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Showing posts from January, 2011

GREAT STORECUPBOARD FINDS No. 5

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No. 5 Pulled Ham Hock
Not strictly "storecupboard" as this item needs to be kept in the fridge. Nor is it some kind of peculiar bucolic sport from deepest Dorset: "Arrr, I'll be a-pulling your ham hocks later, my loverrr" (that's enough local dialect. Ed.)

This is another ingredient that reminds me of my childhood. My mother cooked ham hocks fairly regularly, braising them slowly until the fat turned sticky and the meat fell easily from the bone. She used to serve them with onion or mustard sauce. She also cooked pigs' trotters, and I have never ever been squeamish about eating most parts of the animal since....

I have always been rather averse to products like this, which I consider to be "lazy" ingredients. I would prefer to buy the ham hock, cook it and "pull" it myself, but ham hocks are hard to find these days, unless you have a specialist butcher nearby, or happen to work around the corner from Smithfield Meat Market (as Other H…

GREAT STORECUPBOARD FINDS No. 4

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No. 4 Orange Flower Water and Rose Water

These aromatic waters are clear, perfumed distillations of fresh bitter-orange, and rose petals respectively, and are essential ingredients in the cuisine of the south of France, the southern Mediterranean and the Middle East (rose water is in fact a by-product of the extraction of rose oil for perfume). They are readily available in the supermarket, usually to be found with other food flavourings such as almond and vanilla essence, and easy to find in specialist Middle Eastern stores. I buy mine from an Arabic supermarket on Goldborne Road, where I also buy Merguez sausage, preserved lemons (when I don't have time to make my own) and the spice Sumac.

Many Middle Eastern deserts call for rose water or orange blossom water, and both bring a wonderful 'perfumed' flavour to food. A dash of rose water over hulled and halved strawberries can enliven the fruit, giving it a whiff of Eastern exoticism, an aroma and flavour reminiscent of Tur…

GIRLFRIENDS' SUPPER

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A midweek supper at home with girlfriends seemed just about perfect - once we'd wrested the cork out of the Prosecco, and proved that we did not need a man around to have a good time. This was a gathering of friends we'd been trying to coordinate for several months, but then Christmas got in the way. January is always a rather flat month, with everyone feeling rather post-Christmas, and the days grey and cold. An evening with good friends is a great way to lighten the atmosphere.

I planned an easy menu to suit everyone: one guest was a fish-eating vegetarian, so I made Madhur Jaffrey's fish baked in foil, a Keralan dish called Meen Pollichathu, which is simple in its ingredients, but very tasty. As a canape to have with the Prosecco, I made onion bhajis, and for pudding, my current culinary piece de resistance, Jo's Chocolate Tart.

Whenever I am with women friends, I am amazed at the breadth and variety of our conversations,  ranging over subjects as diverse as our chi…

FREEBIES FOR DEMON COOK

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Some of my regular readers, and friends, will recall that last autumn I was contacted by a PR company representing Marmite in response to my blog post about Nigella's surprisingly tasty Marmite Spaghetti. I was kindly sent a limited edition jar of Marmite - limited in the sense that it did not last long in my house!

Once again, Demon Cook has been lucky enough to earn some free samples, this time from the PR company representing British Onions, who contacted me yesterday to ask if I would like a Gravy In A Box Kit from British Onions. Now, I'm not once to turn down a free lunch, nor indeed a box of foodie goodies, so of course I accepted, and at lunchtime today, a large and satisfyingly weighty box arrived for me. Inside, a good kilo or more of red and brown onions, plus other delights: another jar of Marmite, proper old-fashioned tomato ketchup by Wilkin & Sons, good old Colman's English Mustard, Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, and Mushroom Ketchup, an ingredi…

CHOCOLATE MENDIANTS

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The word 'mendiant' comes from the French word for 'beggar' or 'mendicament'. These little beggars are disks of dark, milk or white chocolate topped with a selection of mixed nuts, dried fruit and seeds. They are also sometimes called 'chocolate bark'. I thought I would have a go at making some as a hostess gift for a dinner party I am going to tomorrow evening. I always think homemade gifts are nice to receive: the fact that someone has gone to the trouble to actually make something special, rather than nip down to M&S for a box of chocs. Sometimes, I take a freshly-baked loaf of bread or foccaccia, still warm from the oven. Or a box of chocolate macaroons or amaretti biscuits. I will never forget Nigella, on one of her TV programmes, making 'honeycomb' (like the inside of Crunchie bars) as a hostess gift, and then gobbling most of it in the taxi on the way to her friend's house.

