Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas #3 (real)

It was finally time for Christmas proper. Off I trotted to the shops full of ideas about confit turkey legs and with the full intention of sticking to tradition. But then I considered how it's always an effort for my parents to eat food lacking in spice and how much more they'd enjoy lamb to turkey. And then I considered how in my four turkey Christmas dinners (one that I cooked, one from a nice gastropub, one microwaved in a Wetherspoons, one 'Incredibly Good Looking' cooked) and how every time, I was thoroughly bored by the turkey. It was succulent and well cooked both at the gastropub and by my dazzling friend but I was still bored. Then I considered a conversation I had with my Lebanon-loving friend where she said she might do Lebanese Christmas food for dinner this year. Then I googled Lebanese Christmas and how this lady discussed doing a roast with stuffing but with highly seasoned rice and perhaps not even turkey. With all of these thoughts swirling around my mind and a slight craving for pomegranate, I decided to Middle Eastern-ise the Christmas roast. I thought it'd be fun to take the components of traditional Christmas and jazz them up a bit. I thought I'd focus in particular on dried fruits as they're a staple of Christmas but also a frequently occurring ingredient in Middle Eastern savoury. It would also add a slightly Iftar-ish vibe to the affair. (Iftar is the fast-breaking meal during Ramadan and that season/Eid is the closest I've seen Bangladesh having to a celebration.) I settled upon lamb for the meat with a honey glaze, 'stuffing' influenced by a Nigel Slater recipe involving chickpeas which initially horrified me, a carrot and parsnip salad and a host of other trimmings which were spin-offs of tradition.
Honey and herb roasted lamb shoulder (instead of turkey)
1kg lamb shoulder
Fresh thyme
Fresh mint
Fresh parsley
Fresh coriander
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 onions, thickly sliced
2 tbsp harissa
2 tbsp honey
Juice of 1 lemon
Enough water to cover 2/3 of the lamb

Place the sliced garlic and onion at the bottom of a casserole.
Chop a handful of thyme and mint. Scatter half of the herbs on top of the onions and garlic.
Season the lamb all over with salt and pepper.
Place the lamb in the casserole on top of the onions.
Pour over the water.
Scatter the remainder of the thyme and mint on top.
Cook, covered, for about 3 hours at 150.
Chop a handful of parsley and coriander.
Combine the parsley and coriander with the harissa, honey and lemon juice.
Spread the honey mixture over the lamb and return to the oven for 30 minutes at 190.
Remove the lamb from the casserole and leave to rest.
Heat the juices and onions in the casserole on the stove over a low heat.
Add 2 bay leaves, 2 cardamom pods and 3 cloves and simmer until it turns into a thick, onion-y gravy.
Chermoula marinade (instead of salmon)
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cumin
A few strands of saffron
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp paprika
3 cloves garlic
1 small onion
Large handful coriander
Juice of half a lemon

Simply blend all the ingredients together in a food processer with 1.5 tsp salt. 
I marinaded a sea bream in this and then baked it in the oven at 200 for 20 minutes.

Iranian chickpeas (instead of stuffing)
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli, chopped

1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp turmeric

1 stick cinnamon
2 cardamom pods

1 aubergine

1 green pepper, diced finely
60 ml orange juice

1 can cooked chickpeas
100g(ish) dates, chopped
6 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped

135g roasted, salted cashews

1 tbsp lemon juice
Fresh coriander, chopped
Fresh parsley, chopped
Fresh mint, chopped
Salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

Chop the aubergine into bitesized pieces. 
Season with salt and drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven at 220 for about half an hour until lovely and soft.

Fry the onion for about 5 minutes in olive oil until beginning to brown.
Add the garlic and chilli.

After a couple of minutes, add the spices and fry for another minute.

Add the green pepper and orange juice and cook until the pepper is softened.
Mix the chickpeas, dates and tomatoes in a bowl then add to the onion mix. 
Season with salt.
Add the roasted aubergine to the onion mix.
Add the cashews to the onion mix.
Season with lots of black pepper and lemon juice then stir in the fresh herbs.
Tabbouleh (instead of... stuffing/roast potatoes/generic trimmings I guess)
Mint, finely chopped
Parsley, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
100g bulgar wheat
Approx 200ml boiling water
Salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice

Place the bulgar wheat in a bowl and pour over the boiling water and a touch of salt.
Cover and leave for 20 - 30 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and the bulgar wheat is cooked.
Once cooked, mix in the tomatoes, parsley, mint, red pepper and onion.
Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon.
Drizzle with a little olive oil (extra virgin if you're not a student).

