Monday, December 20, 2010

Sausage rolls

So, last week we had all our pre Christmas parties on that mental last series of entertaining that just everyone tries to cram before people start disappearing off to the quiet comfort of their families. At work we probably knocked out the best part of 3,000 of these little chaps, but the recipe listed below will happily make 20-25 or so depending on how big you cut them. I have to admit being sick of the sight of them, but will no doubt turn just a few more around for the festive souls at home, just because the smell of a freshly baked sausage roll coming out of the oven is something quite effortlessly calming.

30g/1oz butter
100g/3½oz button mushrooms, finely chopped
1 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Tabasco
1 pinch fresh thyme or sage leaves, chopped
450g/1lb pork sausage meat
2 eggs, beaten
salt and freshly ground black pepper
450g/1lb ready-rolled puff pastry

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

Melt the butter in a large pan and gently saute the mushrooms until soft. Transfer to a large bowl.

Add the Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, thyme or sage and sausage meat and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix until thoroughly combined, adding all but a splash of the egg reserved for glazing the top of the finished rolls.

Cut the puff pastry into two long rectangles, assuming the sheet is a standard size of approx 18'' x 13''.

Place a layer of sausage meat mixture down the edge of each pastry rectangle, leaving a thumbs width to begind the fold over, then brush each with beaten egg on the larger edge.

Fold the smaller side of the pastry over onto the egg-washed edge and roll to seal. Press down to seal and trim any excess. Cut each pastry roll into 10 or so small sausage rolls.

Place the sausage rolls onto a baking tray and transfer to the oven to bake for 15-20 minutes, or until crisp and golden and the sausage meat is completely cooked through.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pink grapefruit and vanilla

So here are the two ingredients that happen to be in my top ten must haves knocking around the kitchen: vanilla and grapefruit. I've just received the most delicious package from one of my absolute favourite people ever, Michelle, who sent me them from a wonderful little vanilla grower in Sri Lanka, and they are simply the most heavenly scented vanilla pods I've come across in an extremely long time. Before they were even opened, the smell was remarkable, and reminds me so much of the island, their people and the simplicity they put towards their existence, I cannot wait to go back. Put this with pink grapefruit, which for a reason I'll go into in good time, I can't seem to get enough of right now, and keeping with simplicity, we'll knock up a little sweet refreshment.

This crystalline sorbet has a blissfully tangy, bittersweet flavour. Buying a whole bottle of Angostura bitters for it might seem extravagant, but think of it as a holiday season investment, because it will last for ages. Use it to re-create proper Champagne cocktails, or add a few drops to a glass of tonic water to make one of the few good grown-up non-alcoholic drinks to offer drivers. It's also quite interesting drizzled over roasted root vegetables, too.

Pink grapefruit and vanilla granita

Serves 6-8

500ml freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice
100g caster sugar
1 fat vanilla pod, split and scraped
2 tsp Angostura bitters

Put a shallow metal tray, such as a scrupulously clean small roasting tin, in the freezer to chill. Whisk the juice, sugar, vanilla seeds and bitters together until the sugar has dissolved.

Throw the scraped vanilla pod into a jar with white sugar and leave to allow the scent to flavour. Use this vanilla sugar in anything from desserts to sweetening your coffee.

Pour the mixture into the cold metal tray and return it to the freezer for 20 minutes before checking. Once ice crystals have started to form around the edges (in my freezer this took 40 mins), gently lift them with a fork into the not so frozen middle part. Return to the freezer.

Repeat the process every 20 minutes until all the mixture is crystallised (allow 1-2 hours). Scrape the crystals into a lidded plastic container and store in the freezer for up to four days. Serve in glass tumblers that have been chilled in the freezer until frosty. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The squash continues

The brilliance of using up your fridge leftovers is always a moment of joy. Like rummaging through the wardrobe looking for the first scarf of the winter and coming across the headphones I'd been wondering about for the past six months. Or going to put a new photo in the frame on my desk only to find an old treasure fall out from behind the frame back. 

The pleasance of surprise constantly thrills me and no more than the creation of deliciousness from those half eaten meals and odd cling film parcels which ordinarily would eventually end up as bird food on the window ledge at very best. Soup at times like these has to be your best friend indeed. 

