Thursday, 31 October 2013

Store Cupboard Recipes - Three Bean Chili, Mushroom Gratin,Aubergine 'Parmigiana' Pasta Bake

It gets hard to keep the magic alive. Not with that, with cooking. In the quagmires of 'arghhhh am I going to tutor forever WILL THAT BE MY LIFE?' I had little time to peruse the many food blogs I like for inspiration. (Side note, the word 'thinspiration' is the worst word ever.) But, I have discovered that I can now just throw things together and make food! I haven't used recipes for a while now (although I do read them for inspiration and tips) but now I can truly do what my other/other adults seem to be able to do: cook food just from what's around rather than having to make a specific trip to the shops!
Three bean chilli
1 onion, chopped
1 leek, chopped
1 yellow pepper, 1 green pepper, chopped
1 chilli, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped

Over medium heat, heat some vegetable oil and then sweat the vegetables until browned and very soft.

1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1 tbsp coriander
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp hot paprika

Add the spices to the vegetables and cook for a further minute.

1 tsp tomato puree
1 can tomatoes
1 can water

Add the tomatoes and puree.

1 can kidney beans
1 can black beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can water
1 vegetable stock cube
1 bay leaf

Add the beans, water and stock.
Simmer, lid on but with a crack to let the steam escape, for around 1 hour (or as long as you have).

Fresh coriander
Grated cheddar, rice

Stir in fresh coriander and serve with grated cheddar and rice.

Mushroom gratin
1 onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 sprigs thyme
250g mushrooms, chopped
1 tbsp creme fraiche
2 potatoes, peeled and sliced very finely
150g grated cheddar

Sweat the onions and garlic in a frying pan until starting to brown.
Add the thyme and the mushrooms.
Take off the heat and allow to cool.
Stir in the creme fraiche.
Transfer the mixture to a casserole or baking dish.
Add the potatoes, season well with salt and pepper.
Add the cheese.
Mix everything so it's well combined.
Place in the oven for 40 mins - 1 hour until that potatoes are soft.
You may need to cover with foil at some point if the top is crisping but the middle isn't cooked.

Aubergine 'parmigiana' pasta bake
500g pasta
1 aubergine, thinly sliced
200g cherry tomatoes, halved
Tomato sauce (I made this by sweating onions and garlic, adding tomato puree and canned tomatoes, saltand basil and letting simmer)
1 ball mozzarella, cubed

30g parmesan
1 slice toast made into breadcrumbs
Handful of parsley, chopped

Season the aubergines with salt and fry in a little oil in a non-stick pan until soft and slightly crispy.
Place aubergines in a baking dish.
Boil the pasta. Once cooked, stir in the tomato sauce and add to the baking dish.
Stir pasta well to combine with aubergine. Add the mozzarella.
Season well with pepper.
In a food processor, mash together the parmesan, parsley and breadcrumbs.
Top the pasta with the crumb mixture.
Bake for about 20 minutes until the top is crispy.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Recipe - Sausage and Lentil Casserole

Contrary's moved in! I live with Contrary now! It's strange, as I write this I've technically lived with her for 3 days but either she hasn't been there or I haven't so it hasn't really felt like any days. I wonder what living with her will be like; so far it's been positive. She has great cookware and innovative design ideas and takes a keen interest in the aesthetics of the place, unlike Mr 'I don't care what it looks like' Magician. (He does care a bit as it turns out.) Her first night here was spent cooking (separate dishes, hers much healthier than mine) and moving furniture. We ended up moving a lot of it back but hey, now we have an interestingly placed 'decorative cookware' bookshelf.

Sausage and lentil casserole
6 sausages
2 onions, chopped
3 garlic, chopped
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
Splash of white wine vinegar
200g lentils (I used green)
1 chicken stock cube in about a litre of water

Brown the sausages in a casserole.
Remove from casserole and place in the oven until cooked.
On a medium heat, brown onions and garlic.
Add the thyme, bay and rosemary.
Add the lentils and white wine vinegar.
Add the stock, turn down the heat, cover and simmer for about an hour.