Moroccan Carrot Salad (instead of carrots and parsnips)
4 carrots and 2 parsnips cut into sticks
Handful of coriander
2 green chillies, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves
A handful mixed dried fruit, finely chopped
Juice of half a lemon

Heat 3 tbsp olive oil on a medium heat. Add the cloves of garlic, whole. Cook the carrots with the whole garlic cloves until almost tender (so they still have a bit of crunch to them)
Finely chop the chilli, mixed dried fruit and coriander. 
When the vegetables are done, toss with coriander-fruit-chilli mixture and drizzle with the oil it was cooked in. Squeeze lemon juice over it.

Zaalouk (instead of... cranberry sauce?)
1 aubergine
1 tin plum tomatoes
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp chilli powder 
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt (to taste)
A handful of parsley finely chopped
A handful of coriander finely chopped

Chop the aubergine into bitesize piees.
Put the aubergine, tomatoes, cumin, chilli powder, cayenne, salt, and half of the chopped herbs in a big heavy bottomed saucepan. 
Low heat, 45 minutes, occasional stirring (less occasional towards the end of the time, it will start to stick). The aubergine will go all mushy and mmm.

Turmeric savoy cabbage (instead of brussel sprouts)
1 savoy cabbage, shredded
1 large onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 green chillies, left whole and slit down the middle
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp turmeric
A little water

In a large wok/frying pan, fry the onion on a long, slow heat until soft. 
Add the garlic and turmeric and stir. 
Add the cabbage and cover with the spice paste.
Add the fennel seeds, salt and water.
Fry until the cabbage is cooked.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Recipe - Slow Roast Pork with White Beans

One of my favourites returned from Italy. This called for fanfare and celebration so we had a dinner. Our first dinner together for six months! I was very sentimental about it all and determined not to screw up dinner. I thought the safest bet would be to cook a meat really, really slowly so that there was no chance of dinner being either horribly late or dry or a total disaster (like the rabbit incident). Pork seemed like the most appropriate slow roast venture. And to make things a little less boring, I thought I'd choose a cut I'd never tried before and cook it in a style I'd never tried before. Shoulder! Italian style! (By Italian style I really just mean with tomato and rosemary and white beans.) I was a little disappointed with the result, I think the pork could've benefitted from a little honey glaze for the last hour of cooking. Or perhaps a bit more onion simmered slowly in the beans to add more sweetness. Still, the crackling was crackly and people finished their beans so it can't have been too bad.

Slow roasted pork shoulder with simmered white beans
Pork shoulder
Sage, chopped
7 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 tomatoes, quartered

Score the fatty side of the pork shoulder with a knife.
Rub scores with salt and pepper.
Place in the oven at gas mark 7 for half an hour.
Wrap in two sheets of foil and roast for a further four and a half hours at gas mark 4 for a further four and a half hours.
After the cooking time, skim off all fat, remove oil, scatter over the garlic, sage and tomatoes then return to the oven, uncovered, for a further hour.

1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Few sprigs thyme
Handful sage, chopped
Dried rosemary
1 can cherry tomatoes
White wine
Cannellini beans

In a little of the oil skimmed off from the pork, fry the onion and garlic for fifteen minutes on a low heat.
Add the beans, herbs, wine and tinned tomatoes and simmer for thirty mins.

I served this with crusty bread and fresh salad.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Review - City Spice

I've lived a fifteen minute walk from Brick Lane for three months now. Yet in that time I've not once been to Beigel Bake to get a hot salt beef sandwich. There's just too much to do and try! My list is growing much more quickly than I can contain. Alas. Possibly even more of a travesty than the fact I hadn't been to Beigel Bake is the fact that I hadn't been for cheap BYO curry either. This has now been rectified since a friend from Oxford came to visit so we could actually converse instead of me flailing my arms and asking it was a good idea to tell people guilty secrets. (It wasn't, it never is.) That is what we did. We ate, drank sensibly and talked about Zionists. Oh and also this guy used us as a prop in a magic trick. That was probably the most fun bit. We haggled and got a starter, main, rice AND naan for £12. I went for the sev purée and sag lamb (extra spicy). I did not get drunk and talk in Bengali to the waiters.
I did, however, get too drunk to photograph my main so you'll just have to enjoy that spring roll like picture. Crispy and hot and dry with oil, the filling contained the familiar taste of home: turmeric. Slight chilli heat nicely offset by the mango chutney which I suspect was from a jar. The main was just the right level of spicy; sinus clearing but not scorching. Lamb was tender and stringy. The spinach didn't glow like I wanted it to. All in all a decidedly average curry. That's why I made this post so average. I enjoy matching.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Christmas #2