I tend to always have the semblance of a chicken stock of some description lurking somewhere in the freezer but this is habit for me and makes barely a difference to the end result when water does just fine. I had pretty much all the ingredients below after that butternut squash risotto I made the other day, so this was basically as easy as making soup. A little bowl of this lightly spiced soup makes a warming starter for a winter celebration meal.

Butternut squash soup

Serves 4-6

2 tblsp olive oil
Few knobs of butter
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 1 litre hot chicken stock
1 heaped tsp mild curry powder
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into small pieces
2 apples, cored and sliced with skin on
4-6 thin rashers of pancetta, halved
Small handful of coriander, leaves chopped

Heat a heavy-based pan with the olive oil and butter, then add the onions, bay leaves and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Stir well, then cover the pan with a lid and cook over a low heat for 5-7 minutes until the onions begin to soften.

Meanwhile, bring the stock to a simmer in another saucepan. Add the curry powder to the onions and stir for another minute. Tip in the squash and add a little more oil to prevent the squash from scorching too quickly. (It will also give the finished soup a velvety texture.) Cook for about 10-12 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender and lightly caramelised. 

Throw in the apples at this stage and pour in just enough hot stock to cover everything and gently simmer for another 5-10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, lay the pancetta in a single layer in a hot non stick frying pan. Fry over medium heat until golden-brown and crisp. Turn over to cook the other side. Drain on kitchen paper and allow to cool slightly.

Fish out and discard the bay leaves. In batches, purée the soup in a food processor or liquidiser until smooth. Return the soup to the pan to reheat. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Ladle the soup into warm bowls and garnish with some chopped coriander and a slice of crispy pancetta on top. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Easy start to Sunday

There's nothing quite like an easy start to Sunday, whether it's to recover from the previous evening's frivolities or to prepare for the family to descend for lunch.  Breakfast is traditionally the most important meal of the day, but the luxury of a lazy breakfast at the weekends, means it often turns into brunch.  

So, if you can't decide whether it's a late breakfast or an early lunch your taste buds are craving opt for something that will cover both.  

Eggs, a staple breakfast component for centuries, have had their fair share of bad publicity, but I've yet to truly believe that they can be anything but goodness.  They bring life to food, get you started for the day, and feed both the brain and the soul.  As long as you have half a dozen eggs in your store cupboard and a decent frying pan you'll always have brunch, and any added extras are just a bonus.

Scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and bagels

Serves 2-3

6 large free range eggs
25g ice cold butter, cut into small dice
1 tblsp crème fraîche
freshly ground sea salt and pepper
Few chives, snipped
2-3 bagels of your choice, toasted
400g smoked salmon slices

Break the eggs into a cold, heavy-based pan, place on the lowest heat possible, and add half the butter. Using a spatula, stir the eggs frequently to combine the yolks with the whites.

As the mixture begins to set, add the remaining butter. The eggs will take about 4-5 minutes to scramble – they should still be soft and quite lumpy. Don’t let them get too hot – keep moving the pan off and back on the heat.

Meanwhile, toast the bagels.

Add the crème fraîche and season the eggs at the last minute, then add the snipped chives. Put the split bagels on warm plates, pile the softly scrambled eggs on top, fold over the smoked salmon and serve immediately.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Butternut squash, mozzarella and caramelised garlic risotto with shallots

Serves 4

I love my family, just in the same way the squash and the pumpkin relationship work with each other. With either one of the squash family of vegetables, most recipes that call for a member will work in one shape or another. Squashes generally refer to four species of the genus Cucurbita native to Mexico and Central America: Squashes, Pumpkins, Courgettes and Marrow (or zucchini if you must) and finally Gourds. That chilly time on the cusp of both autumn and winter is true squash time, and having one hanging in my fridge almost makes the season for me. I'm using oven roasted butternut in this risotto today, and should there be any of that and the broth left over, that'll be tomorrow's soup with the addition of a few crispy strips of smoked bacon.

Risotto is a terrific carrier for any of these vegetables,  anything rich, creamy and cheesy will accept the bitter roughness often leached from these dudes, soaking it up like a fluffy bath mat. 