Braised red cabbage and apple
Half red cabbage, shredded
2 onions, finely sliced
2 apples, shredded
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
Splash of water
Salt and pepper

Place the vegetables in a casserole. Season well with salt and pepper then pour over the vinegar and add the mustard.
Add a few dots of butter on top and place in a medium oven (150 degrees C or so) for 2 hours.
Check that it isn't burning every half an hour or so, if it's sticking to the bottom, add water.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Recipe - Oxtail Stew

Certain evenings turn out as no one expects them to. This evening was supposed to be a relaxed, harmonious one followed by a still sedate appearance at a party and bed. It ended up being a reminder of how my university days (ha! What larks!) were littered with interactions with boys who don't really know how to talk to girls who they're not trying to kiss. It also served as a reminder that shit clubs playing Pitbull continue to exist. Still, I had fun. Wait, did I? I think I did. But the next day I felt a lot like I'd let myself down and felt sort of anti-respected. I know that's not a word but I'm using it to mean the feeling of grossness when you remember things being said to you that you don't like to hear mixed with the feeling of 'why would they treat me like that if I wasn't somehow inviting it?' I recognise this feeling to be primarily due to hangover now. But also, no one deserves to be treated to rude, sexist comments and certainly, there is no such thing as 'inviting' lewdness which you're forced to listen to and shamefully don't react to because it would 'spoil the vibe'. This unfortunate evening started with oxtail with the Explorer and I wish that's where it had ended.
Oxtail stew
600g oxtail
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves, chopped
1 scotch bonnet chilli, chopped
Thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
Half teaspoon ground allspice
1 dessert spoon tomato puree
Enough chicken stock to just cover

Brown the oxtail on a high heat. Remove and reserve.
Turn the heat to medium then brown the onion, garlic, chilli and ginger.
Add the thyme, bay and allspice
Return the oxtail to the pan.
Add the tomato puree and stock and on a low heat, simmer for 3 hours.

Review - LMNT

IT'S HAPPENED I'M TO BE EMPLOYED (haven't signed the contract yet touch wood and other superstitions). While I was on the phone being informed of this fact, I did a small dance which involved half skipping while kicking my legs out in different directions and I think that was an accurate reflection of how pleased I was/am. Really, the past six months have been miserable. I have stuffed my face with lots of food (actually, that bit was pretty good for the most part but there were also bleak moments involving being alone with fast food), slept both not enough and too much and resented so many people either for asking me about my employment situation or for giving me THE LOOK which just invited lots of 'LOOK I'M FINE OK IT WILL HAPPEN' but obviously I didn't say that because preserving friendships (and relationships) is 20% about just letting things go. (Wow, that was a long sentence but I will neither fragment nor consider revising.) Anyway, HOORAY. I went shopping and then I went for coffee and then I did some more shopping online and then I had prosecco and dinner at LMNT and then I fell into the most peaceful, deep sleeps.
I am so pleased that my trip to LMNT coincided with a sort of celebration. The atmosphere is that of jubilance and celebration. Being sat in an urn is both fun and funny. The cocktails are strong (even though by cocktail hour I no longer needed strong drinks), the wine is reasonable both in price and quality and the food is delicious. (The food is also mad great value if you go with a tastecard.) The mussels worked wonderfully despite being both creamy and lemograssy. Really, I just wanted to suck on those little shells even after they emptied. My lamb was charred nicely although slightly too smokily in some places. Still, had an enjoyable tender but still chewy texture. The cous cous (I don't even like cous cous sometimes) was INSANELY well flavoured. It was just full of it. And the creamy mint-yoghurt dressing worked well with both the lamb and the wonderful cous cous. I was far too full for tarte tatin with ice cream for afters but I felt compelled to eat more than I wanted as it was so warming and full of cinnamony apple and vanilla. The pastry was my favourite bit. LMNT is my current favourite restaurant in London.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Review - St John breakfast

