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August 18, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 8:11 am

Seriously, it makes such a difference. Last night I blagged a lift off my parents so I could get heavy stuff from the supermarkets that I couldn't carry myself. I needed things like big bottles of soft drinks and bog roll as well as the rest of my shopping. I had a few ideas of what I wanted for dinner. Pretty good ideas in my opinion. It was a choice between  

  1. Calves liver with port and sage served with tagliatelle.
  2. A non-cheat version of this
  3. Chicken livers with a walnut and raspberry vinegar dressing, new potatoes and a nice salad

Dad didn't want to go to the big 24hr Tesco. That's fair enough. It's a horrendous place to drive to even if you do know the way. So we tried the relatively small Sainsbury's in Fulham.

What a mistake! There was nothing there! They were out of pretty much everything except chicken breast and various types of beef steak. There wasn't even any smoked haddock. I left with fillet steak and lambs liver, the only two things worth getting. I really wished we'd gone to the 24hr Tesco. This happens every time we go to smaller stores.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm definitely not knocking Sainsburys. Just pointing out the superiority of really big stores. The 24hr Sainsbury in Kensington is great for speciality items and the nearby Tesco is a bargain hunter's dream. Even if they run out of a couple of items, there's always lots of things to substitute and often suprising things to try out, like the oxtail I found the other week.

So I was stuck with lamb liver and not much else. I tried lambs liver with tomatoes and pasta recipe out again using the absorption pasta technique.

 Lamb Liver with Tomato Pasta

I know I said I probably wouldn't use the absorption method on a regular basis but I've changed my mind. The pasta, this time cooked in tomato juices and red wine, was amazing! It tasted so strongly of tomato, wine and garlic. The velvety texture of the absorption pasta is also growing on me.

There's one less pan to wash up too! :)

One thing I've noticed since getting into food blogging is how much you learn from cooking everyday! Last night's liver was pretty bad. The pasta was lovely but the liver was really  bitter. Some foodies inform me that this is because liversometimes gets contaminated by bile. So, if you see your liver looking slightly yellow, green or irridescent, trim that bit off because it'll be bitter. Apparently also soaking it in seasoned milk helps.

Unfortunately my lamb liver tasted like all of it had a good soak in bile. Never mind. We live and learn. 

August 17, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 8:10 am

I am a bit of a cabbage fan. I realise that I'm in the minority here but I really like it cooked  al dente and mixed with chopped bacon and a touch of single cream. Every couple of months I'll feel like making this and I'll pop to the shops and get myself a nice savoy. The problem is, this dish is nice on occasion, say once every couple of months. But a cabbage isn't just for one meal, a cabbage is for life. Or at least it feels like it is.

I once managed to eat a special offer white cabbage six days consecutively and it still wasn't finished. Forget fish. If Jesus wanted to feed the five thousand, he should have got a few cabbages.

The blackleaf kale, a strange variant of cabbage I bought from Borough, is the same. When I got it I thought, “that will make four portions and if I cook for someone else it will be gone in no time”!  Now I've eaten it in five meals, two shared,  and I'm about half way through it! I could swear that it grows extra leaves when I'm not looking. I'd hate to waste it but I'm  getting so sick of the sight of it, I'm considering binning it! Two weeks ago, when I tried it, I really,really liked it but now I can't  take any more!

So my latest attempt at getting rid of the kale was this.

guinea fowl, roasies, kale

That's roasted honey and lemon guinea fowl with garlic roast potatoes and roast elephant garlic. The guinea fowl was lovely (as guinea fowl usually is) and the honey and lemon flavours were great. I really liked the big roast garlic cloves too.

The flavour of the kale was really too strong for the rest of the meal but the blasted vegetable is taking up most of my fridge.

Grrr! Cabbage!

August 16, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 8:09 am

Last Saturday I was given some fresh vine leaves to use. I felt very lucky. I don't know if you can buy fresh leaves anywhere and I'm not too keen on the tinned ones. I wanted to use them to do something interesting but I'd only ever seen them used in dolmades.

So after scouring the internet and some cookery books I came across another use for these leaves: baking fish.

Apparently there are recipes for this kind of thing dating back to the Roman occupation. A whole fish is wrapped in vine leaves and then baked. I assume the vine leaves are supposed to keep the fish moist! I had a red snapper in the fridge that seemed perfect to try this out on.

snapper wrapped in vine leaves, uncooked

I think snappers look quite cute. Especially when they are wrapped up cosily in a vine leaf blanket. You wouldn't think they were carnivorous fish, would you?

snapper teeth

Then again, those are some sharp looking teeth!

