Saturday, 23 May 2015

A (not so) Lonely Dinner for One - Hake Bilbaina

I suppose I should be sad when my better half goes away....and I am, honestly. He makes me cups of tea and usually makes me happy, so I do miss him when he is off galavanting at 'conferences'. But, you have to make the best of a bad lot and the way I do it is by eating the thing I love the most but can't really justify cooking when I have three 'fishyphobes' in the house - fish. Any fish. I am not fussy; just grateful.

So, on this auspicious occasion I give the kids what they really want (chicken nuggets and chips - yes, I am sorry, I am a poor mother...) and I prepare the recipe that I have picked out as soon as I know that Phill is going away. This time it was Cod Bilbaina from the lovely, love 'Modern Spanish Cooking' by Eddie and Sam Hart. As hake was on offer, and in my mind a little more Spanish, I went for that over cod and whilst I am sure it tastes equally as good with cod, the piquant sauce went really well with the more robust tasting hake. What's more, it was a cinch to make. If my brood ate more fish, then my life would be so much easier...
Cod (or Hake) Bilbiana, adapted from 'Modern Spanish Cooking' by Sam and Eddie Hart
The quantities below serve four - I halved it and had the leftovers the next day.

4 hake fillets – evenly sized and about 4 cm thick
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

For the tomato sauce

12 small plum tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp sherry (Fino or Manzanilla)
2 tbsp sherry vinegar


Pre heat the oven to 180 °C / 350 °F / Gas mark 4.
First make the sauce. Place a large frying pan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. Cut the tomatoes in half (lengthways), peel and thinly slice the garlic and place in the pan with the bay leaves. Cook for 3-4 minutes until just soft.
Add the sherry and sherry vinegar, season and allow to bubble for 2 minutes until reduced. Set aside but keep warm.
Heat a large, ovenproof frying pan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. Put the hake in the pan, skin side down, and fry for 4 minutes to crisp the skin.

Remove from the heat and place the pan in the oven for a further 4 minutes until the hake is just cooked through.
Serve the fish immediately with the warm tomato sauce.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Resisting the lure of the Curry House: Chicken Lahori

Friday night is curry night. And Friday night is THE night of the week that I am utterly banjaxed and grateful that the day after is Saturday and I can choose to do absolutely zilch (yeh right, I start the washing and clear all the crap I have been unable to shift all week because I have been a) taking an interest in my children b) generally distracted and c) marking something or other) and for some reason Friday night feels like a take away night. It's like a reward for getting to the end of another week without telling someone to stick it where the sun doesn't shine. This week, I evidently wasn't knackered enough to tell Phill to find the menu for the Indian takeaway; I volunteered to cook one. I had the ingredients, I could have wine whilst I was doing it, Finn's football on the Saturday was a later kick off.... why shouldn't I?  And I am glad I did because this recipe is, frankly, glorious. Punchy spice with a languid kick of chilli right at the finish, it was made for the bottle of Riesling that I had opened and half consumed by the time I actually got round to serving this.
A Google search consisting of 'Atul Kochhar, curry and chicken' threw up the frankly amazing Chicken Lahori. It was very easy to make, low maintenance and after half an hour or so cooking away whilst I was rounding up washing and threatening my kids with violence if they didn't get their uniforms off THIS MINUTE, this was ready to be served. It filled the kitchen with the heady smells that I normally associate with Phill bringing in a Friday takeaway. Thank God it's Friday and for once, I cooked it all myself...
Chicken Lahori adapted from the recipe by Atul Kochhar in the Daily Telegraph
Serves 4 in the original recipe: I approximately halved the ingredients below to create a hearty meal for two.
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 black cardamom pods
4 green cardamom pods  
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
3 onions, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste*
3 tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons red chilli powder
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
4 green chillies, chopped
800g chicken thighs, skinless and
boneless cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons plain yoghurt (You can add more if you find this too spicy for your palate)
400ml chicken stock or water (I used chicken stock)
2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
*Ginger-garlic paste: Blend equal quantities of peeled garlic and fresh ginger with 10 per cent of their total weight in water, using a blender or mini food processor. Store in a sealed container in the fridge. If you want to keep this for longer than a few days, add 5 per cent vegetable oil and 2 per cent lemon juice when you blend. Or you can freeze this in ice-cube trays.
Heat the oil in a wok and sauté the whole spices with the bay leaves until they crackle. Add the onions and sauté until lightly browned. Add the ginger-garlic paste and sauté for a minute, stirring well, then add the ground spices (except the garam masala) and the green chillies and tomatoes. Cook for 5–8 minutes or until the tomatoes soften.
Add the chicken pieces with the yogurt, stock and salt to taste, and mix in well. Simmer gently for 20-25 minutes until the chicken is cooked. If the sauce is too thick, add more stock. I found that after the recommended cooking time the sauce was still a bit loose for my taste, so I increased the temperature and reduced the sauce further.

