is the one month you need a bit of comfort and pleasure. After the come-down of Christmas and the always-slightly-anti-climactic New Year celebrations, it’s very comforting and somehow indulgent without being excessive to treat yourself to the odd sybaritic pleasure. It’s the old saw, I’m afraid, of everything in moderation.

So, having denounced he very thought of resolution, I have got a few thoughts on how to make life a bit better and more bearable with still months to go till Spring, when – with the burst of new life – it seems more appropriate to make plans.

1. In Victoria Moore’s excellent How to Drink, she recommends Spanish Albarino and steely, flinty whites to get us through to the warmer times. So I resolve to buy some decent white wine and treasure every sip rather than glugging back rivers of Sauvignon blanc and Pinot grigio in the mixed cases I so lazily order.

2. We always eat loads of vegetables, but Christmas lends itself rather more to fat-inducing carbohydrates (all those potatoes, parsnips and the bread for fabulous layered sandwiches) than most festive occasions, so I shall resolve to use my ingenuity and India Knight’s inspiring Idiot-Proof Diet Cook Book to spread the load a little more. Feeling sluggish and toxic this month is completely normal, and I don’t intend to go cold turkey either, but more pulses, more celeriac (heavenly in dauphinoise or in a version of patatas bravas), more greens.

3. To be nicer. I make this non-resolution every year: not to lose my temper so often; not to get so easily frustrated with the trials of every day life and the exasperating slowness of other people; and I fail every time. It lasts maybe three days and then I come across someone maddeningly not doing something as I want it done – impatience is my huge character flaw – or too slowly and I’m a goner. So this year – again – I shall try my best to curb my misanthropic tendencies and view humanity with vaguely pink tinted lenses. But please, can you all not walk just a bit quicker?

4. To really get the vegetable plot going all year. Last year we got it going like gangbusters for the summer but then lack of proper planning meant we had no greens or potatoes for winter, so I am going to make like Nigel Slater and get a notebook and draw the goddamn plants in. From there it is the merest of efforts to digging in the manure and getting the seeds in.

5. To nail down where we want to live in Dorset during one of our recce missions and then work towards it with the fury of two possessed. And obviously to have lots of fun with MCD Jr by the sea.

6. To blog more frequently – to get the recipes I love cooking up and out there and to push myself with the whole concept. Oh – and to conquer LinkedIn.

I’m reluctant to put down any more: I may have to hold myself to them and I don’t want to exhaust myself before March. Tally-ho!