The only good thing about interviews is the breakfast that follows it. It's so much more exhausting than being rejected without interview. It's the fact that the door has been cracked open and you've got to find a way to pry it open by reading and rehearsing and thinking of stars (situation, task, answer, response). It's also incredibly boring and followed by an inevitable post-game analysis that you desperately want to avoid but really, truly can't help. Afterwards, I always feel like I've been put through a tumble dryer (seriously, who uses wringers anymore?) - a mixture of spent, confused and sick. Hey, that's like how one feels after going home with someone regrettable! And afterwards, all that can make it better is a long sleep in a warm bed (and mild amnesia) but breakfast is a close second. Anyway, I was interviewing near Liverpool Street so it seemed like an opportune time to try St John's old spot bacon sandwich.
This sandwich is perfect. Really, no other sandwich I've had compares (sorry, Olives). Its genius is in its simplicity and my lack of genius is about to be displayed through how in adequately I can describe this sandwich. It leaves you repeatedly questioning 'how did they make just bacon and bread taste so good?' Well, the freshly baked St John bread is so light that the creamy, slightly salted butter drips through it onto your fingers. There is SO MUCH bacon. And it's all so salty yet so crisp even though it doesn't look it. But it tastes, above all else, thick and meaty. The smoky sauce, which tastes like a magic combination of ketchup BBQ brown, is unnecessary but so fruitily delicious that I appreciate it all the same.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Review - Bickles

I was recently complaining about how parties were a chore. I suppose that makes me an old, bitter woman. I would contest this though: parties ARE a chore until about midnight. When sobriety is still somewhat in charge, all that people talk about is their jobs and where they live and other incredibly mundane topics. Talking about jobs DEPRESSES me at the moment. Talking about where I live invites the judging 'oh you live with your boyfriend AGED 22' glare and then I have to do my whole bit about how nothing's really changed and I'm still a young, independent woman (who just happens to eat 80% of meals and spend 97% of nights with the same person). But then beyond midnight, it's all fun and games and talking about inappropriate things and becomes a great opportunity to meet people. And, as that advert keeps reminding me, those opportunities will slowly dwindle until they peter out completely. So I regret not making it to midnight at the party I attended after Bickles. Now, let's talk about Bickles.
Curry goat and jerk chicken. We are boring orderers. But it's so difficult to order anything else when both of those dishes are so bloody good when done right. The chicken was full of allspice and a light smokiness. The curry goat still won though: almost creamy in its tender fattiness. And again, so yellow that the sticky rice and peas quickly began to resemble a river next to a power plant. OK I'm going to go and make my lacklustre jerk swordfish and think about that curry now.

Review - Sen Viet

STOP THE PRESS, I think I like Vietnamese food after all. Wait, what? I'm not supposed to launch right into talking about the food before giving some spiel about an exaggerated personal 'problem'. Anyway, this one will bitch about juggling time and maintaining friendships. It's a lot harder when everyone has more to do. And when people are located in different places. And some other obvious points. I was supposed to be eating with Earnest on this particular evening but then my pa was in town and he seemed like he'd be sadder if I didn't eat with him than she would. I wanted to go to Burger and Shake but my dad looked all old and tired so I picked the restaurant opposite for its proximity. It turned out to be a great choice and has turned my opinion of Vietnamese food around completely.

The crispy sea bass felt like it couldn't be beaten - light batter which didn't obscure the just cooked fish. But the salad underneath it was, in my opinion, the real star of the dish. Juicy mango scattered with fresh chilli and herbs. Mmm. The beef, in comparison, was rather boring. But it wasn't actually boring! It was hearty and so soft. Vietnamese is my new favourite because of Sen Viet.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Review - Caphe House

The whole house saga has spurred me into doing something for the people who are constantly being fucked over: I volunteer and write letters for them now! So far, I feel that I've helped precisely no one. But maybe soon. This means that I'm in Bermondsey for a few days a week. I've rigorously resisted succumbing to buying lunch out of a feeling of CBA. Nevertheless, I treated myself to a banh mi because I was mega craving one. The Explorer was kind enough to bring it to me in between volunteering and tutoring and we sat and ate in a bleak Bermondsey 'playground'.
It itched the scratch (in this metaphor the scratch is for banh mi) beautifully. The bread was so hard and crunchy that I are my baguette upside down. The pork was salty and soft and had just the right hint of interesting spice. The pâté similarly filled the niche of soft but sweet and umami while the fresh chillies and coriander added a hot, contrasting kick. I want another one now.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Recipe - Stuffed Bream with White Bean Mash

Do you want to learn about my shopping habits? I expect that you do and even if you don't, I'll tell you anyway. I don't think about what to cook and then buy the ingredients anymore. I go to the reduced section and think about what I can make. That, a slight preoccupation with eating less meat and recent bean-mania decides my meals. My method also nullifies the Explorer's 'it's a false economy!' chat. So, I gutted and stuffed a bream then mashed some beans. What of it?
Stuffed bream with roasted courgettes and white bean mash
1 courgette, sliced
Half an onion, sliced

Place the vegetables in a dish and drizzle with oil and season. Place into an oven preheated to 200 for about ten minutes.