Stir in the chopped coriander leaves and garam masala, then serve.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

The tart that makes you look pretty damn good when really you're just well read, resourceful and in a hurry: French Apple Tart (Tarte aux Pommes)

I know I would be a far better cook if I made my own puff pastry but the fact is, I am, essentially, lazy. And I buy loads of that lovely all butter French stuff when I go to France so why on earth would I bother? And, I wouldn't have been able to knock out this tart in the five minutes it took, if I had to spend God knows how long folding, rolling and resting, folding, rolling and resting....
I had a small two concerns: Is it wise to make a dessert that is more nuts than I am? I didn't think there was a major chance of anaphylaxis amongst our Sunday afternoon meal crowd (more like a Sunday soiree crowd in the end: note to self, don't open that wine you've been saving and drink two glasses of it without checking that you have actually put the oven on 'oven' instead of 'grill') and sometimes, people just don't like nuts, so I decided to have a reserve. And this was it. Once you've prepped the apples, five minutes will probably do it and with an apricot jam glaze, it looks like it's come straight out of a French patisserie window. And it tastes, and smells, sublime.
This was essentially sourced from Michel Roux Jnr's 'My Life in the Kitchen', which is current bedside reading, though there are a couple of little Lola and Finn's Mum twists, namely instead of creating an apple compote, I finished off a jar of apple sauce laced with calvados from Christmas that had been lurking at the back of the fridge by spreading it on the base of the tart. I then sprinkled a little sugar and cinnamon over the top of that before piling the apples neatly on top. With a bit of a flourish to adorn the surprisingly neat job I had made of the apples, I sprinkled a little more cinnamon over the top after I had brushed them with melted butter.
This was such a joyous dessert; and amazingly easy to assemble make. And apples, sugar and flaky pastry is never, ever wrong. If you find yourself in a bit of a dessert bind, free yourself with this beautiful thing...
French Apple Tart, adapted from 'My Life in the Kitchen' by Michel Roux Jnr
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum, Dad and four others
1 box of ready rolled all butter puff pastry
2 to 3 tbsp. of apple compote/apple sauce
1/2 - 1tsp of sugar to taste.
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3 to 4 cox or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced very thinly (put the slices into acidulated water whilst prepping the pastry to prevent the slices turning brown).
20g melted butter
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
beaten egg, to glaze before baking.
2 tbsp. of apricot jam, warmed, to glaze the tart
Unroll the pastry and cut a circle, using a dinner plate to cut around. Crimp the pastry to create an edge and then turn the pastry over. Apparently according to Michel Roux Jnr, this helps the layers to puff better, and let's face it, if anyone is going to know, it's him.
Dock the pastry with a fork.
Spoon the compote/sauce over the base of the pastry, leaving about a centimetre around the edge of the pastry.
Sprinkle over the sugar and the cinnamon over the compote.
Arrange the apples in neat circles on top of the compote, maintaining the centimetre around the edge of the tart.
Brush the apples with melted butter and sprinkle a little more sugar and cinnamon over the apples if desired. (I tasted the apples to see how they were sour they were; that determined my decision).
Brush the edge of the tart with the egg wash and place on the preheated tray. Bake in the oven for about 20/25 minutes until the pastry is puffed and golden, the apples yield easily to the tip of a knife and are starting to colour a little.
pre glaze!!
Leave to cool somewhat, then glaze with the warmed apricot jam.
I served this with homemade vanilla ice cream because I like to show off.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Sounds the same, but slightly different: Puy and Ham Soup

