June 30, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 7:40 pm

Remember the large lamb leg that Goon had fun butchering? Goon had to move out of his flat this weekend and the remaining four portions of lamb leg, which had been sitting in the freezer, had to be used up.

I decided to act on Schmoof’s recommendation and turn two portions of the meat into some harissa marinated lamb kebabs. That left the final batch of lamb to be used on the night before we left. The weather recently has been more reminiscent of late autumn than midsummer and, as always, my appetite was determined by this. I wanted a stew, but something a little more exciting than a straightforward red wine, carrot and celery combination.

Flicking through random internet pages, I came across one idea which looked particularly interesting: a lamb stew with lemon and dill. I have to admit, this is not a combination I would have thought of myself but I was intrigued and, since there was just enough time to enter this month’s ‘In the Bag’ event, I thought I could somehow incorporate the other ingredients for the event into the meal. Broad beans would work well with the lemon and dill in the stew and some Jersey Royal potatoes crushed with olive oil and herbs would be lovely mixed up with the juices.

The stew would have been easy to make too, had it not been for the intervention of Goon’s wonderful flatmates. This time they had managed to cause trouble without even being there. As I started to prepare my ingredients I noticed there was something different about the kitchen. 

ME: Goon! Where has all the kitchen equipment gone?
ME: We used to have two cheese graters. Where are they?
GOON: (Thoughtful Silence)
ME: And the chopping boards… and the garlic crusher….and half the pans… 
GOON: Uh-oh. 
ME: (suspiciously) What?
GOON: The girlies moved out today.
ME: What? They took all the useful kitchen equipment with them?
GOON: Must have done.
Goon: Yes, and most of the rest of it came with the flat.

I can’t repeat what I said next as I’d like to keep this site family friendly. I’ll let you use your imagination. 

So it seems that one or both of the girlies have taken their money saving endevours further than I expected and claimed half the kitchen equipment as their own leaving us and the other boy in the flat without half the stuff we needed. I have to say, I’m rather glad I’ll never have to deal with either of them again, although I will miss torturing the blonde one with my offal based dinners.

Fortunately, Goon’s ability to perform mindless boring tasks for long periods of time meant that we could produce finely chopped lemon zest, which could almost pass for the grated zest I wanted for this meal. Chopping vegetables on a dinner plate was a real nuisance though. Despite the setbacks, we eventually produced a decent stew.

To start with I finely diced an onion and minced two cloves of garlic. I then let them soften on a low heat in a little olive oil with half a bunch of finely chopped dill. When the onion had softened, I  browned my chunks of lamb leg steak, added them to the pan covered them with lamb stock and a glug of white wine. I brought the mixture to a gentle simmer, threw in half a tablespoon of the finely chopped lemon zest and let it stew gently for two hours. After this time the lamb was tender, so I added two handfuls of young broad beans and turned the heat up to a steady simmer. After about 10 minutes, the beans were cooked and the stew was a good consistency so I tasted, added more chopped dill, lemon zest and black pepper and, just before serving, squeezed in the juice of half a lemon.

Lamb stew with lemon, dill and broadbeans 

Although it isn’t the most photogenic thing, this meal was very good. I wish I had come across the idea before. The light fresh  flavours of the lemon and dill were a good balance for the richness of the lamb. The crushed jersey royals were a great accompaniment. I loved mixing the gravy in with the potatoes, they were delicious together. However, I think the stew would be even better with some more mature meat. Not mutton necessarily, but autumn lamb or perhaps hogget. The stew was good, but a little extra richness in the meat would make it perfect.

So here is my slightly late entry to ‘In the Bag,’ a fairly new event run by Scott at Real Epicurean, Julia at A Slice of Cherry Pie and Cherry at Cherry’s English Kitchen. This time Cherry is hosting - I hope she doesn’t mind that this is a day late!  The idea is that the host gives you three seasonal items that you need to incorporate in the meal. The items for June were lamb, broad beans and new season potatoes. Take a look at Cherry’s blog in a few days when the round up is posted and you’ll no doubt find lots of great recipes using these three ingredients.

June 27, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 3:08 pm

One of the things I love most about tuna is it’s versatility.  