Once the basics of risotto making is mastered, the flavour combinations can easily be as varied as what you'd put through any pasta, stuff into any sandwich or pile on any pizza. Don't hold back. Make it seasonal. Make it now. 

400g butternut squash
olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and diced
55g unsalted butter
200g risotto rice
700ml chicken broth, hot
55g Parmesan, grated
125g buffalo mozzarella, cut into 1cm cubes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


1 large bunch fresh basil
3 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tblsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
about 3 tblsp olive oil
3 tblsp freshly grated Parmesan

crispy shallots

55g shallots, peeled and finely sliced
115g plain flour, seasoned vegetable oil for frying

caramelised garlic

16 garlic cloves
200ml chicken broth, hot
25g unsalted butter

Put the basil, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor with a little salt and pepper, work to a paste, and add enough olive oil to produce a loose-textured puree. Remove from the food processor, pour into a bowl and fold in Parmesan.

Dust the shallots in seasoned flour, shake off any excess and deep-fry in vegetable oil at 160°C /320°F. When they are a light golden brown, remove from the oil using a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Season with a little salt and keep on a warm plate.

Blanch the garlic in a pan of salted boiling water for about 3 minutes, then peel and transfer to a clean pan. Pour off the water and add the chicken broth and butter. Cook until the garlic is soft and the broth is reduced to syrup that coats the cloves. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

Peel and seed the butternut squash, dice into 1cm cubes and fry in a little olive oil until lightly coloured. Transfer to the oven for 10-12 minutes, until the flesh is tender. Meanwhile, gently sweat the diced onion in the butter until the onion is soft. Add the rice to the onion; raise the heat and cook, stirring, until the rice is shiny and translucent. Lower the heat and begin to add the hot broth, a ladleful at a time, wait for it to be absorbed before adding the next ladleful.

Once the rice is cooked to al dente and of the correct texture, fold in the Parmesan, mozzarella and squash, and cook for 2 minutes more, check and season to taste.

Serve immediately on hot plates, drizzle the pesto around the risotto and top with a small pile of crisp shallots and caramelised garlic cloves. But if you want to speed up the whole process, lose the shallots and garlic, and there's a 30 minute midweek supper with enough leftovers for tomorrow's soup.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Baked pheasant with figs and marsala sauce

Serves 4

Just in the same way that the mushrooms are out in force, the feathered game season has hit us hard and fast, with early offerings of pheasant. Some are saying it's a better grouse season than first expected, which bodes well for the next couple of months. I'm as strong an advocate for this whole seasonal eating malarky as I am a wearer of colourful socks, so its a bit of a passion of mine I guess. As much as I'm loving my current city posting in the States, I do miss getting out there with nature and finding my own dinner, little beats it. Even the youngest of pheasant can have quite a powerful aroma and gamey flavour, and is best paired with a strongly flavoured sauce. Caramelised figs cut through the richness in this dish, but you could also do the same with peeled and quartered apples and pears.

75g butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 oven-ready pheasants
250ml dry white wine
2 garlic cloves, chopped
500ml good quality chicken stock
6 ripe firm purple figs, halved
2 shallots, chopped
1 tsp plain flour
250ml marsala
2 tblsp of flat leaf parsley, freshly chopped
Handful of toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Melt two thirds of the butter in a cast-iron casserole dish or roasting pan. Season the pheasants, then sauté in the butter on all sides until lightly golden. Add the wine, garlic and chicken stock and roast in the oven, cooking the birds for 20 minutes on each side. Remove the birds and keep warm. Strain the cooking liquor, then boil until it has reduced by half.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a frying pan and cook the figs, cut-side down, for 2-3 minutes without turning, until lightly caramelised. Remove the figs, reserving the butter, and set aside.

Add the shallots to the pan and sauté for 8-10 minutes until soft and golden. Sprinkle over the flour, then gradually stir in the marsala. Bring to the boil and reduce by two thirds.

Stir in the remaining cooking liquor and any juices from the pheasants. Cook for about 5 minutes until you have a smooth sauce. Add the figs to the sauce, then simmer gently for 3 minutes. Check for seasoning and stir in the parsley. Carve the pheasant, pour the sauce over and sprinkle with the walnuts. Serve with fried polenta or mashed potato.

