Sunday, December 30, 2007

Root Veg and Feta Gratin

Yes, I know, it's been nearly 11 months since I last posted anything. Those who know me understand why. Those who don't can only imagine.
The thing is that I have emerged stronger, happier and with a few more wrinkles that could tell a few stories.

I have cooked for friends infrequently and for myself often, yet lost the urge to 'create' and to blog. I have taken photos of numerous dishes throughout the year, intent on blogging, but simply didn't have the headspace nor the energy to follow through. The birthday cake for one darling friend, the miso and chilli salmon with wilted Asian greens for another, the salads and Lebanese dishes for various friends, the various steamed fish dishes I have created and tweaked for myself, the batches of eccles mincepies for various parties. Memories attached to each yet the pace of my silly life has not allowed me the space to blog. I am lucky enough to have had a few complaints and encouragement about this dirth, so, in a fit of complete arrogance, I am continuing! And I will, to the few readers I had, find another way of sharing my scribblings about my other life, without inviting such trauma! I'll be in touch.......

This is a heartening dish I cooked a few nights ago. The wind was biting, the cold was nibbling at every single extremity and so root vegetables and cheese were the only option. This is adapted from a Peter Gordon recipe which appeared in this month's Observer Food Monthly recipe.

Root Vegetable Gratin with Sage and Feta

serves 2-3 as main dish, 4-6 as side dish

1 medium sized swede, peeled and sliced very thinly
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
100g pack feta, rinsed and crumbled (I used 1/2 fat feta)
small handful of sage leaves, shredded
350g celeriac, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 leek, rinsed and thinly sliced
150ml boiling water
splash white wine

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4.

Oil a baking dish and place half the swede and sweet potato slices on the base of the dish. Scatter over half the feta and half the sage with a little seasoning and a fresh grating of nutmeg. Lay the celeriac slices ontop, followed by the leek then the rest of the feta and sage.

Put the remainder of the swede and sweet potato slices on top, pour in the boiling water with a splash of wine, season again and grate more fresh nutmeg on the top.

Make a cartouche by brushing one side of a sheet on baking parchment (the same size as your dish) with oil and lay on top of the veg. Cover with foil and seal tightly.

Bake for 1 1/2 hours then remove the covers and blast under a hot grill to crisp the upper layer.

Lovely when served on top of steamed spinach.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Piquant Parsley Paste

A visit to Borough Market (for research purposes - something simmering with the Londonist website) saw me scuttling home with, amongst other goodies, diver-caught scallops, vine tomatoes, large flat mushrooms and handfuls of one of my favourite herbs; flat-leaf parsley.

Feeling rather like a contestant on Ready, Steady Cook, I opened my fridge door, perused the contents of my cupboards and decided on the following dish:
Griddled Scallops with Stuffed Mushrooms and Roasted Tomatoes

Piquant Parsley Paste
This is just lovely and can be used with a whole myriad of things: stuff a whole fish; spread on grilled aubergine slices, spread with soft goats cheese and roll up; spread on grilled ciabatta for a crostini-type nibble - or pop into the cavity left by the stalk of a large mushroom after grilling it.

200g jar pitted green olives, drained
3-4 tbsp capers
2-3 anchovy fillets, drained/rinsed
1 clove garlic
handful flat-leaf parsley
1/2 lemon

Throw the first five ingredients into a food processor and blitz until you have a paste. Taste and add black pepper and as much juice of the lemon as you like.
Keep in a jar in the fridge.

Moroccan Mouthfuls

Although I can't eat pastry (wretched gluten and dairy), I am always fascinated by the nutty delicacies that are served at the end of Middle Eastern meals. I watch my fellow diner's eyes roll skyward and listen to the appreciative murmurs that seep out of their every pore and think "if only I could have that effect." Culinary speaking, you understand.

And so I tried my hand at Claudia Roden's recipe for M'Hencha or Almond 'Snake'.
These coils of delight look incredible yet are deceptively easy to make, although a little time consuming. But soooo worth the effort if the resultant 'mmmmmm' factor is to be believed. One grateful recipient refused to believe that they were homemade - result!

Almond 'Snake'
(makes approximately 15)
For the filling:
750g ground almonds
500g caster sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
100-125ml orange blossom water

For the pastry:
250g sheets of filo pastry
60g unsalted butter, melted
1 egg yolk mixed with water

Preheat the oven to 170 C / gas 3.
Mix all the filling ingredients together and knead them into a paste with your hands (this is great for your skin by the way!). Take lumps of the paste and roll between your palms into 'snakes' about 2cm thick.
Put a pile of filo sheets in front of you with the longer sides facing you.
Brush the top sheet of pastry with melted butter and place the fingers of almond paste along the length about 2cm in from the edge to make one long log of paste.
Roll the filo up over the filling into a long, thin cigar and tuck the ends in to stop it all squirting out.
Lift the roll onto a work surface and push gently in from both ends as if (according to Ms Roden) playing an accordion! Then gently curve into a coil so it resembles a snake. Repeat with the rest of the pastry.
Brush all the coils with the egg yolk and water glaze, pop on a baking sheet and cook in the middle of an oven for around 30 minutes until golden.
Let the snakes cool on the baking sheet and when cold, sprinkle with icing sugar.