To prepare my snapper, I cut three slits in the skin on each side and stuffed in some lemon zest and mint. I then rubbed the fish inside and out with a mixture of lemon juice, crushed garlic and chopped mint. A few lemon slices and a piece of bruised lemongrass went into the cavity too. The vine leaves were blanched in boiling water for a few seconds to soften them up and then used to wrap up the snapper. I left it to sit and absorb the flavours for 20 minutes before baking it at 200C for about 20 minutes. It came out like this.

Cooked snapper in a blanket

The lemon flavour had really permeated the fish. The garlic and mint were more subtle but still noticeable. The vine leaves had certainly done their job in keeping the fish moist. Snapper has a lovely creamy texture. Like a lot of white fish, it doesn't have huge amounts of flavour but it was good after being marinated.

The downside to snapper, as with any whole fish, is the bones. The backbone was quite easy to remove but there were all kinds of little bits and pieces that were harder to get rid of. Once they were gone, the fish was delicious!

The vine leaves dried out more than they should have done. I think this was because of the way our electric oven is designed. It's not like a proper oven but a grill with multiple levels. If anyone tries/has tried this in a proper oven, let me know. I'd like to hear how it turned out! Details for the snapper in vine leaves are here.

Mr Snapper was served with some baby new potatoes and stir fried crunchy fennel. When the leaves came off, you could see the lovely red skin, which makes it look so appetizing.

snapper, cooked and unwrapped

I'd like to try making snapper again, perhaps baking it in a salt dough crust like this, but at £6 per fish, it is going to be a long time before I get one again! It's nice but not THAT nice!

August 13, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 8:06 am

I admit I avoid dining at this reknowned Portugeuse chain. One reason is that I'm not actively a fan of chicken. I don't dislike it and I'll buy it from time to time but I find it bland. The second reason is the unpleasant memory of a nasty greasy meal at a Surrey branch of the restaurant. Honestly, the food just wasn't nice.

That meal happened five years ago and since then various people have tried to persuade me back in. It seems that Nando's has a remarkably strong fan base. So, yesterday evening, after a trip to the cinema, I was finally lured in by James. Damn those Fulham chavs for packing out all the bars!

It is very odd reading through a menu which basically serves peri-peri chicken. Really, apart from the veggie burgers that's about it. Look here if you don't believe me. We were really only there for a snack and some drinks so we ordered some chicken wings, a plate of chicken livers and a jug of sangria. The sangria was actually quite good but the pitcher size was very small. We'd just about finished it when the food arrived. This is what we were presented with.

Nando's Chicken LiversThe chicken livers came complete with some crusty bread and a random cocktail stick. The livers were well cooked but the sauce was nasty in an acrid, acidic sort o a way. It was very hot for a medium sauce. There wasn't much chance of tasting anything else.





Nando's wingsAnd then there were the chicken wings. Yes, they tasted about as good as they looked. The marinade wasn't great and again had a bit of a heat overload. Well, the hotter it is, the less you can taste, which suited me just fine.

James was continuing to defend the restaurant, saying the roast chickens were very good. Well, if they do specialise in just roasting marinated chickens and coating them in peri-peri sauce, you'd hope they'd have got it right by now. Unfortunately if the marinade and the sauce don't taste great, you're a bit stuck.


No, sorry, but I still can't see any appeal. I suppose it could have made a reasonable fast food joint, except the food isn't at all fast to arrive. The other thing that irritated me was the inherent chirpiness of the place. The cheesy music, the bad puns (yes, I stole one for the title of this post) and the over the top decor really got on my nerves. And when i say bad puns I mean BAD. “Nandon't use too many napkins, think of the Portu-trees.” COME ON!!

James redeemed himself by bringing me some presents from his Nan's garden. I now have some nice, home-grown fresh rosemary, apples and vine leaves! :)   I got some elephant garlic from Borough too. That's the weird fairly phallic shaped thing on the right.

Fresh things

I'd planned on making a chicken curry for dinner but, after Nando's, I felt like I didn't want to see chicken or chilli in quite a while. I only had a limited amount of stuff at home so that evening I was stuck with farfalle bolognese. Well, I say stuck, but I quite like my bolognese really.

Farfalle Bolognese

August 12, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 8:05 am

I like trying new things, so yesterday, I tried two!

The bargain bin had failed me for the first time. There was nothing in there except a few Melton Mowbray pork pies and a huge bag of smoked haddock. Rubbish. It's always bloody smoked haddock. I probably could live off kedgeree for a pound a week if I wanted to.  That is, until the boredom drove me insane.