For skills, techniques and tips... kitchen how to... 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mushrooms on toast

Serves 4

The mushrooms are out! I picked a couple of handsome puffballs tucked under the safety of a huge yew tree this morning, and I just feel there's a huge season just about to explode. This really is the time of year when nature shows off some of her more wonderous creations.

A terrific Sunday brunch number here, and with the addition of a poached egg, an awesome start to a lazy day. I love this as it is, but if you’re at the right time of the year when wild mushrooms are in season, or your farmers market has some interesting varieties, do not hold back. Otherwise, good firm all year round varieties will hold up well enough.

Remove the bread element and throw the remainder of this recipe through hot pasta and there’s another dish to add to your repertoire too. Take the same ingredients and throw over a couple of cups of hot stock, cook for another 5 minutes then liquidise and you've got soup!

12 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tblsp olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
Few thyme sprigs, leaves only
1 garlic clove (unpeeled)
lightly crushed sea salt and black pepper
1 tsp caster sugar
14 oz sliced mushrooms
Few knobs of butter
Splash of sherry vinegar
Handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
4 thick slices of rustic white bread

Sauté the shallots in a pan over medium heat with the olive oil, thyme, garlic and seasoning for 3-4 minutes until starting to soften. Add the sugar and increase the heat to high. Stir and cook for a few more minutes until the shallots are lightly caramelised.

Add the mushrooms and butter. Fry for a couple of minutes until lightly browned, then splash in the sherry vinegar and add a little more seasoning. Cook for a minute or two until the liquid has evaporated. Toss in the parsley.

Toast the bread and place a slice on each warm plate. Spoon the shallots and mushrooms on top and drizzle with a little more olive oil to serve, if you like shave over some Parmesan too. I'm actually now pretty freezing, so the soup version gets the nod for lunch...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The chilli off

So, last night saw the inaugural residence chilli off, and a variety of the most weird and wonderful showed up with no two the same which was both frightening and impressive in the same mouthful. The whole chilli debate is still raging the day after, beans or no beans, chocolate, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary  and apricots all featured last night, but did they work? One of the most surprising was started barely an hour before we gathered, some went on the stove three days ago!

Here's my number, which humbly, was pretty awesome should I say so myself, the half beef classically prepared with the other half made up of the smoked pork made mine the champion, well in my house anyways! 

Serves 4-6

1 large onion or 2 banana shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Half a head of celery, finely chopped
2 chipotle chillis, deseeded or keep half with seeds if you like it spicy
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked and roughly chopped
Olive oil, for frying
500g good quality minced sirloin of beef
300g pork belly, barbecued/smoked and minced
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
1 beef tomato, roughly chopped
400g chopped tinned tomatoes
2 tblsp tomato puree
100-200ml chicken or beef stock
3 tblsp tomato puree
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
400g kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper
Handful of chives, chopped
200ml soured cream
Boiled rice, to serve

Sweat the onion, garlic, celery, chilli and thyme in 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan. At the same time, brown the mince in a separate pan over moderate heat in a little oil.

Add the dried spices to the onion mixture and cook until they release their aroma. Then stir in the beef and mix well. Add in the pork at this stage. Add the fresh and tinned tomatoes and leave to cook down a little for at least 30 minutes.

Pour in the chicken or beef stock and stir in tomato puree to taste. Drop the cinnamon and bay leaf in then bring to the boil and leave to simmer. Transfer this now to a slow oven, around 150c/300f, covered, for up to 2 hours, checking occasionally. Remove from the oven now that the sauce has thickened, add the kidney beans and leave to cook for another 5-10 minutes to allow the beans to soak up the flavours. Check for seasoning.

Mix the chives and soured cream together. To serve, spoon the chilli into the centre of a mound of rice, with the soured cream and chives in a separate bowl on the side. World champion material if ever I saw. This is the stuff you really want on your chilli dog...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The tomatoes are over, but I'm not over tomatoes

With the potential glut of tomatoes now that the fabulous season we've just been through is coming to a glorious close, here’s something that’ll please almost everybody for a while to come. Early season tomatoes have their best uses in fresh, lightly cooked tomato sauces for pasta or as a bruschetta topping for example. Some shallots, garlic and oregano helps to lift the youthful and maybe fairly underdeveloped flavours a bit.