1 dessert spoon capers
1 dessert spoon black olives
2 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole

Scatter the ingredients over the courgette and stir well.

Half an onion, sliced thinly
1 sprig rosemary
Bunch of parsley
Half a lemon, sliced into 6
1 sea bream 

Stuff the bream with the onion, 3 slices of lemon and the herbs. Season well.
Place the remaining lemon slices on top.
Place the fish on top of the courgettes.
Return to the oven for ten minutes until the fish is cooked.

1 can haricot beans
1 can butter beans
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 sprig rosemary
Olive oil 

Fry the onion and garlic.
Add the drained beans, rosemary and lemon juice.
Add a drizzle of olive oil to loosen and mash.
Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice, to taste.
Add finely chopped parsley.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Recipe - Duck Massamam Curry

It's proving harder to keep the romance alive than I had imagined. There's the expected 'Jesus why do you always knock over my contact lenses and leave them lying down when they NEED MOISTURE?' but then there's the added hassle of not feeling like you've turned wholly into a married couple that has sex 52 times a year and share an Economist subscription. We thought the problem would be spending too much time together. Instead, it's proven to be spending quality time together rather than eating too much food in front of the TV and then falling into a food and dullness induced coma. As with all things, I let this fester and didn't mention anything except in the occasional passive-aggressive comment until an incident with a piggy back on an escalator ('DO YOU REALISE HOW DANGEROUS THAT WAS? It's a metal staircase that MOVES') blew everything up. That led to some hopefully fruitful discussion followed by a kind of romantic combined duck cooking effort. 

Duck massamam curry
For the spice paste
2 dried chilli
Thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 onions
5 garlic cloves
1 tsp shrimp paste

1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin 
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cardamom
2 cloves

Blend in a mini (or normal sized) food processor.

2 duck legs
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 green chilli, left whole and slit down the middle 
100g creamed coconut
250ml water

Brown the duck legs on a medium heat so that the fat renders.
Remove the duck legs and add the spice paste to the pan.
Fry the paste for about ten minutes until highly aromatic.
Return the duck legs to the pan.
Add the lime leaves, chilli, coconut and water.
Simmer, covered for 1.5 hours until the duck is very soft and stringy. 

Serve with a fresh salad (I used radishes, peppers and coriander) and rice.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Recipe - Smoked Haddock Fishcakes

New kitchen means new appliances and coming to understand and appreciate their foibles. Like how in my old flat, we all got used to keeping food for no more than two days and never on the bottom shelf because the fridge didn't work properly. Thankfully, new flat has no issues nearly as irritating. The most irritating it gets is that the oven markings have rubbed off and the manual's in Spanish. Even that wasn't so bad, it's biggest failing was getting too hot. That led to a slightly burnt tarte tatin but a whole world away from the banana cake disasters of two years ago. With that comparative success in mind, I decided to try my hand at binding again. FISHCAKES.
Smoked haddock fishcakes with parsley sauce
2 large potatoes, cut into eighths
1 large leek, finely sliced
2 smoked haddock fillets
250ml milk
1 bay leaf
2 cloves
Place the milk on a medium heat with bay leaves and cloves.
Bring to a dinner and poach the haddock in the milk for around 7 minutes.
Once cooked, strain the milk into a jug and remove the skin from the fish.
Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in salted water and fry the leeks in butter over a medium heat.
Mash the potatoes roughly.
Add haddock and half the leeks and stir.
Shape into fishcakes and fry until crispy. (This bit didn't go so well for me but they were still brown in places and very tasty.)
In the pan with the remaining leeks, add enough flour to make a roux, adding more butter if required.
Slowly add the reserved milk and stir until smooth.
Add a handful of finely chopped parsley and a grinding of black pepper.