I wouldn’t normally have tuna twice in one week but I had to make an exception. For the whole of last week, Goon was asking for tuna steaks for dinner. I kept ignoring him because the weather was unseasonably cold and, as a result, I was craving heavier more comforting food. Then, as soon as Goon went away for the weekend, the sun came out, it got very warm and tuna steaks seemed like an excellent idea.

Browsing around Sainsbury’s, I came across a vegetable I hadn’t tried before. It was a chinese cabbage called choi sum. I’m sick to death of being stuck with pak choi whenever I’m making chinese, so I was very keen to try this new leaf. I decided to make an udon noodle soup with the choi sum, some oriental mushrooms (which I managed to get for free since the tills weren’t working properly \o/) and top it with a seared tuna steak.

This is a dish which I would have blogged before but, for some reason, it is always very difficult to photograph. This has been my best effort so far.

tuna, udon noodle soup

This dish always involves a lot of improvisation. I boil vegetable (or chicken) stock with chopped coriander, spring onion and red chilli, minced garlic and ginger, lemongrass, lime leaves and thai fish sauce in varying amounts depending on my mood. On this occasion I wanted something quite fiery, so a lot of chilli and ginger went in.

The tuna is just marinated in chilli, garlic and ginger and griddled until rare. To assemble the dish, pop the cooked vegetables and noodles in the bowl, pour over the soup and sit the tuna steak on top.  It’s best to wait until the soup is at room temperature. Otherwise it’ll cook your tuna steak more than you intended. 

When Goon found out about my dinner he wasn’t very happy. He sulked. A lot. To appease him i agreed to make tuna again when he came back at the end of the weekend, but I really didn’t fancy exactly the same thing again.

Fortunately, the versatility of tuna meant there were lots of other things I could make. This time I thought I’d do something completely different to my last tuna meal. Instead of a hot and spicy oriental dish, I went for more gentle flavours of saffron, lemon, herbs and garlic.

tuna with garlic and parsley marinade, tapenade and saffron couscous

The marinade this time was a mixture of finely chopped basil and parsley with crushed garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice. The  black thing is a tapenade, made from black olives blitzed with soaked capers, more garlic (this is not a first date meal) and chilli infused olive oil. I like my tapenade quite chunky, so I kept the blitzing brief.

That was enough to keep Goon happy. I was suprised by the fact I preferred the second meal to the first. Usually I’m a real sucker for tuna in an oriental style, but the lemon and herb marinade beat the ginger and coriander hands down.  It had also been a long time since I’d had my own home made tapenade, so having that again made the meal even better.

Now, if only I could afford sushi grade fish, I could make some more exciting things with tuna.

June 19, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 7:52 pm

Exam season has ended and thesis draft 3 is currently being decimated by my supervisor so, for a rather lovely change this weekend, I had a day off! I think the last time this happened must have been August 2006 (yes, I even taught over Christmas and Easter). Unfortunately, my first days off clashed with one of Goon’s working weekends. This time he was attending Yahoo’s first European Hack Day.

No, I don’t see the appeal either. The good news was that I got a chance to visit my parents properly for a change and spend some time poking around our family home. I’m quite wary of doing this since our house tends to be a bit of a breeding ground for spiders. I’ve never understood the affinity they had for the dark spot under the stairs.

I did find some interesting things. A book of my old poetry for a start, a load of old music  I used to play and some stolen recipe books too. As you might expect, I also raided the cupboards. My parents frequently shop at Sri-Lankan grocery stores so there’s a rather interesting selection of tinned fruit and vegetables. This time, I took some jackfruit because Goon hadn’t tried it before. I also got my hands on what is possibly the best thing about Sri-Lankan cuisine.

 String hoppers

These are string hoppers. A Sri-Lankan staple made from  rice flour dough. The dough is made from just rice flour, water and seasonings  but apparently you need to sift the flour several times and get the mixture just right or the hoppers fall apart or turn sticky.

Once you have your dough, a special hand press with tiny holes is used to press the dough into fine noodles. The raw noodles are allowed to fall onto a holder so they form little round, thin ‘cakes.’  These are then steamed until they are cooked and then eaten with  curries and coconut sambal. As with most carbs, they don’t have a very strong flavour of their own, but they have a marvellous texture. Not chewy, but soft and slightly springy. 

