Sunday, October 29, 2006

It's cabbage, but not as we know it......

Doing my homework for my creative writing course today sent me spiraling back to my childhood and with it, the tastes and flavours which are so deeply ingrained with those memories. Some bad - liver, broad beans, dog biscuits (don't ask, I was a curious child) but mostly good - custard, crumble topping, peas, cod, anything baked by my mother, her bucketful's of strawberry jam (literally) and, weirdly, cabbage.

Perhaps not an obvious choice for a child but there was, and still is, something about white cabbage that makes my tummy smile. I have never liked Sunday roasts, finding meat rather cumbersome and indigestible, however I used to relish the taste of cabbage softened in gravy.

Since then, trips to Vienna have rekindled my love for cabbage, this time in the shape of sauerkraut, and when I spied a perfect little baby green example in the shop today I could not resist.

Still fighting off a cold and firmly believing that the combination of garlic, chili and ginger has the power to kill all wayward germs, I concocted the following cabbage dish. I added caraway seeds as they are reputed to counter the (ahem) gassy properties of cabbage but also I love the sweet character they add to a dish.

I'm afraid that I seem to have stopped measuring ingredients when I cook for one, taking a rather haphazard approach. Happily one that works but it does mean that I can't give exact quantities. Be brave, experiment!

Combat Cabbage
1 onion, finely sliced
1 red chili, deseeded and finely chopped
thumb' of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
sprinkling of caraway seeds
1 little baby cabbage, finely shredded
white miso soup made with paste and hot water (or use vegetable stock - I just don't have any!)
tamari (or soy sauce if you're not wheat-shy)
nam pla (fish sauce so omit if vegetarian)
frozen peas
half a can of cooked chickpeas

Fry the onion, garlic, chili and ginger in a glug of groundnut or vegetable oil until soft and sweet. Add the caraway seeds and the cabbage. Stir well.
Pour in enough miso or stock to cover, shake in a good measure of tamari or soy sauce, a drop or two of nam pla and sherry, stir and cover. Cook on a low heat for approximately 10 -15 minutes, checking the moisture levels and topping up with sherry/stock as necessary.
Add a handful of frozen peas and chickpeas (if you need the protein - else serve as a side dish to steamed white fish or pork chops), cover and cook for up to five minutes.

The white miso and caraway seeds create a sweet base for this dish which is counterbalanced by the tamari and chili. Oh yes, I have rekindled my love for cabbage. Just not in gravy this time.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Comforting Cod

I am beginning to find my groove, such as it is, for now. I won't bore you with it here (if you're really interested you can always visit my other non-foodie blog) but I am finally learning that nourishing one's self - one's emotions, self-esteem, home and ultimately, one's appetite - is a recipe for contentment and one which should be encouraged rather than one in which to find guilt.

And so, in order to guard off a threatening cold (hence the ginger, garlic and chili) and to celebrate the opportunity for a candle-lit dinner for one I concocted the following simple, but soul-warming dish.

Comforting Cod
(yes, you guessed it, serves one gorgeous blonde)
sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 red chili, deseeded and finely sliced
'thumb' of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
star anis
1 leek, washed and finely sliced
150g crimini mushrooms, wiped clean (halve or even quarter the large ones)
nam pla (fish sauce)
tamari (or soy sauce - tamari has a meatier taste and just loves fungi - but then don't we all love a chap with a sense of humour?!)
handful of baby spinach leaves
1 cod fillet

Heat a good slug of sesame oil in a large frying pan to which you have the lid. Once warmed add the garlic, chili and ginger and muddle about for a few minutes.
Add the leek, cover and sweat, check occasionally that the leeks are not sticking to the pan. Trickle sherry in as and when necessary to avoid this and to create a shallow pool of liquor. Throw in a few petals of dried star anis.
After around 10 minutes when the leeks have lost their rubbery quality and softened to a baby's breath, add the mushrooms, a good shaking of both the nam pla and tamari and pop the lid back on the pan.
After around five to ten minutes throw in a handful of spinach leaves, another glug of sherry and replace the lid.
Sit the cod fillet on top of the vegetable tangle, replace the pan lid and allow the fish to gently steam for approx. five to ten minutes (depending on thickness of fillet and how well done you like your fish to be).
Remove the fish and serve the vegetable melange on a plate and then pop the fish on top.