Instead, I headed for the offal section. The only things in there I hadn't already tried were calves liver and pigs liver I'd heard enough people rant and rave about how great calves liver was, so I thought I'd better see what all the fuss was about.

A funny thing about liver is the way it is priced. A good portion of lamb liver will set you back about 50p. Calves liver on the other hand costs a small fortune. At £17 per kilo it's approaching fillet steak territory!

To accompany my liver, I thought I would make a creamy marsala sauce. I was also craving pasta and I started thinking about this technique, which I'd been meaning to try for ages. I decided to try the absorption method on some penne.

I got home and preheated the hob (one of the many retarded things you're forced to do when you have an electric cooker) in preparation for the pasta. The idea, as far as I gathered, is to coat the pasta in olive oil and slowly cook it in just a little bit of liquid. It's quite like a risotto really. I made a mixture of 50% cream and 50% chicken stock. Then I realised I'd left the penne in the pan on the preheating hob. Genius.

After discarding the five or six burned penne (I got off lightly there I think) I added just enough of the cream and stock mixture to the pan so the pasta was just covered. I added a dash of marsala and some crushed garlic too.

Absorption Pasta Cooking

The pasta went on a gentle simmer. A bit of pancetta was added later along with a handful of parsley.  The pasta took a fair bit of time to cook and I had to add more of the cream and stock mixture. At the end I was left with just enough sauce to serve the pasta with.

Absorption Pasta

So it looked just like normal pasta. The difference lies mainly in the texture. It was softer than cooked dry pasta but not in a soggy overcooked way. It reminded me of some fresh pastas. There was an unusual richness to the flavour too. I suppose that must be because the pasta took on the flavour of the sauce.

This stuff was nice but I have a fondness for the texture of plain old boiled pasta. I'll make absorption pasta on occasion in the future, but the old fashioned method will be used in the bulk of my pasta-based meals.

As for the liver, that was flash fried in butter and thyme with a glug of marsala. I then removed the liver from the pan, reduced the pan juices and added some cream. Yes, this was a very rich meal.

Calves liver, pasta and kale

I can now see why calves liver is so expensive. It is delicious, has a lovely texture and, most importantly, doesn't taste much like offal. Compared to lambs liver it has a very mild flavour so even people who hate offal could stomach it. Of course, I cooked it rare. I tried to get a picture to show you but this happened.

Glowing Liver

Hang on, is that liver or Uranium? Great, I just ate radioactive meat. This is a stupid camera. I'll think I'll just stick to this picture.

Calves Liver, thyme

August 11, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 8:04 am

I'm very lucky to live in Fulham. True, it's bit of a chav-ridden hole and I have to keep one hand on my wallet when I'm walking through town but, on the plus side, I'm only 10minutes away from a tapas bar with good Sangria and have the convenience of two huge 24hr supermarkets on my way home from work. This means I have no problem at all in picking up stuff for my last minute cooking and can happily succumb to my bargain hunting addiction on a nightly basis. I always assumed that everywhere in London was the same, at least within Zone 2. Last night I found out that things are not always so convenient. 

Due to a pub trip which ended a little later than expected, I had to take an alternative route home up the King's Road. At home I had my half price veal escalopes, waiting to be turned into a scrumptious saltimbocca. Unfortunately that was the only ingredient I had, so I really needed to do some shopping.

It turns out that the King's Road is great if you want to shop for overpriced designer clothes. For everything else it is totally and utterly useless. It looks like Sloanies don't need food. Maybe they eat tweed.

It appears that saltimbocca is a very hard dish to recreate when you've only got access to a small petrol station Tesco Express store. The dish is supposed to be made with veal, fresh sage and proscuitto which are rolled up and secured with skewers before being sauteed in butter and olive oil. I only managed to get hold of dry sage and parma ham. My second problem was a bit of a suprise. All my cocktail sticks had vanished. I guess someone in my flat must have suddenly got a craving for cheese and pineapple hedgehog.

So my saltimbocca was made by brushing ground dried sage onto the veal, sealing it, wrapping it in parma ham and baking it. It wasn't too bad actually. The pan juices made a nice sauce when combined with some butter and cream. I made a red wine and mushroom risotto too, just because I'd never made red wine risotto before.


Saltimbocca, closeup


So that was a rather ‘ecclectic' meal. Now, on a related topic, I've finally found someone who talks some sense about veal and other meat products. Strangely enough, she's writing for the Daily Mail. Here's the article! Please note that British Veal is no longer reared in crates and fed a inadequate diet. You can tell if veal has been reared well if it is more pink than average.