I have been forbidden from trying to make these myself. Apparently it is far too difficult and my parents have hidden the equipment from me :( . These hoppers were bought from a caterer’s shop and are particularly good. I took home enough to feed me and Goon with plenty left over.

When I got back to my flat I made some curries to accompany our hoppers. Firstly, a beef curry with coconut milk and Sri Lankan spicing. It’s not at all traditional to use beef since Sri Lankan Buddhists have some Hindu influences on their culture. Mutton and chicken are usually used, but I quite like curried braising steak.  I also whipped up some dahl with garlic, mild spices and black pepper. We had the jackfruit too, which was flavoured with tamarind.

a lot of sri lankan curry

I dived in, eating in the Sri Lankan way with just my hands. Well, just one hand actually. Like in many other cultures, using your left hand is a no-no. I find eating this way lots of fun. You use the hoppers to grab bits of meat and scoop up the vegetables. Goon looked a little intimidated by this method of eating. Then he went and got himself a knife and fork. I don’t think I’ve ever seen hoppers being neatly cut up before. It was a rather strange and funny sight for me. It’s a bit like watching someone eating fish-fingers with chopsticks!

Then again, a fork is useful for getting the curry soaked hopper pieces from the bottom of the plate.

hopper soaked in curry juice

I love this bit of the meal. :D

Goon really liked the hoppers and was intrigued by the jack fruit. I’d say it is an acquired taste, but I like it, especially in a sour-tangy curry sauce.

So, if you happen to live near a Sri-Lankan store, see if they make and sell string hoppers because I don’t think they’re found in any other cuisine and you’re missing out if you haven’t tried them. They’re definitely my favourite bit of Sri Lankan cuisine.

June 16, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 3:31 pm

As I mentioned in my last post, Goon had a couple of friends staying last weekend. I was supposed to be cooking for them, so we’d bought a huge leg of lamb to roast. After all, everyone loves a roast, right?

Wrong. It seems that someone didn’t like potatoes and someone else didn’t like peas, or vegetables in general. Anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time will know about my tolerance of fussy eaters. I really can’t be bothered trying, especially if potatoes and green veg are off the list. So I gave up trying completely  and that’s how we all got stuck with take-away.

That left me and Goon with the problem of what to do with the huge leg after his friends had left. It would feed six at the very least, probably more, so there was no point in us roasting it whole. Goon suggested chopping it into lamb leg steaks, which I thought would have been a great idea if we had a meat cleaver. As it is, we have nothing that could handle the large bone in a lamb leg, but Goon thought he’d improvise anyway.

Goon cut some meat away from the bone He then just hacked chunks off until we had two decent sized steaks, which I marinated in a home made olive, garlic and basil pesto.

lamb leg steaks marinating in olive and basil paste

The problem was that Goon didn’t know what to do with the rest of the meat, so he just, sort of, hacked at it.

a big messy pile of flesh

Hmm… well, I have to say it’s actually better than the butchery at a certain place we buy from in Shepherds Bush. At least Goon had managed to keep the bone intact rather than getting shards of it in the meat.

Goon got bored at theis point, wrapped up the meat in cling film (exactly as it is in the picture) and then bunged it in the fridge. It got an interesting (high pitched and whiny) reaction when the blonde flatmate came home and found it. :D

The pesto for the lamb steaks was a very simple one. I just used olive oil, chopped black olives, chopped garlic and a big bunch of torn basil and popped them in a blender, then tasted and adjusted the ingredient balance until I was happy, This got smeared all over the scored lamb leg steaks.

The next day we hunted around for things to serve with our pesto crusted steaks. We found Jersey Royal potatoes on special offer, and since everyone raves about how fantastic they are, we snatched them up just to see what all the fuss was about. I also spotted some broad beans, which have apparently just come into season, and picked up some feta so I could make a salad with them.

olive and basil crusted lamb leg steak with broad bean, feta and mint salad and jersey royals

I was pleased with the lamb. The meat took up the marinade flavour very well. I just wish I had some fresh oregano to add to it! The salad worked particularly well. It so happened that I had some peas in the freeezer and half a courgette in the fridge that I could throw into the mix. I also had some rather tired looking mint but just enough was still usable for me to make an mint-infused olive oil dressing.

I see what people mean about the Jersey Royal potatoes. They have a really good texture and a slightly more earthy flavour than other new potatoes.  I still think I prefer Anya potatoes though.