I frequently think all this higher education I've enjoyed (experienced, enjoyed is too much) is wasted since what I would most like to do is try out new recipes and cook for a willing audience. That sounds a lot like being a housewife, doesn't it? (A housewife with a cleaner though. I despise cleaning. But not as much as I despise/am scared of dirt.) Anyway, in the meanwhile, I have to play pretend with less willing friends. That's why I organised Christmas #2. A traditional Christmas dinner except that there was no family and no presents and also it wasn't as opulent since I am constricted by my very overdrawn funds. It still had much more festive cheer than Christmas #1. I insisted that my guests bring cake and festive spirit. I almost required Christmas jumpers but then I realised I didn't have one so I just wore a green dress again and then lamented the loss of my lovely red bowed band which a douche who can't let go of his university days broke back in third year. We also made a trip to Poundland for various tacky decorations and then I spent a while inexpertly tying baubles with red ribbon. On the day itself, I planned everything to account for oven space and our sparse utensils cupboard. I LOVE PLANNING. Not everything worked out and quite a few last minute improvisational had to be made but I stayed calm, held my nerve and some other clichés. IT ALL WORKED OUT. Perhaps even a little too well, I decided that before serving dinner we should make our way through some half price cava. That meant reheating things before serving which resulted in everything ending up a sub-optimal temperature. I should've warmed the plates! Alas. Anyway, I'm quite pleased with myself. My first attempt at Christmas dinner with all of the trimmings and I did it single handedly with leftovers! And it was only lukewarm.

Roasted turkey legs
25g butter

Turkey legs (they are huge, four fed six people amply with lots of leftovers)
3 bay leaves, crumbled
8 sprigs of thyme
A few sage leaves, chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped into chunks
4 parsnips, peeled and chopped into chunks
1 turnip, peeled and chopped into chunks

Marinade the turkey legs in salt, pepper, bay, thyme, garlic and sage.
Melt half of the butter in a pan and brown the turkey legs all over. Turkey legs are massive and I did this very poorly.
Remove and set aside.
Melt the rest of the butter in the same pan.
Fry the onion in the melted butter until translucent, about five minutes.
Add the other vegetables and fry for around five minutes, stirring frequently.
Season the vegetables with salt and pepper.
(Instead of washing the pan, it became the baking tray for the pigs in blankets and so formed part of the flavour for the honey-soy-ketchup-thyme glaze I made for them. They were the best bit of the dinner.)

Place the vegetables onto baking tray.
Place the turkey legs atop the vegetables.

Bake for 2 hours at gas mark 6. I basted the turkey three times over the two hours and used the cooking juices in the gravy.

All the trimmings recipes (or approximations of them) can be found elsewhere on blog. I actually ended up frying the sprouts with bacon, caraway and lemon juice. I prefer them roasted though!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Review - The Fox & Anchor

One time, I had fish fingers for Christmas dinner at the Haque family. We try to do Christmas but it just doesn't usually work out because we go to buy food too late and (crucially) no one drinks. Well, I drink, but not in front of my parents. Never in front of my parents. If I ever get married, I'm going to have to elope because the alcohol-friends-parents combination will be a logistical NIGHTMARE. Anyway, since Christmas doesn't really happen for me but one time I got to do Christmas proper so I know what I'm missing, I am keen to try and do proper Christmas (or at least a half decent attempt at it) with as many people as possible. So far, I have four organised already. I don't usually have time to cook time-investment meals anymore so many of these will have to be bought. Christmas menus are expensive. All I wanted was a place which did vaguely Christmassy food which I didn't have to have in a three course structure with at least five other people. It seems that that's quite hard to come by in central London. Nevertheless, three hours of googling revealed one such place. The Fox & Anchor. We went there for a last meal. CHRISTMAS DINNER NUMBER ONE WOOOOO.
The turkey was moist (if a little boring) although I would've preferred a leg or a thigh. I love thigh. The stuffing was sweet but salty with sausage and had artfully arranged cabbage. The roast potatoes were crispy but not quite fluffy enough and a little overseasoned. Red cabbage was tart but sticky, as were the parsnips and carrots. The gravy was dark and glossy, the chestnuts were divine! The mulled wine was spicy and full of orange and anise, mm. Pretty satisfying overall although at £60 for two (with a bottle of red), it might've been a little more satisfying. Still, the pub has a sparkly, festive atmosphere while at the same time retaining the sombre, conservative English pub mood. I'll be returning to try their rabbit pie. 