August 10, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 8:04 am

Just a mussel 

At this time of year, things get pretty dull here in mathsland. I have no students because no one wants to learn stuff over the summer.  My musical theatre friends are in a small town in Devon performing to geriatrics, James spends all his time working or sleeping , Andy is somewhere up a mountain and everyone else has returned to wherever they lived before university. To top it all, the one person I see on a day to day basis is a socially retarded dimwit who hasn't said anything to anyone for literally weeks.

Yeah, yeah I know. What did expect when I started a maths PhD? Wild parties with the number theorists?  

When life is like this, you really want something fun to do in the evenings, even if you are spending them alone. This is why I got so enthralled by cooking. It's a great creative outlet and, at the end of it all, you get to appreciate the fruits of your labour.  It's a lot easier than that singing and dancing stuff I do during term time too!

For this reason my cooking has the tendency to become quite quirky and elaborate. I'll embark on a three hour cooking marathon over a couple of gins and/or glasses of cava and end up with something ridiculous like this crazy concoction. But yesterday I had a bit of a change. I did something simple.

Unsuprisingly it wasn't my idea at all. The credit goes to a few people on the BBC food boards, most notably Riocaz and Alison. I had the mussels from the other night, grilled with a bit of garlic butter and served with linguine tossed in chilli oil and crushed smoked garlic with a squeeze of lemon. The only additions were a few sliced sundried tomatoes and parsley. It turned out absolutely gorgeous. Here are full details of what I did.

Oh, and a ready made Moroccan side salad from Tesco which I got for 15p. I just can't stay away from that bargain bin.

Mussels and Linguine

It really was suprisingly good and it took about 20 minutes to make. I think I'm developing a bit of an addiction to linguine. Ah well, at least its a step up from my addiction to KFC!   

August 9, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 7:59 am

Perhaps the novelty value of buying expensive “alternative” meats from Borough will wear off one day. Until then, my quest to cook the perfect kangaroo/ostrich/kudu steak will continue. Last night's kangaroo steak was served with a port and blueberry sauce, baby new potatoes with garlic and black leaf kale.

Kangaroo with blueberry sauce

Kangaroo is a strange meat. It's a real challenge to cook because the meat is so incredibly lean! It's a dieter's dream but, rather like really lean rump steak, with too much cooking it becomes tough as old boots. The one above was cooked for two and a half minutes on each side on a hot griddle pan and then rested, wrapped in kitchen foil for another five. As you can see, the centre was perfect. Well, perfect if you are a fan of rare meat. If you aren't a fan of rare meat, go read someone else's blog. ;)

As I was munching my way through my steak, I noticed something that bothered me. I was having to munch a little too much. Surely this couldn't be right. If I'd cooked the thing any less it might have got up and  hopped away. Closer inspection revealed that, even though the very middle of the steak was tender and juicy,  the outside corners had formed into a millimetre thick “crust”. This wasn't too much of a problem -the steak was still delicious. The meat had just gone fibrous at its edges but it was enough to irritate me after I had cooked it so carefully.

The solution probably lies in roasting it. This is what I'll try next time. I suppose cooking it on a slightly cooler pan might help too. Experimentation is needed. I'll just have to go and buy some more next week. :grin:

I'm very proud of the blueberry sauce. It was really easy to make but still delicious. Simply simmer blueberries in a little water then add a healthy dose of port. After fifteen minutes beat up the blueberries to release more of their flavour and then simmer off the liquid until all the flavours are concentrated and the sauce is thick. Easy.  Full recipe is here.

It's a real shame that kangaroo isn't available in shops now. It used to be sold by Sainsbury but a certain group of animal rights activists put a stop to that. It's sad considering that the animals are culled for pest control anyway so all the meat is just going to waste. :(

If you want to buy kangaroo meat in London the best place I've found is the Gamston Wood stall at Borough Market. Otherwise you can get it on mail order from  Osgrow or Alternative Meats.

August 8, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 8:00 am

Last night, after leaving the office, I started on the trip which has become a part of my daily routine. I head over to the nearest 24 hour Tesco to pick up things for dinner and spend a disproportionate time hanging around the bargain bin. Usually, I pick up things I don't need and they get stuffed into the already bulging freezer compartment I have in my little student flat.  In the last week I've picked up oxtail, a load of lunch tongue, 20p runner beans, some veal and yesterday added a kilo of live mussels to the pile. Well, they only cost £1.70! 