This meal was the first time I’d had broad-beans since I was a kid. It reminded me of going strawberry and broad-bean picking in the school summer holidays. It seems that broad-beans are one of those things I like much more as an adult. Especially with some mint and crumbled feta. :)

The rest of our lamb has now been cut into bite sized pieces and is sitting in the freezer. I need to think up ways to use it fast since Goon is moving in a week!

June 12, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 5:21 pm

It’s been a bad week. A week that involved three take-aways. I am hanging my head in shame. :(

It wasn’t all my fault. Goon had coursework due in on Thursday and stayed up all night on Wednesday  to finish it. Running two companies and  having a day job while doing a degree isn’t easy. On the same day, I had to do a lot of teaching then I had to (quickly write) and present a seminar for some other PhD students. It’s not easy working one job and doing a PhD either. So both of us were totally knackered out by the evening. We just had to resort to chinese take-away. Goon fell asleep so quickly that the chinese ended up being his breakfast.

Over the next two nights, Goon had some geeks friends visiting. I was going to cook until I heard the list of non-acceptable foods. This included peas :roll: , potatoes :shock:  and pasta :cry: , so I threw my hands up in the air and gave up. 

It’s interesting how, even if it doesn’t hit your waistline immediately, a spell on a diet like that can really make you feel rubbish. On Sunday, i was feeling totally lethargic and I put this down to the bad eating.  To compensate, I thought I’d so something tasty  but I needed to use the duck legs that were sitting in the fridge.  I came up with this.

duck, pearl barley and spinach with a vegetable and lentil sauce.

Here we have two duck legs (they were on offer at Sainsburys, four for £3.29 \o/) which were slow-roasted on a bed of carrots, celery and leeks with garlic and rosemary. One the duck had cooked, the vegetables were stirred into a sauce made from puy lentils cooked with minced onion and garlic in red wine and vegetable stock. I served all this with pearl barley, tossed in herbs and some wilted fresh spinach flavoured with nutmeg. I admit I did add a touch of cream to the spinach, but only a touch. 

On the next day, I really did feel more like myself. The best bit about this meal was that it tasted so wonderfully wholesome. That’s the great thing about this rustic, homely cooking. You can feel it doing you good as you eat it and yet it’s really, really tasty, especially after three consecutive days of fat and stodge. I find lentils addictive, I even get random cravings for them sometimes. And, as for the duck legs, they were roasted long and slow so all the fat came off and we had melt-in the-mouth-meat and perfectly crisp skin. Hooray for ducks. :D

The next night, I followed suit with a chicken-liver and bulgar wheat pilaf.  

bulgar wheat and chicken liver pilaf 

Not the most exciting thing to look at, I know, but another meal like these should sort us out completely, and then it will be time for mashed potato! :D

June 10, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 6:12 pm

I’m lucky to have a great, friendly butcher’s shop near my flat. I found it, oddly enough, by reading the River Cottage Meat book which led me to the website of the Guild of Q Butchers. It was there that I discovered that the butcher’s shop H G Walters was literally 10 minutes from my front door.

Since I’ve started visiting them I’ve grown addicted to their maple cure bacon. In fact, all the pork I’ve had from them has been awesome, so last Saturday I decided to try a pork roast. I bought a decent sized  loin of pork, which the butcher untied so I could stuff it.

I’d had a plan to stuff my pork loin with a mixture of pears, walnuts, sage, rosemary and celery and serve it with a stilton sauce. But, when I came to make my roast, I noticed I had a small problem. I’d assumed the butcher would have left the string in for me to re-tie my joint, but he hadn’t. So I rang up Goon to ask him to pick some up on the way home.

Sadly, I underestimated Goon’s capacity for being lazy. Goon stopped off at the small Tesco metro instead of going to the big supermarket. I would have expected both places to stock some kind of string but apparently the small store didn’t and Goon didn’t want to walk the ten minutes extra to the big shop. So he decided to pick up an alternative. I wasn’t too pleased when I found out what he bought.


Goon looked at me me sheepishly. “There wasn’t any string anywhere.”

“You’re honestly telling me that it’s impossible to find string in a large shopping centre in Hammersmith at 8:00pm on a Monday night?!”

 ”You can use these, can’t you?”