Very rich and perfect with coffee or desert wine. Or both.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Fragrant February

When the weather is particularly grey and one is yearning for Spring to burst forth as opposed to teasing us with a mild day which is then chased away by one of snow, it is natural to crave food that conjures images of warm sunny days. And so I find that this month I have reached for cookery books by Claudia Roden and the Sams Clark for dishes which are fragrant with spices such as cinnamon and sumac and sweetened with dried fruits and pomegranate molasses.

As ever I have tweaked recipes to suit my own particular tastes (and those of my guests) and tried to use at least a couple of seasonal ingredients - in this case, deliciously pink Yorkshire rhubarb.

Lamb & Rhubarb Khoresh (adapted from Waitrose Food Illustrated) serves 4
650-700g cubed lamb
1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
450ml hot stock (preferably lamb but vegetable would be fine)
large handful flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
large handful mint leaves, coarsely chopped
1 stick cinnamon
400g rhubarb, but into 4cm lengths
1 tbsp sugar

Heat a good glug of oil in a large casserole and brown the meat all over.
Remove and tip in the onion, cooking until soft and golden. Return the meat to the pan, add the stock, season and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and leave to gently bubble for 30 mins.
Add 3/4 of the herbs and the cinnamon and cook for another 30 minutes.
Stir in the rhubarb and cook gently without the lid for 15 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender (as opposed to a mush).
Stir in the sugar, check the seasoning and add the rest of the herbs before you serve.

Mussaka' A Menazzaleh
(aubergine with tomatoes and chickpeas) serves 5 as a side dish, 2 as a main
2 aubergines
3 garlic cloves, crushed
600g tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 stick of cinnamon
1-2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped

Cut the aubergines in half lengthwise and then into thin slices. Brush with oil, salt and grill for 15 minutes, turning once half way through.
Heat some oil in a large pan, add the garlic and cook until softens. Add the tomatoes, squashing them with a spoon. Season, add the cinnamon stick and cook for 15 minutes.
Add the molasses, throw in the aubergine slices and simmer for 30 minutes. If it gets rather dry add a little passatta.
Add the chickpeas at the end and serve with the parsley sprinkled on top.

(If this is a main, serve with chunks of feta cheese crumbled over the top)

And to finish, a simple fruit salad of sliced oranges, doused with rosewater and sprinkled with sliced Mejdool dates and icing sugar.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Save Our Sticky Stuff!

England, unite! Our jampots need us. Marmalade, the sticky stuff that jells our country’s identity together, is in danger of extinction. Only we can save it.

Shockingly, a recent report from market analyst TNS, reveals that sales of marmalade have dropped by 4.4% in the past year whilst sales of honey and jam are on the increase. Apparently the sappy youfs of England can’t handle the tang of marmalade and crave the instant sugary hit of jam.

Luckily Seville oranges are currently in season so you can do your bit to save the organgey preserve. Get yourself down to the market, pick up a cartload (they are incredibly cheap right now) and immerse yourself in a citrus fug on a Sunday afternoon, as Xochitl (see link for her super blog) and I did recently.

The below is an easy recipe for simple, but delicious, basic marmalade.

Seville Orange Marmalade

(makes approximately 5lb)

1 ½ lb Seville oranges (washed and scrubbed to remove wax)
1 unwaxed lemon
3lb preserving sugar (or caster sugar)
(you will also need a large stockpot or preserving pan with handles, a square of muslin, jam pots and wax discs)

1. Cut the oranges and the lemon in half and squeeze out the juice. Put the pips and as much of the membrane as you can scrape off into the muslin square. Tie the muslin up into a ball with string.
2. Slice the peel (use a Foodaid or Magimix to save time) as coarsely or finely as you like and put into the pan with the juice and three pints of water.
3. Suspend the bag of pips in the liquid and tie to a pan handle (so you can remove it later without scalding yourself). Bring the mixture to the boil and simmer for 1 – 1½ hours until the liquid has reduced by half.
4. Warm the packets of sugar in the oven on a low temperature (this helps the sugar crystals to dissolve quicker) and the clean jam jars to sterilize them. And pop a couple of saucers into the freezer (trust me, I know what I’m doing!) and
5. Fish out the muslin bag and squeeze as much liquid as possible back into the pan (the pips contain pectin which is essential for making the marmalade set to be brutal!).
6. Stir the sugar into the pan until it has dissolved and boil hard for 15 minutes. To test to see if the marmalade has reached setting point, take a saucer out of the freezer and plop a blob of marmalade onto it. If the mixture wrinkles and holds its shape when you push your fingertip through it, then it’s ready. If not, continue to boil and try again.
7. When ready, leave the marmalade to stand for 10 minutes and then bottle into the jars, placing a wax disc on top of each jar (this prevents mould from forming on the surface).

Try to resist eating for at least a month whilst the flavours mature and develop. And in the meantime show your support for the save our marmalade campaign by voting for it as an English icon at