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Review - E Pellicci

I was going to write a blog about resourceful recipes. Since I was in financial dire straits, I had to be incredibly thrifty and did this by buying ten ingredients and make them make 9 meals. I'm very smug and pleased with myself but in a 'I darned some socks' way not in a 'Look at my Goldman Sachs Christmas bonus' way. Anyway, partly to reward myself and partly because I'd run out of ingredients, I treated myself to lunch on Friday. I can't remember why E Pellicci caught my eye. I think I read about it before I saw it; I remember the crisp sign with clean lettering outside surprising me as it seemed quite at odds with the Italian mama's cooking in massive portions it was reputed to serve. I remember the phrase 'gem of East London' coming up too. I also remember reading that phrase on some yuppie blog and then being surprised to see one of the first things on the menu as grilled liver with onions for around £5. Whatever it was that intrigued me, it went on the list a while ago. Unfortunately, its evasive opening hours made it tricky to find open. It's only ever open until 4 and not at all on Sundays. We had plans to go After The Party but we functioned so late that we went to Cafe 338 instead. I've found that my lists of places to go and things to do only get shorter if I make concrete plans and set a day to do them. Friday was set aside for E Pellicci and Death. Why do I keep going to these lovely, big-portioned cafes on days when I can barely eat? It's very silly of me. Also, I had little decision making ability so it took over ten minutes to choose something from the lengthy and various menu. This was particularly crappy because I was already ten minutes late meeting my lunchure (lunch-and-culture) buddy and not in a particularly together conversation making state. This was made all the worse later at the Wellcome Trust when a minorly bad phone call totally set me off kilter and spaced me out EVEN MORE. SORRY BECKY. Anyway, eventually I ordered the chicken rusticana to go with the liver and onions she'd settled on ages ago.
I'm pleased with my choice! The breast was succulent and tangy with lemon. The topping was SUBLIME. Waxy and zingy with lemon and parsley. The broccoli was a little waterlogged but who cares when it's coated in mellow yellow (cheese) sauce? Chips were crisp and lovely to soak in gravy. I'm so sad I didn't finish this. 

Review - Lupita

It's very difficult to judge things objectively, isn't it? (Is it annoying when I make statements but frame them as rhetorical questions?) So many factors will influence an opinion: mood, company, hunger who a recommendation came from. I discussed this in detail in a blog post that I was too kind (or worried) to post but I'm bringing this up again because I had a crap experience at a restaurant which I went to with the boring person who suggested it. I thought I'd stopped being enamoured by people who turn out to be awful. I thought that my people-palate had developed with my food-palate. Evidently not. The first time, I was drunk and filled with new friend enthusiasm and coincidentally, we went to an excellent pasta place. The second time, I was slightly less in the mood for new friends and his company didn't do much to extinguish that mood since he told an awful, unfunny anecdote about bodily gas. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE AND YOUR SURROUNDINGS. I didn't think as much of the food the second time. This time, we went somewhere at his suggestion. Another 'lunchure' day. I enjoyed neither the food nor the gallery. I don't know whether that was because the company was so poor that the time dragged or because the restaurant was suggested by company so poor. I think that's enough bitching for now, let's talk about the food. I ordered the pork pibil taco and rice. He ordered the roasted vegetable enchilada and it was presented to look like a bowl of pasta.
It's strange to receive food which is perfectly textured but tastes off kilter. The taste was primarily bitter and as though it had been burnt. I'm struggling to give any other descriptions because the bitterness was so overpowering. The mellowness of the cheese made the bites with cheese in quite pleasant but there wasn't much cheese around. The rice was lacklustre and tasted barely of anything. Overall, I wasn't very pleased or satisfied or even very full. To make things worse, the service was slow, my food didn't come until Boring had almost finished his and it wasn't as cheap as it should've been.