Mid season brings us plant establishment, heavier sun and mature flavour - there's a period through July and August where during which little more than a pinch of good salt and a twist of pepper is often all that's needed to dress a fully ripe tomato. Now in their final scene, with the branches withering and the fruit seeming a little tougher skinned and drained of colour, this recipe for ketchup to take us into the next season does the trick.

This yields rather a lot, but it will keep for at least a month in a covered container in the fridge.

Proper tomato ketchup

5kg ripe tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp four spice mix
1½ tsp ground ginger
1½ tsp salt
4 tblsp icing sugar
1 tblsp white wine vinegar

Core the tomatoes and reserve the stems. Place the tomatoes in a pressure cooker and add water to a depth of 1cm. Bring the cooker to full pressure for 20 minutes and then allow to cool. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, slowly cook the tomatoes over a medium-low heat for about 45 minutes. Pass the tomatoes and liquid through a sieve, discarding the leftovers.

Add all the other ingredients, except the icing sugar, the vinegar and the stems, to the tomatoes. Place in a pan and simmer slowly over a low heat until it is reduced by half - this will take about 4 hours. Pass the mixture through a sieve again. Add the icing sugar, return to the pan and continue to reduce over a low heat until it reaches a ketchup-like consistency - this will take just over an hour.

Allow to cool, and then add the vinegar. Finally, place the reserved tomato stems into the ketchup mixture for a few hours to infuse it with the fresh vine odour - it’s important to do this after the mixture has cooled, as the vine aroma is destroyed by heat. Discard the stems before serving.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ricotta salata

The Italian ricotta which we've come to know and love is typically made from the whey of either sheep, cow, goat and even buffalo milk. I'm still coming to terms with life in America where it is pretty much only ever made with the whey of cow's milk. The shame being that in my opinion the sheep's variety is the more interesting of the set with a nutty, slightly sweet finish, while the cow's tends to be blander and wetter, and therefore more neutral in cooking.
In the absence of fresh Italian ricotta being readily available here, I've taken a shine to the pressed, salted and dried variety of the cheese known as ricotta salata. A milky white firm cheese best used for grating or shaving, and a fine challenger to a good Pecorino Sardo.
The main reason for this urge to get passionate about all things ricotta came from a heated discussion around the kitchen table at earlier, and I bestowed the virtues of this much overlooked cheese to the point where todays lunch for me was inspired by it, determined by it and had an outstanding starring roll in it. The sharp salty cheese sat happily alongside some super ripe avocado, pastrami and proper wholegrain mustard on fresh warm sourdough and lunchtime for me was totally complete.

I have just enough left for a couple of plates of salad for dinner later tonight, so here's what I'm going to do with it, and the prz team can start bidding now for an invite!

Ricotta, courgette and pea shoot salad

Serves 2

A pretty, fresh salad to celebrate the late summer. Pea shoots are worth hunting down for their delicious leafy-pea flavour. Find them in whole food shops and some greengrocers, growing in punnets. Failing that, use rocket or watercress.

1 yellow courgette
1 green courgette
2 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tblsp freshly grated ricotta salata
Small handful of pea shoots
1 dessertspoon of fresh peas, lightly cooked (or use frozen)
1 strip of lemon zest, cut into fine threads
A few sprigs of fresh mint

For the dressing
6 tblsp Greek yogurt
1 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp honey
6 mint leaves, chopped

Using a potato peeler, cut the courgettes lengthways into ribbons. Season with salt and pepper and toss in the olive oil. Mix the dressing ingredients and season with salt and black pepper.