I've already tried to make a soup with a ham hock and documented my absolute failure to find split peas anywhere. In the end I found some but because I am irritating I decided, despite my previous moaning, to eschew the split peas this time for beautiful verdant jewel like puy lentils, their earthy nuttiness matching the tender pieces of ham amazingly. If there is anything good about the cold weather, it is most definitely the food. And if you're making soup, then you may as well make vats of the stuff to keep you going through the cold winter days.
Some things to bear in mind when making this. Be really careful with the amount of salt you add as the hock stock will possibly be quite salty to begin with. This is quite an involved activity as you will need to boil the hock to cook the hock and allow it to cool before you can strip the meat from the bones. You will also need to reduce the stock before you put the vegetables, the lentils and the herbs in. Lastly, personal preference of course, but I love great chunks or long strips of ham hock, rather than ham chopped finely. I am not looking for this to be an elegant dining experience.
Puy and Ham Soup
Serves 8 - 10
Two ham hocks
 enough water to cover the hocks (Mine was about 4 pints)
500g Puy lentils, rinsed briefly in cold water
two onions, diced
four carrots, chopped
a handful of parsley stalks, finely chopped
seasoning (but be careful!!)
ham, stripped from the bones
parsley to scatter over the top
Put the hocks into water and bring to the boil. Skim the scum from the surface as it begins to boil.
Allow the hocks to simmer in the water for about an hour to an hour and a half. When the hock can be easily pierced, remove the hocks from the water and allow to cool enough so that they can be handled.
Meantime, bring the stock to the boil and reduce by about a third.
Once the stock has reduced add the onions, the carrots, the parsley stalks and the lentils. Stir them into the stock. Allow the stock to simmer for about a 40 minutes or until the lentils yield to the touch.
At this point, add the strips of ham to the stock to warm through. At this point taste and adjust the seasoning where necessary.
Serve in deep bowls, scattered with parsley and some crusty bread and butter

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Sephardic Supper - Ottoman Style Braised Meat with Cannellini Beans

This recipe is from the most beautiful cookery book I possess - and cookery books are often a work of art these days anyway really, but this one really is beautiful. It's that beautiful that I don't want it splattered with ANYTHING. If you saw the state of some of my 'go to' cookery books, with little notes and the evidence of messy cooking, well, in one way it's quite reassuring of a wonderful collection of recipes, but when I cook anything from this book, it's positioned at the other end of the room from the cooker, for fear that it being any nearer will result in it being in line of a random splatter or mucky fingerprint.
So, I maybe should tell you the name of this cookery book seeing as I have bigged it up in such a way. It's called 'Stella's Sephardic Table' and I spotted it in a book shop a few years ago just before Christmas. It was a revelation - not only was my ego interested as the cover bore my name, but its gold lettering and its origins on the Greek island of Rhodes, coupled with visions of antique maps, and elaborate scroll like writing had me hooked. I wanted it from Christmas, but it was too late to do much about it, so I asked for it for my birthday instead and lo and behold, I was very, very fortunate. (Thank you Phill! xx) 

I should probably also say that this is the biggest cookbook I have ever owned. Big and beautiful.

Anyway, I shall cut to the chase. Seeing as the days are getting colder and I am a big fan of a one pot wonder, I was really tempted by this wonderful recipe which hints at warm, exotic origins and can blip away doing its thing whilst I am doing my thing. I sometimes think I should rename this blog 'One Pot Wonder' because there are so many of them on this blog, but I would find it hard to find anything more satisfying to sit down to after a cold day outside.
Ottoman Style Braised Meat with Cannellini Beans, adapted from 'Stella's Sephardic Table' by Stella Cohen
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad and three others
2 tbsp. olive oil
1kg of braising steak cubed or other stewing cut, cubed or cut into bitesize pieces
1 marrow bone (probably optional, available from butchers, Waitrose or Ocado, which is where I got mine)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 leek, washed, white part only, sliced
1 celery stalk (and leafy top, if you like) sliced finely
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of parsley
500ml chicken stock
Two tins of cannellini beans
1/2 tin chopped tomatoes
1/4 tsp sugar
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Heat the oil in a large, heavy based pan over a medium high heat. Add the beef and cook in batches. I put the marrow bone in to and kept it in the pan to leech its wonderful bone marrow into the pan as the beef browned. When the beef is browned, remove to a plate.
 Now add the onion, the leek, the celery, bay leaf and parsley sprigs to the pan. Cook until everything is softened and picking up the beef residue from the pan. Return the browned beef to the pan. Add half the stock and bring to the boil. Cover the pan, reduce the heat and allow to simmer gently for an hour or so, or until the meat is tender. Keep checking and add hot water if necessary.
Stir in the beans, the tomatoes, sugar, thyme sprigs, red pepper flakes and pepper. Pour in the remaining stock and bring to the boil once again, cover and reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, but keep checking.
Ten minutes before the end of the cooking time, add the salt and lemon juice and discard the herbs. It might be that you want to thicken the sauce and if that is so, remove the lid and increase the heat so that the sauce reduces. When it is at the consistency, taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Serve in huge bowls!


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