I didn’t have a clue how these colourful bits of rubber would fare in a 160 C oven but I was willing to bet they weren’t the best thing to put on my roast.

“I doubt it.”  I said. “They’ll probably snap when they get hot.” Goon started wrapping rubber bands around my pork loin. “STOP IT!” I shouted. 

“I’m sure I’ve seen them used like this before.”

I resentfully agreed to let Goon tie my pork loin with rubber bands on the condition that we test them in the oven first to see what happened. As I’d thought,the bands didn’t like the heat. Within five minutes of them being put in the oven, we had a multi-coloured gloopy mess to scrape off the bottom shelf. 

So much for the elastic band idea. I needed a new plan but by now all the shops had shut and  I couldn’t find anything oven-proof that I could use to secure my pork.

In the end, after a lot of debate, we resorted to skewering. This wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds. The main problem was that the pork skin was very thick so, to get the skewers through, I had to aim for the bits where the skin had been scored. This meant  there weren’t that many places I could skewer the pork so the joint wasn’t held together very well at all!

skewered joint

Yes, I know, it does look ridiculous. But at least i some of the stuffing stayed in. The rest turned into a horrible burnt mess at the bottom of the dish but I think about half survived.  

The pork still cooked well though. It was tasty and juicy and the pear-walnut-stilton combination (that made it) was great with it.  

The rest of the meal worked fine too, although you can’t really go too far wrong with boiled new potatoes and steamed broccoli can you?

pork with pear and walnuts, stilton sauce, potatoes and brocolli 

Apart from the great quality pork, the stilton sauce was definitely the best bit of the dish. It was made from a little chicken stock which I reduced with some dry cider, white wine and a small sprig of rosemary which was removed at the end. Then I melted in the stilton and added a touch of double cream.

I’m looking forward to trying this idea again with a properly tied joint.  




June 2, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 5:52 pm

It appears it is approximately birthday time for my blog. I can only guarantee it is ‘approximately’ because I have no idea exactly when I started writing.

I can already hear some of you saying, “Well just go through your archives and look at the timestamp on the first post, dummy!”  It should be that easy. But, the problem is, I was so keen to start writing, that in the the couple of days leading up to the blog going online, I wrote about ten posts in one go and then just spaced them out over the May archive.

Yes, I am THAT sad.

So, actually, it was sometime in the first week of June 2006 that Living to Eat was really born, and it wasn’t called ‘Living to Eat.’  it was just ‘Roshani’s Food Blog’ until I finally thought of an original title. Now,  after a whole year, it is very strange looking back at my first few months of posting. I had the worst camera in the world and a very dark kitchen. The site was obviously left battered and bruised after the horrible hard drive crash in September. Also the fact that Goon insists on moving the site between servers every few months has taken its toll in the form of other random bugs.*  

I find it interesting how only one of those three blogs I listed in my first post is still on my reading list. My blogging tastes have clearly changed a lot!

But the strangest thing for me is how the purpose of this blog has completely changed over this year. At first I didn’t particularly want anyone to be reading this. It was more a place for me to log my cooking experiences and recipes and to monitor how my cooking skills  were developing. The fact that other people could look in and share was just a bonus. It was Goon that encouraged me to leave my website address on various forums and websites to actively invite people to look. Now this website is, for want of a better phrase, reader-focused and careful documentation of recipes has gone completely out of the window.

And so, even though the blog didn’t turn out quite how I expected, even though I started it the most stupid time possible (at the beginning of my write up year), and even though the site is battered, bruised and bugged from various technical hitches**, I am very happy with the way things have developed here. The blog has meant that I’ve been on the telly, been asked to contribute to a magazine and, most importantly, made some wonderful friends from whom I’ve learned more than I ever expected.

So I’d like to say a huge thank you to all the other food bloggers and other readers who’ve taught me so much. There are way too many to thank individually, but I’m sure you know who you are.  Also thanks to the quiet readership who never say anything but I can see lurking on Google Stats.*** You’ve made a bored maths geek very happy. :)  

*Have you noticed those little Ás appearing in every post before the last server move? Anyone know how to get rid of them?

** Take heed: Never let a Goon run your website. ;)

***Also thanks to the frustrated beef mince recipe searchers and the guy who came along looking for ‘midget eating cranberry sauce.’ You make me laugh.