This recipe will make 20-25 small mendiants. And they shou…

GREAT STORE-CUPBOARD FINDS No. 3

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No. 3 Hearts of Palm
I first ate heart of palm in a salad in an Argentinian restaurant in Caracas in 1993. I was in Venezuela for a holiday which promised to be fascinating and turned out to be frustrating, mainly because I was struck down with a dreadful stomach bug for the duration of the trip. Flying into the tiny airport of the Andean town Merida was probably one of the most terrifying experiences of my life (the plane flew straight down a valley in the Andes, the miniature airstrip visible beneath the wing), apart from taking a bus with balding tyres up into the Himalayas when I was travelling in Indian as a student....

There used to be a Brazilian restaurant in Hammersmith (called Paolo's, I think) which also served heart of palm salad; now you can buy them tinned in Waitrose. According to that font of knowledge, Wikipedia, heart of palm, which is also called palmito, burglar's thigh, chonta, palm cabbage or swamp cabbage, is a vegetable harvested from the inner core and…

GREAT STORE-CUPBOARD FINDS No. 2

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No. 2 Togarashi Seasoning
For a while now, my son has been pestering me to try and find "the stuff they put on the noodles at Wagamma" by which he means a brownish-orange seasoningwhich is liberally sprinkled over a serving of Yaki-Soba (No. 40) or Yaki-Udon (No. 42). Browsing the shelves of Waitrose Cooks' Ingredients, as I do quite frequently, shopping in Waitrose for me being almost as pleasurable as shopping in Jigsaw or LK Bennett, I spotted a small deep purple box called "Togarashi Seasoning". Reading the ingredients list, it looked like "the stuff" my son wanted. I bought noodles and stir-fry ingredients, and cooked up a feast for his supper, sprinkled the Togarashi Seasoning on top and asked him if it really was "the stuff".

It was! Togarashi Seasoning is, according to the Waitrose website, "a blend of chilli, orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, szechuan pepper, ginger and seaweed. Sprinkle over fish or meat before cooki…

FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE BROWNIES

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As Nigella says in the preamble to her recipe to Chocolate Brownies in her book 'How To Be A Domestic Goddess', "I don't know why more people don't make their own brownies". These squidgy, fudgey chocolate squares are dead easy to make and require little more than some melting, whisking and stirring - all in one bowl, if you like - before pouring the mixture into a tray and cooking it.

I'm not a great cake nor pudding maker, so I often make brownies for pudding after supper. They have a pudding-ey texture, when made correctly, and can be served warm with ice-cream, or creme fraiche. I don't know anyone who has refused one of my brownies, and I am often asked to make them to tea parties after concerts or for coffee mornings.

This recipe replaces flour with ground almonds, which makes the brownies even more moist and yummy, as well as making them entirely appropriate for those with gluten-intolerance issues.

225g best-quality dark chocolate
225g Butter…

GREAT STORE-CUPBOARD FINDS No. 1

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The first of an occasional series highlighting my favourite ingredients and interesting foodie finds.

No. 1 Maggi Coconut Milk Powder
I usually use tinned coconut milk for curries and other recipes which call for this, but one day, while browsing the "special section" of my local Tesco (a store which I detest, but use because it is ultra local), I found this coconut milk powder. It's a really useful thing to have in the cupboard, for those occasions when I'm wondering what to cook for dinner and I think "ooh yes, I'll make a south Indian curry" (see previous post), and it can be used for both savoury and sweet dishes.

Follow the instructions on the packet to make up coconut milk or cream of coconut, or just pour the powder straight into the dish.

FRIDAY NIGHT SUPPER - MALABAR CHICKEN CURRY

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Curries appear fairly frequently on this blog, and I do love making them: there's something very therapeutic about all that chopping of onions, garlic and fresh ginger to make the base for a sauce, adding the spices and enjoying the aromas, and stirring the sauce. Many people think making curry is very fiddly and time-consuming, but most curries can be made quickly, or part-prepared in advance. Obviously, if the recipe calls for something to be marinaded, you need to do a bit of advance planning.

Like many students, I travelled in India when I was at uni, but I didn't get down to the south. In fact, the furthest south I got was Agra, to see the Taj Mahal, which truly does have to be seen to be believed. I also visited Kashmir, spent a week staying on a houseboat on the Dal Lake, and stepped back into the 1930s, when the English would go to Kashmir to escape the extreme heat of the summer on the plains. I walked in the foothills of the Himalayas, before taking the train east to…

LADIES WHO LUNCH

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On Mondays, I do my "other job", that is, looking after My Old Man of Kensington. When people ask me what I "do" for him, I am sometimes tempted to wink naughtily and smile knowingly. Or reply that I am "a gentleman's companion", with all its Victorian connotations. In reality, I am his secretary and half a day a week, usually on a Monday, I go to his large house in Notting Hill to help shuffle papers, take dictation and listen to his sometimes rather risque stories. He's an interesting man: his father was Sir David Kelly, a high-achieving diplomat, who was Ambassador to Moscow during the Cold War. Laurence (for it is he!) himself has a strong association with Russia and has written biographies of two of Pushkin's contemporaries, Alexander Griboyedov (author of Woe from Wit) and Mikhael Lermontov (author of A Hero of Our Time). He has interesting, more ancient antecedents too: one of his relations, on his mother's side, was an aide-de-camp…