As I staggered home, I couldn't help worrying how I had started to resemble my Dad.  He too had the bargain bin habit and made a point of visiting every large supermarket in our area twice a week. The amount of bargain food we threw away was ludicrous. The shopping trips were made even longer by his obsessive need to inspect every item on the shelf to check it wasn't in any way damaged, dented or discoloured. Is it only a matter of time before this happens to me? 

Coincidentally, Dad popped by the flat that evening to drop off some stuff from home and harass me about various insurance related things. As we talked, I brought out that day's purchase from the fridge and said, “Look Dad! Only £1.70 for a kilo!” Dad had recently started eating seafood again after years of vegetarianism, so I thought he might be interested. He seemed confused.

“Live mussels? What does live mean?” This the type of question only my dad would ask. Maybe he thought they were plugged into the mains.

“Uhh… live as in alive. It means they aren't dead,” I replied. At this point a look of sheer horror came over Dad's face.

“You're going to eat them alive?! You can't do that! ”

“No, I'm not eating them alive.” Dad looked more calm. “I'm going to cook them. They'd probably make me ill if I ate them alive.” This sent him through the roof.

“No, no no, you can't do that! Please don't do that! You might… HURT them!!”

Dad hasn't ever responded well to explanations about biology. After learning about evolution at school I tried to explain the theory to him. He ended up thinking that if you cut the tail off a mouse, the mouse would have tail-less babies from then on. Explaining the concept of a bivalved animal without much in the way of a brain made even less sense to him. I remember he once asked me if squid talked to each other. :roll:

After ten minutes of bargaining for the lives of the mussels, I was allowed to make my dinner on the condition I made their deaths as pleasant as possible. Dad swore back on vegetarianism. Just before he left I pulled some calamari, which I'd been making as a pre-dinner snack, out of the oven. Dad asked, “Is that squid?”

“Yes,” I replied. “I'm to hungry to wait for dinner without a snack.”

“Did you cook it?” I'm always at a loss to answer these questions. What did he think I'd done to them by putting them into the oven?

“Yes. That is why they're golden brown, hot and on a baking tray.”

“Can I try just a little bit?” That takes the biscuit. Dad's latest attempt at vegetarianism lasted under five minutes.

“Ok, if you want.” 

 â€Well, it's dead already so I guess it can't hurt now.”

Interesting moral standpoint. You can't kill animals to eat them but if someone else kills them on your behalf then it's fine. Go figure. Anyhow, I decided that I'm probably not really going to end up much like my Dad. Despite years of being subjected to the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland I haven't grown up with the idea that mussels and oysters have cute little faces and talk to each other. I wonder how Dad got like that growing up in rural Sri Lanka.  

Anyway, my friends the mussels were steamed in a Thai style broth of coconut, lemongrass, lime, chilli and coriander and served with ginger rice. They were really good. Having them fresh makes a big difference. Half  a kilo got eaten and the rest are sitting cooked in my fridge. :D

Thai mussles, ginger rice


August 7, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 4:17 pm

You know a pub is special when it has quails' eggs on the bar snacks list, even if they have sold out. The Duke on the Green (at Parson's Green) boasts this and a range of other delights, the most exciting of which was this burger.  

Veal and Foie Gras Burger

With its artistically layered chips and bun placed at a jaunty angle, you might mistake this for your average gourmet burger. But you would be wrong. This is a very special burger. This is possibly the most politically incorrect burger in Britain and that is why I love it so much. The patty is made from veal mince and the grey slab on top is foie gras.

Unfortunately the burger wasn't mine. It belonged to James but I got to have a little taste. I thought the veal could have done with more seasoning but the foie gras was amazing. In my opinion there are very few things that taste better than lightly cooked foie gras and this particular slice was perfect.

My own dish of hot and sour tiger prawns was really good but it was still shamed by the plate opposite me. I will have to go back. Soon. 

Now, after that weekend of food indulgence, I feel a bit strange just going back to blogging dinner. This was Sunday night's offering. It's picante chorizo (from Brindisa) cooked with peppadew peppers and sweet onion in a  tomato and red wine sauce . I served it with sauteed baby new potatoes, melted taleggio and a rocket and watercress salad.

Chorizo in red wine with baby potatoes and salad

I think more people should cook with peppadew peppers. They have a great flavour and went very well with the spicy chorizo. I also threw in some paprika and a clove of smoky garlic that I'd bought at Borough Market. The dish tasted fantastic, even if I do say so myself. :D A lot of this was down to the superb chorizo from Brindisa which I thoroughly recommend. The red wine might have helped a bit too. ;) The recipe is probably lost due to the hard drivecrash but I’m trying!

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