Mingle the cheese with the courgettes, pea shoots, peas and lemon zest. Drizzle dressing over it and scatter with the mint sprigs. Serve without delay.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Vegetable tartlets with marinated anchovies

All the farmers markets now seem to be laden with pumpkins, apples and not much else really, and as our Summer sadly draws towards closure in the garden and the abundance of vegetables that once was now seems to be just the season stragglers. A few last hurrahs are needed before we finally turn over to our Autumnal harvest. This recipe is a fantastic use of a few late season vegetables if you still have them and easily serves 4 with a bit of hot bread and maybe a few bitter leaves tossed with lemon juice and olive oil on the side. Don't be afraid of swapping out ingredients to make use of what you have either in your garden or lurking at the back of your fridge, and the anchovies might not be for everybody, but they sure make a difference in the end result.

100g flour
100g butter
100g parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg

2 tblsp olive oil
40g white onions, finely chopped
1 white leek, shredded
250g Swiss chard
250g baby spinach leaves
100g small broad beans
1 espelette pepper, finely chopped
2 tblsp fresh cream cheese
30 anchovy fillets
Juice of 1 lemon
Herbs to garnish

Heat the olive oil and gently fry the onions and leek. Add the Swiss chard, spinach, beans and herbs. Once the leaves are tender, strain the mixture and chop finely. Taste for seasoning. Mix with the cream cheese.

Marinate the anchovies in olive oil, the rest of the pepper and the lemon juice while you make the pastry.

Preheat oven to 170c/350f.

Beat together the flour and butter and stir in the Parmesan. Beat the egg in a separate bowl and stir into the flour mixture.

Form into four dough rounds and roll them out until about 3mm thick. Place into greased tart moulds on a baking tray and put in the oven. Cook for 20 mins and then allow to cool.

Fill the tarts with the vegetables, and pass back through the oven for a final 5 minutes then arrange the anchovies on top and decorate with a handful of ripped herbs.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Memories of Chiang Mai

Two of my most favourite people in the world have just spent a couple of days eating and drinking their way around Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. They seemed to find it amusing to keep me up to date with the occasional message or photo here and there to torture me in my obvious absence. Clearly unable to join them I was thrown into the mood for a good Pad Thai last night, and as I'm yet to discover a source of really good Thai food in DC yet (suggestions most welcome) I decided the best bet was to chuck one together at home. It's been more than 12 months since I was last in Thailand, but it has a smell you'll never forget. The fragrances attached to the food there is instantly recognisable and utterly forgettable, and I do recall the best Pad Thai I had was in Chiang Mai. If I had a bottle of Thai whisky I'd have rounded it off with a glass as they did (!) but anyway, this rather lengthy but totally worth it recipe is for Randal and Paula...

Pad Thai

Serves 2

25g tamarind paste
3/4 cup boiling water
2 tblsp fish sauce
2 tblsp palm sugar
1 tblsp rice wine vinegar
100g rice stick noodles
150g marinated tofu, recipe follows
1 to 2 tblsp peanut oil
1 cup chopped spring onions
2 tsp minced garlic
2 whole eggs, beaten
2 tsps salted cabbage
1 tblsp dried shrimp
75g bean sprouts, divided
1/2 cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped, divided
Freshly ground dried red chilli peppers, to taste
1 lime, cut into wedges

Place the tamarind paste in the boiling water and set aside while preparing the other ingredients.

Combine the fish sauce, palm sugar, and rice wine vinegar in a small bowl and set aside.

Place the rice stick noodles in a mixing bowl and cover with hot water. Set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Once the other ingredients are measured out into separate bowls, drain the water from the noodles and set them aside. Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch wide strips.

Add the tamarind paste to the sauce and stir to combine.

Place a wok over high heat. Once hot, add 1 tblsp of the peanut oil. Heat until it shimmers, then add the tofu. Cook the tofu until golden brown, moving constantly, for no longer than 1 minute. Remove the tofu from the pan to a small bowl and set aside.

If necessary, add some more peanut oil to the pan and heat until shimmering. Add 2/3 of the spring onions and then the garlic, cook for 10 to 15 seconds. Add the eggs to the pan; once the eggs begin to set up, about 15 to 20 seconds, stir to scramble. Add the remaining ingredients in the following order and toss after each addition: noodles, sauce, cabbage, shrimp, and 2/3 of the bean sprouts and peanuts. Toss everything until heated through, but no longer than 1 to 2 minutes total. Transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with the remaining spring onions, bean sprouts, and peanuts. Serve immediately with the ground chilli peppers and lime wedges.