I am aware the portion in the photo looks enormous and quite frankly, it was rather large! However as I don't tend to eat carbs (for no other reason than my odd stomach doesn't like them and that this morning I succumbed to the hi-tech weighing machine at the gym and am apparently a bit of a light weight with a BMI of just 19), I really don't care! As I said, it's about nourishing one's soul. Lemony or otherwise.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Venison for the Vegetarian

When I first met my friend Darren he was a confirmed vegetarian. Well I say 'confirmed' although that is patently not the case. He first turned to the veggie side for love - not of green matter but of a girl. However, dating and then being married to the gorgeous Goody have turned his tastebuds again and love has returned him to am omnivorous state.

I now take great amusement in cooking meat for him and so used D and G's company as an opportunity to cook a venison casserole.

Venison is the only red meat that I eat - not only is it the healthiest (low in cholesterol and fat) but it is the only meat not to race through my troubled stomach, leaving a trail of intestinal devastation in its wake. Casseroling meat is such a gorgeous method to cook it - the flavours have an opportunity to melt and mingle and the fibres of the meat have time to tenderise into silky morsels. Casseroles are even better when reheated and so they are the perfect dish when entertaining - all the hard work has already been taken care of leaving you to enjoy your friends and the wine.

Venison and Pink Peppercorn Casserole
400g venison steak, cubed
olive oil
2 banana shallots, peeled and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
200g crimini mushrooms, wiped clean
red wine
tomato ketchup
dried oregano
pink peppercorns
chunk of dark chocolate

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees centigrade.
First remove any traces of fat or sinew from the venison. Put a few spoons of cornflour in a food bag, toss in the meat and shake it about to evenly cover the meat.
Heat a good slug of oil in a casserole and then brown the meat. Remove when evenly coloured (don't skimp on this bit - it is so important to brown meat well to seal in the flavour).
Add a little more oil then tip in the onion and garlic. Fry until soft.
Throw in the mushrooms, chopping larger ones in half and also chuck the meat back into the dish.
Pour in enough red wine to cover the meat, add a good sized squeeze of ketchup (I know it sounds odd but it really adds to the flavour), a sprinkling of dried oregano (for no other reason than it's all I had to hand but it works), and a large sprinkling of pink peppercorns - roughly two or three tablespoons.
Bring to the boil, stirring well, season with a touch of salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Pop the lid on the pot and then put it in the oven for 1 1/4 hours if you are going to reheat the dish, else cook for 11/2 - 13/4 hours.

And the chocolate? At the end of cooking, break in the chocolate and stir it until it melts. It adds to the depth of the flavour and shouldn't all good meals end with chocolate?

(sorry - we gobbled it up before I remembered to take a picture!)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Perfect Plum

How fortunate I am to be able to appreciate the beauty of the simple things in life. The crust of a perfectly cooked fruit pie. The glean of expertly tempered chocolate. The gentle downy skin of a ripe peach. And the utter joy to be found in a bowl of delicious English plums with their delicate, dusty bloom. When pleasure in food is this simple, why complicate it?

Beauty surrounds us in a myriad of forms every day if only we can open our eyes and our senses to embrace it. And so a bowl of honeyed plums is a sumptuous yet simple start to one’s day, savoured whilst bathed in the warm light of an early Autumnal Sunday which comes streaming through the window and awakens my senses.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Moules Lillois

Yesterday I returned from a long-weekend in Lille, the capital of Flanders and home to one of my most wonderful friends and his loving partner. We shared recipes, discussed politics, food and love and bathed in the warm glow of deep friendship. A truly lovely weekend and one that has helped to restore my spirit. And my passion for creating recipes.

Peter has not eaten meat for nearly twenty years and is a brilliant cook of all dishes pescatarian. He concentrates on a one or two key quality ingredients at each meal and creates simple but beautifully orchestrated food.

I have never cooked mussels, being rather nervous of their barnacles and fearful of poisoning myself or others if the little blighters choose not to open. Peter however is fearless and far more sensible than me and so he executed a vibrantly freshly flavoured version of moules marinieres which we christened Moules Lillois.

Moules Lillois (serves three to four)
2kg fresh mussels
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
3 or 4 stems of celery (depending on their thickness), diced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
3 or 4 sprigs of thyme
200ml white wine
200ml water
Large sprig of parsley, chopped

Wash the mussels, scrape off any lingering barnacles and discard those that are open or cracked.
Fry the shallots, celery and garlic in olive oil until they soften. Add the carrot and fry for a few more minutes. Add the thyme, wine and water and raise the heat so that the liquid simmers. Add a good grinding of black pepper. Throw in the mussels and cook for four to five minutes until their shells have opened and the flesh is a tender orange in colour.
Remove from the heat and serve into large bowls with the liquor, removing any shells that failed to open. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve.

Uncomplicated and truly delicious. There is a lot to be said to such an approach to food.

For more about Peter and his move to France, visit Le Log Lillois at