CHEAT'S SOURDOUGH

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Sourdough is an ancient loaf: breads have been made using wild yeasts for at least 6000 years, though how and why they made the bread rise was not properly understood until Louis Pasteur discovered that they generated carbon dioxide as part of the fermentation process in the mid 19th century. The first leavened breads (i.e. raised through the use of yeast, wild or otherwise) were almost certainly raised accidentally. Later, 'active' yeast, such as brewer's yeast, was used to leaven bread, and now most breads are made using this process with commercially produced yeast.

Sourdough has a distinctive tangy flavour and chewy texture, which makes wonderful toast. The long fermentation process allows the flavours to develop fully, whereas bread made with active yeast is made quickly and has a less intense flavour and texture. There are some famous sourdoughs, perhaps most notably Pain Poilane, which has been made in Paris since the 1930s, using a traditional sourdough method (the…

ITALIANATE MUSHROOMS AND POLENTA

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I make this quite often, to remind me of a holiday spent in Riva del Garda, a picturesque Medieval town on the shores of Lake Garda. One evening we found a little restaurant, tucked away off the main tourist trail, up a cobbled twitchell. The menu was simple, and most of the main courses dishes were rich, pungent stews made with venison, wild boar, or mushrooms. Everything was served with fluffy polenta.

Polenta can be tricky to get right, and I admit I've had a few disasters with it in the past. The trick is to keep stirring it, and to add lots of butter and seasoning. Fluffy, or "wet", polenta, should have a consistency similar to mashed potato. Set polenta can be sliced and deep-fried. In the Trentino region of Italy, it is traditional to serve the polenta with a slab of Taleggio cheese melting over it, and then pile the stew on top.

I use big, flat field mushrooms, or Portobello mushrooms, for this dish. They have a meaty texture and lots of flavour, but be warned: m…

FRIDAY SUPPER - MY KLEFTIKO

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I've been making Kleftiko (slow-cooked Greek lamb), or variants on it, for years, but it was only this morning that I discovered the meaning of the word 'kleftiko'. This comes from the Waitrose.com website:

"In Greek, kleftiko means -stolen meat-," says Theodore Kyriakou, owner of London restaurant, The Real Greek. "According to legend, this dish would be made with a lamb stolen from a flock as it grazed on a hillside. The thief would cook the meat over many hours in a hole in the ground, sealed with mud so that no steam could escape to give him away." Nowadays, the lamb is sealed inside a paper package, which keeps the meat moist and traps its fragrant juices.

Nor did I know, until I read this, that it is traditional to cook Kleftiko sealed in a paper package, something I've never done. It's amazing what you can learn from a bit of internet trawling, isn't it?!

My Kleftiko is simple, robust and flavoursome, and is one of those ultimate…

OMELETTE SAVOYARDE

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This is my take on something I ate when I was in the Alps over Christmas. Of course, without the addition of the Alpine soft cheese, Reblochon, this would just be a cheese and bacon omelette. The cheese, which melts into a lovely gooeyness, is what makes it "Savoyarde", as Reblochon is a cheese from the Haute-Savoie region of France. It is worth hunting down the real thing - though you could use Camembert or Brie or similar - as Reblochon has a very distinct, sweet-sharp flavour. Be warned, though: it is smelly, and needs to be stored well wrapped in the fridge to stop its aroma invading the kitchen every time you open the fridge door, and to prevent other foods in the fridge taking on its flavour. I have also seen recipes for this omelette using Gruyere or Raclette.


I ate this dish in the little restaurant, La Licorne, at La Grande Terche, the ski station close to St Jean d'Aulpes where I was staying. The cafe is run by a friendly Brummie, and at lunchtime it has a welc…

IMAM BAYILDI

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The name of this seductive and succulent dish literally translates as "the Imam (priest) swooned" and story goes that when the Imam tasted it, he fainted with delight because it was so delicious. It is one of those wonderful dishes that relies on very few ingredients, yet cooked together, the end result is utterly sublime. It is a useful standby for vegetarians, and makes a great starter served with other mezze or tapas dishes. I first tried it at a branch of Sofra, a small chain of excellent Turkish restaurants and cafes in London. I remember it was served at room temperature, but it is equally tasty served hot. The trick is to cook it so that the ingredients remain distinct, delicately intertwined, like a Moorish arabesque, rather than cooked to a mush. It can be made in advance and reheated, and, if anything, it is better made a day ahead.

I cook this dish in a large, deep frying pan, on the hob, keeping the lid on until nearly all the liquid has evaporated and a caramell…

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