Marinated tofu

150g extra firm tofu
1 1/2 cups soy sauce
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder

Wrap the tofu firmly in a tea towel. Place the wrapped tofu into an 8-inch cake pan. Top with another cake pan and weigh down with a 5-pound weight. (Bags of dried beans or grains work well.) Place in refrigerator and press for 12 to 15 hours.

Place pressed tofu in a 2-cup container. Combine soy sauce and five-spice powder and pour over tofu. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, turning once. Remove the tofu from the marinade and use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 2 to 3 days.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Pizza at home

Making your own dough, bringing it to life, feeling it growing in your hands. Picking the tomatoes and the herbs from the garden. Cooking that sauce out to the right consistency slowly and lovingly. Choosing the right cheese at the right time for the right reason. Put all this together with your oven cranked up as high as it'll go and I've fallen back in love with the home made pizza just one more time. Yesterday began with a wee debate over the onion over the shallot. Personally I love both of them, particularly now as when I was an obnoxious child I declared a hatred for the onion, my Gran fixed that by telling me everything I picked out of my food which looked like an onion was actually a leek. Of course I didn't mind leeks so I happily carried on eating while she happily kept feeding me onions. 

There is a time and a place for both, but yesterday the shallot got the edge. I wanted both them and a good quantity of garlic to form the base of my tomato sauce. The toms were sun warmed and perfect to eat as they were, but that extra sweetness only a slowly caramelised shallot can give off was what they needed to make a difference. A bit each of basil, thyme and oregano is all that was added, cooked for easily an hour just plopping away happily.

The tomatoes here are bang at the height of their season, and the varieties I'm pulling out of the garden quite outstanding. So much so that each and every meal this week so far has had to have a tom theme. Even out for dinner the other night I attempted to order a gnocchi dish with slow roasted tomatoes. The gnocchi never showed up and the waiter pretty much argued that I never placed the order in the first place, but that's a whole other story, and kind of confirms how much more satisfying it is when you take care of the cooking yourself. Anyhow, suffice to say, I'd be delighted to have the growing season last as long as possible this year, nowhere near to getting tomato fatigue just yet. 

So, last night was as simple as this. A couple of those toms, roughly cut up, lots of good quality salt flakes and fresh pepper, half a handful of ripped oregano leaves, a good hit of decent olive oil from the Italian place in Arlington and a bit of the pizza dough just smeared with the oil and oregano and slapped in the oven to form a kind of softish flat bread, ripped up and scattered over the salad like you would do croutons. Really so so simple but quite delicious if I do say so myself. 

Then the pizza. Pizza is simply exactly what you want it to be. The base isn't really so difficult, toppings are all about what your mood is. The key really is the heat, and the hotter you have your oven the better chances you have of a true result. 

The one that worked last night was as simple as this. The base - as thin as absolutely possible, even to the point of the dough tearing in a few places, adds to the charm. The sauce - thick and sweet, fresh and still warm from cooking, try not to fridge it, kills off that sunny glow they have when first picked. And the rest - which was a few slices of roasted portobello mushrooms, a few torn basil leaves and a sprinkling of parmesan, perfect.

Quickly, here's an easy pizza dough recipe which will take a maximum of 10 minutes out of your life, don't ever buy a pre cooked base ever again, you have been warned.

Pizza base
Makes enough for 4

500g strong bread flour
2 tsp dried yeast
2 tsp sugar
300 ml lukewarm water
1/2 tsp salt
4 tblsp olive oil

Mix the yeast, sugar and 50ml of the water in a jug, leave for 10 minutes to begin frothing up. Meanwhile, blend together the flour, salt, olive oil and remaining water, forming a dough by gradually drawing the flour into the liquid. Add the yeast water and continue to knead until you have a smooth, springy dough.

Place the ball of dough in a large clean bowl, cover with a damp cloth and place somewhere warm for about an hour until the dough has doubled 

Take the dough on a flour dusted surface and knead it again to push the air out. Ideally now is the time to use it, but will keep happily for a while wrapped tightly in cling film.